A goal of a substantial portion of the riders in any track day paddock is to ride faster than they did previously.
Like any sport, in order to get better those same riders need to become more competent with the skills and tools they have at their disposal over time, which will naturally yield the results they’re after.
An issue riders come up against on that quest for a higher level is that they don’t approach their efforts to improve in the right way.
Most commonly, they attempt to reach a higher level simply by riding “harder”.
In this article I want to go over some things to consider for long term progress as you work to edge further and further up the track riding ranks.
Many riders will head out for a riding session with the simple goal of trying to ride faster by forcing themselves through boundaries all over the track. This typically results in little progress being made, and the progress that is made most often comes at the expense of composure, the application of various skills, and safety.
Most riders can be forgiven for this approach simply because they don’t know any different. Though I have encountered some riders who believe that the only lessons they need should come from getting out there and riding. “No one can teach you anything off-track” they say.
It’s certainly a brave, hairy chested approach, but one I would advise everyone against if crashing is something you aren’t particularly fond of.
It’s like a new golfer trying to add 50 yards to their drive simply by swinging harder off the tee. They may achieve that goal, but it’ll likely only remain inbounds 1 time in 10.
In reality it’s the more measured approach of learning about the swing mixed with conscious and controlled practice to reach a competent standard that is going to yield better results long term and mean you become a better golfer all-round too.
It’s much the same with riding. Learning about the sport and then spending a dedicated amount of time operating at a level that let’s you put that stuff into practice is going to mean better results long term, as well as mean you’re operating with a bigger safety margin when you do reach that next level.
When you “ride hard” there’s very little space for conscious application (which is crucial for improving a skill), let alone mental space to actually note what you’re experiencing and if it’s working.
If you’ve consumed anything from Keith Code or the California Superbike School, you’ll know that this is a big part of their philosophy.
They recommend operating at 75-80% of your riding limit when working to improving riding skills for all the reasons I mentioned above.
But I know the notion of going slow to go fast doesn’t sit right with a lot of riders because I hear the same stories a lot. They head to the track with good intentions of conscious practise, but end up throwing it all out the window and riding hard attempting to force speed.
I also know this because it was a problem for me. Not because I didn’t believe it was the correct way, but rather my impatience to rider faster NOW often overrode my desire to practise a particular skill with the view of getting faster later.
The thing is, riding away from your personal limit doesn’t have to mean riding like the postman on a sunny Monday morning ride. You can still be fast and ride at a lower limit.
Riding within yours limit is all about giving yourself time and attention. Time and attention to actually practise the skill without feeling rushed and note the outcome you’re getting.
Perceived time and attention is sapped largely by how we brake and enter a corner.
Depending on what you’re working on, this might mean using a more modest braking point or level of braking, or reducing how much you attack the corner with speed.
By altering your approach in these areas to free up a little mental time and attention, your ability to actually do the thing you need to do to progress in improved substantially.
What’s more, it isn’t uncommon for riders using this approach to achieve a HIGHER speed in little time even while they sit further within their personal limit, because oftentimes they realise that their previous attacking approach was actually detrimental to their speed.
Maybe because their sense of speed improved with extra attention, meaning they could roll more speed into the corner, or maybe the mental space allowed them to use a line that got more from the corner, for instance.
In any case it’s entirely possible to make just as quick, if not quicker progress while sitting inside your riding limit. And before you know it your old 100% limit becomes your new 80%.
All of what I’m talking about here is about giving yourself a better platform to improve the skills that are going to keep you safe as well as create the foundations for higher speeds later down the line.
With that said, there are times when you simply must push past a barrier by “forcing” speed.
Whether it’s using more braking potential, leaning the bike more or using more of the throttle at corner exit, in my experience true confidence in areas like these can only be gained by pushing through the previous limit and experiencing that new level first-hand.
The key here is to learn that level of control first by operating within your limit before adding that surplus of speed to the equation.
For example, at corner entry this would mean learning how to steer and where to look so that you can hit your spots and create the line you want before you attempt to push your entry speed limit.
Or learning how to correctly apply the brakes and structure your braking effort before trying to become Lord of the Late Brakers.
For learning riders the limit is raised by reaching a higher degree of competence in the fundamental skills of riding, and it is working within that limit that most enables you to reach a higher degree of competence.
A tough pill to swallow for riders that want to rider fast NOW, but a necessary one for those that want to become safe, consistent and technically sound, as well as fast.
Photo by Jun Wang
How to Get the Most from Your Track Time: Pre-Ride Prep & How to Approach Your Day
How to Deal With the Panic When Someone Takes Your Line
Learning to Trust Your Tyres Through Technique & Experience
Using Other Riders to Gauge Your Speed and Uncover Weaknesses