Making Motorcycle Riding Easier

Consistently quick riders make lapping look easy, and you can too.

Scott Russell
At the limit or just enjoying the bike and the day? For World Champion Scott Russell, it’s the latter…and it’s easy due to a practiced and progressive approach to the sport.thesbimage.com

On the second day of last month's Champ school, Chris Peris filmed Eziah Davis running a lap to close out that day's filming. Chris then stuck the SD card into a computer and the entire class watched the student laps and then the instructor lap.

At the end of Eziah’s lap there was applause and somebody said, “You sure make it look easy.”

All eyes went to Eziah, our youngest lead instructor. He had started to say something, but the silence in the room and the direct attention caught his voice in his throat. Eziah, like most racers, is confident and outgoing, but has the humility that comes from being around the sport long enough to know that “you ain’t all that.” That humility comes from getting beat by someone on a worse bike or throwing yourself on the ground due to your very own negligence.

So there he was, mouth halfway open and the center of attention. “Ah…”

I was sitting in front of the computer watching the scene and finally said into the silence, “Eziah, it is easy, isn’t it?”

His lap was an ass-haulin’ display of beautiful apexes and awesome body position, trail-braking and strong exits…impressively fast and right in the center of Chris’ GoPro, right on line.

Eziah let out his breath and said, “Yeah…you know…it really is easy. It gets easy. That was easy.” I saw his relief that I opened the door he wanted to walk through. A flippant “That’s super easy” might have been on his tongue, but it would have sounded wrong to the students. The 23-year-old’s lap was at a pace that was devastatingly quick but not at his 100 percent; he had 2 or 3 percent in his pocket and that is a great way to ride at a track day. Not at your limit, but just slightly below the ultimate edge.

One Tough Endeavor

Riding a motorcycle quickly around a racetrack could be the toughest thing you will ever try. The definition of “quickly” is open to interpretation, but students often tell me how challenging the sporting side of motorcycle riding can be. It is mentally and physically consuming, and opportunities for improvement are almost endless. Mistakes can carry harsh punishment; success brings huge and sustained highs.

This week’s column means to encourage you if your riding struggles have gotten you down. My hope is to put you into this category of rider that laps quickly and easily. That hope might not be reachable in a written column, but my experience has shown me that many struggling riders are working under some flawed core principles. I can’t cover all of them today, but wanted to outline an initial approach that struggling riders can follow based on what works for the riders you admire: the quick veterans of our sport.

Eziah Davis
Eziah Davis is perfect for this story because everyone calls him Eee Zee. Ingrained and expert-level habits make riding just below the ultimate limit easy, fun, and still consistently quick.Tom Marone

Corner Entry

Our motorcycle should be slowing for the vast majority of corner entries. A slowing motorcycle tightens its cornering radius at the same lean angle. If we are in the habit of trying to go to the throttle early, or accelerating into the corner, this is a main reason the fun and control are gone. We must let that motorcycle slow into the corner.

We know our speed is too high for the corner (all things being equal, like body position and lean angle) if we cannot get the bike on apex, pointed in the right direction and ready to exit. Apex is defined as the closest you come to the inside of the corner. Inside knee over the inside curb is good; anything wider than that needs work.

A rider can roll off the throttle and decelerate into the corner, but this is an unadjustable and inefficient way to slow a bike compared with closing the throttle and using the brakes, especially the front. Brakes are adjustable, repeatable, and efficient. The quicker we ride or the tighter the corner, the more braking we will use. Brakes control speed, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch—and will vastly build your confidence. If you want to make the sport “not easy,” rush into every corner with little or no braking.

If a rider is releasing the brakes before they turn, Eziah’s fun and joy of “easy” riding will elude them forever. Remember, we need to slow at corner entry, so leave your brake light on through the corner’s turn-in. It’s called trail-braking, and we like to call it “brake-assisted steering.” If riders are not trailing brake pressure into corners, they are leaving a lot of joy on the table. Brake light on past the tip-in makes the sport much easier.

Riders must work hard on their motor-skill repeatability. That means practicing our body position, brake initiation, downshifting, and steering so they become second nature. Have them to focus on what really counts: entry speed and grip. When we add other riders (distractions) to this mix, the need for repeatability in these control operations becomes paramount. Watch your racing heroes on TV and mimic their moves. That’s what a young Scott Russell did.

Chris Peris
Chris Peris on bike, Eziah Davis behind bike at Champ school.thesbimage.com

Mid-Corner

After we decelerate into the corner, it’s easy to think, “Time to go!” If the corner opens up in a simple 90-degree-or-less layout, we would be correct in going from braking to accelerating. But if the corner has a longer duration, riders need to sneak the throttle open to what is called neutral or maintenance throttle. The bike is no longer slowing, but it’s not yet accelerating. It is maintaining speed and, thus, radius.

And we wait for the corner to open up because riders who find the sport easy realize that they must not accelerate the bike with any true verve until they can take away lean angle. Easy to understand, but it takes discipline to let that bike turn with neutral throttle. We know we’ve accelerated too hard too early when we’re forced to hold lean angle on the exit (missed apex), or if we’re particularly greedy, we are forced to close the throttle to stay on the track. Pain is coming our way, and the sport is gets harder because we didn’t hold our mid-corner speed long enough. LET. IT. TURN.

Exit

As we stand the bike up, we are allowed to safely add throttle. If our throttle hand moves in a linear, progressive way, the rear tire will spin in a linear, progressive way when its traction limits are exceeded. This is when acceleration and lean-angle forces combine to finally overwhelm grip. Riders who miss apexes and insist on aggressive exits while holding lean angle will not find the sport getting easier; in fact, they won’t be in the sport long. Great and repeatable exits depend on the rider nailing the apex. Just watch your racing heroes with their inside knee over the inside curb. Do that. How? Changing your entry speed to match the corner’s radius.

YCRS instructor Ryan Burke
See that number? One way to win class and club championships is to get your bike on the apex, as YCRS instructor Ryan Burke shows here. This Colorado racer just wrapped up his fifth consecutive #1 plate last weekend—usually on Yamahas, but he even won when he had to borrow a Ducati. You begin to ride every bike quickly when you dial in your on-bike habits.Burke Collection

Efficiency With Focus

Eziah’s lap used every inch of track in an effort to make the straightest lines possible. When two corners combined, Eziah sacrificed whichever corner was slower, maximizing his time at speed. Hang on the fence during a typical C- or B-Group track session (C is new riders; B is the next step up) and you will see less than 15 percent of those riders on line for an entire lap. Somewhere they are turning in too early, missing apexes, or not using all the track on the big exits. That means they are either carrying more lean angle than Eziah at the same speed, or going slower at the same lean angle. Every time you say lean angle, say “risk” instead. Sloppy lines force riders to carry more risk for a longer time, and Freddie Spencer told us to “run maximum lean angle for as short a time possible.” That means exact line choices.

What makes A-Group riders so consistently quick is how they use the track: opening entries, tightening apexes, and maximizing the track on exits. These steps and improvements are done off the bike, between sessions, at home between weekends, or overnight in the motel room. The level of mental focus necessary to ride joyfully fast is beyond what any new rider can imagine, so I’m telling you now that the best riders you know are “all in” every time they touch a motorcycle—all in mentally and all in physically. I urge you to adopt this unwavering mental focus because this sport can hurt or even kill you. If you decide to ride, bring it all every time. Fun, joy, and Ezyness will follow.

Eziah Davis
Postscript: Three days after school ended, Eziah Davis took third place in the MotoAmerica Junior Cup national at NJMP!YCRS

More Next Tuesday!