Motorcycle Riding Tips - Back to the Basics | Riding Skills Series

Without good fundamentals, every other skill is just window dressing

Motorcycle racing basics
Good fundamentals to motorcycle racing are irreplaceable. So we're taking you back to the basics...Photography by Brian J. Nelson

There's no replacement for good fun­da­mentals. It sounds simple, but we've seen more and more riders getting caught up in using so many different rider aids that they are becoming disconnected from applying their own technique to get around the racetrack. Sure, when used correctly rider aids like traction control can be advantageous to achieving a quicker and safer lap time ("Riding With Traction Control"), but they are in no way supposed to take the place of your core riding skills.

Take a step back 15 or 20 years to when sportbikes weren’t sold with any electronics packages at all, and think about riding then. To go faster or be safer before the age of electronics, riders (and racers) had to depend on their riding to do so, rather than the electronics’ safety net. There were no such rider aids to make it “easier”—it was all in the fundamentals. And it still is. Today’s best riders rely on their own skill—and spend countless hours perfecting it—rather than rider aids to help them around a racetrack. The better the fundamentals you have, the fewer aids you’ll need.

What are those fundamentals? The simple things like throttle control, body position, using the engine rpm properly (read: upshifting and downshifting), braking, finding reference points, and looking ahead to where you want to go. This short list has some of the very basic skills you need to get around the racetrack (slow or fast), so why not make them the best they can be?

As the summer trackday season hits its stride, consider working on those basic fundamental skills one at a time. At your next trackday, choose one or two skills you want to improve throughout the day—for example, keeping your eyes looking ahead—and stick to them. Throw anything like suspension clickers and TC settings out the window and devote 100 percent of your focus to the areas of your riding that you want to improve. Now, forget about speed too; that will come later. Start each session with a goal, and practice your techniques at a moderate pace—about 75 percent of your own ability—because that's where your brain will have complete focus on only adjusting your techniques.

Spend at least a half day working on one skill before jumping to another; it takes a large number of laps of doing something new before it becomes natural. For example, if you’re working on keeping your eyes up, start the first session of the day with a goal of only looking as far ahead as possible. Then each session following can be dedicated to specific exercises like using your peripheral vision to scan for reference points rather than fixating on them or starting at the back of the pack and looking “through” riders rather than directly at them. If you stick to the plan, by the end of the day, those techniques and the core fundamentals will be more natural than before and you will be able to use your focus elsewhere.

Sticking to the plan, though, is the hard part. You have to stay focused, be disciplined, and only worry about you. As your buddy comes by urging you to chase him, don’t fall for it! Keep your focus on quality track time rather than spinning laps with no purpose, and work on various aspects of the fundamental technique. Gradually bring speed into the equation if you can, but keep to a pace that lets you concentrate on the task at hand while still hitting your marks; head into the pits when you get tired rather than lose focus or get distracted. Remember, it’s all about quality laps.

Sooner or later what you are working on will become second nature, and you will no longer have to focus on it while riding. Your fundamentals should be the most important tools in your riding toolbox no matter where or when you ride. Spend enough time developing them and the speed (read: quicker lap times) and consistency will follow.