Confidence - the end all, be all in track (or any!) riding.
I could have sworn that I posted this before but I searched and could not find it so I apologize if this is somehow a repost.
Some folks have asked me questions like 'How do you not get nervous when you are that close to someone' or 'how can you really push that hard and not panic'?
Well, we know from earlier writings that anything that evokes a survival response (SR) is a bad thing, as it is involuntary. The last thing we want on the track is to lose control of the bike to our subconscious so we need to do all that we can to prevent SR's from happening in the first place, and that all boils down to confidence.
It is a tricky thing, confidence. It comes and goes, it can be found in weird spots, or lost at the drop of a hat if things aren't going right. I call it the 'exponential emotion' because once you start on a roll of gaining or losing confidence, it generally continues on that path and rather quickly.
If something goes well, I usually shout in my helmet (weird, I know) and then the next, and next...before you know it I am smiling like a Cheshire cat and riding better than I have ever done before.
Likewise, if something bad happens to damage my confidence, I start to over-analyze things and look for problems where none exist. It then spirals out of control from there if I let it.
Confidence is built through repetition; "I took this corner at this same speed, tip in point, lean angle, and brake marker before ergo I can safely do it again."
The first thing that I fall back on to build confidence is reference points. For those who don't know what those are or use them, they are physical markers on the track that are used to signify an action. It could be a crack on the track surface, some paint marker, a cone or anything on the edge of the track. Whatever your brain can lock on at speed that will signify an action.
I generally have reference points/markers for the following actions:
• Brake Marker (where I start my braking)
• Tip In/Turn In (where I initiate a turn)
• Throttle Marker (get on the gas)
• Line Markers (to make sure I am where I am supposed to be on the track)
You will notice that I do not have a brake on and brake off marker. This is because on the track you should not be doing ANY coasting which means that the moment my brakes are off, my throttle goes on so my throttle marker is both brake off and throttle on.
It is noteworthy for those who race that if you have a large differential in your lap times between 'good days' and 'bad days' it is a pretty good chance that you do not have enough reference points. It was very tough in the early parts of my racing but now my 'bad' days are rarely more than a second-second and a half off of my good days.
When I am struggling, I focus solely on my reference points. They are a known-good formula for getting me around the track quickly. It takes the emotion out of riding and boils it down to sheer math and motion. They won't be my fastest laps, but they will be quicker than if I panicked or got upset.
I have actually experimented quite a bit with this and it is funny but if I look ahead into the first turn at my local track coming off of the straight, I always feel those SR's starting to creep in, undoubtedly due to the speed and the way the track configuration is, it looks like the track simply stops. Instead, I focus on looking for a crack that runs across the entire track which signifies my brake marker. I know for a fact (because I have done it countless times before) that if I start braking then I will make the turn and so I have confidence…and no SR's even if I am driving deep into the corner.
Another huge plus in the confidence section is properly setup geometry and dialed-in top-end suspension components.
Unfortunately this is one of those things that you don't know until you know. If you have ever ridden a seriously set up track or race bike, you will know what I mean but even for those without thousands of dollars in suspension components there is confidence to be found with your stock parts.
Bikes are set-up from the factory with street riding in mind, consequently they are lacking quite a bit for track duty as comfort was their primary concern. Comfort != going fast.
By tuning out wallow (your bike moving around in a corner) and easing things like transitions (side to side movement) and overall motion, it really inspires confidence. The bike just feels like it wants to go faster. This is done by adjusting your suspension and basic geometry of the bike which any suspension tuner can do, usually for a very minimal fee. For instance, the local guy at my track GMD Computrack - Boston will dial in your stock suspension for $25.
You can also artificially raise your confidence level through other means. I use music to 'psyche myself up' before race time. A good driving beat and aggressive sounding song gets my blood pumping (and adrenaline flowing. Adrenaline = liquid confidence) which bolsters my confidence.
Some of the other methods of gaining confidence are a little less tangible. This is a write up that I did a few years ago for my sponsor at the time, EBC Brakes (I still use their GPFA race pads).
This magical sensation is what makes the racing world go ‘round. When you have it, everything seems possible. Things just seem to “go your way”. You go faster, easier, better, smoother than you ever have before. Confidence has a direct correlation to winning.
When you are lacking it? Well, that is another matter entirely. When you are lacking confidence no force in the world is going to make you push to your limit. You second guess yourself. Your performance suffers. Ever have one of those days where you “just weren’t feeling it”? Lack of confidence, plain and simple.
There are many forces out on the track that seek to undermine our confidence and like the resentful little gremlins they are, they gang up on you. One tire slip and suddenly you are questioning your tire compound or pressures. Next thing you know, you are distracted by that front end wobble that you are sure wasn’t there before. Wait, what was that noise from the engine?
On the other end of the spectrum there are the forces that inspire confidence and my EBC GPFA brake pads are one of the strongest, most confidence inspiring forces out there.
I raced this past weekend at Loudon, NH where the temps were a very chilly mid-40’s with massive gusts of wind; the kind that blows you 10’ off of your line. The very first race I started from the 3rd row but found myself directly behind the leader heading into turn 1 and I admit there were a lot of those confidence sapping gremlins running around my head. I knew I had some really fast guys right on my tail so I had to push deeper and harder into the turn than I have ever done before. Those gremlins whispered “Your tires won’t stick” and “You won’t be able to brake enough to make the turn”.
I waited a full second past my brake marker to where my body was screaming at me that I was in trouble and those gremlins were shouting inside my head, but the moment I touched my brake lever I knew I was ok. I heard the familiar whirring of my GPFA pads doing their work without complaint, I felt the rush of reassurance coursing up my arm as if I was directly connected to my calipers, and the pure raw stopping power practically laughed at those gremlins. In that one instant, all doubt was gone. I was racing.
In the end I did get passed by two of those really fast guys (hey, this is my first year starting in the expert class!) but I was more than happy to take home my 4th place finish with the knowledge that things only get better from here.
Thank you EBC and Spears Racing (my EBC connection) for the products that keep me safe and that help me to reach towards my full potential. Oh, and thanks for getting rid of those gremlins too!
CCS/LRRS Expert #29
What I wanted to mention from that is that to me, hearing that distinct whirring sound that these pads make was a source of confidence for me. They reminded me that I had really kick-ass brakes and that I could trust them.
Other sensations can also inspire confidence; I usually try to watch an inspirational riding video before going out on the track for the day...it reminds me why I do what I do. I also love the smell of burning race fuel and it reminds me that I am there to kick butt and take names...i.e. confidence.
Confidence is there to be found, usually in your routines. After all, if you did something before and didn’t crash/went fast it would stand to reason that doing the identical thing will yield the same results. Confidence through repetition =).
What inspires your confidence?