Review of Jason Pridmore’s STAR Motorcycle Riding School
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, May 8-9, 2010
by Maeve Garigan
Whether you’ve just started riding, or have been shredding the canyons for years, motorcycle track riding schools can be the quickest way to improve your technique, making you a smoother, faster, and safer rider… or they can just lighten your wallet by several hundred – or a couple thousand – dollars. So when I was looking to sharpen my skills ahead of the summer riding season, I went with the recommendation of one of my track fiend buddies, who swore by Jason Pridmore’s STAR School. “His is the best. And if you have the chance to go for a two-up ride with Jason, go for it!”
Staking $500 on my friend’s endorsement and Jason’s racing pedigree (he’s a two-time AMA champ), I headed out to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway for a weekend at the track. After checking in bright and way too early on Saturday morning, I headed to a refreshingly simple tech inspection: no need to tape, wire or remove anything, just show up with a mechanically sound bike, fresh tires, and decent gear, and you’re good to go. I’d removed the mirrors and taped the lights on my Kawasaki just to be safe, but as my friend had told me, “Nobody’s gonna wreck… You’ll be thinking too much about what you’re learning.” He was right – the STAR School enjoys an impeccable safety record.
The school ran from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with 20 minute track sessions followed by a 20 minute class. There were more students on the first day, so we split into two groups: one for street riders, and one for advanced track riders and racers. The groups alternated, so one was in class while the other rode, and visa versa. Fewer people had enrolled for the second day, so we all rode together, which I particularly liked since I could simultaneously watch people at different skill levels to see their shift points, body positioning and lines. Even though there were some smoking fast riders out there that weekend, there was little smack talk: everyone was there to learn, and had left their egos checked at the front gate.
Pridmore doesn’t keep a set curriculum, instead choosing to discuss specific issues and techniques based on students’ questions, or on feedback they’d received from the instructors riding with them on the track. Additional instruction tools included video of students riding (yes, you will be critiqued by the class!) and heading out for track walks. Despite this somewhat unstructured methodology, his core approach to teaching riding quickly became apparent: the focus is on smoothness, efficiency, and control – not speed. Sure, we’re all there to get faster, but speed should come as a natural result of (not instead of) smoothness and an ability to read the track or road to figure out the simplest and quickest way through it.
All the talk of lines, shift-points and trail-braking may seem intimidating to newer riders, but it’s important to keep in mind that these terms simply describe the elements of skilled motorcycle riding. There’s no magic to any of it, just perseverance and thoughtful practice. And the STAR instructors are refreshingly down-to-earth. Case in point: Pridmore and his instructors all ride bone-stock Suzuki GSX-Rs rolling on Dunlop Q2 street tires (and do I need to mention that they are way faster than everyone else?)
And yes, I did go for that two-up ride, which was the most kick-ass two laps of my life… imagine hanging off the back of a GSX-R 1000 as you fly by everyone else on the track, and then multiply by another factor of awesomeness. Thrills aside, it really was a very useful training tool – I got to experience first-hand how it’s really done.
My friend expected a full de-briefing the next week, and I was happy to say that my splurge was money well spent, so much so that I hope to make it back out to Chuckwalla in the fall for another weekend of STAR. In the meantime, I’ll be in the canyons, working to hone a new set of skills that have made me smoother, and yes, even a little faster.