Following on from the last article I wrote which looked at the riding skill ‘order of importance’, I thought it would be good to expand on the last point I made in that piece about being smooth.
I think a majority of riders will know they need to be smooth. It’s something you hear all the time from riders and commentators alike in racing, and many books, schools and coaches will be promoting the same qualities.
But what does being smooth really mean?
In this article I wanted to take a look at the main actions that we perform on the track and talk about what it means to be smooth with each of them, to hopefully give you a better idea on just what people are talking about.
Before we get to that, however, I wanted to first touch on a very common phrase used in this conversation…
This is a phrase you hear a lot around the subject of being smooth. It’s one that’s correct, but it’s also one that doesn’t sit perfectly well with me because I feel it gives a vague, possibly even wrong message to the one it’s actually trying to convey.
A better way to say it would be… ‘controlled is smooth, and smooth is fast’. We’re not always looking to be slow with our actions, but we are looking to be controlled.
It is being controlled with each and every action you take on the bike that creates a smooth rider, and it’s that smoothness that most often enables fast riding.
So with that said, let’s look at each common action in turn and go over what it means to be controlled and smooth with them.
You can use the brakes to a very high level and you can get to that level quickly too, but you don’t jab the brakes on instantly. You progressively squeeze the lever harder and build up the pressure so the weight and force on the front tyre builds up progressively too.
Then once you reach the end of the braking zone and begin entering the corner, you don’t immediately release the lever, but instead you taper and trail the brakes off so that you slowly relieve the front end of the weight and force and better balance the bike for corner entry.
Steering is another control that can be performed quickly. For instance sometimes it might benefit the corner to flick the bike over quickly, but you don’t punch on the inside bar to get the bike to lean over. It’s a confident but controlled push on the inside bar.
Or in situations where you need to change direction quickly from one side to the other, you don’t yank on the bars as hard as you can. You once again use controlled inputs into the bike as you work to change direction, while also being sure not to add any unnecessary inputs into the bars as you move your body from one side to the other.
The throttle is probably the most important control that you want to be smooth with. A snatchy use of the throttle in the middle of the corner is a sure-fire way to unsettled the stability of the bike and possibly overwhelm either tyre, or a quick over eagerness to begin your acceleration at corner exit could mean buying yourself a return ticket to the moon.
Instead when we first crack the throttle open mid-corner we want to introduce the power as gently as we can to stop the bike slowing down. Then as we transition to corner exit and we can begin picking the bike up, we slowly increase throttle input to gradually increase the power delivery. It’s a gentle transition from initial application, all the way out to corner exit. No ham-fisted handfuls of throttle needed here.
Good timing of your body movements is important for smooth and tidy riding because it means you are far less likely to put any unwanted inputs into the bike at the wrong times, but the manner in which you move your body makes a big difference too.
You are heavy. You make up a sizeable portion of the total weight of bike and rider. This means that overly aggressive or sloppy movements around the bike are going to have an affect on the chassis, and therefore negatively affect your stability and traction.
Once again movements can be quick, but they must be controlled so that they affect the bike as little as possible. This means how your weight moving around affects the bike itself, but also minimising any unwanted inputs as you move around too – which typically go through the bars.
While not really as big a deal as the others here and not quite as common, I still see riders making sloppy gear changes. When upright it’s not really a problem, but at higher lean angles exiting corners, for instance, riders can be a little too eager with their shifting efforts.
This is mainly aimed at clutchless upshifts, where the rider’s throttle action during the upshift can be a little aggressive.
With downshifts there may well be times when you need to get down a number of gears quickly. With modern technology this is becoming easier and easier, but older bikes that don’t have the luxury of auto-blippers or slipper clutches, you must be more controlled with the downshifts as not to upset the bike, reduce traction or corner entry control.
To navigate around the track we must put inputs into the bike and move around on it so that we can do the things we need to do to go fast. But with each of those actions you have to consider the forces they’re putting through the bike and how that translates to the tyres and the track.
Ultimately what we don’t want is any immediate spikes in force going through the bike and tyres, which will most often be caused by sloppy technique. Whether that’s how you use the brakes, throttle, how you steer or move the body, those actions can create spikes of force if performed poorly, which could take you outside of the limits of traction.
Being smooth with each control and movement ensures that you remain inside those traction limits, but it also allows you to tap greater potential from the tyres because you’re creating a better situation for the tyres themselves in terms of how they deal with those forces. Pre-loading the front tyre with a progressive initial brake application will allow for greater braking potential, for instance.
So the next time you feel you were riding on the ragged edge and riding super fast but then you come back to the paddock to realise you’ve gone 2 seconds slower, consider a change in how you use the bike in search for more speed.
Freaks of nature like Marc Marquez aside, a smoother rider is a faster (and safer) rider.
Photo by Smudge 9000
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