Mythbusting: Copying a faster rider
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
We've all heard the advice...pick someone on the track that is faster than you and do what they are doing! But what if they aren't doing it right? Let's discuss this common myth.
We have all been there...super focused on what we are doing, pushing to our personal limit, feeling like there is no way we can go any faster. Then all of a sudden someone goes flying past us! We hear the voice of that guy in the pit..."Just get behind a faster rider and do what they do!" So we put our heads down and push...braking when they brake, using their lines, getting back to the throttle where they do...
But was this the right thing to do? Let's take a look at a few things.
Let's address the major issue right away. Risk. Any time we add speed to what we are doing we add risk. What we do not want to be doing is adding risk at a higher rate than our technique will support. What do I mean by this?
If your understanding of the sport is such that you are guessing about whether the technique you are using is correct, then you are adding too much risk too early in your learning path. Before we start to apply a new technique, or push the boundaries of the technique we are using, we need to have a solid understanding of what the outcome of that technique is supposed to be. Add in a healthy dose of awareness of what we are actually doing on the bike and we have a good foundation to build on.
Let's think about that faster rider. If their technique is poor, their risk is high. Sure, they may be able to get the bike around the track, but if they are always right on the limit or about to crash we do not want to emulate that. We should always strive to make risk the lowest factor in our riding.
Getting away with it
So here is the problem. The bikes we ride today are very forgiving. The tire technology and grip is phenomenal (in good conditions). Suspension and chassis design is extremely advanced even compared to just 10 years ago. And when you add in electronic rider aids such as traction control and cornering ABS, you have bikes that are designed to minimize the impact of rider error. Don't get me wrong, these can be and are good technologies to have on our bikes.
The down side is though, riders tend to rely on these design characteristics as a way to avoid having to apply proper technique. Ever heard someone tell you they just "whack" the throttle open because they have TCS? Yeah, sends a chill up my spine. Do MotoGP riders high side their million dollar motorcycles with the most advanced traction control systems ever designed? Yep. Electronic aids do not replace good technique.
Let's add in another element...track conditions. When the conditions are good...dry track, lots of heat...you can get away with a lot of improper technique because the technology built into the bike is so good. Ever see those riders who will never ride in the wet or cold? How do they ride the bike? Are they smooth or abrupt with their controls?
So then, do we just let the bike be our savior? No. Treat these aids as a guide for finding the limit, linearly. Let the bike talk to us before grip starts to go away. Never assume the bike will save you or that the technique you are applying can not be improved upon.
Let proper technique be your path to speed!
This is what we really need to be focused on. Executing proper technique, and getting more proficient with that technique, is the safer path to speed.
Something you may be asking though is "If I am executing proper technique, why am I still slower?" Be patient. Stay focused. Spend time working on improving your technique. There will always be someone out there willing to throw the bike down the track to get the best lap time. Improvement shouldn't come because we are willing to be the one to take the most risk out there.
How do we know?
Ok, so we know that we need to be using proper technique to minimize the level of risk we are adding to our riding. But getting back to the original idea of this post, how do we know if the faster rider is doing it right? Well, we don't. Or at the very least, we should never assume.
Next time you are out on the track, work with a qualified coach or instructor to help you identify the proper lines and controls to be using. Go out with that knowledge and execute. Then start to compare your technique to the other riders on track with you. Are they on the proper line or are they playing follow the leader with the group around them? Are they waiting until the last brake marker then hammering on the brakes as hard as they can and backing it in at every corner?
Once we have a clearer understanding of the proper technique that should be used, we can begin to see the track differently. We can identify when that faster rider is just adding more risk unnecessarily, and avoid copying them in an attempt to go faster.
Never assume the rider in front of you is faster than you are because they are doing it right.
Don't get sucked in to what another rider is doing in front of you. Keep building an understanding of the technique. Work on more precise execution of that proper technique. Your overall speed and pace will just become a byproduct of that execution. Soon enough, you will be the rider flying by someone else!