Learning From Mistakes: Common Crashes and Figuring them Out


When we venture out onto the track there is little doubt that any of us want to crash, and I would guess in the majority of cases we don’t expect to crash either.

There is however a reason we dress ourselves from head to toe in protective gear. We don’t want or expect it, but we know it can happen, and unless you’re a professional racer that thinks of the gravel trap as a second home, crashing can have quite an effect on your riding.

There is one thing we can do though to minimise that effect and that is to learn from our mistake. If we can learn what went wrong we can then work to stop it happening again.

It’s not always easy to determine exactly what caused a crash given the speed at which they often occur, but in this guide I have laid out some things you can ask yourself to either help you determine the cause of a recent crash, or put you in a better position to learn from a crash if you have one in the future.

I’ll also cover some of the common causes of crashes for track day riders.

Figuring out the basics

This first thing you’re going to need to do is figure out at a basic level why you crashed.

This will be a lot easier to do if for example you ran wide off track or you crashed into another rider, but in the majority of cases a crash will be caused by a loss of traction, which can be a little harder to determine.

Very basic things you need to determine are, which tyre let go and at what point in the turn did they let go? Once you’ve answered those questions you can drill down a little more to help find the answer.

Expanding on what happened

Now we want to look deeper into what you were doing before the crash.

If you know the rear let go on the exit of the turn for example, can you remember what you were doing at that point that might have triggered it? Did you make an excessive input into the bike that may have upset it?

Bike’s aren’t stable one lap and unstable the next. If you went round the same turn many times previously at the same pace then you must have done something differently to trigger the crash. Can you remember what that might have been?

It’s not always easy to work this out and you may feel stumped, but the vast majority of crashes are caused by rider error, so it could just be that you are unaware that you were doing something wrong in the first place.

To help shed some light (and for future reference), here are some fairly common causes of crashes for track day riders.

Common causes of crashes

Too much throttle mid turn/exit – Probably the most common cause of track day crashes. Riders get too greedy with the throttle during the middle/exit of the turn while the bike is still leaned over.

Adding throttle and lean – This one catches a lot of riders out simply because they’re unaware that it shouldn’t be done. Trying to add more lean (while already banked over) and rolling the throttle on at the same time is a big no no.

It often comes when riders run wide mid turn or on the exit. They see they’re running wide so they add more lean while still continuing their mid turn/exit roll on. The result is the rear breaks traction because it has to deal with more cornering forces and more engine power at the same time.

Too much front brake into the turn – Not an awfully common cause of crashes, and rather than a simple case of trail braking too much it will more than likely come about because the rider overcooked the corner and held too much brake while trying to get the bike turned. But still worth a mention.

Turning and high lean angles put enough stress on the front tyre alone. To then add brakes and ask it to deal with a great deal more of the bike’s weight will only end one way if not done right.

Grabbing the front brake at high lean – Again not really a failure in technique. This crash will probably be caused by something startling the rider mid turn and causing them to grab a handful.

Going in too hot – This often comes from riders trying to be ‘last of the late brakers’ and charging into turns.

The sensations of going in too hot is a tough sensation to deal with and overcome – especially for less experienced riders who aren’t used to it – and it is this moment of panic that causes riders to do a whole manner of different things, such as grabbing too much brake while trying to turn, freezing up and running off track, or trying to make the turn and running out of ground clearance to name just a few.

Riding aggressively – Some riders feel they have to be in full attack mode to get the best out of themselves on track. This approach is only going to increase the risk of something like the above happening. A smooth, methodical approach to improving you’re riding is much better.

Target fixation – On track we go where we look, and if you can see you’re running wide and you target fixate on the outside of the track there’s only one place you’re going to end up. Trust me!

Still stumped? Don’t give up!

If you’re still struggling to figure out what went wrong, don’t give up! If you don’t conclude why you crashed then there’s every chance it could happen again. But what else can you do?

Talk to an experienced riding coach, someone that knows the errors riders make. They will have the ability to ask the right questions to figure out what you might have done wrong.

Or go one better, book a days coaching so the errors in your riding can be spotted and ironed out. As I’ve said many times, tuition is the number one way to improve your riding in terms of both speed AND safety.

As humans none of us are perfect and we will no doubt make mistakes, but as humans we have the ability to learn from those mistakes to ensure they don’t happen again, something that is very important because it ensures the results of the mistake have minimal impact on your future riding.

Don’t dismiss the incident as ‘just one of those things’. Instead analyse it, learn from it and get better and stronger because of it.