Riding schools are Quickly becoming a popular way to get track time and improve your skills. A recent addition to the increasing number of schools is Jason Pridmore's Star School, a spin-off of the CLASS schools taught by his father, Reg. The Star (Skills and Techniques for Advanced Riding) Motorcycle School travels to tracks across the country-I went to Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada, to check it out.
Joining Pridmore as instructors are Rich Alexander, Lance Holst, Greg White and a host of other former and current roadracers. But this is not a racing school; it is billed as a motorcycle school and the curriculum concentrates on riding techniques and track time, rather than racing. Students are required to bring their own machines, with taped-over lights and good tires.
Pridmore kicked things off with a brief lecture, in which the goals of the course were outlined. Basically, we were told to have fun, first and foremost. But we were also instructed to concentrate on the lectures, try the techniques, and learn how to ride faster and safer, as opposed to simply flogging around on the track all day.
The first 20-minute on-track session consisted of a slow lap following instructor Lance Holst. During stops along the way, Holst pointed out features of the course that could be used as markers. He stressed the fact that there isn't any particularly "correct" line and encouraged us to try different lines for ourselves. Following this, the class was split into two groups, with street riders returning to the classroom and the advanced riders (where I put myself) staying on-track. Sessions would alternate, with one group in class and the other on the track, for the rest of the day. The remainder of the first session was spent in small groups, in which the students took turns following an instructor to learn the track.
After our first session, Pridmore fielded questions from the advanced group and lectured on basic techniques, such as entry and exit points, differing lines and how to learn the track efficiently. Keeping all this in mind, we were set loose for our second 20-minute track session. I wondered a bit about the merit of simply having us ride around (This is school, aren't we supposed to have our hands held?) but I quickly found out how the bulk of the learning is accomplished. I got hooked up with Holst for a few laps, during which I first followed, then was waved by to lead. We pulled off and I got an instant critique of my riding, along with a couple of tips for different lines to try. We returned to the track to finish the session, and Holst targeted another student while I tried the suggested lines.
Twenty-minute classroom sessions...
Twenty-minute classroom sessions alternate with 20-minute riding stints. Street riders are in the classroom while advanced riders are on-track, and vice versa.
Pridmore answered questions to start our next lecture, then introduced his (and his father's) theory of lower-body steering. While not decrementing the importance of countersteering, we were encouraged to keep an open mind and at least attempt body steering in our next outing. I rode the next session trying the different techniques Pridmore had suggested-weighting the inside peg and keeping my upper body relaxed and off to the inside of the turn-and once again ended up chasing Holst around. I was having trouble with applying my weight to the pegs and shifting at the same time, and I mentioned this to Holst when we stopped for a debriefing. He recommended different techniques, such as changing my shift points or using the inside of my foot to push into the footpeg bracket rather than the peg.
I brought up my problem in the following lecture and Pridmore pointed out that other changes in style may be required to use body steering properly. I was also instructed to try using my inner legs and knees to move the bike, as opposed to just my feet.
Lance Holst explains various...
Lance Holst explains various lines for a series of turns during our introduction to the Pahrump course.
I was a little confused following the lecture-I could not fathom a way to use body steering to my advantage-but I was determined to try, as this is the meat of Pridmore's teachings. Besides, how can such a fast guy be wrong? We had one final riding session before lunch. I spent the first half trying a combination of weighting the pegs with my toes, when I could, and pushing against the tank with my knee to turn the bike. I was surprised to find everything had clicked and I was tossing the ZX-7 around like a toy in the transitions. Wow, I had learned something!
Following lunch, the lectures were conducted by Holst. Generally, Pridmore rides during the afternoon, but he was suffering from the flu and sat out most of the sessions. Holst's lectures are decidedly technical, whereas Pridmore relates things to his personal experiences and spends most of his time answering questions. In fact, Pridmore had digressed enough during the morning lectures that we missed discussing lines and downshifting as scheduled. However, the sidetrip proved more insightful and we probably learned more than if we had listened to a straight lesson.
The street and advanced groups combined for the first postlunch lecture which covered braking technique and, specifically, how it is more important to have an end-of-braking marker than one to start braking. The street riders followed up with a braking drill off the track, and the advanced riders returned to the circuit. I spent some of the session trying the braking technique but quickly realized I didn't know the track well enough to have end-of-braking markers established, and I would have to practice at a familiar track. I concentrated on the lower-body steering instead, which I thought was more important while it was still in my mind, and ended up being followed by Rich Alexander. Even though we weren't hanging about, he realized I wasn't practicing the braking drill, caught the two mistakes I had made and suggested a different line in the first turn. Excellent tutelage!
Holst's second lecture dealt with overcoming panic and some of the more subtle techniques of braking and shifting. This was followed with a practice session to bring everything we had learned throughout the day together. I completed a few laps, but by that time I was pretty worn out from all the track time (100 track miles at that point), and I still had to ride the 300 miles back home that evening. Once again, I got hooked up with an instructor for a few hot laps-with such a good student/teacher ratio (about 3:1 on this day) I was getting quality one-on-one lessons each time out.
I turned probably my fastest laps of the day in the last session, but they came as I was hanging on for dear life as a passenger aboard Pridmore's Katana. Another carryover from his father's Class schools, Pridmore offers rides at the end of the day and I had to sign up and try it. He wasn't wasting any time, passing people in the advanced session and dragging hard parts, but it was oh-so-smooth and a fantastic view of the quick way around the track.
No points for style-body steering...
No points for style-body steering was awkward at first but it paid big dividends late in the day.
The final lecture covered basic suspension setup. This subject is intentionally left for the end of the class, so students can concentrate on their riding and not get sidetracked playing with settings all day. Holst and Pridmore answered questions following the lecture, and then we were presented with our diplomas.
As with any kind of formal training, what you get out of it depends on the effort you put into learning the material, and the Star school is no different. It was obvious some students were there just for the track time, although it's pricey (between $265 and $295 for a one-day course) to look at it that way. Those riders were already quick at the start of the day, but they weren't any faster as the sessions progressed. The students who took the time to absorb the information and thought about what they were doing showed definite improvement, a strong indication that Pridmore's methods work.
The Star School was a fantastic experience for me, and I recommend it for riders of all levels. The concepts taught at this school will not only make you faster on the track, you'll be safer on the street too.
Jason Pridmore's Star School
4587 Telephone Road #206
Ventura, CA 93003
(805) 658-1395 fax