I’ve spoken many times in the past about riders who often focus on the wrong parts of their riding as they work to make improvements.
In this article I’m going to share my thoughts on the importance of the various skills that make up performance riding to help give you a little more direction as you’re searching for your next avenue for progress.
But before we get into that I just wanted to stress that this is by no means a categorical order that you MUST follow. Different teachers and coaches will likely have differing views on what’s more important, for starters.
Also the importance could change depending on the rider, where their current weaknesses lie, and the extent of those weaknesses.
And finally, some skills shine more when other skills are learned, creating a sort of chicken and egg scenario.
So while I will be taking you through this list in order of importance, use it as a guide within the context of your own riding, where you are most experiencing frustration and where you can see you are furthest away from an ideal fundamental application.
Ok, onto the first and what I believe to be the most important skill.
The reason I put visual skill as number one is because of the overall impact it has on your riding. Good visual skill will benefit you in all areas of the track.
Things like braking effort, entry speed, lines, steering, throttle control, exit drive and consistency are all positively impacted by good visual skill. And as a beneficial layer above that it’ll have you feeling more calm and in control too.
Now, in order to actually improve in all those areas then the specific skills need to be practised and improved first, but without good visual skill they’ll be a limit to just how much you can get out of them.
So for those reasons, visual skill is number one on my list.
By steering I mean becoming conscious of not only how you steer the bike itself, but learning how different approaches to steering can help or hinder the corner in question. Meaning where you steer and how quickly you steer.
Once you gain control of your steering you open up options for the approaches you take for each corner and the lines you carry through them.
It also directly opens the door for both higher entry speeds and exits speeds. Entry speed from a quicker rate of steering, and exit speed by changing your angle of approach to the apex which allows for a greater drive out.
Once again there’s also that layer of safety that comes from being able to more confidently put the bike where you want. A valuable skill when mistakes are made and time and attention is short.
Following in a very close third we have throttle control. Good throttle control is as much about safety as it is time saved.
In the middle of the corner good throttle control creates stability and balance. As you transition to corner exit, good throttle control ensures the weight is transferred to the rear more gradually for a smoother and more progressive drive out.
This improves traction, means you’re sitting more within the limits, and as an added bonus will likely mean more miles out of each rear tyre too.
Yes, good throttle control will gain you speed in the middle of many corners and out of most exits, but just as important as that is the benefits that come in the way of bike stability and all the positive things that brings to the table.
Now really this could have been second or third. From a safety standpoint it would be second for many riders, but being that poor lines created by poor steering can have a big knock on effect to your throttle control efforts, I feel steering should be there first as it enables good and consistent throttle control and drive out of corners.
Learning how to correctly brake gives huge benefits in the way of time saved, along with how we’re able to prepare for corner entry.
In the big braking zones in particular, as you learn about correct braking structure and then get more confident with using more braking potential you’ll make huge leaps in terms of how confidently you can drive down the straights toward the point where you want to begin braking, and you’ll also greatly shorten your braking zones simply because you don’t need them to be as drawn out as before.
This means big time saved.
Braking is also a key part of a good corner entry too because we’re using the brakes to set our speed for the corner. Spend too long setting that speed by drawing out the braking for too long and you’ll lose time.
On the other end of the scale you can try to do too much in the braking zone, mainly by braking later and/or overly attacking the corner to the point where it costs you entry speed and composure. It’ll likely spoil your exit line too.
The reason this is number four is because you need to have the other parts of your riding working well to really maximise corner entry. The main things being vision and steering.
Body position is an important part of being a good track rider. Let me say that right at the top.
There are three ideals we’re looking to achieve with body position. They are…
These are all important things we want to have in place when riding.
All of that being said, the reason it sits so far down this list is because in terms of increasing your level of speed and safety in track riding, for the vast majority of learning riders everything I’ve covered to this point will bring greater benefits.
Now, if your body position is way off the mark then it is going to become a higher priority, and for that matter that goes for any skill.
But in my experience riders are perhaps a little too eager to start working, or continue working on body position in order to see improvements when they would likely see more substantial and beneficial improvements elsewhere.
For those reasons, body position sits at number five.
Ok, I have one last area I want to talk about. It’s not as literal as the previous skills and not really in this order, but rather it’s a trait you should be looking to add to your riding arsenal and something that should be improved across everything you do on the track over time.
Contrary to many rider’s opinions, being a fast rider isn’t about being all-out aggressive. This view probably isn’t helped by the introduction of riders like Marc Marquez into MotoGP who appear to be on the ragged edge at every single movement.
Now it goes without saying that he clearly gets the job done, but on the flip side of that coin is Mr Jorge Lorenzo.
His smooth, wheels in line style is something to behold, and if anyone remembers his qualifying lap at Valencia 2016 where his inch perfect, totally undramatic lap smashed the lap record by some margin, they’ll understand the potential of such a style.
This is a style that is a lot more achievable for learning riders, and one that is going to be safer because you’re more in control and not relying on bucket loads of talent to keep a bucking and twisting motorcycle in contact with the ground.
The best way to think of what you’re trying to achieve when being smooth is how your inputs affect the bike. The use of every control and every body movement puts various forces through it and alters weight distribution and stability.
Your job as a rider is to maximise potential from the bike and tyres while upsetting that stability as little as possible. Over time the fidelity with which you use each control and move your body around must be worked on and improved in order to keep the bike more happy, but also to set a platform to reach for higher levels moving forward.
To be quick it’s about working with the bike, not fighting against it.
Have a good look at your riding and honestly answer which areas are most lacking. Use the thoughts above to come to a more sensible conclusion about what you need to work on next. Approaching rider development like this is likely to bring you more suitable and substantial progress in a shorter space of time.
Photo by Brian Snelson