Friday, August 3, 2012


High level motorcycle racers ride not only to their own limits, but also to those of the bike they are riding.
At the edges, things can get squirly really fast. A bike can spit you off, under or over, with the slightest mistake or twitch, and the riders of these machines are pretty much holding on for dear life whilst at the same time physically forcing these high strung machines round the track as fast as is humanly possible. As you might imagine, it is very exciting to watch.

Interesting thought this from the races last weekend.

A guy who rides in AMA Superbike - the highest national class, on a bike that is a basically a (highly) modified road bike, got a chance to ride a MotoGP bike - the highest international class, basically a prototype bike, a one off, made to be the fastest machine that is possible to make.
There are limitations to what is allowed of course, but mostly regarding the extent of electronic and computer intervention in the traction controls for instance, but basically these prototypes go faster, brake harder, hold the ground better, turn quicker, and accelerate faster than any other motorcycle in existence.
These bikes are quite different in feel and response, and require a whole new level of skill to ride.

So the AMA guy rides around the track on the fancier bike, and of course at first he is working on getting a feel for it, and he certainly does not want to wreck this brand new machine worth millions (yes, millions) of dollars. He rides around the track in a free practice session, probably 20, 30 times, and his time round the track is just about exactly what it would be on his Superbike (from the lower class).
Never really changed over the hour, despite the fact that the new bike had way more potential.
His speed was so consistent, I got to wondering whether his nervous system had some kind of memory, some sensory input speed that felt comfortable ... or at least defined for him his perceived limits .....

This was reinforced the next day when he was on track with more riders on their prototype bikes. By himself, same thing, times as before, but then he got behind a rider he could follow, right up close, following his cadence, the lines he chose, the braking points etc ... and suddenly his times got measurably faster.

I've always been a proponent of practicing with people 'above your pay grade' and here was a perfect example of why.
Yes, you can learn from anyone, and yes, you can improve skills with less skilled people ... and yes, you should be able to use teaching as learning ... but .... gotta say, you can really jump levels by crossing hands/swords/whatever with the highly skilled. Just the experience of what is possible, and the kinesthetic feeling you gain from moving with someone really good, is priceless.


Jim said...

You absolutely need to train with people who push you out of your comfort zone -- or that's exactly where you'll stay.

The problem can be finding people who will push you... because they have to either be willing to train "down" -- or more often, in my experience, be willing to risk themselves being pushed. It's awful comforting to feel your superiority over the folks who won't push you... I was reminded of this in my class the other night. I sparred each of my students, in reverse skill order (starting with the lowest, moving to the highest). First guy, I'm landing points on him at will, and it's just about seeing if he'll try to push me at all. By the last? Lots better, he was pushing me more, but still afraid to really come in.

Maija said...

@Jim - actually I think there are 2 parts to training with folks better than you:
As you say, sparring/dueling against them (along with the problems that you describe), but also mimicing them when they cross hands with others (or yourself).
Steve Morris talks about 'watching the fight', and how he would watch, say, Mike Tyson, and then spend a week or whatever trying to move like him, finding his cadence, hitting the bag, his favorite combinations, his stepping rhythm etc.
Same with dueling, I would mimic the cadence and tempo of those in front of me, and then watch the videos and try to 'feel' the movement of my teacher, or whoever else was playing that was good. Try and see what they see, understand their 'flow'.
Of course this too is hard to do, unless the highly skilled party is freestyling, and you can follow them ....
Like you say, the ego is a fragile creature, and many will avoid being in any situation that they have no control over ... which sucks, because that is exactly where you need to practice this, and like you say, where they too get to 'stay honest'.