Motorcycling is a hobby where you would be wise to check your ego, and this is particularly true of motorcycle racing. There are very few people out there who can extract 100% of the capability of a modern sport bike, and those who can generally have years of practice and training to thank. In car racing it’s often agreed that the recipe for success is one third driving talent, one third car, and one third money. To be successful you need all three.
The specific percentage distribution can be argued extensively, but this is a table with three legs. In motorcycle racing the distribution is heavily shifted toward the riding talent; Maybe 80%? The sooner this fact is internalized, and really understood, the better off you are. Lucky for me, I got my education in this very early in my racing experience; when the 17 year old phenomenon Jordan Renshaw passed me on the outside of a power-corner on his KTM 390, while I was riding a fully prepped SV650 with far more horsepower. Jordan went right around me with this knee on the ground the whole way, and all I could do was watch it happen, with a stupefied expression on my face inside my helmet. There was no blaming it on the bike, or the weather, or sunspots. I had been whooped, well-and-truly, with no excuse. Jordon was (is) simply a better rider than I am, in fact, the racetrack paddock is full to the brim with riders who are vastly better than myself. There are plenty of guys who pull seconds out of my lap time on tires they found lying around behind the tech shed (Newman, you dick, I’m looking at you). This might seem demoralizing, but I can tell you that this is strictly a matter of perspective. If you get into motorcycle racing, or any racing, with a dream of being the fastest SOB on the track, that’s cool but it’s a recipe for an unfulfilled dream.
Say you’re the fastest badass in your class, now what? You move up to the next class, or risk becoming a sandbagger. Then, say you climb to the top of your series. Now, you have to find a faster series… Nationals, perhaps? This effect stretches ever onwards until you’re standing on the top box next to Mavrick Viñales; and let’s be honest, that’s just not going to happen. Unless you’re Spanish and started racing at 3 years old, and are the heir to some olive oil fortune. What helps me sleep at night is a recognition that what really matters is that I do better than I did the last time. If I can find a tenth of a second here, and a half a tenth there, that is the real victory. If I can just focus on doing better than my younger self (even if younger by only a single lap) then this inevitably means that with persistence, I might eventually find myself doing reasonably well.
We’ve all got our performance envelope; a space where we are comfortable operating, and the idea is to get right up to the edge of than envelope and give it little nudges, pushing those boundaries further out. The goal is not to exceed our envelope, but to make our envelope bigger, little by little.
I think this applies to street riding as well… Maybe you’ve never ridden in the rain? If so, perhaps a controlled ride on damp streets is the way to push out your envelope? Jumping on and attacking, that’s not going to be a good idea. If we want to really wax-poetic, then this same concept can be applied to everyday tasks. Things like public speaking, or its drunken cousin: Karaoke. Jumping into the bridge of “With or Without You” is not a good starting point. The Ramones might be better, perhaps you struggle to make your voice heard at work? Perhaps you as I, lose your temper a little too often, or take criticism too personally. The point here is that I think deciding you have to be the best at something sets you on a road to disappointment; best is by its very nature a relative term. I bet you Valentino Rossi is constantly wondering if he’s really the best or if it’s Agostini, or Hailwood, or Big John Surtees (RIP). It’s far more valuable to accept that you may not be the best, but you can be better than you were yesterday, and that putting one foot in front of the other in this way is a guarantee of satisfaction.
This is one of the great lessons that racing has to offer. At the beginning of the year I was 4 seconds a lap slower than my racing mentor Mike Doody, but this past Sunday I was only two seconds slower. I still have a long way to go, but I can heartily pat myself on the back for having accomplished something I once thought was going to be damn near impossible. Riding bikes is not going to end world hunger, it’s a thing we do for the bliss of motion. Approach it with humility (and a dose of caution), and I can promise you that bliss will be all the more profound. There are a couple profound truisms of racing, and one my favourites is; “It’s not where you start that matters, it’s where you finish”.