Someone posted a thread recently about going to a drag strip and it mentioned that they had no idea how to properly "launch" a motorcycle which reminded me of this post that I made on another forum a few years ago. This was back in my lightweight SV650 days but it still is relevant on any bike. Hopefully some folks find this useful.
Some recent threads brought it to my attention that there really isn't much info available on how to do a decent race start. Couple this with the fact that the Penguin school doesn't even mention the topic during your race training and it is a recipe for disappointment.
Let me preface this by stating that I am by no means the best starter out there. I am consistently decent if not good and I am always going into the first turn ahead of my grid position.
This is a start from the last place grid position: RaceStart1 - YouTube
Up until now the only way one could learn these things is by word of mouth and LOTS of practice. Sadly the new guys won’t have either for some time so it is with this in mind that I am writing this guide.
The start of a race can very often determine the outcome; especially so in the extremely short 8 lap sprint races that most of us do in club racing. It is absolutely critical that you master this if you intend on doing well during your career as a racer.
To begin we need to look at your ride. For the newcomer, twins generally have an easier time starting when compared to inline 4s. This is due to two factors: More torque and a power band that comes at the lower end of the rev range. Keep this in mind while learning to launch and above all do not get discouraged. This is a practiced skill that requires very fine control.
A good start is a precise balance between clutch and throttle control while adding body position and mental condition into the mix. Step 1 RELAX
. No, seriously. Focus on breathing. I know you are going to think I am lame but try to get into a calm, Zen-like state. I keep hearing horror stories of people that are vomiting in their helmets due to nerves. Be calm, be smooth, be in control. This is just another patch of asphalt in front of you, the same as you have been riding for quite some time.
If you are hopped up like a gerbil on a three day coke bender you are going to botch your start AND be drained from the attempt. I see it all the time; the nervous types never launch well.
Breathing exercises really help to find some inner calm during what can be a nerve-wracking time. Focus on taking deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth. By the way, racing is all about stress management. You need to master your own stress/panic in order to do well and this is the first step. RELAX. Oh, and RELAX in case you didn’t get it earlier. This isn’t a big deal! RELAX! Step 2 Body position.
Wait, what? I am just sitting on the bike, right? Very, very wrong. You want your weight as far forward as possible. The more weight forward, the more throttle you can give it before the front end comes up, the more power you get to the ground, the faster your start.
I climb as far forward on my gas tank as possible while keeping my head as low as possible. It is an awkward, uncomfortable position but thankfully you aren’t in it for long. This is where having strong core muscle strength will help you a lot.
Some people start with two feet on the ground, I start with one and with the other on my shifter. I find that it is easier for me this way so try both and see what suits you best. Personally I find that my attention is devoted elsewhere and I ride a twin with a 10.5k rpm hard limit which comes up really fast in first gear. This is where the screaming redlines of the I4s will have an advantage in that you will have more time to get your feet situated before you are required to shift.
The rule of thumb here is to do whatever is most comfortable for you so long as you can get your foot in place for shifting before you exit your power band. Refer back to Step 1 and don’t forget to relax and breathe. Step 3 Drop your visor!
From here on out your hands will be on the controls so you need to get your visor down and locked into place. Step 4 The grab point
. This is where the real work starts. The idea behind starting is that you should bring the RPMs up about 2k into the power band of your bike. During the entire start process you don’t want your RPMs to ever drop out of where your power is so we give ourselves a 2k RPM “cushion” to float within.
For me on an SV650 I try to start around 7k RPM as the power really starts around 5k on my bike. If you don’t know where yours is, get your bike to a dyno. This is invaluable info to know. Until that time try asking people with similar bikes what revs they start at. Most people will be happy to share a little knowledge with a newcomer.
We obviously don’t want to sit at high RPMs spinning away forever so this is where you have to look to your starting station. Some places use lights (think MotoGP) however at my home track of Loudon, NH we have a boardman and a flagger. The boardman has numbered placards that count down from 3 to 1. Depending on how quickly you can find your “sweet spot” of revs you will want to start this step at around the 2 board. Clutch in, put it in first gear
. If you ride multiple bikes now is the time to remind yourself whether or not you are running GP shift…ask me how I know Bring your RPMs up to that sweet spot 2k rpm past where your power starts and hold it there.
7k for me!
Slowly let your clutch out until it feels like the bike wants to begin to move forward and then pull your clutch in the tiniest bit. You want to sit right at the “grab point” of your clutch. Eventually this will be second nature to you but in the beginning if you need to use your brakes to keep the bike from rolling forward while you find the grab point, do so. Just don’t forget to release the brakes once you find the spot ;-) Step 5 Finally, the start!
Now it is time to watch the starter while you hold your bike right at the clutch grab point. For those with flags, the micro-second that the flag moves it is time to go. A tip: watch the flaggers shoulder as it will move first. For those with lights, typically it is the moment that the red lights go out.
It is easy to get tense here. Refer to Step 1: Breathe and RELAX! OK! The flag has moved/lights have gone out, now what?
Let your clutch out enough that the bike lurches forward but is still slipping. Because we are sitting right at the grab point for the clutch this is a very small movement.
Your RPMs will start to drop and we counter this by adding more throttle. Practice this motion!! Clutch goes out, add more throttle. Clutch goes out, add more throttle. Do it over and over again until you have this down as it is the very core of good launches. Your goal should be to keep your RPMs at your starting number but again we have a 2k rpm slush area to work within.
If you ride on the street you can practice this motion at traffic lights or stop signs at more reasonable RPMs. Focus only on keeping the RPMs steady as you slowly feed the clutch out/add more throttle.
So, let’s say I started at 7k RPM. I begin to let the clutch out and the revs start to drop. I add more throttle until I am back at 7k. Great! Now let more clutch out, and the RPMs drop again…and we counter by adding still more throttle. You continue to smoothly feed the clutch out while gradually adding more throttle until eventually the clutch is all the way out without ever allowing the RPMs to drop out of your power band. This is a balanced motion between clutch and throttle. Practice, practice, practice!
Sounds simple, right? It is harder than it seems. Bear in mind that this process can take less than a second on some bikes. You can see that on an I4 you will have to slip the clutch a lot longer simply because their power generally doesn’t start until the 12k-14k rpm range.
It truly is a learned skill and practice will help a ton here! Oh, and RELAX! Troubleshooting What do I do if the bike starts to wheelie?
Your clutch is the control you use at this point to keep the front end down. It is perfectly fine to have a low wheelie while you are starting but if at some point the front end starts to raise more than a few inches off of the ground simply ease the clutch in the tiniest bit while maintaining throttle. Your revs will start to climb and the front end will drop. Begin easing the clutch out again and pick up where you left off. What if I stall?
Stalling is by far the most common starting error. Nerves cause the rider to let the clutch out too fast and the bike stalls. IMMEDIATELY
signal so that those behind you have a chance to react. Once you are certain that the danger of a Suzuki enema is minimal, restart the bike and get going.
At this point don’t bother trying to do a formal race start as your nerves will probably be a wreck. Just get the bike going and get into the race. What if I start before the signal/false start?
GO! You cannot “save” it or make it better somehow. At best you will be penalized a lap and it is far better to be down a lap from the front than it is to try to make up a lap from behind the pack.
Again, this is harder than it looks but with some practice and determination you can learn to start like a pro. Above all, be calm, be cool, and relax! It all starts with this! RaceStart2.wmv - YouTube
This is just my own personal experience with race starts, feel free to comment or add feedback!
So, now that I am only riding I4 bikes I will add that my starting revs for the ZX6R is about 12K RPMs. This gives me a lot of rev range to work with as the '13 has a lot of torque to aid in starting.