I recently attended the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS). YCRS is based out of the Miller Motorsports Park Facility in Tooele, Utah. The school is offered around the country at different locations throughout the year. My course was conducted at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This school should be attended by anyone that wants to be a better rider. Let me rephrase that. This school is mandatory for anyone that wants to be the best rider they can be! Notice that nowhere in the schools name will you find the word “racing.” Anyone will benefit from the skills and drills taught by staff at the YCRS. If racing is your passion or you’re driven to push your skills to a higher level look into the Yamaha Champions Riding School “Pro School.” Once you’ve established a solid foundation of skills and graduated from the initial YCRS, the Pro School is the next level to fine tune and maximizes your capabilities. The YCRS curriculum has something for everyone. Whether you’re an aspiring canyon carver, long distance touring rider or pro-level AMA racer, YCRS is your pathway to greater success and becoming a safer rider.
Nick Ienatsch and his crew are the best instructors money can buy. Don’t believe me? Then why do some of the best professional riders in country come out to train with them? Their primary concern is for safety. They strive to provide students the best instruction available, in a safe and fun learning environment. Ken Hill, Dale Kieffer and program director Dan Short were out to staff my event and each of them has quite an impressive resume of experience and accomplishments in motorcycling to back up their knowledge.
My inspiration for going to the school was to revive my love for riding motorcycles on the track. Through doing so, I hope to drive my skills to the next level and understand current riding techniques to provide better coaching skills. Some might think it’s pretty tacky of me to attend the school with the intention of sharing some of the knowledge. I was quite surprised that the staff was very supportive of me sharing the knowledge and Nick even modified some drills for me to help me with my own coaching! Nick told our class that he appreciates the fact that other instructors find value in the schools. “Anything that makes motorcyclists better and safer riders will only help the motorcycle industry. “ These gentlemen make their living from motorcycles. Racing, riding, writing about and coaching others on motorcycles is their passion. Nick added “anything we can do to help keep a positive view of motorcycling in the public eye is going to pay dividends to the community as a whole. “
During the first day I took some time to speak with my co-students. They came from different walks of life with greatly different skill levels. A few of them had very little motorcycling experience. I was shocked to learn that many of them had been to the school multiple times before! A few of them had returned within a couple of weeks of the last visit. It may seem strange to you that someone would take the same school so frequently. I sat with Lou at dinner after the first day. Lou is one of these repeat students and he gave me his answer to this question. It seems Lou has taken every single high end riding school that I have ever heard of. One of these schools left him so disconnected and frustrated after the first day that he left and never returned! On his way out the door, he didn’t even stop to ask for a refund. I asked Lou why he had done so many schools and why he then repeats the YCRS program. To him the answer was simple. The things taught to him at YCRS make sense! The staff teaches current, real world techniques that work and they explain them in ways that are easy grasp. Plain and simple. He has confidence in the staff and curriculum and feels that every time, he leaves a better rider. I personally have no doubt that you could go to every class offered this riding season and you would gain something from each class.
Riders are broken down into groups based on skill, experience and pace. Notice how I didn’t say speed. Speed is a product of solid riding built on a foundation of repeatable skills and techniques. Repeatability and consistency are words the YCRS staff live by. Since the instructor to student ratio is kept low there is always plenty of one on one coaching. You never feel like you’re just another sheep in the flock.
Ok, I know, I know… But what did I learn! You want to hear about the good stuff, right? After some time in the classroom going over the schedule we jumped into the classroom training. Starting with the foundational skills that we’ll build on when we head out to the track. Non-negotiables is the first thing you’ll hear. It’s a different way to say basics, foundation, starting point, must do’s or items that are non-negotiable tasks if you want to succeed. If you’re forgetting about or not doing these items, you’ll never ride to your full potential. Some of these skills are body position, lines, apex’s and thinking ahead. Each of these items is very important. Together they are part of the package that makes a great rider.
I wasn’t sure how much I would actually get out of the school. Let’s be honest here, I’ve learned from some really great on track instructors with Nesba. Many of whom have attended schools lead by Nick and crew. I’ve been riding on the track for 4 years and have tens of thousands of track miles. These veteran Nesba instructors have made me the solid rider I am today. Every one of them had one last thing to give me from their experiences when working with me. GO TO THE SCHOOL! I really must admit. I should have gone four years ago! I was a believer in their words of wisdom within the first hour. It was clear in that short amount of time, that I was going to leave here a much better, safer and consistent rider. What we graduates of the program know as the “Van Ride” was really all it took. 20 minutes with Nick in the school’s van made 4 years of trail braking discussions click. The way he demonstrates the skill and explains its use, was like the large locked vault doors to better riding had been opened.
We eventually made our way to the bikes. Each rider is given the keys to a modern beautiful Yamaha motorcycle. My first day was spent on the Yamaha FZ1 and the second on the Yamaha R6. I was impressed with the bikes. The R6 throttle response was so smooth. The FZ1 handled well and had plenty of predictable power on tap. Though for some reason the bike didn’t want to turn right. Ken Hill picked me up as I lapped around the track with the FZ1, pointing to my feet. I’m thinking, ok, I’ve got it up on the pegs and knee out, what’s wrong? We did this for two laps before he pulled me off track. He said “I want you to reposition your foot.” He had me make a VERY small adjustment to my riding style. Next lap, I setup early for the right hander, turned in, weighted the peg and the bike effortlessly rotated, leaned and was right on the apex. Damn! That’s why I should have done this four years ago!
There is one thing you’ll find at the YCRS schools. There is always room for improvement. The staff is quick to praise you when you’re doing well. But that’s the thing about motorcycles, very few people do it right all the time, every lap. There are so many things going on with motorcycling that to put every one of them together all the time is quite a challenge.
I was nervous when it was time for my video session. Video? Every student is videotaped once a day. This allows you to see what the instructors see. You’d be amazed at how you look, compared to how you feel on the bike. Video is a very valuable tool. You’re not being taught how to be a perfect rider. Having a perfect scenario is unrealistic. Track surface, traffic, bike setup, tires. All these things are rarely perfect. Thus the reason you’re at the school. To learn the skills and tools to build a riding package you can use in any situation. A package which is fluid and dynamic, stocked with tools and techniques to help you deal with all the scenarios you may encounter. This could be a log in the road on your morning commute, to a slower rider that’s off line at the track and causing you to change your intended path to make a pass.
Another thing the instructors reminded us was that riding is supposed to be fun. If you’re not enjoying your time on motorcycles, then why do it? This was definitely one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had at the track. The staff takes opportunities to laugh and enjoy the moment whenever they can. When necessary and because safety is the highest priority, serious riding and focus is expected. Some drills are meant to develop a skill and others to help you relax and have fun. One of my favorites was “the pointy end of the cone” drill. You ride around the track, using your new skills to go around some cones to the pointy side when the cone is lying on its side. The tricky part is they move the cones nearly every lap! So control, focus and vision were needed to be successful. Students are told that if you make a mistake, it’s no big deal! That’s why we’re here. To learn in a safe controlled environment. This allows you to focus on your riding and not the environment around you. Always learn from your mistakes and work to regroup and salvage the rest of the lap, ride or race. You can’t go back and fix it. So don’t dwell on it, just learn from it.
One thing I was glad to hear from instructors, was to think about your riding. I always tell people if they’re not just lapping and enjoying the scenery, ride with a purpose. Pick an item or two and work on those skills in a corner or two each lap where you struggle. Never go out and think about doing everything at once, every corner. You need to focus on key areas until they are second nature and part of your riding package. Then move on to the next thing. Ride with a purpose.
Depending on the group you’re riding with, your individual skill level and the drill you’re practicing there is some flexibility built in to the curriculum. YCRS staff understands that riding style changes and evolves over time. So do their teachings. They are willing to accept that fact that what was great 3 years ago may have changed or evolved with time. How old are you? Do you remember the days before knee sliders and getting your knee out? We rode a different track each day. But you will be amazed how quick you learn new tracks after attending the school. By using the techniques of mapping tracks in your head or on paper, choosing proper line, dissecting and categorizing corners, you will never look at learning a new track the same way.
There is so much to digest after attending a Yamaha Champions Riding School. Enough to keep you busy working on skills for your entire season of track days. I encourage you to go to the YCRS website. Watch the videos and read about the instructors. Track days are a great tool for developing as a rider. The YCRS structure of classroom, drills and open track provides you riding experience and instruction that just isn’t possible at a normal track day. The combination of education at YCRS School combined with the track time at track days give you the well rounded balance you need to succeed in this sport. Rider training should be the top item on your list of upgrades. A sweet new exhaust or that fancy ECU can help your current bike go a little quicker. Skills that you develop stay with you no matter what bike you ride. Do yourself a favor and get out to a school to train with them as soon as possible to unleash the rider that lurks within you.
If you have any questions about the school, please contact their staff through the links on their website. http://www.yamahachampionsridingschool.com
Feel free to private message me if you have any further questions. I’d be happy to email or speak with you regarding my experiences. If I cannot answer your questions, I will put you in touch with someone that can.
I kept this as short as possible. Honestly! I could talk for days about how much I learned and what a blast I had. This was an incredible experience that I hope to repeat again soon.