Review: Yamaha Champions Riding School: Champ U Online Course
Full disclosure: I’m not a runner. I enjoy the occasional track day, but the lion’s share of my seat time is on public roads. I would dare say that is the case for most motorcyclists. Whether you’re a racing enthusiast or a recreational cyclist, there’s always room for improvement. There’s also no shortage of resources to help hone those skills, but not all motorcycle training courses are available to everyone.
This is the case of the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS). While the full course visits circuits from California to New Jersey, many riders aren’t fortunate enough to afford travel and fare (ChampStreet: $495, two-day: $2,195). To reach runners where they are (geographically and financially), YCRS introduced its 13-part Champ U online course in August 2021. At $99.95, the digital course offers Champ School’s full theory curriculum but leaves practice to the user.
Guests may not have a closed class to put these lessons to the test, but that’s a small price to pay for such a low price of admission. Clients still receive expert guidance from Lead Instructor Nick Ienatsch and King of the Baggers champion Kyle Wyman, but can now absorb and apply the modules at their convenience. With track and riding season on the horizon, I recently completed YCRS’ Champ U to see if racing techniques can make a road cyclist faster and safer on the street.
Mind over matter
We have all been there; virtually every rider knows what it’s like to overcook a turn, rush off a peak, or get greedy with the throttle. When those risky moments inevitably happen, half the battle musters your nerves enough to tackle the next turn. I have personally missed countless corners due to concern over a mistake made on the previous lap. On the track, these successive errors translate into slower lap times, but on the pavement, the consequences are far more disastrous.
To help runners focus after such instances, Champ U challenges runners to prime their awareness with the mental approach chapter. If you’ve ever seen Valentino Rossi crouch down next to his Yamaha M1 before a MotoGP race, you understand the importance of finding proper headspace before a ride. However, not everything goes according to plan on a Sunday cruise or track session, and having a surefire way to focus is invaluable.
As a result, Ienatsch and his company encourage runners to adopt a personal mantra. I’m sure many readers question such a hippie concept, but the trigger word really helps cyclists come to their senses. This presence is the key to peak performance, whether you’re hurtling through a hairpin or gliding through a scenic landscape. Of course, without the right mental approach, users cannot effectively apply advanced Champ U techniques.
Champ U builds on these solid foundations with the 100 grip points, R=MPH (radius equals miles per hour), and executive umbrella sections. Without giving away too many spoilers, each multi-part chapter highlights YCRS traction theory, throttle/brake control, and vision techniques. After each instructional video, users complete a quiz to confirm full understanding of the material before moving on.
Throughout each section, the instructors implore the rider to practice the concepts outlined in the video with drills. From gradually releasing the brake lever to gently applying the throttle to reducing sudden movements both on and off the bike, most sessions only require an empty parking lot to practice on. In addition to this accessibility, each exercise can be performed safely on the street, with Champ U prioritizing perception over performance.
To the test
Due to the sequential format of the online course, once riders understand the general theory behind YCRS, Champ U transitions from the mental side to the physical side of riding. the body position, Braking practice, Ergonomics, Demotion, and Rear brake chapters look at how rider inputs and setup affect the bike. On the other hand, 100mm travel lesson and Pointed end of the cone the lessons act as theoretical refreshers, drawing on previous chapters to inform more advanced concepts.
One of the most surprising aspects of Champ U is that it does not limit the practice to only motorcycles. In the penultimate section, Practical Car, the team shows that the YCRS lessons also apply to driving. Bikes and cars can steer differently, but both vehicles have brakes, acceleration, and finite grip. Ienatsch even equates steering wheel angle to the lean angle of a bicycle while demonstrating that riders can practice nuanced throttle/brake application and vision while riding.
This chapter is especially useful for users in colder climates, where year-round riding may not be an option. It also supports the idea that YCRS lessons don’t just apply to two-wheeled vehicles. Adapting your riding to include the base Champ U program will not only improve your performance, but will also help riders minimize harshness, maximize focus, gain patience, and adapt to changing conditions.
After completing the first 12 Champ U lessons, the course consolidates the exercises from all previous chapters into one final chapter. Repeating the exercises is even more rewarding when the rider is armed with the knowledge acquired throughout the online course. I can honestly say that the self-guided program has helped me become a much more aware cyclist, regardless of the environment.
The reward for safer street riding is enough to justify Champ U’s $99.95 price tag, but the fact that riders can be both safer and faster is well worth the investment. For a limited time, YCRS is also offering Champ U at the discounted rate of $49.95. Comprising 40 videos, 32 exercises and 43 quizzes, the online course is one of the best values in motorcycling right now.
If price and convenience were major barriers to attending the Yamaha Champions Riding School in the past, Champ U distills that experience into an accessible online course. Even if you’re not a racer or track rider, Champ U features vital riding techniques that will help all cyclists become faster and safer on any road or track.