Need for speed
Thank you for stopping by our website and visiting our blog. This article examines the art of riding a motorcycle fast based on my personal experience through years gained racing Superbikes in the South African National Superbike championship. All views and opinions are entirely based on my own experience, so please note that this article is merely my perception.
Racing a Motorcycle is an art?
Essentially, I regard racing a motorcycle to be similar to that of creating art. In a sense, I have come to understand and conceptualize how to ride beyond what most riders can. I have come to view racing or riding at exceptional speeds through corners to be a more martial art. Thus I will speak from my own experience in this article and provide some insights into the idea behind my thinking.
Of course, this does beg the question of who am I to give insight into racing motorcycles or even riding them at a super-human level. I am, after all, just another blog creator and writer that could fit into the category of “big mouth” or simply a “copy and paste” master editor.
I was developing my views through a racing career that started at the age of 12 and ended at 26. As such, I grew up racing and have had to experience all the trials and tribulations from the start. Yes, I was once 12 and had a set of leathers that would barely fit me. In fact, for my first race, my leather suit was so tight I fell off my YSR 50 CC at the time as I could not move a dam inch. Thankfully, my father swiftly solved the problem, who brought me a set of Wayne Rainey replica Dainese leathers, and off I went. When I say “off, I went,” it is simply a descriptive term trying not to sound arrogant but intending to suggest that I felt invincible in my new set of leathers.
I can imagine you would say, “what does this have to do with racing a motorcycle fast or the art of riding?” Well, it’s pretty simple. The first lesson I essentially learned was to move from being tied up in a set of leathers that could or would not afford me the possibility of even being able to move. I then transitioned into a set of slick Dainese leathers, thereby allowing for more significant movement. With movement, a certain sense of freedom was created, which translated into higher confidence. The equation was simple movement = freedom = confidence. At this stage, I was still a 12 – 13-year-old boy, but this was essentially one of the first concepts that I learned looking back.
The key takeaway here is quite simple. I believe that one should always start with the basics of any skill. I would therefore strongly recommend that you check your current riding gear to the point that you are confident that it allows or affords you the confidence to move your body with confidence and does not restrict you in any manner at all. It sounds simple, and it is, but I felt I could develop a style of riding with my ability to increase movement. My leg cam out further, my knee hit the ground harder, and I could flick the bike into different directions with ease.
Many riders wear riding gear that is simply too tight, especially around the groin area, which is where you essentially need unlimited restriction to let your knee out – Please note I still adopt an old school riding approach as sticking one leg out and dropping your foot to the ground as a form of balancing the bike or getting a more excellent feel for the motorcycle is a style that only came years later. In essence, however, the point can apply across all spectrums. To ride fast, you need to be at ease and unrestricted to move your body. I learned this lesson again when I raced a Superbike for the first time at the age of 16, and I have sponsored a set of Lookwell Leathers. Again I could not move in my suit the way I should have been able to, and what happened? Well, I crashed the beast of a Suzuki gsxr600 cc on the second lap back in the year 2001.
Moving Forward: Art of Racing a Motorcycle
Once you have this basic concept out of the way, it’s time to practice. Yes, I mean this with all due respect. You see, having been gifted with a good amount of natural talent for riding a motorcycle at a ridiculous pace but I still had to work hard to develop it. I had won in all the smaller classes, including the championships associated with each class but riding in the South African Superbike championship at 16 was quite a task. The national racing series was filled with top-of-the-line talent. At least ten riders could win a race. I was scared, and I had to practice hard to get to where I wanted to be, which was at the from. For a 16-year-old kid who lacked confidence, this was going to be difficult. I was somewhat shy and looked up to some serious talent, thinking, how do these guys do it. Consistency in routine was the answer – It was going to take a consistent level headed approach. I guess that’s the part I lacked was level-headedness.
I was fortunate enough to have been gifted with some good levels of natural talent, so, to my surprise, I got along with the old-school superbikes pretty well. I was fast from race one but not just fast as in the top ten fast. I was so fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. In essence, I was in over my head. I went out into my first ever Superbike Race and qualified my 600cc old school gsxr600 on pole position ahead of the national champion at the time. I was told, “listen, just finish this race,” which I interpreted as “please win the race.” That’s where the level-headed part comes in. Keep your head on your shoulders at all times, but in my mind, I was unstoppable, and with a fearless mentality comes enormous crashes. Yes, I wiped out at breathtaking speeds throughout my career, which started from the first-ever race.
In a sense, I look back now and realize that “if only” I could have had the mental ability to slow down the race process, how much better off I would have been. Crashes hurt confidence and set you back. Especially when you are a 16-year-old, you scare your inner self. And that right there is the problem that I have seen many successful, highly skilled riders make (including myself). Riders adopt a certain mentality that pushes them beyond the boundaries of physics and results in a crash while attempting to “win” or beat their opponent. Looking back, I can laugh about it now, but at the time, for someone who wanted to be a racing champion and nothing else, it was a severe issue.
Confidence in your Riding
Confidence comes quickly to some and slower to others, and you know what. The best person to feel your level of confidence is yourself. You need to seriously approach your racing or riding with the ability to discern exactly where you are at and, thus, ride within your limits. Riding within your limits will help you in the long run, and it takes a lot to adopt this approach, especially when the “need for speed” runs through your blood. Amazingly enough, many riders have found that by almost slowing down, they have managed to find the ability to go even faster. Yes, I know it sounds confusing but read on if you are interested in learning more about this confusing approach.
I was slowing it down to Speed it up!
Essentially, the idea here is efficient and was taught to me and told me by many of my mentors while racing. This concept revolves around the idea of time being made up while on the throttle, not off the throttle, so the basic principle is that the sooner you can twist the throttle and apply power, the more momentum or speed will carry down the straight, etc. To effectively translate this action, one would have to consider the possibility that I was braking too hard and too late.
I never went with the “slow down to speed up” principle, which caused me to suffer numerous front-end crashes at extreme speeds. In hindsight, I was too stubborn to listen to this and pushed through the crashes and eventually developed my speed from becoming exceptionally able to brake as late as possible but at the same time, getting on the power as soon as possible. This took time, though, and a lot of crashing, but it translated into lap records and national wins when I got it right. When I didn’t get it right, especially in an era where Superbikes had only half the feel on the front end they have today, I would crash.
Racing Motorcycles: A Martial Art?
Once I hung up the racing boots, I was at about the age of 26. Yes, I still hadn’t vibrant life energy and hit the boxing gym and soon discovered that although the sports were worlds apart, they were pretty simple in application. You see, boxing is a Western Martial Art, and like with any Martial Art takes time, effort, persistence, and a whole lot of knocks to get to a level where you can say you are good. The principals were vastly the same as racing a bike, and I shall list them in the order of similarity to provide context.
⦁ Hard work
⦁ More respect
⦁ More perseverance
⦁ Natural skill
The above list forms a representation of how I view the similarities. I drew this conclusion from having years of experience in racing and what developed into years of amateur or basic levels of boxing experience. Just a side note, I never competed in boxing, but I like to draw on how I saw the similarities, and in essence, I came to see that racing a bike or riding a bike fast is a form of “lethal Martial arts.” Yes, there are differences, and I can imagine many saying how could you possibly draw a comparison between the two. Well, I just did, and that is my seemingly odd translation of attaining a masterful level of riding a superbike beyond average rider’s capabilities.
In effect, all I am trying to say is that Racing a superbike is a skillful task if you will be number 1 or at any level, really just the fact that you are on the grid is a significant achievement. I don’t think many understand that it takes enormous courage to put your life on the line to achieve a dream or an idea of success in whichever format you may define your success. Whether it be just competing or whether it may be towards winning. The guys who compete at the highest levels in martial arts, such as Bruce Lee, were somewhat philosophical in their approach, and racing is no different. Racing or martial arts can teach so many valuable lessons.
Since this is a blog post based on my personal opinion, I shall leave you with my final thoughts and then depart. In the great pursuit of speed lies great victories on a personal level and mental level. You will have to progress through the various stages, just as in martial arts, in which they often refer to these stages of development as Katas. Think the same in your journey towards becoming a fantastic racer. Don’t think of racing A Superbike with arrogance, and indeed your arrogance will get you into trouble. Just like in the boxing ring, you can’t get in and expect to beat the champion. A similar approach needs to apply to your riding. Please get a new Superbike and take it easy in getting familiar with your new weapon of choice. Our lives are important to us and others. Martial arts will get you hurt and possibly killed in rare circumstances, but racing a bike, especially on the street with overconfidence and a lack of principles like I have tried to demonstrate above, will get you killed. Take it easy, guys, and ride safe, guys.