It’s fair to say that pretty much everyone who rides a bike on track wants to be able to lap quicker, smoother and safer, so this year, Superbike Freaks will be running an ongoing feature on upgrades and improvements that will ultimately help us to do exactly that.
Obvious ways to improve as a rider are pretty much the same as the obvious ways to improve a bike – performance and weight, i.e. increase rider skill, reduce weight and become fitter.
Rider performance (skill)
Rider performance can be improved by practice and coaching. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to ride bikes round tracks for a living, clocking up hundreds of hours of track-time, so we have to make do with trackdays. Even then, most of us would probably like to be able to do more – I only managed three last year (two of which were two days) and one of them was absolutely disgusting weather with red flags in pretty much every session. All this means it can be hard to progress quickly through practice alone because it isn’t easy to get enough time on track.
Also, let’s face it, riding high-performance bikes on track is not a cheap sport. There’s the initial purchase price of a bike, ongoing maintenance, fuel, consumables (tyres, brake pads, oil, etc.), transport, trackday costs… it all adds up to a hobby costing thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds a year (especially if you race). So, we naturally want to make the most of the time we do have on track and progress as a rider as quickly possible.
I’d imagine most riders have their own goals when it comes to progression – it might be to move up into a faster group, to be faster than your cocky mate, become smoother and calmer so you can do the same time riding at 80% that you were previously riding at 96% to achieve, become quick enough to have a go at racing, or, for racers, to finish higher up the order.
Obviously it’s not all about speed but becoming a smoother rider who isn’t always on the ragged edge will naturally result in improved lap-times and safer trackdays.
My goals? Well, I’ve typically been an Inters rider, riding towards the front of the group at tracks I know and mid-pack on ones I’m not overly familiar with. I did a few days last year in the fast group (Spa) and held my own although I was in the slower half of the group. Then I did Cadwell (fourth time there) and dropped into the high 1:40s on my road bike (according to an instructor who spent a session with me – I don’t have a lap timer and only get a vague idea of my lap times by watching GoPro footage when I get back home!). So, I think I’d like to get to the point where I’m comfortable riding in the top half of the fast group.
Ultimately, I’d love to have a go at racing so I know I have a lot of improvements to make to achieve that, and I’d like to be able to lap Cadwell on my 1000 quicker than the CB500 lap record (1:42!).
Oh, also, I really want to get my elbow down. Yes, I know, it’s a silly goal to have but I don’t care, so suck it up, cupcake!
Self-analysis & sciencey stuff
Personally, I’m not a massively analytical rider – I don’t set braking markers and I don’t ever really dissect my previous session and think about what I could have done differently. Because of this, I’m not going to be concentrating on self-development – I’m going to get an expert to help me understand what I could be doing better as this is how I learn best.
However, for people who are better at doing this, there are a couple of great blogs, written by people much more analytical than I, which are really useful in looking at the science behind riding a bike, analysing their riding and identifying areas for development. Have a look at the below links for more information on their articles.
There are loads of options available for coaching. There are race schools such as Honda’s Ron Haslam Race School, California Superbike School and Jamie Whitham’s one which mix up classroom training with the track sessions. Group sizes vary – two students to one instructor for the RHRS Premier (CBR600) course and one-to-one for the Elite (Fireblade) course; CSS and JW have instructors randomly lapping who observe riders randomly and provide feedback when they’re off the bike.
Then there are options for dedicated one-to-one programmes and the most notable ones in the UK are MotoVudu (Simon Crafar, John Reynolds), Notso-Fast (Gary Walton) and Mike “Spike” Edwards. They all offer a similar service – a trackday spent with an instructor riding with you and providing intensive feedback and coaching in between sessions.
The guys who run these companies have a lot of racing pedigree so naturally these days can’t be classed as cheap; however, value for money depends on how much you benefit from the day so Superbike Freaks is interested in evaluating them and finding out how beneficial they are.
Ex-GP and WSB rider Simon Crafar has set up MotoVudu, a training school which has worked with hundreds of riders over the last few years, providing them with a tailored, one-to-one coaching programme on track.
I have booked a day with Simon for my Jerez trackday in April. I haven’t been to Jerez before and want to get the most out of the day so I decided to book it for the middle of my three days. This will give me a day to familiarise myself with the track and set a benchmark lap-time towards the end of the first day. The second day will be spent with Simon and the third day on my own practicing everything I’ve learned.
I will be writing up my experience of the day after the event, so look out for that towards the end of April. I know it won’t be as simple as comparing my lap-time from day 1 to my best time from day 2 and then saying “oh this day was worth 6 seconds a lap” because I’d naturally drop some time after a second day on track anyway, but I need to draw a line in the sand so it will have to do. I’ll try to focus as much on my confidence, smoothness and safety as I do on any speed increases. Afterwards, I’ll head back to Cadwell and see if my time has dropped there noticeably which may be a better indication of the improvement.
Rider weight and fitness
A change in my career a couple of years ago added hours onto my daily commute and reduced the spare time I have in the evenings to do any sport, so I have packed on quite a few kilos which need shifting. This is technically an easy fix (eat less, move more) but also a difficult one as I’m still under the same time constraints I was which contributed to this situation in the first place.
As it’s just after Christmas and the weather is generally horrible, drizzly and cold, I’ve also become a bit lazy, complacent, lacking in motivation, and am finding it hard to resist cake. Not a good combination for getting fitter! Luckily, alcohol isn’t a major issue for me – I don’t drink beer and I’ve cut down on the amount of rum I was drinking. In fact, I went 3 months without a single alcoholic drink before Christmas and didn’t find it difficult. The hardest part was controlling my rage when I was charged £3.80 for a lemonade in a pub… fucking £3.80!! Ridiculous.
So, I’ve decided I need to do something drastic and have booked myself onto a 6-week boot-camp style programme with Ultimate Performance gym in London. This is a gym which focuses on body transformation programmes, where you get obese people becoming buff and ripped in 16 weeks (of absolute hell, I’m sure). I’m not looking to get fitness model ripped or anything like that – I simply want to lose a stone (or two!) and get fitter because at the moment, I can’t do up my leathers if I’m wearing my Forcefield back protector… ooops.
The 6-week programme is called Meltdown and it’s a group event – they run 6 classes a week and depending on the package you choose, you get 2-5 sessions a week. They also run a full biosignature modulation assessment in advance to determine your hormonal/biochemical composition so they can tailor the workout to best suit your body and also work with you on a nutrition plan. I’m planning on doing 4 sessions a week as the timings mean I can’t get there for the 5th. Actually, I can only get there for 2 during the week, so my weekends are going to now involve traipsing up into central London on both days for gym beasting, rather than lazing around watching Netflix… woop!
I’m using this programme to kick-start me into a more active lifestyle again; I’ve gone from doing at least 5 sessions of swimming, tennis & badminton a week to 1 session of badminton and an occasional boxing class… and I haven’t done any exercise at all since the end of November due to a knee injury. Committing to a minimum of 4 intensive gym sessions a week will improve my fitness and weight and inspire me to keep it up afterwards. In fact, if the 6-week plan goes well, I may well do another one straight afterwards but my main aim is to slim down and get a bit fitter before Jerez in April.
My low fitness levels became abundantly apparent last year when I was on track. At Spa, there is a section (Courbe Paul Frere through Blanchimont) with a very long right hander which you’re constantly accelerating round and then a really fast change of direction for two very fast left handers. As my speed increased over the two days I was there, this direction change became increasingly physical – I was having to shift all my weight over to the other side of the bike before I could get it to flick left at 140mph and a couple of times I thought I wasn’t far off going straight on…
I will be updating this page regularly once I start the programme (early Feb) and charting my progress… partly to share my results with anyone in a similar position and partly to motivate myself to keep going!
Wish me luck…