from the Educator,
I have always felt that along with book knowledge, first hand personal experiences are very valuable tools for providing education to our readers. I have often written about the things I have experienced while riding, some from good experiences and some from the jams I might have gotten into. This month I want to share my observations after spending a day at Road America, and the Super Bike Races. I have been going to the June race almost every year since I first got hooked on the sounds and sights of super bike racing almost ten years ago. If you have never had the pleasure and excitement of watching sports bikes traveling along a 4 mile road course with long 180 mph straightaways, and 20 mph hairpin turns, and long, long sweepers, you are missing something special. At Road America you can ride around the outside and the very inside of the course and watch the races from many different vantage points. We always start out in turn 3, which is a wonderful spot to watch the typical knee dragging that you always see in the pictures and on TV. Then we will move to either the long sweeper section known as the Carrosel, or come inside the course to witness the pit area and the start/finish line. Then later we always wind up at the hill in front of one of the concession stands to be able to watch turn 5 and the final turn that leads uphill toward the finish line. There is plenty of food and some vendors and plenty of “T” shirts to buy. Well enough about the track, lets talk about my observations.
As I have watched the races over the years, I have noticed a definitive trait that separates the winners and lead bikers from the rest of the pack. That skill, is, SMOOTHNESS. The tortoise or the hare, is not what I am talking about. You might first think, that the hare approach, which is quick and inconsistent versus the steady and consistent, tortoise approach, would reflect this smoothness. Although for street riding the tortoise method of riding will be safer most of the time, this is not the smoothness that I am referring too.
Smoothness , as in the mechanical and physical operation of your motorcycle. From as simple as shifting through the gears, to braking, to leaning the bike over for curves or turns, to positioning your body while riding. All of these everyday skills can be applied in many different ways, but can be looked at in either one of two, done smoothly and efficiently, or other. Lets ask an obvious question, when you are on an expressway ramp, how many times during that long curve do you readjust your lean angle or steering position? The smoother you have learned to operate your motorcycle, the lower the number of adjustments you will and should be making. One of the most telling things I have noticed at the race track, is that the lead bikes when leaning the bike from a simple straight position over for the upcoming turn do so smoothly that your not sure when it actually started, but it is very fluid. While the bikers at the rear of the pack seem to be jerking their bikes over to gain the angle, and then jerking them back up again after the turn. If we could look at a series of “S” curves, the good racer when moving his bike from an extreme right side lean to an extreme left side lean would do so with one simple easy movement of the bike. The less than skilled racer in almost all cases, stops his rotation at center and repositions himself for the next lean angle, before actually leaning the bike over. The result is that while he is upright, and the bike is traveling forward at a good rate of speed, the good racer as already started into the next turn, but the less than good racer hasn’t even begun his entry to the next turn. By stopping in the center of the rotation from right to left, he ate up valuable time and road, that now makes the next turn a bit more sharp and more difficult to make. This also shows up in breaking before a turn. By breaking smoothly and properly, you can better judge your speed as you head into a turn, thus being able to make the turn more easily. The racer that waits too long and then has to use the brakes harder, has much more difficulty judging their entry speed and then also deciding on the line to use through the turn. This is why, the better racer can run through the same turn faster than the other racers. Speed in turns is not as important as you might think, the difference between bikes usually shows up in their ability to pull out of turns and the quickness of their acceleration, along with their stability in the turns. In one case the frame and suspension are at work, and the other, the engine and drive chain are at work. But you could probably change bikes with the winning racer and the loosing racer and the winning racer will still win the race, because of his SMOOTHER ability to run the course. Now we of course aren’t in a race, but the efficient and smooth operation of your motorcycle will translate into better control of you and the motorcycle, which offers big dividends in safety and pleasure.