A gentle touch on the controls can actually improve your lap times
K3 Chris Onwiler
You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve even been the one saying it. “I grabbed a big handful of brakes, threw the thing on its side and whacked the throttle! Man, I was flying!” Of course, if you actually try to ride like that, the only flying you’re likely to do will be in a helicopter.
Expert riding is all about managing traction. Everything you do on your bike, accelerating, braking and cornering, all has to happen through two areas of rubber the size of sticks of chewing gum. If either of those contact patches loses its grip on the pavement, you’re into a slide and out of control. As a rider, your entire mission is to keep your tires from becoming unstuck.
Many inexperienced trackday participants try to go faster by performing their actions faster. If this actually worked, any freshly licensed 16 year old kid could out-drive a grey haired old senior like Mario Andretti, due to the youngster’s faster reaction times. As we know, Mario’s experience will bury the kid every time. Sudden, excessive control inputs of any kind will seriously disturb your motorcycle, causing it to do something unpredictable. Get too aggressive and you’ll lose traction.
The key to maintaining traction is to avoid pissing off your motorcycle, or more specifically, toavoidaggravating its suspension. Everything you do should be engineered to prevent upsetting the bike. Brakes are probably the area of bike control where the most sins are committed. If you pounce on the brakes, you’ll bury the front suspension, leaving no travel to deal with bumps. Instead, squeeze them on, allowing the suspension to take a set rather than bottoming out. You’ll be surprised how much better your bike slows down when you have some suspension available to deal with the bumps. How about when you’re done braking? If you just let go of the handle, the suspension will rebound quickly and the nose of the bike will jump up. Very experienced riders seek to replace brake load with cornering load to keep the suspension compressed at a constant level as they turn in. This is the concept that starts you on the road toward teaching yourself how to trailbrake.
That big, hungry engine between your knees needs smooth input as well. Roll the throttle on rather than whacking it open in order to preserve rear tire traction. Likewise, close the throttle smoothly rather than snapping it shut. This makes a difference, even on a machine equipped with a slipper clutch.
How about hanging off? Many riders dive off the side of their machine just as they begin to turn in. Doing this causes the suspension (and ultimately the tires) to deal with a major disturbance just when you need traction the most. Instead, shift to the side of your machine after you’ve begun braking and the forks have taken a set but before you need to turn in. Watch the pros. They have that knee out well before the machine begins to turn.
To visualize this concept, think of the effortless way Valentino Rossi flows from one corner to the next, not fighting the bike at all. Watch him with the sound off and you can almost hear violins playing! Rossi is the absolute master of smooth control inputs, which is why he was the best at controlling the brutal two strokes of the 500cc era. Try to incorporate that same smoothness into your own riding. Not only will you become a safer, less frantic rider but you’ll also see your lap times drop. In fact, this technique may even improve your love life. It’s a known fact that the smooth guys get all the girls….