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Common Tread

The Yamaha Champions Riding School goes online with its Champ U training course

Aug 04, 2022

Skillshare. Lynda. Any of the hoards of online universities. Online learning is hardly a new concept. But motorcycle rider training via the “interwebs”? Can that possibly work? Yamaha Champions Riding School thinks so and its ChampU digital training course is its first foray into the online training landscape.

When the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) approached me to try out the new online training course, I was excited to log in and give it a go. I fully believe that being a rider means that I am an eternal student and so developing skills and advancing my techniques is an ongoing and perpetual process. 

Illustration of the ChampU digital portal
My digital avatar is ready to crank through some coursework on the ChampU portal. Image from ChampU.

I couldn’t help but harbor some skepticism, though. For a hobby and sport that is so physical in nature, can learning through a screen really translate to real-world practice?

A foundation of experience

The internet has plenty of motorcycle “entertainment” channels to tune in to, but a true “how-to” rider education from a certified riding school is much harder to come by. The YCRS staff saw this void and also acknowledged that their ability to be at every track and host enough track-day schools to meet demand was difficult, so why not make their proven curriculum accessible to a wider audience through an online portal? For those unacquainted, the YCRS has been in business for more than 15 years, providing expert instruction to all manner of riders, from new street riders to professional racers, to help them perfect their skills and be better prepared for any situation on two wheels. Head coach and CEO Nick Ienastch has earned multiple national roadracing titles and spent many years coaching with the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School, and the rest of the YCRS crew include current and former MotoAmerica racers and champions along with accomplished regional racers, too.

The YCRS ChampU online core curriculum is split into bite-sized segments so you can start and stop the training in increments, and each segment contains several sections of video instruction followed by quizzes to test your absorption of knowledge. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you have probably seen this kind of structure used in human resource training, IT departments educating their work force on how to avoid being hacked, and a bunch of other institutional settings. 

Illustration of the ChampU lesson in progress
I was a big fan of the note-taking widget in the ChampU portal. Instead of a lost page in a notebook, all of my notes are saved in the portal and even printable so I can bring them with me to the next track day. Image by ChampU.

The ChampU course does depart from the mainstream structure, however, with a variety of real-world drills for the student to try out and put into practice the lessons learned on their own motorcycle in a controlled setting (i.e., a parking lot). They will also prompt you to get out of your seat during videos and join them in mimicking certain riding visualization sequences and techniques. While I felt a bit silly with the cats staring at me as I practiced my “air downshifts” in my home office, the encouragement to move the body while reciting the sequence was actually quite effective. Maybe there is something to this virtual learning thing after all.

Screenshot of instructor showing how to downshift in video
“Air downshifts” — don’t knock it until you try it! Head coach Nick Ienastch walks through the motions of practicing this skill. Image from ChampU.

Mental approach

The YCRS ChampU training kicks things off right away discussing mental approach and readiness. I know I have heard it said many times that motorcycling is a “mental sport” and sharpness of the mind is just as important as the physicality of riding a two-wheel machine. To that end, it is almost more useful to start the mental training away from the distraction of the motorcycle and the ChampU program has many mantras, mental exercises, and pointers to get your head into the game. 

screenshot of all instructors on bikes
The expert staff of YCRS ChampU all share their favorite mantras and mental prep exercises for both street and track. Image from ChampU.

What this first portion of the ChampU online training did for me was help me re-evaluate the current mental readiness practices I had in place. Were they effective at getting me focused on the ride? Were they effective at building my confidence during the ride? Were they effective across all riding situations, or were they too narrowly focused on a specific track or environment? Already, the ChampU course was showing its quality before I even cast a sidelong glance at my motorcycle. With my mindset now primed and focused, the course transitioned into riding fundamentals and more of the YCRS “Champions Habits'' curriculum.

Riding the motorcycle as intended

The YCRS has spent years fine tuning and adapting its coaching so that it is useful to both new and experienced riders, and the teaching can be distilled into the core values of “Champions Habits.” Section by section, the YCRS staff articulate these habits and demonstrate them in the videos through a variety of means. Whether it is onboard footage, parking lot demonstrations, or even simple static motorcycle drills, their lessons are easily digestible.

screenshot of a video of rider avoiding a truck on the road
This was a particularly striking visual that the ChampU course used multiple times, and really hammered home the importance of this lesson. Image from ChampU.

Concepts I thought I knew as a rider were described in deeper detail, and some glaring blind spots in my rider education also revealed themselves. The YCRS staff blends motorcycle physics with no-nonsense rider-speak in a way that really unlocked certain tangles in my neuro pathways. I was dumbfounded when I realized how off-base I had been with my approach to braking, and it helped me better understand why hard-braking scenarios had been causing my lap times to suffer. 

screenshot of a video of a group instruction
It turns out my braking skills needed this brush-up from the YCRS team. A lot of familiar reminders and surprises got my brain tinkering on how I can improve this area of my riding. Image by ChampU.

Now that I had identified the problem, the YCRS had a list of braking drills for me to practice in my own backyard and empty neighborhood parking lots to ingrain the right skills. It turns out this online training does have a real-world component to it. You may not have a YCRS coach right by your side, but their step-by-step drill videos might be the next best thing.

The virtues of virtual training

Is the YCRS ChampU online training worth it? In my mind, I believe so. For a reasonable price of $49 you gain access to 40 training videos and 32 real-world drills to practice from a school that has the credentials and track record to really improve your riding. The one-time fee gives you the ability to access the ChampU course anytime and anywhere you have internet access for repeat training and referencing those handy drills to practice.

screenshot of more online lesson courses
The ChampU school uses a lot of real-world street-riding footage and exercises. Their lessons can arguably be more valuable to the street rider than the track rider as a lot of their technique can be literal lifesavers on the road. Image by ChampU.

Seat time on the bike is important, but the quality and focus of that seat time is where the real dividends are paid for improving your riding ability. The Champ U online training helped me refocus on riding with purpose and strategy, and less by “feel.”

certificate of ChampU course completion
With the ChampU course officially complete, there seems to be only one thing left to do — have a direct comparison to their actual riding school. Image by ChampU.

The real question that burns in my mind though — can an online ChampU course take the place of YCRS's on-track coaching? Or, by taking the ChampU class in advance, have I gained an edge in maximizing my time in real life with the YCRS coaches? In September, I will head out to the YCRS home track of Inde Motorsports Ranch and see what, if any, advantages my ChampU training will bring to the race track.