Riders that make it to the...
Riders that make it to the top levels of racing generally have a healthy competitive instinct in addition to excellent natural abilities, but they also work hard to optimize those abilities.
At an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon some time ago, the doctor mentioned that I would probably get along well with one of his other patients. “He’s a thrill seeker, just like you,” the doctor said. Like most people, he had assumed that because I rode a motorcycle, I must be a “thrill seeker.” Unfortunately, the general public has long ranked motorcycling with extreme sports such as cliff diving, storm chasing, or rock climbing. I had to explain that no, I was not a thrill seeker. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or off a cliff. Never climbed anything higher than a stepladder. My first — and last — rollercoaster ride was when I was a teenager, if I was even that old. But the doctor’s question did make me think: Why did I ride motorcycles?
When I was racing it was all about the competition for me. I did as much as I could — and then some — to do as well as possible at the races. In some racers you can see their competitiveness overriding practically every other aspect of their riding, sometimes even to their detriment. For those not bitten by the racing bug, however, it must be something else that drives them, and this can usually be broken down into a mental or physical aspect — or a combination of both. For some, it’s the mental satisfaction of finally getting through a tricky section on the street without panicking, or breaking a personal lap-time goal that gives them inspiration. For others, it’s the raw feel of the wind on their chests, or the extra G forces experienced railing through a banked turn that feeds the hunger. What’s interesting about motorcycling is that, whereas some activities and competitions are almost all mental — say, for example, chess — and some are mostly physical (like running), riding a bike has both mental and physical aspects.
When I was instructing at Jason Pridmore’s Star School, it would become apparent after working with certain students over the course of a school day what motivated them. The competitive racers just wanted quick, one-sentence solutions to go faster. The students driven by the physical aspects of riding weren’t much interested in the classroom sessions, just wanting to ride on-track. And the mentally motivated students, as you’d expect, dissected every lesson and on-track session as much as possible. What makes learning to go faster so frustrating for some people, I think, is that their motivation doesn’t mesh with their natural instincts or abilities; the learning, at that point, becomes more work than fun. Let’s say, for example, that you are fascinated by lines and putting sequences of corners together correctly — a mental aspect of riding. You know what has to happen and how your bike must be ridden to make it through a particular section, but you just can’t make your bike react accordingly — a physical problem. Whether it’s a matter of heading to the gym to become stronger in some area or figuring out something like steering with your lower body, at that point the fun has turned into work. At the far opposite end of the spectrum, riders with all-athletic ability and motivation are easy to spot. An all-physical rider can turn his bike on a dime and put it anywhere on the track he wants — except he doesn’t know where to put it and can’t string together more than a corner at a time without difficulty. For those riders, likewise, it’s necessary to learn the mechanics of riding in order to fully enjoy the physical aspects.
Understanding your own motivation, along with your strengths and weaknesses from both physical and mental aspects, can help you pinpoint areas to work on in your riding. "
Taking things a step further, it’s worth pointing out how the mental and physical sides of riding are intertwined. A 6-foot-four rider weighing 235 pounds can use brute force to turn a motorcycle no matter how slow or heaving the steering is, and can concentrate on exactly where he wants to go in a particular situation rather than worrying about how he will get there. A mentally adept rider, on the other hand, may be able to use a specific cornering line in the same situation so that the bike doesn’t have to be turned quickly. Understanding your own motivation, along with your strengths and weaknesses from both physical and mental aspects, can help you pinpoint areas to work on in your riding. And by working from both sides of a problem rather than just your strong suit, you may discover unexpected benefits in areas you weren’t even trying to improve.
Raw competitiveness will only get you so far, as it did in my case. Well-rounded riders and racers generally have natural abilities that they use to their advantage, either physical or mental or some combination. But even if you are lacking in the natural ability department, you can become a well-rounded rider by improving the skills you don’t naturally have, whether they are physical or mental in nature. And that requires, at some level, analyzing all facets of your riding logically rather than working on just the parts that motivate you.