Slowing Down To Go Fast: The Road Racer’s Enigma

Cameron Beaubier gently trails off the brakes as he enters a turn and transitions to smooth application of the throttle.

Four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes once told me that, a long time ago, someone told him “you have to slow down to go fast.” Hayes said that he actually understood the words of advice even though, to this day, he still thinks the phrase doesn’t make any sense at all.

What Hayes understood, or translated from “you have to slow down to go fast,” is that, in order to go fast on a motorcycle, you have to be smooth.

Watch MotoAmerica EBC Brakes Superbike riders like Cameron Beaubier and Garrett Gerloff. Their riding styles are the rolling definition of being smooth: smooth while accelerating, smooth while braking, smooth while shifting gears, and smooth through the turns. Meanwhile, riders like Josh Herrin and JD Beach don’t appear nearly as smooth. Their movements on their bikes are more frenetic and more pronounced…but are they actually less smooth?

It’s kind of like if you told a joke to Liqui Moly Junior Cup rider Dallas Daniels, then told the same joke to me. Daniels and I might think the joke is the funniest thing we’d ever heard, but he would hardly even crack a smile, while I would be slapping my thighs, wheezing, and acting like I was having a full-on seizure. The emotion felt by Daniels and me would be the same, but the expression of that emotion would be the polar opposite. And, that’s just how Daniels and I roll.

Speaking of “roll,” Herrin and Beach are arguably as smooth on a motorcycle as Beaubier and Gerloff are when you really look closely at the inputs they’re applying to their motorcycles. Also, their laptimes and race wins are a pretty compelling testament to their smoothness.

On The Brakes

The braking systems on MotoAmerica Superbikes are the best available outside of the full-on carbon rotors and carbon brake pads used in MotoGP. And, virtually every rider in the MotoAmerica paddock–especially the Superbike riders–know the last thing you ever want to do is “grab a handful.” They progressively squeeze the brake lever harder and build up the pressure so the motorcycle’s weight bias is slowing shifted forward, and the force acting on the front tire builds progressively. And, once the riders reach the end of the braking zone and begin entering the corner, they also don’t release the brake lever all at once. Instead, they gradually trail the brakes off and slowly relieve the front tire of the weight and force, which sets up the bike for entering the corner.

With The Handlebars

In some corners, riders might need to flick the bike over quickly, but they still don’t aggressively push on the handlebar to lean the bike over. Instead, they apply deliberate, controlled pressure on the bar. And, even in quick left-right (or right-left) transitions where riders have to change direction quickly from one side to the other, they don’t yank the bars back and forth as hard as they can. Once again, they use smooth, controlled inputs on the bars as they change the bike’s direction, and they also smoothly move their torsos from one side of the bike to the other.

On The Gas

Smooth throttle control, especially on a 200+-horsepower MotoAmerica Superbike is critical. Rapid on-off movement of the throttle, especially while in the middle of a corner is inviting a crash. Abrupt throttle application will disrupt the stability of the bike, overwhelm either the front or rear tire, and either send you into the gravel or straight to the sky. That’s why MotoAmerica riders twist the throttle open ever-so-slightly in the middle of the corner and apply the power as gently as they can to stop the bike from slowing down. Then, as they approach the exit of the corner, they slowly and smoothly twist the throttle even more to gradually increase the power delivery. The transition from initial application of the throttle in the middle of the corner to full throttle at corner exit is smooth and deliberate.

Like a spider monkey, Josh Herrin climbs all over his Superbike, but he does so with smooth, deliberate movements.

With The Body

The rider constitutes a pretty large percentage of the total weight of a road racing motorcycle. Therefore, smooth body movements are important in order to avoid abrupt weight shifts at inopportune times. Overly aggressive movements on a bike will upset the chassis and negatively affect stability and traction.

This is not to say that movements can’t be quick. After all, just look at how quickly Herrin and Beach move around on their Superbikes. The key is that the movements must be smooth and controlled so they affect the bike as little as possible.

While Changing Gears

MotoAmerica Superbike riders rarely make sloppy gear changes. Quickshifters, slipper clutches, and electronic throttle “autoblip” intervention have helped immensely in this regard, by aiding the riders in upshifting and downshifting (or “backshifting,” if you prefer) smoothly so as not to upset the bike, reduce traction, or adversely affect corner entries.

Unleashing Maximum Potential

During a race, MotoAmerica riders make hundreds of inputs into their bikes. And, with each of those inputs, they subconsciously calculate the forces they’re applying and the effect those forces have on the contact patches where the tires meet the track.

Ultimately, they don’t want those forces to be abrupt or harsh. Whether they’re applying the brakes, twisting the throttle, using the handlebars, moving their bodies around, or shifting gears, all those forces, if not input smoothly, could exceed the bike’s traction limit.

Being smooth not only ensures that the bike doesn’t exceed its traction limits, but it also unleashes the maximum potential of the motorcycle. And, of course, unleashing the maximum potential of the motorcycle is how you win races.


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