A key element of motorcycle racing, which I haven’t really addressed to date, is the importance of knowing your competition. You hear about it all the time in professional sport leagues like the NFL or the NHL, where teams study countless of hours of tape to see not only how their own team is playing, but also how the competition reacts. The same can be held true for motorcycle racing. Whether you’re watching re-runs of the Canadian Superbike series or simply making mental notes about what your competition is doing on the racetrack, understanding your opponent’s riding style may help you up your game in a race situation.
I was recently reminded about the usefulness of this tactical skill on a bicycle ride with some friends. My friend and I were about to go on a one-hour ride that involved a fair amount of climbing, and he just so happened to invite another friend along whom I had never ridden with before. Knowing the one friend was not a strong climber, and taking one look at the new rider—older, not out of shape but not super fit looking—I thought for sure this would be an easy spin. Wrong!
We weren’t 10 minutes into our ride when the new guy started picking up his cadence and climbing at a much quicker pace than I was anticipating. To make matters worse, he also descended quite quickly on the downhill sections, forcing me to pedal hard to keep up. Eventually my friend fell off the pace and it was just the new guy and I, blasting up and down the hills. Determined that I was not going to let this not-so-fit-looking dude beat me, I pedaled hard to keep up. It was not until we stopped at an intersection to wait for our friend that I learned he had been a member of South Australia’s rowing team back in the day. Oops. He might not have been in the best shape of his life, but he had the aerobic base to put a hurt on me on the bicycle; his ego probably also didn’t want him to get beat by a girl! So much for an easy ride in the park!
The point is that had I have known this guy’s background a little better, or if had seen him ride before, I would have a better idea of what to expect and mentally prepare myself for our ride.
When I was racing motorcycles, I was always sure to keep an eye on my competition both on and off the racetrack. Making mental notes about a rider’s qualifying tactics—do they roll out first or wait and try to follow you; about their strengths and weaknesses on the track—are they hard on the brakes or weaker in the corners? Is their bike faster than mine on the straightaway? When and where is a good place to pass them? What line do they like to take in corner X? If you spend enough time racing a given series, you also get to know how other riders’ bikes are working—who typically has set-up challenges and who nails set-up every time. Who’s missing their crew this weekend or is saving their tire money for the next race? All of these tiny details are important factors that can help give you an edge on the competition.
Good crew will also help keep an eye on the competition for you. I can’t thank my old mechanic, Jim Brooks, enough for always keep an eye out on what the others riders were doing. “This guy seems to be running strong today,” Jim would explain, “and that guy is struggling with set-up coming out of turn two.” Every little bit of knowledge helped as we got closer to the green light on Sunday afternoon.
While focusing on your own racing program is still paramount to anything else, it never hurts to keep one eye open for what the competition is doing. It will help you prepare both physically and mentally for your upcoming races, and sometimes knowing your opponents weaknesses might be the difference between finishing on the podium or rolling home in 4th place.
Always keep your eye on your own racing program first and foremost, but understanding the competition may just give you the extra edge over the next guy.