"Everybody crashes" is kind of an unofficial motto at SoCal Supermoto. It's certainly not encouraged, it's more of an inevitability. The school is hosted on a kart track, so it's all about high limits and low speeds. Crashes happen but damage is minimal. So I'm not entirely sure why I'm at an emergency room six hours after class.
SoCal Supermoto has been on my to-do list since I started riding a couple of years ago. It's not a four-figure sport bike school at a famous track on a $20,000 machine. There is no man in a thick German accent yelling at me to "kees ze handlebar."
Instead, it's a surfer named Brian, a handful of track-prepped and battle-worn Suzuki DRZ-400SMs, and the Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, CA. You start around 9 AM and end around 3 PM, thrashing around the mini-circuit between karting sessions. Track time isn't just plentiful, it's exhausting. And you get all of that – plus photos and a t-shirt! – for $239.
It is the absolute bargain of the century for instruction and track time.
For those of you unfamiliar with supermoto, it's a combination of road racing and motocross, mixing asphalt riding with a bit of dirt – like 80:20. The bikes are chuckable and light, essentially dirt bikes with lots of suspension travel and slick tires (see: four-stroke singles like the aforementioned DRZ, some KTMs, the Yamaha YZF450, etc.).
Brian was serving a stint as an MSF instructor when he fell in love with supermotos, and while those basic courses are great for getting you on a bike, most of the time is focused on passing the DMV test and not falling over. Brian wanted to offer something more. Supermotos turned out to be a perfect fit.
They're similar enough to a sport bike that students can explore lean angles and trail braking and everything else that makes fast riding fun. But it all happens at lower speeds with approachable limits on cheaper bikes that don't cost as much as a Grom to maintain and repair. To my mind, sliding equals learning. You've got to be at the limit to understand it. But to get there, your average street rider has to tweak some things.
The major difference between sport bike riding and supermoto is body placement. Going into a corner on a sport bike, you shift your weight to the inside of the corner, get close enough to the hand grip to lick it, and push your way through. This is not that.
To begin with, my crotch is shoved so far forward I could dip my manly bits into the fuel filler. Secondly, my butt is shifted to the other side of the seat – the opposite direction of the corner and the complete antithesis of what I'm used to – to get the lean angle and shove the handlebars in the direction of the turn. And finally, I have to stick my leg towards the forks like I'm trying to graze the apex with my heel.
Here's a guy who knows what he's doing to illustrate:
If you're an off-roading regular, this is second nature. I am not, and as such, it takes the better part of the morning to break years of muscle memory. The track helps, too.
Adams is a small, compact circuit with lots of hairpins and low-speed corners, punctuated by a few straights and faster sweepers. It's the perfect supermoto playground, and the 10-or-so students in my class were a mix of grizzled veterans, a few intermediate dweebs like me, and one woman that just started riding a few weeks prior. She was awesome. The track is large enough that spacing isn't much of an issue, and if there's a need to pass, there's ample opportunity.
Brian takes the time between the 15-minute sessions to go over the normal track day stuff – braking when the bike is upright, turn-in points, apexes, throttle input – so it's causal but intensive. As the morning wears on, we get into late apexing and trail-braking, and I'm feeling good. And then I give it a bit too much throttle out of a midfield hairpin and the front end washes out. It's a low speed lowside – maybe 10 MPH. The bike is fine. I'm fine. No worries. I come into the pits. Take a breath and wait a few minutes for the rest of the group to wrap up the session.
There's a two-crash rule at SoCal Supermoto, but Brian is far less concerned than I am. I'd hate to cut my day short before lunch, so I take it easy during the next session, focusing on body placement and my lines. All is well, and I start picking up the pace again.
Now is a good time to talk about our old nemesis Target Fixation.
I'm coming down the front straight with another rider and barely brake for the long right-hander that leads to the back of the track. One problem: I have temporary amnesia and forget about the chicane between the two corners.
It's a quick right-left that I've been running repeatedly for the past couple hours. This time, I know I'm coming in way too hot, slip across the curbing on the right and – like a complete idiot – stare directly at the curbing on the left.
Of course I hit it dead on.
The bike jumps to the right. I topple over the left side and land square on the red and white curbing. Then, to add more insult to more injury, the bike falls on my right side, crushing my hip between the curb and the 400-pound slab of Suzuki.
Now is a good time to talk about proper track attire.
I was wearing a two-piece touring getup and boots. The suit has ample armor, but not much padding on the hips. The boots, like the suit, are more for light touring than all-out track assaults. So when I fell over, I felt my left most toes bend in a very unnatural way. Still, I was able to get up, lift up the bike, and push into the pits.
Brian was off shooting at the other end of the track and hadn't seen the crash, so when he came around I fessed up. He didn't care. The bike was good and it was time for lunch. I downed a few preemptive Advil with a Gatorade and some pizza, then headed back out.
I felt fine. Yeah, I was sore and up-shifting sent a shot of pain up my leg, but nothing major. And honestly, this was just too much fun to worry about a few bruises and some twisted toes. My speed was increasing along with my confidence, and in the next few sessions I started to get into the rhythm. For the first time all day, I felt the rear ever-so-slightly swing out into a corner to get my first taste of "backing it in." Getting my junk up towards the handlebars, shifting my weight, and sticking my leg out was starting to feel natural. This is what I was here for. To learn. To improve. To get more comfortable at the limit. Then Brian pulls us in to say it's time to start incorporating some dirt.
A sense of dread drapes over me and my peers. This class, after all, is a supermoto school. Dirt is part of the equation. We knew it was coming, but few of us felt we were ready. Brian had faith.
The dirt infield was opened up, with a hard right-hander leading to a small tabletop, followed by a left hairpin and two larger jumps, before heading back onto that sweet, not-so-merciful asphalt. I am nervous. I am partially wounded. I am not a dirt virgin, but I still have the fear. Brian chimes in to remind us that crashes in the dirt don't count. That's a small consolation, particularly since we're on street tires.
Within the first few laps, I can see that at least three of my compatriots have gone down, the red dirt smeared over their suits and gloves. I take my first few passes gently. Slowly turning off the pavement onto the dirt, gingerly traversing the first hump, creeping through the bend, and then crawling up and down the two jumps. Some of my peers are experienced, flying through the air, sticking the landing, then sliding through the bend leaving rooster tails of crimson in their wake. This is not me. Not even a little.
By the time I finally start to get comfortable with the bike sliding underneath me, we're two sessions in and all of Brian's talk about managing traction begins to click. I'm not powersliding into the dirt, but I'm confident enough coming off the banked bend leading to the two jumps to get up some speed. I feel the tiniest hint of the suspension unloading in mid-air and revel in my mastery of this godforsaken surface. I get cocky. After a few more passes I kick the back end out as I transition from sticky asphalt to slippery dirt, go wide, right leg extended, and then it's nothing but a blur of rusty dirt and a gritty mouthful of fail.
I'm moving slower now, but I get up and get the bike righted, hop on, and continue as if nothing happened. I see Brian at the edge of the track giving me a thumbs up. I take a few more laps before I realize I can't upshift.
The bike is okay. My body, on the other hand, is pissed. That pain shooting up my left leg on every pull has finally prevented me from doing something as basic as shifting. I park in the pits, pop off my helmet, and check the time.
How much fun is supermoto school? I rode with a massive hematoma on my left leg and two broken toes for over 3 hours before my body insisted I stop. That's entertainment. All-day thrills and solid instruction shouldn't come this cheap, but it does. However, that price of admission doesn't include a late-night trip to the Riverside Community Hospital ER.
Thanks to Brian Murray and the crew at SoCal Supermoto for an awesome day and some great photos. And in the fine tradition of posting gory photos of author's wrecks, here's a shot of my gacked up leg, if you really want to see it.