Speed is probably the most respected attribute out on track. What I mean is that if a rider can see someone else is faster than they are, the assumption is often made that the faster rider is a better rider and that they must know something they don’t.
In fact, this trait is seen in the coaching realm too. Many times certain coach’s words have more weight simply because they have performed to a high level compared to another, and the question of whether that coach can actually teach and help riders apply riding technique never enters the equation.
Why that is the case is a conversation for another day, but getting back to the point, this respect that comes from speed leads riders to blindly emulate what the faster rider is doing, thinking that if they can do the same thing they’ll be just as fast as them.
But that isn’t always the case, and here I wanted to go over some thoughts for consideration when looking to learn from the faster guys around us, and just how much we should be looking to learn from these riders.
We’ll start by clearing up something that many people often seem to forget.
Just because a rider can go faster than you over a lap, it doesn’t mean that rider is better than you in my book.
At track day level, the vast majority of the difference in speed between the fastest and slowest guys on a given track day is simply down to the faster guys having a greater confidence to use more of the bike’s potential.
Meaning they’re comfortable using more brakes, more lean angle, and more throttle.
You might be running much tidier and consistent laps, hitting your spots nicely and doing all the right things with the bike to keep it stable and in check. However, you could still get embarrassed (lap times wise) by a rider that isn’t doing any of that stuff and just flies towards their traction limits with abandon.
I’ve met a few of those riders over the years, and with my progress being far more steady I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy them and their ability to race into the unknown, generating far more speed than I was capable of at the time, sometimes with a lot less experience.
That being said, seeing the more frequent bad consequences of testing the limits that way made me feel better about my personal path to higher speeds.
Anyway… the point I’m making here is that speed alone doesn’t mean a rider is doing a better job than you as an all-round safe track rider, and that you should immediately start copying what they’re doing at every point around the track.
Fast AND safe is your goal.
All of that said, observing faster riders is most definitely a valuable tool to unlocking speed for yourself at the track you ride.
A better way to view faster riders is to use them as a general gauge of where you are losing speed and time. This can be done on the track itself or even through the use of video.
On the track if you can see that you brake at a similar point but by the time you reach the apex they are an extra 10 meters ahead, you know they’re running more speed into the corner.
Or if you are seeing them gapping you as you drive off the corner, you know it’s your corner exit that needs to be improved (assuming similar machinery).
This can also be done through the use of video too. With a little computer dexterity I have lined up videos in the past, one being my own, and watched different parts of a lap to see where the time was being made.
Once you have that data you can bring it back into the context of your own riding to see if there’s something you can change to improve in the area that you have found to be lacking.
And that’s an important point to make here.
Blindly following into the unknown purely because someone is faster is a surefire way to have you in situations you’re not used to. Now this isn’t always bad, sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to progress, but if it forces you to take a totally different approach to what you already know you could be at risk of falling into a panic situation.
Instead, consider your own riding and what you need to change from what you currently do in order to get the result you’re after.
So like our rider that noticed the other rider was heading into the corners with more speed but braking at the same point, this tells them that the other rider is braking a little less aggressively and/or releasing the brake a little earlier as they approach the corner.
Now they have a plan to make an improvement. Work to release the brakes a little earlier and roll more speed into the corner.
Doing it this way and bringing it back to your own riding is going to give you a much better idea of what is going to bring an improvement as we just said, but also when you DO get an improvement you’ll know exactly what you did to achieve it. Something that can be taken to any corner on any track that you ride.
But listen, I get it.
Learning from faster riders can shortcut a few things, like where you should be performing each action and the more ideal lines and approach you should be taking. For that reason I would never say ignore everyone else because there will be things that can be learned and taken away.
But again it should be regarded merely as extra data. Use that data as an addition to help you get a result, but always be wary of where you are and what you’re doing.
As I discussed in my go slower to go faster article, learning to be in control before attempting to force speed into your riding is a much safer way of improving, and once again it’s going to give you a better idea on how you got there when you do make an improvement.
Approaching it this way is going to give you the best chance of taking something valuable away from those riders long term, rather than simply looking for a quick fix in your lap times.