Getting off to a good start
The Penguin School has literally seen tens of thousands of riders experience the racetrack over the years. During this time, as you might imagine, we've seen riders show up who are fully prepared, not ready at all and nearly everywhere in-between. All of our students show up with basic physical motorcycle riding skills, but many are not prepared for the mental aspect of tackling the racetrack. This complimentary article outlines some of the basic things that you will need to have a successful day at the track. We hope that you enjoy reading it, and look forward to seeing you at our event.
Getting your head in the right place
To the outside observer, riding a sport bike is primarily a physical exercise. While good physical condition and aptitude with the controls are certainly required, any rider who has experienced the track knows that it is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Track day riders and racers alike agree that it is most often the mental rigors of mastering the track that present the biggest hurdle when attempting to make progress. With this in mind, this article will discuss the mental preparation that is essential to improving your track skills with the greatest possible efficiency.
Power to improve
For many, the attraction of the track centers very much around the limitless opportunities to learn and improve. When looking at this learning process, we find that most riders are able to make measurable progress when they hit the track with a single focus each session. When able to maintain this single focus the process of working on braking, body position or any other single technique will not tend to cause a rider to feel overwhelmed. However, the capacity for most riders to maintain this singular focus drastically diminishes when they have not done the requisite preparatory work. This work involves spending a little extra time early in the day in order to make available the mental processing power needed to work on this new skill.
Go slow to go fast
In order to have the capacity to think about any of the skills needed to gain confidence you first have to know exactly where you are going on the track. Kenny Roberts used to always say “learn to go slow in order to go fast”, and this simple concept has many applications. When applied to learning a racetrack, going slow early in the day will grant you the additional mental capacity you need in order to retain the information the track has for you. Fortunately, it only takes a small reduction in speed to allow a rider to relax and direct full attention to creating an invaluable set of reference points. At the Penguin School, we always begin our day with a guided session - just for this purpose.
Points create the path
When there are not enough (or an absence of) reference points to create a complete picture of a "line" there are several problems created. Since there are no specific points to look for on the horizon, a rider's vision tends to be drawn in to the road right in front of them. This not only increases the perception of speed but also leads to a lack of smoothness due to mid corner corrections. To understand why this happens one would only need to imagine the difficulty of walking straight to a target 300 feet away while looking straight down at your shoes. When riders become the most comfortable they typically have a minimum of three to four reference points per corner and are able to scan back and forth from one to the next, enabling them to visualize smooth path all the way from entrance to exit.
Riders can typically learn 2-3 corners per session and should start memorizing the track in critical areas first. Fast corners, blind areas and big braking zones should be given priority as these tend to be the areas on a track that create the highest stress. Remember that the point of this process is to know exactly where you will go before you get there so that both your position on the track and the timing of your inputs are set. Uncertainty when it comes to things like brake points, turn points and apexes in critical corners will consume nearly all of your focus and attention. The anxiety of approaching a fast corner without precise references removes all of your filters and robs your attention from the primary goals you have set for that session.
Set the apex first
Once a rider has conquered the areas of highest stress, the next priority is to establish apexes, turn points and brake points for the remainder of the track. When you are at your apex you should generally be able to both see your exit point and be aimed towards it (the correct trajectory). The strategy in each corner is centered around the apex and this should be the first reference point you seek to obtain in each corner. Without the apex, you have nothing to aim for on the way into a corner and setting a consistent turn point becomes impossible.
When reference points are missing, a rider has to make an educated guess on where they should be and as a result both consistency and confidence drop off. Taking the time to slow down and map out your strategy before attempting to ride hard will produce faster lap times, fewer mistakes and a vastly better mindset for learning. Lines and references points will then require less and less of your attention, leaving ample space in your head to start working on your riding - the fun part!
We look forward to seeing you on the track!
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