Riding Tips - In the Hunt

Patience, patience, patience!

Following Faster Riders
Following Faster RidersCourtesy of Michelin

Chasing someone who is faster than you are can be an easy way to improve your riding and lap times. The technique can act as motivation to push your own limits, which will help achieve goals that you may not be able to do on your own, but there are obviously right and wrong ways of practicing it. Do it correctly, and the rewards are quicker lap times and a boost in confidence. Do it wrong, and you might end up crashing, only to set yourself back.

There are three common mistakes made following faster riders, with the first notoriously being target-fixating on the faster rider instead of watching him in your peripheral vision. Concentrating on the rider instead of where you’re going is a recipe for disaster.

Then there’s the choice to chase someone who is far beyond your current speed or experience level. The obvious problem here is that you will only be able to stick with them for a few corners at most, and you will likely get sucked into a corner too fast and crash. Try to pick someone who is fast enough so that you will push your limits, but not so much that you are out of control.

The third mistake is trying to outdo the faster rider, specifically in the braking zones. It’s easy to brake deeper into a corner than someone else, and it might feel like you are making up time, but you’ll likely be running wide or sacrificing roll speed at the apex. Instead, focus on mimicking where the other rider is applying the throttle and brakes, and remember that you are following them to learn rather than trying to beat them.

Besides being bait to chase toward lap times, faster riders can raise your awareness to a lot of things you might be able to do differently over the course of a lap. Pay attention to the leading rider’s line choice in various corners, and notice how his lines might be different in order to properly set up for the next section of racetrack. Is he braking early and setting himself up for a strong drive onto the next long straightaway? Or is he braking late and sacrificing his exit speed because the corner leads directly into another tight turn?

Picking up differences in line choice might be the easiest thing to do as you chase another rider, but using your eyes and ears to analyze other differences like body position and gear shift points can pay dividends too. Studying the latter can help you understand how the rider in front is more efficiently utilizing his bike’s gearbox to get around the racetrack, using less energy by shifting fewer times while maximizing the engine’s power in key areas of the track. Keep your eyes on the leader’s body position too, for the same reason. The rider might be just slightly lifting his rear end off the seat through a bumpy section of track to minimize input into the bike, or staying tucked behind the windscreen through a fast kink instead of hanging off. Being cognizant of subtle differences between your ways of riding can give you things to consider trying and help close the gap.

Following faster riders can be extremely beneficial to your riding and speed at the racetrack, but staying disciplined behind them is the most difficult part. Use your focus to analyze and take note of what the rider in front might be doing differently, experiment with what you find, and pay attention to how it affects your riding. Next time you ride on your own, remember what you learned by following others and put it into practice—the lap times will follow.