In the March/April issue of Inside Motorcycles, I talk about the increasing availability of reasonably priced GPS-based data acquisition systems, and using data to improve your riding. GPS provides accurate position data, from which useful data such as segment times, ground speed, lateral acceleration, longitudinal acceleration and much more is derived - all of which can help you learn more about your riding.
I also used data to help coach students at Jason Pridmore's Star Motorcycle School, and lately I've been using my own G2X to help AMA Supersport racer Javelin Broderick, among others. Much of what I've learned came from working with Kaz Yoshima on a couple of magazine projects; Kaz and I put together the beginnings of a website with loads of information on data analysis at www.docmc.net
Currently, I have data for more than 25 riders at about that many racetracks, covering the range from first time track novice to AMA-level professional. At first blush, coaching a rider using data seems easy enough—overlay data from a faster rider, and point out the differences. But that approach falls apart quickly. Simply telling a rider "You can ride faster in turn three" does not help any. Most riders already know they will be faster if they could just, well… ride faster. Deciphering the data is more a matter of figuring out how the rider can go quicker and then accurately communicating that in a language he or she understands.
There are a few snags, of course. What if I don't have data for a faster rider at a particular track? It's almost frightful how analytical you can be about someone's riding based on data. Braking, accelerating, cornering… almost every aspect can be expressed as a numerical value, and those values are well known based on given parameters, either from physics or experience with other riders. For example, I know that Javelin, on the AMA-spec Dunlop tires in a level turn with no camber, can corner at 1.1 to 1.3 G of lateral acceleration. When we go to a new track, I should see the same; any deviation is cause for further examination of other data channels. Data from another rider definitely helps, but is not always necessary.
With a good software package as part of the data acquisition system, you can visualize almost any aspect you like. I worked with one rider that I thought could be more consistent in his lines from lap to lap. Using the GPS data, I generated some channels that showed exactly how far off-line he was each lap, in feet, and how much extra distance and time it was adding. Riders take a lot more notice when you tell them something specific that can save a precise amount of time, rather than giving them more generic suggestions or advice.
With GPS data and a handful of additional analog sensor inputs, I have about 50 channels of data to draw from. As you can imagine, it's almost impossible to look at everything in between practice sessions at the racetrack—there is simply an overwhelming amount of information. Typically, the rider and I will pick one or two things to work on each day, and I will have developed the necessary channels to easily and quickly check for improvement. Just as important, I try to have a way to graphically show that improvement as feedback.
It's definitely been a learning experience for me as well as (hopefully!) the riders I've helped. Ironically, as I work more with Javelin and he gets faster, I have to learn more to keep up by adding channels and sensors to look at increasingly specific aspects of his riding. As time goes on, it's getting more difficult and time-consuming to find things he can work on. Check the latest issue of Inside Motorcycles for more information about some of the actual data channels we use, and about GPS data acquisition in general. In my next blog, I'll go into some more detail about other channels we look at, and how they can be used to improve your riding.