How can you improve your riding skills when track days are canceled and getting out to ride is pressing the limits of your local stay-at-home guidelines? Let me suggest a new YouTube video channel I've been enjoying.
Sylvain Guintoli won the 2014 Superbike World Championship on an Aprilia RSV4, the only non-Kawasaki champion in the class in the last seven years, and is currently a MotoGP test rider for Suzuki. Over the past two months, he has posted a series of videos on his YouTube channel, in multiple languages, on performance riding skills.
What makes Guintoli's videos valuable is his ability to explain concepts directly and clearly (even in his second language). The fastest riders aren't necessarily good instructors because the ability to ride at a high level and the ability to explain how it's done and teach others how to do it are very different skills.
One of the videos that got passed around the internet a lot was Guintoli's explanation of the leg dangle. We're talking about the technique that became common in recent years in MotoGP in which riders extend their inside leg to the side as they brake hard for an approaching curve. Valentino Rossi was the first to start using this technique and I'll admit that part of me wondered if it wasn't just one of Rossi's jokes. Maybe he was doing something totally frivolous just to see if someone would copy him. But of course in MotoGP, where success is measured in tenths of a second, even Rossi wouldn't play a joke like that. Nobody would be using the leg dangle for long if it didn't provide an advantage. But what is the advantage and how does it work? Guintoli breaks down half a dozen ways the leg dangle helps riders cope with the massive forces of a MotoGP bike with carbon brakes.
Whether you've done a dozen track days or you're still looking forward to your first one, Guintoli's video titled "10 tips and secrets to ride like a pro rider on track" does a good job of covering the basics, from visual techniques to body position to braking and throttle inputs and more. Whether it serves you as a refresher or an introduction, this description of track-day skills lays out the things that should be foremost in your mind as you take to the track.
Another interesting video explains the ways racers use the rear brake. Guintoli's homemade graph, which shows the near-simultaneous actions of rolling off the throttle, downshifting and applying the front and rear brakes when cornering breaks down this series of intricately timed actions in a clear way and shows the effect each of them has on slowing and turning.
Another helpful tip comes at the end of that video when he emphasized the use of engine braking. If you're a track day hack like me, hard braking, downshifting and hitting marks when turning into a corner can get to be more things to think about than I have processing power. Guintoli points out that if you're fully using engine braking, you can easily get away with not using the rear brake at all. The proof? Guintoli says that in 2014, the year he won the WSBK title, he never touched the rear brake in a race. He also adds that because of the differences between a Superbike and a MotoGP bike, he does have to use the rear brake in his current job testing (and occasionally racing, as a wild card) the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP machine. But since the rest of us aren't riding a MotoGP race bike, his advice cements my opinion that us mere mortals doing track days are better off forgetting about the rear brake and focusing our limited mental processing power on the front brake, downshifting and body position.
Another video explains short-shifting and why it can help you go faster around a track or through certain curves than keeping the revs pegged at redline, which I thought was an interesting concept. It fits with the advice I've been given at riding schools I've taken that you sometimes have to slow down to go faster.
But perhaps my personal favorite video was the first one Guintoli posted. Back in February, he rode a GSX-R1000R from his home in England to nearby Donington Park for a track day. Despite cold and windy conditions and a totally stock motorcycle with street tires, Guintoli lapped within 10 seconds of the World Superbike race lap record. Then he rode the same bike home. Consider that if you're thinking you can't do a track day because you can't afford a "toy-hauler," tire warmers, generators, canopies, special track-day tires, etc.
In the interests of providing an alternative perspective, my Common Tread colleagues are universal in agreeing I'm crazy for occasionally riding to a track day. They make very sane arguments about how renting a truck or trailer for the day is a small expense that makes your experience safer and more enjoyable. So while my point stands that I don't have to buy an expensive truck just to do a track day, I'll also admit that I should probably recognize that I'm not Sylvain Guintoli, either, and just because he did it doesn't mean I should.
Whether you're a street rider on a performance bike who just wants to use proper technique, a track-day rider who wants to keep improving your skills or maybe just a race fan who wants a deeper understanding of what you're seeing on TV, Guintoli's videos are a good resource that he's put together in a short amount of time since we've all been staying at home more. Once you've worked your way through Ari's COVID-19 19-point bike inspection checklist and your motorcycle is in top shape, move on to these videos and start making sure your own skills are equally updated.