Cycle News Lowside
Learn To Do It Right
Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to visit several different tracks around the country and ride with a wide variety of people.
It’s been heartening to see so many guys and girls getting out there, riding a bike fast on the track, and not being idiots on the road.
Yet, while I was riding at the stupendous circuit that is The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington (seriously, you must ride there), one thing struck me, and that was the number of riders who need to take a good look at what they are doing on the motorcycle.
Much of this has to do with what we see on TV. MotoGP is witnessing the kind of lean angles many thought was impossible 20 years ago, scraping elbows like its nothing, and in the case of some, scraping shoulders. This is not the right way to ride a motorcycle that isn’t doing MotoGP speeds, with the tires, chassis, cornering forces, and electronics that come with it. Look at three-time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier—even he doesn’t ride like that.
At The Ridge, I saw so many riders who were admittedly trying extremely hard and putting everything they have into their craft, but they were doing it in the wrong areas, and I suspect that despite them having a $25,000-plus Panigales with a loud pipe, they have never considered putting few hundred bucks on the line and doing some rider training.
The rider’s body acts as a pendulum when on a motorcycle. Have you put a medicine ball out in front of you and tried to swing it side to side? That’s effectively what your head does when you change direction. Your body is a weight, and the more you climb all over the bike like a chimpanzee, the more work you’ll have to do to get it to turn.
“We talk about this all the time,” says MotoAmerica Stock 1000 rider and JP43 Training coach Michael Gilbert. “When I ride a motorcycle, I want to be comfortable as if I’m riding to the grocery store. So why at the racetrack do we disconnect ourselves from the motorcycle and sit in an uncomfortable position? It’s not efficient. And more important than that, you’re disconnecting the heaviest part of your body—your torso—from the heaviest part of your bike—the engine—which takes away your ability to properly load the motorcycle’s chassis and tires.”
The science of riding a motorcycle really hasn’t changed all that much in the last 30 years. Yes, at the very top level, riding styles have adapted to new technologies—mainly thanks to the gobsmacking grip of MotoGP-spec tires and the cornering forces that come with them—but since the debut of the radial tire in the 1980s, you can almost draw a parallel line between the intervening decades.
The problem with laying a motorcycle down so low that you scrap your elbows and more on track is you have the smallest amount of tire available—right on the rubber shoulder—to get the power to the ground. Getting on the gas with huge levels of lean used to be a one-way ticket to highside city, but thanks to modern electronics, this problem is less of an issue than it was before (although it’s still present).
That doesn’t change the fact that cranking the bike right over excessively takes more effort from you and the motorcycle than required to get around the bend. In cornering, it’s better to work smarter, not harder.
If you want an almost perfect study incorrect body positioning coupled with devastating speed, watch a few YouTube videos of Eddie Lawson, or Steady Eddie as he was known back in the day. The greatest American MotoGP rider of all with four 500cc World Championships to his name in an age where one mistake could see you flying right into the hospital, Eddie’s style was clinical, ultra-smooth and seemingly effortless. He never looked like he was trying (although he certainly was), never put undue stress on the tires and thus could maintain dazzling speed throughout a race or practice session.
“The thing is, fundamentally things are nearly identical,” says Gilbert. “Jonathan Rea sits in a very neutral position and has four World Superbike titles to his name. And in MotoGP, it’s the same. They are on unobtainable bikes and tires and leaning to 66°—of course, their elbows are on the ground—but if you break it down and look at their technique, they are not hanging off the motorcycle. If they did, their faces would be on the ground.
“The biggest teller for me is looking at an outside elbow and how far it’s extended. Look at Valentino Rossi. His elbows are so relaxed. Riders slightly pivot around the gas tank, and that’s about it.”
This is the correct way to ride fast. However, many a rider these days prefers to try and get a bike as low as possible, even though it does next to zero for their speed on track and dramatically increases the chances of a crash—especially as they’re running lower grip street tires and are not putting the kind of forces through them that would make the high lean angles necessary.
What I want to see more than anything is a rider uptake in professional coaching. I have no affiliation with any particular coach or program—although I have done the California Superbike School and Jason Pridmore’s Star School—and both have been extremely beneficial to the way I approach track riding.
They have absolutely been of greater benefit than me simply copying what Marc Marquez does.CN