Join Date: Jul 2014
I Ride: 64 Ducati Monza, 99 Sprint ST, 04 TTR125, 04 Sportster, 09 GSXR600, 12 Street Triple, 13 ZX6R
Strategies in track riding/road racing: Finding the limits of traction...safely
Strategies in track riding/road racing: Finding the limit…safely.
**DISCLAIMER** This is an advanced technique and intended for experienced track riders and/or racers. Use at your own risk. It is also assumed that the rider has proper body position for this exercise. A rider MUST NOT be supporting their weight with the hands during this process as it diminishes front end feel.
I am not a crasher. You know the type; more balls than brains, more money than talent, etc. They possess the remarkable ability to throw a bike into a corner and hope that they go through ok with very little thought or regard for the outcome. As they say, ignorance is bliss and it works for some people. These types of riders can be incredibly fast, and is frustrating to the rest of us because they seem to progress at a pace that is significantly faster than our own.
The downside to this style of learning is that they tend to go over the limit about as often as they reach it, and crashes happen. Because they are not developing a conscious thought process for learning they are simply doomed to repeat these same mistakes until they establish some sort of equilibrium. Some riders get through this stage and move on to become truly impressive riders but the vast majority do not and simply give up either through injury, funding (it is expensive to keep repairing a motorcycle), or through frustration that they can no longer rely on pure bravado to get them around a track.
I have several other writing projects coming and it occurred to me as I planned out what to write that I kept having to move backwards in the process until I arrived here. So, without further ado, here is how I go about learning to reach the limit of traction…safely.
To begin, I need to clarify that I am writing about finding the limit at a corner apex; hitting the maximum corner speed possible to maximize your lap time potential. Finding the limit going in a straight line is a function of machinery. Finding it at the apex is a function of rider skill.
The riders apex is the slowest part of the turn (the apex of the riders line where he/she is leaned over the most. This is not the same as the apex of the physical turn). That should be evident but it bears mentioning anyway. The goal is to hit the apex at exactly the right speed so that you maintain traction, continue your turn in a predictable manner, and exit the corner in the fastest way possible. The process that I use to find this magical speed is as follows:
1) Start slowly. Go through the turn at a speed that you are 100% confident that you can make the turn with absolutely no drama. Do this a few times and commit to memory what your pace feels like. What gear are you in? What RPMs are you at? (If you look at your tach I will donkey punch you. You should know by the sound of the engine/feel of the bike). Are you in the right gear for the turn? If yes, continue, if not, shift and repeat until you are comfortable enough to continue.
What is your trajectory? Where are you tipping in? All of these things must be noted.
2) Once we have established a ‘safe’ baseline it is time to start pushing a bit. DO NOT push your brake marker back. Nothing causes a panic response/survival response like pushing your marker back…that comes later. Instead, brake at the same spot you currently do but either use a little less force on the lever or let off a little bit sooner. Make sure that your tip-in is at the same place as step 1. Our natural tendency is to tip in earlier to account for the additional speed. You need to fight that urge for now. The goal is to go through the turn only 1-2 mph faster than your last attempt. Small bites, young grasshopper.
Because you are going through the turn slightly faster, you will need to increase your lean angle just a bit to successfully navigate the turn. How does the bike feel? This is where your proper body position comes into play. You are light on the bars and can feel the feedback coming from the front tire. Are you able to move the bars?
WAIT!!??!? Move the bars? But you said that mid-corner bar input is bad! Yep, I sure did and normally, it is bad. Adding bar input on top of the cornering forces places a tremendous load on your front tire and is the #1 reason for mid-corner crashes so we must use caution while we proceed. I am talking about adding the slightest amount of bar pressure, the kind of pressure you use when typing on a keyboard or on your phone. One or two pounds of pressure, nothing more.
If you are not yet at the limit, the bike will tip in a little bit further. Make a note of this for your next lap and try to get to this new lean angle as you go through. Repeat steps 1-2 until…
3) Eventually, you will put that slight pressure on the bars and they will ‘push back’. There will be resistance rather than the bike wanting to tip in further. This is often referred to as ‘feeling heavy’ as the bike really doesn’t want to do anything. As soon as you feel that resistance you must immediately release all bar pressure. You are now at the limit of front end traction. Congratulations!
4) Most likely, in the process of finding that traction limit you have now begun to miss the apex of the turn and are now a few feet off of it. Now is the time to adjust your tip in point and brake markers so that you reach the maximum lean angle just at the apex and are able to exit the turn on the proper trajectory. This part is well out of the scope of this document and will be covered at a later date.
Congratulations! You now have the skills needed to learn to find the limit of front end traction.
Riding over the limit
Riding over the limit of traction does not immediately mean that you are going to crash. In fact, pro racers look to ride just over the limit all the time. It is hell on your tires and requires VERY fine control of the bike to do this successfully. There is a ‘grey area’ between 100% traction and crashing which I like to call my ‘slush fund of traction’.
The reason that I mention this here is that during the learning process, if you are applying the above techniques properly you may inadvertently ride over the limit very slightly. This is why we only increase our speed and lean angles in very small increments, so that if we overshoot we end up in this ‘slush fund’ rather than ending up on the ground.
If you happen to go past the limit, your front end will slide a bit, what we call a 'drift' or a ‘push’ because that is exactly what it feels like; kind of like dragging a pencil eraser across a piece of paper. You do not need to do anything differently. All that will happen is that you will go a little wider in the corner than you had intended. Traction will come back all on its own and it is important that you do not tense up or do anything other than continue on your way.
Smile at your good fortune and expert skill, go back into the pits to change your underwear, and revel in your most recent exercise in experiencing physics first hand ;-)
Last edited by PainfullySlo; 11-22-2015 at 06:47 AM.