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Old 07-27-2015, 11:30 PM   #1
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The Little Things | Riding Skills Series

Riders at the MotoGP level, like Andrea Iannone shown here, work tirelessly in steps measured in tenths if not hundredths of a second per lap.

When you first started riding on the street or track, you most likely found improvements coming in leaps and bounds. You got noticeably smoother with every ride, chopping seconds from your lap times with every visit to the track, with more of a safety cushion and less effort. But as you gain experience, those improvements get smaller and more subtle and increasingly difficult to find. At some point, you have to start paying attention to the little things, those tiny details that may seem insignificant but can save you a fraction of a second at the track or make you a better, safer rider on the street. Eventually it becomes the only way to improve.

Too often we see riders and racers dismiss something that could make a difference to their riding, citing that the potential gains are not worth the effort or that they can make up the difference some other way. The improvement could be something in their riding—such as learning to use the rear brake better—or something about their bike, like suspension settings or even a mechanical issue such as tire pressure or wear. It’s all too easy sometimes to just hop on your bike and go and not sweat the small details that (you think) won’t make much of a difference.

Here’s the rub: Those details start adding up quickly to have a big impact on your riding. At the track, say you’ve been meaning to work on your body position in a particular turn, or you’ve been too lazy to change your fork oil, or you need to find a better line in a turn to avoid a specific bump. None are big deals on their own, and chances are you could make up some of the lost time elsewhere. But even if each aspect is worth just one or two tenths of a second, pretty soon you’ve got a half-second drop in your lap time. That adds up to five seconds over 10 laps, enough to put you out of your buddies’ sight in a 15-minute trackday session, or maybe the difference between first and second place at your next race.

We are definitely not after speed and lap times on the street, but the same principles still apply: Working on those tiny details will make you a smoother, safer rider over time. If you can improve your braking by just a fraction here and a bit there, for example, it may one day make the difference between hitting a car or not. If you made those suspension adjustments you’ve been meaning to make, it could mean keeping up with your riding group with a lot less effort.

What’s nice about paying attention to the little things from a riding perspective is that the benefits tend to stay with you. Once you’ve figured out your body position in that particular turn, or you’ve learned to use the rear brake better on the street, that information and the techniques will be yours for a long time, and your riding will be a notch better. Over time, it’s obvious that the steps will become smaller and smaller, while at the same time the effort required to make those steps increases. You only have to look at MotoGP to see what happens at the top level: The manufacturers spend millions of dollars eking out every last tenth or even hundredth of a second in performance, while the riders train and practice tirelessly in an effort to gain similarly sized slices of time.

The important thing to learn from those MotoGP riders is that there’s always room for improvement. Each step may take a lot of effort for a tiny reward, but over time those steps can add up to some significant gains in speed and safety.

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