Whenever I’m shopping for motorcycle gear in Los Angeles, my first stop is Beach Moto. Usually, I’m greeted by Kate Afanasyeva, and she’s always got a good story to tell about her latest riding adventure. This time around, she had some thoughts on her recent experience with Yamaha Champions Riding School, and she was kind enough to share them with you!
Yamaha Champions Riding School
By Kate Afanasyeva
We all have that one “annoying” friend who seems to be good at just about everything. For me, that “annoying” friend is my friend Dave. He isn’t really that annoying but he is particularly good at riding motorcycles despite the fact that he started his riding career much later on in life. Dave has always accredited his steep progress as a rider to professional coaching and he’s been especially vocal about how much of his found success in riding comes from the time he’s spent with the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS).
After getting a little taste of what the school is about at their one-day class last year, I had a bit of a break-through but then hit another plateau and felt like I didn’t know how to progress any further. Several frustrating track days later where I wasn’t seeing any progress, I finally got to attend the two-day school and see what all the fuss is about…and there is definitely lots to fuss about. If you don’t read past this intro paragraph, I’ll leave you with this: the school is freakin’ awesome and it will definitely make you a much, much better rider. For those who want to know a little more, keep reading.
I attended the school at Inde Motorsports Ranch in Arizona. Our first day started with a drive around the track in the YCRS “race van”. I had no idea GMC passenger vans were capable of such performance driving but with lead instructor Nick Ienatsch behind the wheel, we were ripping and sliding around the track as he showed us lines, braking/acceleration points and “oh shit” areas to avoid. After a couple of nerve-wracking but crazy fun laps around the track, we were back in the classroom. One of the things I noticed right away is the care and personal interest displayed toward every student there. The instructors took time to learn a bit about each one of us and find out what our riding goals are. They were taking notes as we were talking and it gave me a strong sense of comfort because I knew that they weren’t just going to push the same generic agenda on all of us. They really do want to help each person in an individualized way. While there are fundamentals everyone should know and practice, there’s drastic variations in how quickly we learn, how much we’re willing to push, how much our bodies can handle, what bike we ride, and how much experience we have.
As the day went on, we went back and forth between the track and classroom, practicing a new technique every session out. We practiced how to stop mid-corner, how to suddenly and quickly change your line, proper body position, trail braking and much much more. The instructors did a great job not overwhelming us with information and focused on one thing at a time. Every exercise we did was very well explained and we had a full understanding of why the technique is important and what it’s doing to the bike. At the end of the day, each student did a lead-and-follow lap with an instructor who was sporting a camera on their bike. When I found out the video footage from each student would be shared and reviewed in front of the entire class, I was very nervous. I didn’t want everyone to see my bloopers and mistakes! But the video review was actually one of the most helpful things we did that day. First of all, seeing that many of the students there were struggling with the same things as me gave me a sense of comfort. It helped me see that when you are learning, you really do need to put your ego aside and adapt to a “zero f’s given” attitude. Secondly, seeing your own riding from a third person view is extremely eye-opening. So many things you think you are doing prove to be false. You think you are as close as you can be to that apex? Turns out it’s miles away. You think you are hanging your body off the bike like Marc Marquez? Turns out you’re barely moving. You think you can’t lean the bike any further because you are already almost dragging your fairings on the ground? Turns out the only way your fairings would come close to touching the ground is if they were off your bike. I went to bed that night with very clear understanding of what I was doing wrong and what I needed to work on the next day.
The next day involved a lot more riding. Since I already learned the track the day before, I was able to get into the swing of things a lot quicker. Everything started to come together and feel more natural. During a break for lunch, I had the pleasure of getting a two-up ride with professional motorcycle racer and YCRS coach Kyle Wyman. Before we went out on track, Kyle asked me how fast I want him to go on a scale of 1-10 with one being pit lane pace and 10 being the fastest he’s ever ridden with a passenger. My head was saying “six” but my heart was saying “YOLO” so I gave him a thumbs up and said “10”. The first few corners of that ride was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was holding on for dear life as we slid sideways into corners. But as our ride continued, I realized that even though the bike was moving around under us quite a bit and we were carrying a pace I couldn’t dream of reaching on my own, Kyle had full control of that bike and that ride. In addition to the crazy adrenaline I had pumping though my veins, I got off that bike with an epiphany: If Kyle could ride like that on a bone stock bike and tires with a passenger on the back, I could surely push myself a lot more on my fully souped-up track bike. I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time – hope. Hope that with the right technique and training, I could finally get off the plateau I’ve been on for too long and progress as a rider.
Since attending the school, I’ve done three track days and my riding has drastically changed. I feel so much more calm, relaxed, and in control. I don’t get as nervous and don’t feel winded coming off a 20-minute session. On track, I have much better direction, the bike goes exactly where I tell it to go. I’m not afraid to crank the throttle between turns in fear that I won’t be able to slow down in time for the next corner. If I make a mistake, I’m not wondering how or why it happened, I now understand the exact cause. Many of my riding buddies have noticed and commented on how much my riding has improved. I’m still very far from reaching my goals but I finally feel like I’m heading in the right direction.
YCRS goes above and beyond in so many other ways to make sure you get the most out of your experience. Even the meals we got during the school were awesome. None of this hot dog and frozen burger nonsense, we had freshly prepared meals. During any breaks, all the coaches and support staff hung out with us and made us feel like we were all one. They didn’t isolate themselves as if they are somehow better, everyone was so kind and caring. Oh and they even offered a few specialized “MotoYoga” sessions throughout the weekend to help us stretch and recover from extensive riding. If you’ve been thinking about getting some professional coaching, do it. If you haven’t thought about it, don’t think, just do it. There is absolutely no substitute. I’ve taken several different riding courses and YCRS is definitely a favorite.