Yes, you can get really good at this sport without crashing. Understanding limits, or more importantly how to approach those limits, is key.
This is an old saying, but you still hear it. And there are people out there that still approach the sport with this mindset. Thinking that the only way they can get to the next level is to push so hard beyond their limit that they have to crash to learn where that limit is.
"Just send it!!!!" Uh...no...
Not only is this not the best approach to the sport, it's completely unnecessary.
Finding your limit...
What are we really talking about when we address crashing? We are talking about going beyond a limit. Usually a limit of available grip. We jump beyond this limit because we make a mistake or we are too abrupt with our controls.
How do we fix this? How do we find that limit without jumping over it? How do we learn to go faster without having to crash to do it? Well, we need the following in place...
First, we need awareness. We need to heighten our focus to be more aware of what we are doing on the motorcycle. What input are we using at a given time?
Second, we need to understand why we are doing this action on the motorcycle. This comes from a greater understanding of how the sport works. If we know how a specific input is supposed to affect the behavior of the motorcycle, then we can better judge if our inputs are properly executed.
Finally, we need to be linear with our inputs. This is the key to learning without crashing. We sneak up to our limits. We start to feel grip going away before the crash.
Once we have a better understanding of these key things, we can identify the areas we need to work on the most, then improve them.
Look to the best in the world!
In order to be the best, in order to win championships, top level riders can not be crashing at every corner. They are always trying to learn the limits of what they can do as riders. Or learn what the machine is capable of. They have to in order to compete at that level. They are getting paid to operate at the very limit of traction every race, every lap, every corner.
In order to be successful at this, they have to sneak up on these limits. They need to be linear. They will feel that limit approaching and can back off or adjust. Marc Marquez (pictured above) currently has the most consistent fast lap times and is consistently either winning races, placing it on the podium or running as close to the front as possible. He has been able to accomplish this because of his unmatched level of feel for what the bike is doing underneath him.
But MotoGP riders crash. Isn't that how they learn?
No. GP level riders make mistakes too. They are human. (Yes, they are..) Can they learn from these mistakes? Yes. Is their goal to push so hard that they crash the bike? Absolutely not. This hurts them, hurts their team, hurts their chances to compete and win. Crashing is never their goal. The crash is the outcome of a mistake. Going beyond a limit. Their goal is to reach the limit, identify it, then determine what is keeping them from getting past that limit. This allows them to build a strategy for improving.
So...what if I DO crash?
Let's be blunt...crashes happen. They suck. We need to understand this. While we do not HAVE to crash to learn, there are certainly things we CAN learn from a crash. (Keep an open mind here, I know this sounds like I might be contradicting myself)
It all comes back to the awareness I mentioned earlier. The more focused and aware we are of what we are doing on the bike and why we are doing it, the better feedback we will have on why the crash happened. Understanding that why is how we identify what we need to change to avoid making the same mistake. Correct it the next time out. This is how Marquez can crash in a qualifying session, run back to the pits, jump on his backup bike, roll back out onto the track and qualify in P1 with the fastest lap of the weekend!
The key is to take the same approach of the GP level rider. Crashing should never be our goal.
Back to Marquez...
We always talk about trying to emulate what they best riders in the world are doing. Right now, Marc Marquez is proving to be the best. He won the championship last season and is on track to win this year as well. He is doing this by being the safest, fastest, most consistent rider out there.
The picture above is a bit deceiving. It shows him crashing, right? Well, not actually. Believe it or not he saves this "crash". This is something he is becoming famous for. His level of feel for what the bike is doing is directly related to his awareness, focus, and linear inputs into the bike. He talks more about this approach in a recent interview.
"If you are very concentrated on the bike, you can save many crashes." - Marc Marquez
So taking a step back to think about our approach to riding, we never want our goal for our learning process to be a crash. It's unnecessary. Our goal should be to sneak up on our limits, then determine what aspect of our riding we need to improve in order to move past those limits.