Tracking Progress – 2021 – Part 2

In working on my riding, 2020, in sum, was about working on accuracy. For me, this meant more than anything, hitting apexes and using the right controls at the right time. One that stuck with me from 2020 was when my coach said I should be using the brakes for Turn 6 at Thunderhill East. At the time that seemed inconceivable. I spent two whole track days working up to enough acceleration that I legitimately needed the brakes for T6 and it reaped multiple benefits–the bike turned better, I hit the apex more frequently, and I was faster in that part.

Jumping to 2021 it’s all about brakes. In order to get accurate, it required implementing brakes and vision to get the bike where I wanted it. Having spent so much time working on that it has become ingrained into my riding, I don’t really think about it anymore, it just happens subconsciously. Sure, it can be refined further, but I feel like I have the ability to put my bike where I need to almost every corner–whether it be for passing or adjusting for track imperfections or debris. I recently spun a few laps with a friend who is somewhat new to the track and I had forgotten about how much I had worked on getting accurate as he struggled with several apexes. At the same time, he was mentioning lap times and I remembered being so focused on that a couple of years ago as well. I’m sold on the concept of focusing on technique and the lap times will come to you.

Coming back to brakes… Knowing how to effectively use the brakes gives you so much more confidence to use the throttle. Going fast is scary unless you know that you can slow down in time. Once you build that braking confidence, you can continue to refine your braking and use it not just for speed mitigation but also for geometry (this is all YCRS & Ken Hill vernacular). In my own riding now, I don’t like being off the brake or throttle, it’s a sensation of being out of control. If you know me, you know that I like to be in control of my own destiny.

This year I’d been looking at my throttle graphs and much of the season I’d seen how I would roll out of the throttle on fast sections as I approached the braking zone. As I got more confident I adjusted my throttle technique to let it snap off at my braking marker and immediately go to the brakes. The way the bike turns is amazing, it’s just unlike anything else. Admittedly, I’m practicing this on my street back road rides with driving hard toward my exit markers and it works a treat there too. It’s been terrible for my fuel mileage but for me, it’s helping me turn it into a habit.

Another thing that I’ve had to work on this year as my pace comes up is smoothing my body transitions from side to side to keep the bike happy. I realized I was sometimes lazy in doing this and not carrying enough weight on my feet. If you really watch the world-class riders, it’s almost difficult to see them transition because they do it so smoothly. As I work on this I’m finding that I am not carrying much weight on my butt and I can let the bike work beneath me which, at least in my mind, I can feel the bike’s suspension working beneath me better. It makes sense, humans have a lot of padding in the butt that can numb the sensations compared to the more sensitive parts of our bodies (feet and hands).

The other thing that I’m working on more is vision–we’re all told to look ahead but that’s vague. If you look too far ahead you may not be accurate because you’re not focusing enough on the upcoming marker/reference. Because accuracy had been so much of my focus, my eyes would dwell on the apex too long and I wouldn’t begin accelerating enough past the apex. Now I’m consciously trying to focus on each marker long enough to know that I’ll hit it and then move my eyes to the next marker. Alberto Naska put together a great video that demonstrates this concept. The morning of my last track day at Thunderhill East, I was fortunate enough to do a slow car drive around the track with Ken, Lisa, and Jeff and in big acceleration zones I was able to identify multiple exit markers for single corners. Doing this almost turned those parts into a Forza track with those translucent arrows showing you the path. Keith Code mentions this as well in Twist of the Wrist. This was the first time I truly saw it coming together.

In sum, my big takeaways from 2021:

  • Brakes! In order to confidently use the throttle to acclerate, you need to know how to really brake
  • Body timing and smoothness, stay light on the seat
  • Vision – looking at each marker in segments, just long enough to know that you’ll hit it, then move the vision to the next marker; when possible, identify midway markers
  • Turn-in – slower and earlier as the pace comes up
  • All of this leads back to the principle of getting to and away from the slow point of the corner as quickly as possible.
  • Riding with friends makes for a great experience. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a group that I often ride with and we’re all focused on the whole faster/safer thing and being able to ride with them and tell stories at the end of the day makes this a life experience. If you guys/gals are reading this, thank you!
  • One detriment–I’m going through brake pads and tires at a disproportionate pace compared to running B group.

Now this is not meant as a tutorial for others, this is just my report back on where I am in my riding for the season but I do mean to emphasize how important these things are and the benefits that they bring.

For 2021 I did 31 big track days this year and 8 days of racing with no incidents. My favorite track days were low headcount and/or open sessions. I got to ride The Ridge with Ken and Track Time which was a phenomenal experience–for the coaching and the experience of that track. Dustin Coyner’s TrackDaz ran a great show at Laguna this year, Fun Track Days had a Laguna event before MotoAmerica and getting to be on track in the same group as those guys at the same time, and there was a Monday at Sonoma with Carters the day after AFM races which resulted in a low headcount so we had open sessions and I rode 2 different bikes with friends in different groups and that was an absolute blast. I also got to sample an R7 demo while riding beside one of the YCRS chiefs in the B group and that was so much fun–because of the bike and because we sliced through traffic with such ease and it was another rider I trusted (he was on an MT-09 SP but I did manage to get past him exiting Sonoma’s Carousel!). I still rode about 6k miles on my street bikes this year. I *may* be able to squeak in one more day at Thunderhill East post-Thanksgiving if the stars align, though I’ll be on a street bike since my track bike is getting work done.

Turn 6 (The Carousel) at Sonoma on an R7