In a sport where tenths of a second divide a good lap from a botched one, chicanes are both a challenge and secret to quicker lap times. All road courses features some type of chicanes too, with the only variance being the distance between the exit of the first corner to the entry of the next. On the street, the natural flow of a canyon road inevitably leaves the rider continually transitioning from full lean in one direction to full lean in the other. Understanding how to shorten the amount of time it takes to change direction in these chicanes not only helps curtail lap times on the racetrack, but also allows you to hold a better line on the street, making your experience in the canyons a safer and more fluid one.
The overall time it takes to get through a chicane depends most on your ability to maximize the moments spent with the bike vertical. Throttle inputs are crucial, no matter how minute or quick they are, and allow you to carry more speed through the middle of the transition. A quick grab at the brake lever should succeed that burst of throttle, and will allow you to more accurately establish your entry speed for the next half of the chicane.
A quick look at Figure 1 confirms the advantages of throttle and brake application mid-transition. The data, pulled from two riders at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV, displays speed for both riders (top two traces) as well as throttle position (green and blue trace) and brake position for the more experienced rider (yellow trace). Notice that both riders are able to apply some throttle between turns one and two (a right-left transition), but the faster rider applies the throttle much more hastily. The same rider then shuts the throttle and applies the brake in rapid succession, whereas the slower rider closes the throttle leisurely and grabs no brake. In the 500 feet of track that encapsulates this transition — from around 950 feet to 1450 feet on the data — the faster rider is .3 seconds quicker than the slower rider. And this despite the fact that both riders carry nearly identical corner speed in the turns before and after the transition.
This data is for two separate riders transitioning from right to left through turns one and two at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV. The more experienced rider (bottom blue trace) is able to apply the throttle much more liberally plus apply some brake (yellow trace) before the second half of the chicane. The less experienced rider conversely gets less throttle and no brake. The result is a .3-second advantage to the more experienced rider through this section.
There’s an added benefit to throttle inputs mid transition, and that’s decreased load on the front fork. Without the fork packed down, the bike will more willingly transfer from side to side. A quick pull at the brake lever will similarly improve steering characteristics into the next turn since it compresses the front suspension and decreases rake and trail.
Some transitions are tighter than others of course, providing little-to-no time for you to roll the throttle on, let alone apply the throttle and brake. When this is the case, take into consideration the amount of time the bike is vertical, your comfort level and overall bike feel then apply throttle and brake accordingly. The throttle/brake application plays much less a role on the street too, where its more important to hold a steady throttle and speed for safety, rather than worry about an added hundredth of a second.
A quicker side-to-side transition has like importance as throttle and brake inputs — the more you can speed up the transition, the better. A slow transition will force you to either take a wider line or go slower into the second part of the chicane, so the time saved is more than what you save in the transition itself. One way to move from full lean in one direction to full lean in the other is to keep your torso lower to the bike, thus better centralizing the mass. Picture, for instance, holding a hammer — if you were to hold your hand out and grip the hammer end, you’d be able to turn from one side to the other with less effort than if you were to hold your hand out and grip the handle end, then turn. Shifting weight from one side to the other is much simpler when that weight is centralized.
One key to speeding your side-to-side...
One key to speeding your side-to-side motion is to keep your torso low to the bike in transitions, as Dani Pedrosa illustrates through Laguna Seca’s famous Corkscrew. The goal is to keep your weight low, which better centralizes the mass and aids in steering agility.
Your ability to flick the bike from side to side in a quicker fashion also depends on your use of countersteering techniques. As you exit the first half of the chicane, gently push the inside bar or tug the outside bar, allowing the bike to roll over its horizontal axis. Other tricks like weighting the footrests will accordingly play a role in how quickly you can change direction
All inputs to the handlebar and your body movements on the bike should be fluid of course, providing an easy side-to-side transition. You have to go from full lean to full lean in one smooth action too, so avoid breaking the transition up into separate, choppy motions. Smoother and quicker movements will also have benefits on the street, where a quicker side-to-side movement will allow you to hold a tighter line into each corner, without it being tighter from more trail braking or more lean angle.
Quick side-to-side movements...
Quick side-to-side movements are important on the street, since a lot of canyon roads are all transitions. The quicker and smoother you can be, the safer it is because you can hold your line tighter without having to add more lean angle.
Being quicker through chicanes both on the street and track requires a healthy amount of diligence. Begin first by recognizing the chicanes where it is possible to grab bits of throttle and brake — remember some chicanes may be too tight to do both, or either. From there, begin to add both in increments each lap, or as applicable in similar sections of road when riding in the canyons, making sure to not over accelerate into the second half of the chicane and blow the corner. Pay attention also to your body position plus inputs to the handlebar and footrests. Challenge yourself to go from full lean in one direction to full lean in the other without picking your head more than a few inches above the windscreen.
Lap times have always been, and will always be, one of the best ways to measure performance on the racetrack. A lot of the time, just a tenth of as second here or a tenth of a second there can be the difference between a good lap and a great lap. Shortening the time it takes to flick the bike from one side to the other in a chicane will cut time, plus throttle and brake inputs will allow you to maximize your time spent with the bike vertical. SR