You don’t have to look that far within track riding circles to find advice and guides on body position. In my experience it’s easily the most sought-after material and it’s the area a lot of riders like to focus on.
However, in all of that material there’s often a piece of the puzzle that’s not talked about. Which is..
Is your body up to the task?
In this article I wanted to talk about fitness in motorcycle riding, and how your ability to do the things you want on the bike will be affected by your personal fitness limits.
Guy Martin once made me chuckle when answering a question put to him about how difficult it must be to do what he does in the Isle of Man TT race.
His reply was something along the lines of…
“We’re only riding motorbikes. We’re ‘ardly running a bloody marathon, are we?”
Guy is indeed correct that running a marathon is a lot harder than riding motorbikes in circles for a day. But that doesn’t mean riding bikes in this environment is easy.
Riding on the road is typically easy because you’re hardly ever subjected to the high forces that heavy braking/acceleration and high lean angles bring about. And you get plenty of time to rest.
Take the bike to the track and things become very different.
If it is your goal to push your bike as far as you’re able to, you’re soon going to be experiencing a lot more g-force than you would merely bimbling down a country road on a Sunday afternoon.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re adopting the correct body position throughout the various stages of track riding, you will be moving all over the bike, putting it into positions that call upon select groups of muscles – ultimately meaning more strain on those muscles.
If it is your goal to actually reach a good level of track riding, maybe even try a bit of racing, fitness should be one key part of the puzzle that you have in place.
Discounting any big bike setup issues, have you ever had that session on track where you haven’t been able to make it to the end? Or when towards the end your movements become sloppier and generally more difficult?
Or have you experienced the aching around your legs and core muscles for the next day or two?
If you answered no to those questions, well then you’re either pretty fit already, or you’re not riding fast enough and/or displaying correct technique.
If you answered yes like many would, assuming your technique is sound then this is your body telling you that you’re getting a serious workout.
And if they’re not up to the task and you begin to feel fatigued, you start to create a manner of different issues.
You get lazy on the bike when moving around and you begin to have an effect on the bike’s stability, or you straight up can’t perform the task you need to, i.e. hard braking or steering.
Your mental state begins to take shots to the ribs too.
Loss of judgement and slower reaction times are two major effects caused by fatigue, which basically translates into a higher chance of you making a silly decision, but also taking longer to recognise and correct a mistake once it’s made, ultimately meaning a higher risk of crashing.
Being fit and able to perform the task at hand irradiates all of those issues and ensures that you reach not only the end of each session a lot less tired, but the end of the day less tired too.
Some people spend crazy amounts of money on the latest gear to shave literally grams from the bike’s overall weight in order to improve speed.
The funny thing is, in my experience (and with the greatest respect) those same riders could shave kilos from themselves for nothing and see a lot more gains as a result.
Weight loss is such a valuable asset when it comes to performance. And it’s not just in terms of power to weight ratio where performance is improved, other areas are too, like stopping power for instance.
Not to mention that it would link straight in with the above point about fatigue, making the rider’s physical efforts that much easier because there’s less weight to haul around.
Some of you may be happy as you are, which is absolutely fine, but for those that feel they could (and want to) lose a little size around the middle, why not make your biking habits your motivation for doing something about it?
You only have to look to the guys in MotoGP to know you don’t have to look like something straight out of a Mr Universe contest.
Riding motorcycles around the track isn’t so much about strength as it is stamina.
There obviously needs to be a layer of strength involved, but there comes a point where getting any stronger does not benefit you.
Rocking up to the gym, picking up the heaviest weight you can find and blasting out five reps isn’t going to help your track riding efforts a great deal.
When you consider how you work your muscles over a given session and how they’re rarely given a rest, it’s clear that core strength and stamina are the order of the day.
Not picking up a dumbbell and hitting preacher curls till your bicep explodes.
Again, if body building is you thing, it’s all good, I’m merely trying convey to those new to this fitness thing that huge strength is not an asset worth having in track riding.
If you spend a bit of time looking into it you’ll discover that motorcycle racers are some of the fittest all-round athletes on the planet.
And those are the key words here. “All-round” athletes.
They perform a mixture of strength and stamina training, typically with a slight bias towards core and leg strength.
A solid starting point would be a few strength training sessions that cover your whole body, and then 3-4 cardio sessions a week.
Do that for a short while and you’re going to be ahead of the vast majority of riders out on track.
You only have to listen to what high-level racers are saying after a short while off the bike and training. Particularly the guys that come back from injury who haven’t been able to work on fitness.
Granted, the forces they’re being exposed to are a lot higher and they’ll be racing for longer periods too, but after these periods off they simply aren’t able to perform at the same level as they could before.
If this is stuff you really don’t want to concern yourself with then you just have to be realistic about what you can do on the bike.
That could be how long you can ride for, or how well you’re going to be able to get into the ideal body position.
For instance, without a fair bit of work you’re simply not going to be able to hang off the bike like Marc Marquez for anything more than a corner or two.
If that’s the case, then you just have to be a little more conservative.
However, if you want to start improving the level at which you can perform to as you get faster, taking steps to improve your all-round fitness and strength is a good first step to achieving that.
Go Slower to Go Faster: Why “Riding Hard” is Counterproductive
Feedback and Feel on a Motorcycle: What is it and How Do You Get it?
Key Performance Indicators of Track Riding Progress
Four Steps to High Level Track Riding: Common Stages of Rider Progress