Digital fuel injection. Dual compound tires. Ride-by-wire throttles. Four-way adjustable suspension. Traction control. Antilock brakes. The modern sport bike is a dizzying array of technology, all designed to aid the rider in controlling the machine on the razor’s edge.
The past two decades have seen quantum leaps in the design of everything from tires to throttle bodies. The result is a crop of machines that, despite being the fastest and most powerful ever built, are also among the easiest to ride.
But all of that MotoGP-inspired technology is useless if the rider can’t hold up their end of the bargain. The physical and mental demands of riding a sport bike at the track are a concentrated dose of anything you’ll experience on the street. For that reason, many riders new to the track find themselves smoked after only a few 20 minute sessions, even if they are able to ride their local twisties for hours!
There’s a reason why you’ll find all of the top professionals doing intense physical training between race weekends, and it isn’t just so they can stay at a light weight. Being fit for bike means better control, better concentration, and best of all, more track time!
When you go to the track, do you ride every lap of every session? I never used to. When I first started, the best I could manage was 5 sessions a day, just because I was too tired to do any more. Taking a tip from the pros, I bought a used bicycle in 2009 and started riding. Now I have three (for road, mountain and cyclocross), and ride and race them all year ‘round, in part to stay in shape for the track. These days, you’ll find me waiting by the starter’s flag for almost every session.
The benefits of cycling for anyone wishing to ride at the track cannot be overstated. Intense rides and hill climbs will increase your aerobic capacity. Long, steady rides will help you trim fat and build your endurance. The muscles you develop while pedaling are exactly the same ones you’ll use on the motorcycle. Even your visual skills will be improved, especially from mountain biking, as you’ll be required to choose lines, keep your eyes up, and look through corners just the same as you do at the track.
A good strength training program pays huge dividends, as well. Your leg position on a sport bike is essentially the same as a deep squat, with the exception that your weight is on the balls of your feet instead of your heels. Strong legs and core muscles are essential to moving yourself around on the bike, moving the bike around under you, and keeping your hands light on the bars throughout.
Focus the majority of your exercises on your legs and core. Free-weight movements like squats and deadlift are the most efficient, because they are compound exercises. Isolation work (such as what is provided by most machines in the gym) has its place, but should be considered secondary. Don’t overlook bodyweight exercises, like pushups, planks and air squats, as they can play an important role in your program as well.
Flexibility can also play an important role. For instance, tight hamstrings can cause your back to hunch as you reach for the clip-ons, overextending your back muscles and causing your core to fatigue more quickly. A flexible posterior chain allows you to keep a neutral spine as part of a proper body position, which in turn allows your core to work more efficiently to support your weight, instead of your wrists. My recommendation? Yoga. No, really. The combination of isometric strength work and deep stretching will help in all of the areas I just talked about, and with the bonuses of making you less injury prone, faster to recover, and more relaxed in general. Give it a try.
Finally, the most important component of any fitness program is the program. Create a routine or a schedule, and do the best you can to stick with it. Plan on spending a couple days a week on a bike, a couple more days in the weight room, and at least one day a week on flexibility. Find a weightlifting program that interests you, or even meet with a personal trainer to design one custom made for your needs.
When you improve your fitness, you’ll be shocked at how much more fun you can have at the track. You’ll be less tired, in less pain, more aware, and able to relax on the bike more. A relaxed rider is a fast rider, as any riding school in the country will tell you. Together with looking after your nutrition, as we’ve already discussed, a good fitness routine will have you taking care of your body as well as you do your bike, and the result can only be bigger smiles, and lower lap times!
Do you have a routine that you follow? Questions about specific exercises? Leave them in the comments below!