It’s a great paradox that the skills most experienced motorcyclists want to master are the same skills they hope they will never have to use out there on the road. What will I do when my front tire washes out at full lean? How will I react if I lock the front brake? What if the rear tire spins up and steps out?
It’s difficult to learn how you will react beyond your limits without exceeding those limits first. Watching other riders, or even following other riders, rarely answers these questions. Watching Marc Marquez drag his elbow is one thing; doing it yourself, on command, remains unthinkable for most of us, no matter how many Marquez YouTube videos we watch. You cannot glean from others what isn’t already within your own reach. A rider must have enough personal experience from which to make valid comparisons. You can only learn by approaching your own limits, on your own terms.
This is useful knowledge when it comes to rider training. Allowing a rider to brush up against his or her limits, without stepping over, is key to successful improvement. It is imperative to establish a range to work within. Work too far beneath a rider’s current limits, and it’s difficult to define the skills and techniques necessary to make the next step forward. Working beyond the current limits will only invite panic and fear, and it’s impossible to improve under conditions like that.
Because of this, techniques and drills are usually best tailored to each individual rider. As a coach, it’s too easy to present the same techniques to everyone. Once a coach has some success getting students beyond a barrier, it’s normal to think the same technique will help anyone achieve the same breakthrough. That attitude is not completely wrongheaded-at least not with regard to basic skills. But with more difficult barriers, for more advanced riders with higher limits, there are shortcomings.
This is why coaching is such a specialized job; you must understand what is within each student’s grasp then tailor the lesson to suit that particular student. This is my challenge at the California Superbike School, where, as of this year, we now have 76 (!) individual exercises available to each our coaches. These exercises exist to help riders make that next leap forward in skill. And that’s your challenge, too, as you work to improve your own skills: identify and work on the specific small skills that are necessary to achieve your larger goals.
These 76 small steps, well-learned and remembered, are what will lead to giant leaps forward in confidence. Coaching-or even self-education on your favorite back road-becomes an endless process of small drills, then. Watching a rider on-track gives an instant illustration of that rider’s visual skills. It’s not difficult to determine how far ahead someone is looking, how they gauge their turn entry and exit, how they coordinate throttle and brake, and their judgment of entry speed. These are all critical skills on any road, and all small steps that can be practiced anytime.
Mastering these small steps is a matter of unraveling confusion and defining a clear path to improvement. Is it a lack of technical skill? A deficit of understanding? A shortage of confidence? Identify the problem, and then get to work at devising a solution. It goes without saying, of course, that working with a good coach, at a track school, is one of the best and quickest ways to make these improvements. A well-trained coach can observe a rider to quickly identify any skills deficit, and then design an effective drill that is appropriate for the student’s specific understanding and confidence.
But with some care and thought, you can start making your own small steps toward your next giant leap. Take a look at what your own next area of improvement should be, and then get to work on it.