How do we get better?
Updated: Mar 10, 2019
Waiting for the racing to get going proper I’ve been thinking a lot about my riding and what my goals are for this year over the off season. A lot of us who ride on track will have some sort of goal (usually to get faster!) but setting goals without also identifying a pathway to success is just daydreaming really, so how do we get to where we want to go.
With no riding to be done I decided to write down a few of my musings on the subject, here’s my take on it.
I came to racing motorcycles relatively late. Not old (33), but definitely later than the years of being a fearless teenage who might be more willing to chuck it at the scenery every weekend.
Contrary to a surprisingly often heard misconception, for most racers anyway, dragging home pieces of smashed up motorcycle in the back of the van on a Sunday afternoon is not the measure of a good weekend or being really on it,
During my time in the paddock I’ve met very few riders who can come back to the pits after a crash and be completely unaffected. Crashing is bad, it costs money and it hurts and worst of all it knocks your confidence. The guys around you will pitch in and help you repair you bike overnight, but they can’t rebuild your confidence for you.
So what do we do, we want to keep going faster, but we don’t want to crash, and when we do crash we want to understand what happened and why and put it behind us as soon as possible. Riding bikes around a thin strip of tarmac at 150mph isn’t something that comes naturally and so the answer to how we get better at it is to work on our technique.
We all have a given amount of natural talent, we can’t change that. Practice helps, but if you’re doing the wrong thing then you can practice until you’re blue in the face but you won’t get any better. So what we’re left with is technique.
For me one of the great things about our sport, and there are many, is that It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time on track or if you’re one of the best in the world, the techniques we use are exactly the same. It’s easy to think that the guys who are going 10, 20 seconds a lap faster than you have reached a level where they know some secrets that you haven’t been allowed to see yet, some info you’ll unlock when you get to a certain pace, but that just isn’t the case. They’re doing the same as what you’re doing; they’re just doing it better. It sounds obvious I know when you say it out loud but when you come to this simple realisation and you can identify the fundamental skills of our sport it creates a pathway to get better by working on our technique and the degree to which we can apply these skills.
The point of this story isn’t to teach you everything you need to know about track riding in 100 words. Firstly, there’s a bit more too it than that and secondly and more importantly, there’s plenty of people way more qualified to deliver that knowledge than myself. It is instead to remind us that once we accept there’s more to it than simply going out and tagging onto the back of someone a bit faster for a few laps then there are loads of things that we can do to safely improve our riding.
One of the biggest obstacles that most of us will face is that we get very little time actually riding our bikes. Finding ways of working on our performance while we’re off the bike can be a great shortcut to getting the most out of our time on the bike. There’s a load of resources out there which can help you to understand what your personal goals should be next time you heading to the track, and possibly more importantly, how to score yourself against how you’re doing in achieving those goals.
Thinking about brakes for example, identifying how much neutral throttle we’re using in a turn is a great measure of how effectively we’ve used our brakes. Too much brakes too early and we’ve over slowed our entry and are having to use more neutral throttle than we’d like to get us get to the point where the bike has direction and we can start increasing our speed again off of the turn. If we find we’re running more neutral throttle than we need, we can move our end of braking marker further into the turn to reduce the distance between releasing the brakes and being able to start accelerating again.
This is just one very brief example of many of course and as I said we’re not going to solve all of the worlds problems here and now but there are plenty of people who want to help you try. In case you’re not familiar with some of these already, here’s just a few of the readily available resources you can find to get you on that journey toward knee dragging tyre smoking track riding nirvana.
The Motovudu DVD is a great intro to the idea of track riding technique and is easily digestible and entertaining, although it lacks the depth to really get into developing your skills.
Mike Spike Edwards ‘How I Ride’ guides are a wealth of information for learning a new circuit or for applying a deeper understanding of track dynamics to circuits you already know by helping you identify the vital points on the lap.
One to One tuition, probably the gold standard in self improvement and needs no explanation but is of course costly and not always an option for everyone.
Ken Hill Coaching podcasts available on Soundcloud and the iTunes store are without doubt one of my personal favourite resource for helping you think about technique. The amount of knowledge available (for free I might add) through this series is just fantastic and has definitely been one of the biggest inspirations for me personally in trying to work more on my skills. If you don’t have time to listen to them all starting from number one then tracks 6 through 11, the series on the order of the sport are a great basis to start from.
Hopefully some of the above will be new to you and open up some new pathways to getting better at our sport, or simply act as a reminder that there’s always something that we can be working on even in the off season. For some it may be the first time you’ve thought about your riding this way and if that’s true in your case then that’s great, it’s never too late (or too early for that matter) to get better.
As always thanks for our sponsors for this year, in no particular order;
WSC Performance - www.wscperformance.co.uk
Wincanton Motorsport - www.wmstuning.com
HEL Performance - www.helperformance.com
GetGeared - www.getgeared.co.uk