At the Champ school I work with a group of riders who ride constantly in the dirt and on the pavement, for pleasure and in competition. These guys are insanely focused on being consistent at expert-level speeds.
As 2019 begins, I asked a few of my coaches to write about the most-common mistakes they see in their riding world, whether at our school, at local trackdays, street riding, or racing. They had answers immediately, meaning these mistakes and issues are prevalent, dangerous, apparent—and fixable. The next few weeks will help you create your own 2019 plan to improve your riding based on these expert-level observances.
At YCRS we know that adding speed (or poor traction due to weather or cold tires) to weak riding technique creates a crash. No matter where you are in your riding career, please take note of my instructors’ comments and make 2019 an even better riding year.
Dirt track and motocross as a kid, currently motocrossing. Expert-level roadracer. Current and four-time WERA Heavyweight Endurance champion. YCRS instructor at ChampSchool and Military Level Three.
Ben Walters, left, has held a lot of trophies with Chris Peris over the last four years of WERA competition. This team has crashed only once and lost only twice in four years aboard the Army of Darkness BMW S1000RR. Chris’ tips will be in next week’s column.
Army of Darkness
On the track, here are the mistakes that stand out to me:
- Riders have been told to look up or look farther through a corner, but have no idea what they are trying to see. It is true looking farther does slow down the brain, but most riders don’t have an understanding on how to use the information. Use your eyes to find your next reference point for braking and turning—to see the apex and exit earlier and to see traffic in your peripheral vision as you focus on where you want your bike next.
- Passing too closely or aggressively at trackdays. I believe riders are so focused on their turn-in point, braking point, and acceleration point that when they have to alter their line to make a pass they are now “lost.” This excites the mind and causes rushed inputs (stabbing, grabbing, flicking) which lead to a crash.
I encourage these riders to see slower traffic earlier to form a passing plan earlier, and to open their field of vision. I also remind them that not every corner is a passing opportunity, encouraging them to wait for a clean and safe spot. Fast riders must make safe and polite passes.
- Riders who use their arms and upper body to steer the bike instead of their legs and core. We know a leading cause of crashes after lunch is fatigue, and I believe a lot of this can be attributed to not understanding how to maximize the use of your body. A Grand Prix, for instance, is about 50 minutes long, so examine the body position of GP racers to find the answers to reducing on-bike fatigue.
In our ChampStreet street-rider courses, here are the main issues I see:
- I was shocked at how many riders struggle during the simple straight-line braking drill! The lack of confidence and understanding of how to controllably stop or slow their motorcycle was scary, especially with veteran riders with thousands of miles. (Nick wrote a story about what and how to practice, and the lead pic is my Army of Darkness teammate Chris Peris.) I believe this poor braking performance causes many motorcycle crashes on the street.
- Riders would often be so focused on stopping the motorcycle they forget to pull the clutch and stall.
- The scariest part? All the braking mistakes I see are in a controlled environment. Meaning there are no surprise cars, people, bicycles, or gravel. The riders are able to see it demonstrated, think about the drill prior to execution. This is not possible in most street incidents. Riders must take their motorcycles to a parking lot and practice stopping from different rates of speed.
Dirt bike rider, expert-level roadracer. Crew-chief/data tech for (YCRS instructor) Ryan Burke, who is the current and four-time MRA (Colorado) #1 plate holder. Mark is a two-time MRA #1 plate holder and teaches tactical driving to the military all over the world. YCRS instructor for our track, military, and street programs.
Mark Schellinger “at work.”
Here’s what stands out in the street-only classes we teach:
I am amazed by how few riders understand how their motorcycles really work, the effect they have on everything from tire loads to cornering radius. I encourage our students to realize:
a. Move your weight forward and the bike steers better. b. Brakes help control where the weight goes. c. Load the tire before you work the tire. d. Don’t shock the tires or surprise the chassis with abruptness.
Mark, with Keith Culver in the background (see Keith’s tips below), at ChampStreet.
Here’s what I see at our track schools that have all levels of riders:
Working with the new-to-the-track students, they don’t accelerate. They don’t accelerate because they don’t plan on using the brakes properly, if at all. We share a simple mantra with them: “I accelerate because I plan to brake.” We make them say “More speed, more brakes.” Riders who don’t accelerate don’t have a throttle problem, they have a braking-confidence problem.
Mark, left, with Ryan Burke. Four MRA #1 plates on the trot for these two, six in total.
When I’m crewing for Ryan at the races:
I see too many riders trying to make up everything in the brake zone. They crush the brakes way too late and end up giving away the drive down the next straight. This is the rider who is always complaining about his suspension and tire wear. At YCRS, we have a simple perspective on this corner-rushing habit: Let the entry of the corner prepare you for the drive.
Expert-level motocross as a kid, currently dirt bike riding and racing Expert Supermoto; canyon riding and commuting on literbike. Expert-level roadracer, MotoAmerica 600 Supersport qualifier and finisher. Worked with kids transitioning off minibikes to roadracers with Evolution. YCRS instructor and Operations Manager/CFO, leads national Yamaha Demo Program.
“I think I’ll try Supermoto,” Keith mused. Podiums followed.
Much of my time is leading the Yamaha demos in the C-group at trackdays, and this is the beginning group. There is plenty of room for improvement in a bunch of areas, but here’s what stands out on the track:
- Too many riders are off-line and off-apex. Too many seem completely lost. Lead-follow laps are helpful, but the new rider needs to understand why they are following the coach on a certain line (and the coach has to stay on line no matter what). Dual apex cones with a proper explanation during the riders meeting (especially the new riders school or C-group riders meeting) would most likely fix the majority of this. Our dual apex cones are growing in popularity but still rarely get a proper explanation in the riders meeting so they don’t get properly utilized. I can’t tell you how many times we lead a demo group on our bikes and when I explain the dual apex cone (at trackdays where they utilize them), the rider is hearing it for the first time.
A single apex cone can still lead a student rider astray if they are off-line.
Dual apex cones help riders follow the correct line easier, but still need to be explained to be useful.
- Abruptness. At ChampSchool we talk about the five reasons we crash a motorcycle and each of us has a favorite, one that we see most, and this is the reason Nick doesn’t put them in a certain order. They are all equally common and mine is abruptness.
The riders who come to the track to take out their frustrations on the bike and the track, or who want to send it or flick it in there or grab the brakes are the riders most often coming in on the crash truck. A calm mind and smooth, slow hands will do much more for a rider’s success than abruptness. These riders should work on being smooth at everything they do so it trickles down to all of their inputs on the motorcycle. Want more news like this?
Sign up to receive our newsletters and never miss an update!
- The third most common thing I see these new-to-the-track riders doing is drag racing the straights and overbraking at the corner entries. Coming from the street, they (like most of the riders we see) have no clue about trail-braking so they accelerate hard down the straights, brake way too early and hard, and crawl through the turn. Many of them have only taken a basic rider’s course to get their endorsement and were (mistakenly) told to do all of their braking straight up and down before they turn (brake then turn). Since the bike is not designed to do this, they can’t add speed to this technique, so when they get to the track, it not only holds them back from getting quicker and safer, but it also frustrates the riders doing it correctly but on slower motorcycles.
Go canyon riding with Keith Culver and you’ll have a ton of fun and see twice as much brake light going downhill than uphill because this expert rider wants to control his speed, steering geometry, and contact patch until he’s happy with his bike’s direction.
I’m fortunate enough to live in Southern California and ride in the canyons whenever I’m home, generally once or twice a week. Here’s what jumps out from my street rides:
- Too much risk! Similar to No. 2 above, the dangerous riders run really fast on public roads and rely on lean angle to make the turns. If they’ve got some skills and guts and know the road intimately, they make the turns. Riders with less skill, bravery, or knowledge don’t make the turns. On the street, this is way too often deadly.
- Running over the double-yellow line. Pretty much the same as street No. 1 but it’s just so prevalent it’s effing scary. Only by luck do they survive—next Sunday there might be oncoming traffic. My favorite group of riders are quick and never cross the centerline by accident—because there’s a lot of brake lights on! I like to take interested riders up and down a favorite road here in San Diego called Banner Grade to show them how much more brake light they see from my bike going down the mountain. Then I send them to the watch Nick’s 100 Points of Grip and R = MPH videos so they know why.
More next week!