BOOK EXCERPT: A Faster Way

“As with most aspects of riding a motorcycle, there is no clear right or wrong when it comes to body position—to a certain point, of course.”

Troy Bayliss action shot

When the Hockenheimring in Germany was on the World Superbike calendar, it was the full course with four very long straights. I first went there in 2000, shortly after I was brought into the Ducati team to fill in for Carl Fogarty. During practice and qualifying I had a lot of trouble with setup; I couldn't even hold the throttle open on the first straight after the NordKurve, as the bike would just get into a weave. We tried a few things with the bike, but in the end it was the way I was sitting on the bike and where my feet, knees and elbows were. My riding position was just upsetting the bike so much aerodynamically that it was making it unstable. I ended up winning my first World Superbike race that weekend, but if I hadn't experimented with my body position and constantly moved around on the seat trying to find a solution, it would certainly be a different story. So many people, when they think of body position on a motorcycle, worry about being picture-perfect in the middle of the corner. But there is so much more to it than that. Your body position interacts with how you've got the motorcycle set up; it can help you better muscle the bike around in a chicane, and it can even make a huge difference on a straightaway—as I found out at the Hockenheimring.

Body position is something that has a huge impact on the whole bike and is something you’ve got to experiment with and understand to get the most out of. We’ve already covered some of the basics in previous chapters, and as I’ve mentioned the most common mistake I see when riding with people is that they think they need to stay tucked down all the time in a racing position, even when they brake or are in the middle of a turn. You do want to be tucked in on a straight, but you want to sit up when you’re braking to use your body for a windbreak, with your elbows almost locked to hold yourself upright. And in the middle of the corner, you want to be hanging off but in a nice, comfortable and relaxed position that allows you to properly steer the bike and easily make any control inputs necessary. These are three distinctly different body positions; not only is it important to become familiar and comfortable with each of them, but also it’s essential that you know how to smoothly transition between each of the three.

Troy Bayliss on Ducati  1199 Panigale action shot

On a straight of almost any length you want to get fully tucked in to make yourself as slippery as possible to the wind. This means putting your head and chest down on the tank to make yourself small behind the windscreen; you will most likely have to push yourself right back in the seat to make room. Your elbows should be in tight to the tank, tucked in front of your knees if there is enough room. Another common thing I see on the track, especially with newer riders, is they keep their heels on the pegs all the time. That causes problems in the corners for ground clearance, but even on the straight you should have the balls of your feet on the pegs to help with aerodynamics. That is one thing I’ve always had trouble with myself. Davide Tardozzi would always mention that to me; sometimes I’d even see him on pit wall and he’d be pointing at my feet. But I’ve always ridden like Daffy Duck with my feet sticking out, and I know it’s not very aerodynamic. I may have had the fastest bike in the paddock, but very rarely was I the fastest through the speed traps. Even in the wind tunnel, Neil Hodgson and Ruben Xaus were always much more aerodynamic than me, even though they are bigger.

A straight is also a good place to relax on the bike and catch your breath. You especially want to take the pressure off your arms and hands—not completely open them up and let go of the bars, but take some of the weight off them. Being light on the bars on a straight can also help with stability, especially when the track’s bumpy. Holding on tight often makes a wobble worse once it starts. The natural tendency for people is to grip the bars as tight as they can, especially if the bike is not working exactly how they like it; they end up hanging on more than they should, and this can give you arm pump. I was lucky it was never a really big issue for me, but sometimes I did get it. If I did, it would be at the start of the weekend, just because I was in a hurry to get going and I wasn’t relaxed on the bike. You can end up with sore arms for several days after a race if you get a bad case of arm pump, and some people struggle with it through their whole career. The faster bikes are more physical, and most people end up riding these eventually, so every bit of energy that you can save on the straight will help you in other areas, especially in a longer race.

Troy Bayliss race action shot

As we covered in the previous chapter, you’ll need to sit up when braking so that the wind helps slow you down. You’ll most likely find yourself naturally moving forward on the seat early in the braking zone, but then you should try to push yourself back in the seat to transfer as much weight to the back as you can to stop the rear tire from lifting. You do want at least some bend in your elbows, as this makes it easier to steer the bike—if your elbows are completely locked, you can’t turn the bars without rotating your whole upper body. This requires you to hold yourself up using a lot of abdomen muscles and squeezing the tank with your knees. On the bigger bikes, like the Superbikes and GP machines, there is so much force on the brakes that sometimes you’ve got to nearly lock your elbows. And then you start looking for those little extra things to make it easier—grip tape on the tank, scuffed-up leathers, and so on. A couple of times, when I had a slippery seat or new leathers, I’d have to come in straight away and have someone drag me across the ground to scrape up my leathers, or put contact cleaner on the seat so my legs wouldn’t slip. Anything to save my arms and shoulders for braking.

This 176-page softcover title also includes chapters on visual skills, line selection, steering, braking, and throttle control. Co-written by Sport Rider Senior Editor Andrew Trevitt, the book has a retail price of $34.95 from www.bullpublishing.com.