First off, before I really get started, this isn’t a normal report or review. I know that Mike’s training is suited and tailored to each individual persons needs and what they want to get out of the day. So what I worked on with him may not be what you get if you work with him.
A cold end of March morning see me set up in a garage with Mike Spike Edwards for our long postponed training session. I had originally booked some time with him way back, in fact over a year ago. If you read my blog you will see that first off I had to cancel after Easy Track company went bump the day before I was meant to go and then our rescheduled day got a second postponement due to Spike hurting himself at Snetterton. Still third time turned out luck and finally we managed to get our calendars, and in my case budget, to match up.
I had chosen Oulton Park as the track to do my training, as it was the first round of 2014 season with NG that I would be doing and track time before hand is always a good thing, It also was later in the late winter/early spring so there was more chance of a drier and warmer and there was a track day available (this one was with No Limits). I wanted to get help and advice not specific to any circuit and work on my riding in general, Oulton Park has a good collection of different types of corners… and more importantly in my eye at this moment, corners that I struggle with.
So the day starts off cold and early. On the road on the way to the track the van gets covered in grit by a gritter going the other way, which isn’t a good sign. At least it’s not raining…. yet. I get to the gate before they open the circuit and sit in the small queue that is forming. I am soon in and I head around trying to see if Mike has arrived. I end up at the top garages, thinking this is the most likely place he’ll be. Turns out I am wrong (not for the last time of the day). Mike arrives a few seconds after me and has sets about setting up in garage 1, the other end of pits. Fortunately I hadn’t started unloading so I go and join him.
We set about chatting about what I want to work on. I have some ideas, body position mainly, but I am open to what Mike thinks would be most beneficial, after all he is the instructor and the one with the experience. So after the briefing we agree on a plan of going out on the first 2 sessions, firstly to knock off the cobwebs in my riding and Mike follow and figure out what would benefit me most, this is his “normal” procedure. We have discussed what I think I am good at and what I think I am not so good/rubbish at. We head out on track for a first session and for the 2 sighting laps. It’s damp and nasty on the circuit. In my mind it’s not wet enough for full wets, so it’s out on the Metzlers Interacts. I don’t think this is a risky choice, everyone else seems to be on full wets, so either I am very wrong or I am a genius 🙂 , which ever it is, I have made the call and I am happy with it. I think me and Mike are the only people out on the drier type of tyres. We were held for a little while before being let out the pit lane and we catch up the quiet slow sighting laps relative quickly. Once we are released to normal pace after the no passing on the sighting laps, it doesn’t seem too bad grip wise and I definitely on the right tyres , though in my mind there is a nagging thought not to lob the GSXR down the road and miss out on the training (not to mention the pain and having a race in 10 days time). The months of the bike slip away and I am feeling like I am riding fairly OK and giving Mike a fairly good representation of my riding “style” to analyse. I push on a bit to hard for the conditions and get a few slips and slides on a few corners and this makes me back off a little bit, so as not to risk ending up in the kitty litter. The flag comes out and it’s back to the pits for a little debrief and to await the second session. Mike’s initial comments is that my lines aren’t “too bad” and that I know my way around the track… and on pushing he says I am not the worst he has seen 🙂
In the second session it has dried quite a bit, so I can push on a bit more toward my normal pace. I am not 100% on my pace but it’s all flowing and feeling good and hopefully giving Mike some idea of areas to improve on. I miss a few apexes here and there and make an muck up of a couple corners but all in all I think it’s a good representation of my riding, though I am still not giving it everything under the trees at Druids, as it holds the water there and it looks very shiny on the new tarmac there, making me think it might be wet. The flag comes out and now it’s time to hear what he really thinks.
Back in the pits and the lesson is about to start properly. Mike has identified what he wants me to work on. Shockingly to me it’s braking. I was thinking this was one of my stronger points. I am apparently good on first hard part of braking, but I hold maximum braking for too long, this makes me slow to the apex. Mike shows me a video he has taken, showing how I need to lessen my braking and trail brake to the apex as from a distance back you can see we start braking on the video at the same point and have the same apex speed, it’s just I am at that speed for much, much longer. He explains the technique and picks up on a bad habit I have of coasting a little. I need to go from on the power to on the brakes much quicker.
Next time out and I am aiming to try the new braking at 3 points on the track, into Old Hall, Lodge and Britten’s (this is one of the areas I struggle with on this track and this is a little different braking pattern that a more conventional corner due to the entrance not being straight). I wind back the pace to practice this session. It’s a little alien to me. I miss gear shifts down into the corner on more than one occasion and more than a few apexes, I’m happy enough. I am riding as if there is a check list to go through (do this, then that, then the next point) making it all a bit robotic, something that Spike notices and comments on through the day. Though these mistakes takes away some of the feel and flow of the laps I can feel myself getting more used to the technique. Which is good. Spike also picks up on a braking point for Island for me, which works well, I just need to have a bit more confidence on picking up the throttle.
The next session is a shambles. I up the pace and it goes to pieces. I get passed a few times and something just seems to upset my thought process. I really don’t know what it is but everything falls apart. I think I only get one of the corners I am concentrating on right once… and that was Lodge on the run down after the chequered flag, and that according to Spike is the best I have done it all day. I have all of the lunch break to go through it in my head what a spoon I had been in that session. Spike gives me more advice, this time on the run into Cascades, tell in me that I am not on the throttle hard enough or early enough and then it’s helmet on time.
The next session, as it is after lunch, is preceded with a sighting lap. This allows me to be reigned back again for the lap, get set for a bit more of a go and get my mind in gear. I hit my markers and it’s all feeling better. I start to up the pace (a couple of the BSB boy belt passed like I am stood still) and I catch a group of riders and take my time getting through them. This does hamper a couple of corners but it is a track day, not a race so no point being a git. It’s about lap 3 when it starts to spit with rain down at Shell and Island areas of the track. It’s not to much to start with, but it starts getting my head, and I knock it back a tenth or 2 and get another lap in before calling time on that session.
Back in the pits and once more we go through the good, the bad and the ugly of my riding. Apparently it’s got back to around where I was before, despite not really getting a clean lap. We discuss what to do if it continues to rain, though it hasn’t really set in, it really was just a shower. We discuss a tactic for the next session, as Spike wants me to push a bit more and see if it holds together. I am happy to try this, and put a little bit more “race pace” into it, which will see if I can hold it together. I am still riding a bit robotic and it’s not as instinctive as I want it to be and I am a little concerned that it will fall apart again, but it’s worth having a go. Spike wants me to up the pace through Clay Hill and Druids a bit too. I am have been a little ginger through these all days as I see it there is not much to gain as I am fairly comfortable, generally with this area of the track and as the moister hangs under the trees, it would seem silly to have an off here. He also wants me to work on my entry into Shell, which I have to work on the exit of Island….. and also Cascades, which I am suffering the same problem as the exit of Island. Not to put too fine a point on it… I am being a too timid of the throttle… I forget the exact phrase Spike uses to describes my lack of “developing the throttle”. My brain won’t let me open the throttle as early as Spike wants me too. Again, lets have a go. We have agreed a sign that if Spike comes passed and does it then to go back in as the track conditions are just not there. He also takes a a look at my handle bars. He suggest to push the bars further out, and replacing them to their original orientation (the bars are on the wrong side, to allow the adjustment of the bars). Spike thinks this might not be helping me get on the power, as my wrist is at a strange angle. We move them a little bit, but the angle is not Suzuki designed. There is no time to flip them over and to give the adjustment I would need to grind the lugs off anyhow.
The 6th session is called and it’s dry, even to the point of blue skies in places as the rain was no more than a shower. I set about at about 80% on the first lap to get everything set to push on once tyres have had chance to get to there optimum temperature. I hit the markers in my head and open the throttle a bit earlier, though not 100% as my brain simply won’t let that happen. Unfortunately I only get one run at Cascades, Island and Britten’s before a red flag is thrown. It turns out Danny Webb has slid off at Druids and the red flags are out for the first and only time in the fast group of the day. I knock the pace down, yet still I get to practice the braking techniques and just getting on the power at the point where Spike says I should be, obviously not at full chat as I have no idea where the accident is at the time but just to continue to try and set it in my head where I am meant to on the gas.
We are set back out again fairly quickly and I am starting to think I have it now. I might well be wrong, but the confidence is coming. I am hitting the apex (most of them), granted too slow but I am trailing the brake and getting on the throttle earlier. The session is quiet busy on track and it’s hard to find a good gap. But I am happy with how it is now coming together.
Back in the pits and Spike is wanting me now to properly add more pace in the final session. Same again, as he seemed encouraged by my progress. The slight adjustment to my bars, I have to admit to not noticing any change, well there is a lot on my mind :).
Final session of the day is more of the same. Spike is fairly keen for me to up the pace and this is I expect a motivational technique, but I am game to push a bit more. He points more at the area from Island apex to Shell Oils bend to try and be more aggressive on the throttle thus cutting my chance of cruising on a closed throttle or carrying my apex speed before and after the corner is completed…. in laymen’s terms “More throttle from the apex and this will sort out the entry into Shell”
Out on track I am trying a bit more. Adding in a bit more speed, yet again. I am still not 100% with everything but I am making less mistakes and braking is becoming more natural, even if the throttle is still a bit behind where it needs to be. It’s starts to spit rain and I know that there is going only to be a few more laps before a shower catches us. I concentrate hard on hitting markers and telling my head it’s alright to get more and more power earlier, building up incrementally each lap. Out of Britten’s Spike comes past and signals to end the session. I am guessing he is either seeing something or thinks the weather is a bit iffy. There is no complaints it has been trying to rain more, though I haven’t had any moments. Through Hislop’s and the heavens open. Not only is Mike a great coach he is a weather guru too! I limp back to the pits as I am sure there is some hail in the rain as well.
Back to the pits and a bit of a debrief. He asks if I had seen how dark the cloud was coming over, as I was wearing a dark visor. I must admit I hadn’t, focusing more on the track. It was if he was apologising a bit for calling the end of the session, but as by 4 corners time it was hammering down I don’t see why. We got through a few more bits in the paddock about what I had taken from the time together and to stay in touch.
I get home and the next day I have emails from Spike and a PM on a forum we are both on Track Day Riders showing how my wrist is making some strange angles. Well that is it… a shiny new set of clip on are on the way (as I have been looking for an excuse to get some 😉 )
A couple of days later I am sent a DVD of the filming that Spike had been doing from his bike, I have watched these endlessly, much to my better half’s annoyance, and tried to analyse every last detail on each one
An example of the videos:
So the big question time, that I have been asked many times since I did the day:
Was it worth it?
I have tried to be vague over this with people, as I think it depends on what you want out of it. For me, the answer was yes. I didn’t think that going through something like Californian Superbike School’s formulaic lesson approach would be as good for me as a 1 to 1 session. It’s not a magic bullet that will give you X number of seconds a lap. You have to go there with an open mind and realising that you may have to take a step backward to go 2 steps forwards. I know some people I know struggle with this as a concept and also those that can’t think through what they do on a bike, the natural talent “I just get on a ride it” sort. If this is you then only you can decided if the cost v benefit would be worth it. I have also been a bit vague on the actually techniques he was teaching me. This is a conscious decision, not to gain any advantage when racing, but simply for the fact that the training he gave me was tailored for me. You may or may not have the same issues I have… and lets face it learning from me rather than a professional like Spike is rather silly…. and possibly dangerous 🙂 I organised this training over a year ago and in that time I have pushed through a couple of issues I was having and I guess that helped get more out of the day.
See all the photos of my day at Oulton Park with Spike here