So, if you're an experienced rider or racer, this is going to be pretty boring, even preaching to the choir. I actually feel kind of awkward writing instructional/informative posts on this site, given all the raw talent accumulated here. If you're a newbie though, I'm going to try my best to tell you what's going to happen (at least, as I experienced it) the first time you carry enough speed into a corner to actually touch your knee puck down, from my newbie perspective.
If you're like me, the track photographer is as much a training tool as a mode of vanity. It's awesome to be able to look at how bad-ass the things you are doing are, but at the same time, it can be difficult otherwise to gauge your lean angle, and thus your progress. On-bike cameras don't always give a good sense of it, so you've spent alot of time looking at photos like this: Fig 1.: WTF
Look at that GAP! I'm talking about the great expanse between my lonely knee and the road to glory. If you're like me, you remember how fast you were going and how low you felt you were leaning, and so the next time out you try to MOOOVE your knee and SHOVE your body around to touch the ground. If you're like me, this road will lead to frustration.
I desperately wanted my knee to touch the ground, not only because it's awesome, but mainly because I figured that's the only way I'd start to get a sense for lean angle (and how to judge it from the driver's seat). I figured that until I reached that point, I'd basically be flying blind.
Now, the fast guys say it all the time - you don't try to put your knee down, you just do all the things you're supposed to do, and it'll happen. Unfortunately, I'm goal-oriented to a fault and kept trying to force the issue in the B group, which is very difficult in the tight and crowded N/B group on the windy Shenandoah Circuit, unless you're pretty good already (and I'm not). I really was improving my ability, but all the while I'd made a target out of grounding the venerable plasticky pad.
So, yesterday, when I started the day, I was DETERMINED to make the holy mark. I am (was) utterly sick of explaining to people "Yeah, those are for dragging your knee. Yes, mine are pristine
." Yesterday, though, was a different kind of track-day. Oh yes, there was a scent and weight to the air, and the earth itself practically vibrated.
It was the smothering exhaust fumes and engine rumble of one of the larger N groups I've ever seen. I got to the starting line late and launched in one of the last groups, for which I was somewhat thankful. My delayed start actually kept me behind the major clusterfuck for a bit and put me in a smaller coached group. I followed that guy for the session and did some sketchy shit to keep up (playing frogger with some groups of first-and-second time riders), and was actually thankful when I came off the track. I was a little worried that the day might be a wash. Fig 2.: Actual photo of the N Group at Shenandoah Yesterday
Then the coach caught me after the session and, unbeknownst to him, made my day: I'd done well, I needed to tighten my line near the pit entrance, and they might bump me to I group.
Now, at this point, I'm thinking, "Ok, cool! If I do that I won't have to sit through the mandatory B group classes again, and I can get out of this crowd." Honestly, the info is very good but it's the same info, so once you've seen it more than 3 times...
Back on track: Next session I was resolved to have a better run. Two laps in I pitted in and asked for space. The starter basically told me (with an apologetic hint), "We have a pretty big group. If you need space you can come in like this or basically just pace yourself." Something like that. He started me out and I was stuck behind a slower Leviathan seemingly moments later. And it double-sucks for me because I HATE diving into a group of riders where there's a questionable skill range.
It was at this point that I realized I needed to be in the I group. I would MUCH rather be the slowest guy in a faster group than one of the fastest guys in a slow group. I figured I couldn't learn anything on the field as it was. Two coaches for motorcycle excitement evaluated my ride and signed off, and three sessions later I set out (with a coach pacing me) on my first Intermediate run.
Now, here's the thing (ymmv and some may disagree with some of this part): riding with slower people won't help you ride faster. It'll give you a few chances for an easy pass that's fun and satisfying, and practice is practice, but honestly the way to ride faster (again, ymmv) is to ride with someone who's faster than you and try to match them. So when this coach started me on the I group, the 15-25% or so that he threw on top of the "test" pace was pretty exhilarating. Now I had a less crowded field of mostly faster people, and the coach was pretty close to outrunning me. I realized I'd better come-the-fuck-correct to this new situation, and suddenly dragging a knee was THE LAST THING on my mind. The coach's words rang in my ears "Remember, they go a bit (lol) faster, so ride your own ride."
The coach gave me one last OK and I was on my own. Now here's the funny part. I started the next session in a very, very different and humbled mindset. I'd gone from being a fast guy in the B group to a slow guy in the I group, and I had to prove my worthiness with speed. So I brought all the speed, all the focus and furious forward intent I could muster while staying at the proverbial 75% (believe it or not, this proverbial 75%-80% comes naturally to me, because I don't want to mess up my street bike).
That's when I crashed. Fig 3.: My crash
I shit you not, I thought I was crashing. I was coming through a tight-yet-quick section of track (after the esses, before the bridge straight for those local to Summit Point) that's spooked me before when my head filled with the sound of hitting the ground. I'd dragged peg and boot earlier, but this was a full plastic-on-tarmac sound that typically accompanies a lowside. Now, it was compounded by the fact that I was goosing it a little and actually felt the rear slip, so I kicked the bike up with my knee and lost a bit of speed before I realized HOLY FUCK THAT WAS MY KNEE.
In the course of trying to keep a respectable pace, I touched down a little harder on the right, and a little softer on the left, which is funny because here's my tire: Fig 4.: Here's what a Corsa looks like after I've touched down my left knee
The right side actually had a smidge left, so I guess I favor more body lean on the right side. More to learn....
I finished that session with multiple contacts on both sides and basically consistently dragging my right knee through that one turn, and I've come to realize now that as good an indicator as that knee can be, it's only as useful as you are consistent. As heat exhaustion started to set in during the last sessions of the day, I started to lose that consistency, and the touchdowns weren't as consistent either. All along, this hasn't been a very good goal - it's a stepping stone.
Here's something interesting to wrap up. I actually said this would be brief: Fig 5.: "The Concrete Jungle"
I'm jealous of people with sweeping turns on canyon roads. Look at that fucking track. Every turn is awesome in its own way, but when you're trying to learn, it's nice to have a longer, sweeping, medium-speed curve where you can screw with your speed and angle to figure shit out
, and there's probably one, maybe two places that really fit the bill for that. My favorite is that right sweeper "the Trigger" right before the bridge straight. Everything else is 100% about linking turns and being awesome at it. Those sweepers are where all my breakthroughs happen, and sure enough, the home of my first ever dragging knee.
If you're new and working up, I hope this is at least slightly informative. I also hope it's generally entertaining, if you've managed to read this far. If the track photographer got anything good, I plan to put that on here too.