When trying to identify the proper approach to the sport of motorcycling, we should be looking at the best riders in the world.
What do we mean when we say the 'best riders' in the world? We are talking about the MotoGP, WSBK and MotoAmerica level champions. The riders that are consistently contending for the championship each season. Always running within the top 5, or better yet, on the podium every weekend. Winning the championship year after year. Champions.
Be safe riders first
It may seem a little contradictory, but these champions are choosing the safest way around the track they possibly can. Yes, these guys are dragging elbow everywhere, pushing the boundaries of lean angle of their tire profile, and generally at or above the limit of grip in every corner. But it is the way they approach these limits that matter most.
They are champions because they understand they cannot be abrupt. They cannot throw the bike into the corner...flick it, send it, grab, stab, etc. They need to be smooth. They need to be linear with their controls. They have to be safe first. Crashing in every corner and in every race will not win them a championship. It will hurt them and ultimately force them to quit. Not what a champion wants.
Don't do it because I said so
Study the experts. Watch MotoGP. The camera coverage is an excellent learning tool. Especially when it comes to the information they display. Lean angle, speed, rpm, gear, throttle and brake inputs. This is all data. Data that you can use to identify how the rider is using their controls and where they are using them. Pay special attention to throttle, brake and lean angle. Notice that at no time do any of these controls spike abruptly. The rider input is always smooth and linear. Remember, our tires do not respond well to abrupt inputs. That is how we lose traction.
Watch the transitions as well. Never do you see the rider jump off the brakes and hammer the throttle. The brake pressure builds...is gradually trailed off to zero where the rider is happy with their speed and direction...the throttle comes on and builds as the rider is able to take away lean angle. Red to green...green to red. Never overlapping, never abrupt.
Take some time and research how these riders are training on and off the bike. What are they doing during practice sessions? What do they do between races and in the off season? What do they do to prepare for race day?
Jorge Lorenzo has his own minibike track where he turns endless laps, honing his input smoothness and control. Josh Hayes jumps on his stationary bike to get his heart rate up and warm up his body before a race. Valentino Rossi has his own motocross track where he rides and teaches regularly throughout the year.
Training and conditioning for these champions is constant. It's part of their everyday life.
Do champions think they don't need to improve? Absolutely not. They use riding coaches to help them improve in any area they can. These coaches are watching them from the sidelines, sharing data in between sessions, helping them with line adjustment. Every tenth counts. A champion has the humility to recognize that they need improvement. The best champions are constantly working to improve.
Rossi saw a need to modify the way he rode his bike back in 2014 just to stay competitive in a field of riders that just kept getting faster. Here's a quote directly from Rossi during that season: “If you want to stay on top, you must look at what the fastest riders are doing. I now use more of the top of my body to move outside of the bike to improve turning. I watch and I try to modify my position on the bike. I now move forward more to avoid wheelies.”
A riding coach can help identify these differences and work with the rider on how and where to make changes.
Be a Champion all the time
The more aspects of your life where you behave like a champion, the more you train your brain and body to BE a champion. Never spill your drink at the table. Never trip up the stairs. Never mis-type your password. Practice your everyday actions to the degree that you rarely if ever fail at these simple things. Build the strength of your focus muscle off the track to better prepare it for when you are on the track.
Train your body every day to be conditioned and ready to go every time you swing your leg over your bike. Track day? First race? Going on a two week ride with friends on unfamiliar roads? Build your fitness level to a degree where it doesn't limit your endurance or cause fatigue and a loss of focus. Prepare.
Practice your fundamentals. The better you become at the fundamental techniques of riding your motorcycle, the more these actions become second nature. Practice your technique to the point where it allows you to be proactive in your approach to riding, not reactive.
Invest in yourself. You will hear this a lot from me. Not just because I am a coach ;-) Again, the best riders in the world are doing this. While they are fighting for inches and tenths or hundredths, we may be working on the fundamentals or just trying to reach a basic goal. This is what coaches are for. Identifying where you need the most help, and helping you to work on those areas and surpass your limits.
I could on and on...nutrition, sleep, financial stability, relationships. Think about all aspects of life. Champions execute these habits in every aspect of their lives. Off the track practice keeps them focused and in tune with what they need to do on the track.
How you do anything is how you do everything!
We look to the best in the world as examples. Safety. Technique. Preparation. Humility. Excellence. Champions...
Final thoughts. Just because we want to emulate champions does not mean this approach is strictly bound to riding at the race track. Does the motorcycle know if it is on a race track or on the street? No. Will it behave differently on the street? No. A motorcycle responds to the riders inputs on the controls. Period. The level of intensity will be different on the street, but we should always approach how we ride with the same habits of a champion regardless of the location or situation.