As you go approach the traction...
As you go approach the traction limit, your control inputs must become more precise and, in many cases, slower.
We often see racers flinging their bikes around, grabbing handfuls of throttle and making huge steering inputs. And on a big superbike or an ill-handling grand prix bike, those big inputs are sometimes necessary for quick lap times. But even though those movements and inputs are seemingly quick and exaggerated, they are purposeful and the result of years of practice and experience. Red Bull recently released a series of slow-motion videos, showing Casey Stoner, Andrea Dovizioso and Hiroshi Aoyama at 1000 frames per second on their MotoGP bikes. In the videos, you can see the riders muscling the bikes into and out of the corners, but their inputs are quite smooth and controlled, and — at the very limits of traction — relatively slow.
Many riders, in attempting to go faster at the racetrack, naturally try to speed everything up — opening the throttle quicker, grabbing the brakes more aggressively and throwing the bike from side to side. Sometimes that can pay off, but more often than not, those riders end up going slower and being frustrated because they are working harder and not seeing the benefits they think they should. The fact is, going faster often requires doing something differently rather than quicker or faster, and to figure out exactly what to change often means going slower while you sort through the various options of how to change something.
I recently found myself in exactly that situation when I started swimming again, going in the pool for the first time since my accident and taking lessons. Of course, I wanted to immediately swim as fast as I could before my accident, but my “swimming” was a big mess, with a lot of flailing around and plenty of splashing but little forward motion. My instructor repeatedly told me to slow down, to the point that I felt I was barely making any headway. But, surprisingly, that slow pace allowed me to learn the correct techniques and figure out how best to adjust for arms-only swimming. Before long I was making lengths of the pool without much trouble; if I had continued splashing around on my own I doubt I’d be able to do even one length yet. Even now, though, my instructor constantly tells me to go slow and “make sure it looks pretty” before adding any increments of speed.
It’s important to note that, when it comes to motorcycles, you have to slow things down when you get close to the limit. Try to stand your bike up from maximum lean with a sudden, forceful heave on the handlebar, and you will steer the front tire right out from under you. Likewise, open — or close — the throttle quickly at that point and you may highside. Here is some food for thought: Using data acquisition, we can see lots of information about a rider’s habits by looking at throttle position. But we can also tell a lot by looking at how quickly the throttle is being opened at any given time. Typically, less experienced riders open the throttle faster than more experienced riders — opposite to what you may expect. Yes, the more experienced rider goes from fully closed to fully open in less time when exiting a corner. But the more experienced rider opens the throttle smoothly and in one fluid motion, whereas the less experienced rider opens and closes the throttle in fits and starts; at times, faster than the more experienced rider ever opens the throttle and fast enough to cause a highside.
Quite often, when I worked with riders on the track, I would have to tell them to slow down and work on a certain aspect of their riding rather than simply trying to go fast. And, just as often, that advice met with stony looks and some resistance. They signed up to learn how to go faster at the track, after all, and I’m telling them to slow down? How can that be right? Lately I’ve been working with a young WERA racer, Javelin Broderick, going to races and track days and using data acquisition to help him along with his riding. At track days, we aren’t concerned about lap times or outright speed, nor do we look much at aspects of a certain track or a particular corner; instead, we’ve been concentrating on technique and the basic building blocks for riding well. We are, in effect, making it look pretty; the speed will come from there. It’s the hardest thing in the world for a racer to slow down, but sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do to go faster. sr
Many riders, in attempting to go faster at the racetrack, naturally try to speed everything up "