Special Thanks to: Stephanie Huth and Willow Springs International Raceway
...to Motorcyclist Garage, the place for all things hands-on, practical and useful for streetbike enthusiasts of all stripes.
This month we focus on fitness and user-friendly ways to get yourself back into prime riding shape for the coming season. We know as well as anyone that staying away from barbecue, clairs and alcohol during the holidays can be tough (just ask Boehm), and that getting back on the running track or bicycle--or whatever you use to work out --after your excess of choice can be equally difficult.
To help, we've packed this section with moto-specific advice, facts and exercises you can use to get yourself back into shape. And don't think it's not important to do so. Can an out-of-shape rider get from point A to B? Sure. But can they do it all afternoon long with a high degree of safety and skill? Not a chance. The margin is even narrower at the racetrack, where there is no doubt a fitter rider is a smarter, safer and faster one. Being fit means being more relaxed on your bike, which leads to all sorts of benefits--including having more fun.
Also within the Garage this month are pieces on used bikes, long-term reports, answers to technical questions, riding tips and the return of The List, which contains prices, basic specs and pithy verdicts on every street-legal machine for 2005.
Shut the door and grab a low-cal beverage...it's time to kick a few tires. --The Editors
Get On Your Bike...And Pedal?
PHOTOGRAPHY: Kevin Wing, Misti Hurst by: www.picman.com
Roadracer and CSS instructor Misti Hurst works like a madwomen to keep her fellow racers i
Walk through any MotoGP or Superbike paddock and you'll see motorcycle riders as lean and fit as professional bicycle racers. Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin, for instance, is trained by a disciple of Chris Carmichael, who coached Lance Armstrong back to Tour de France dominance after his bout with cancer.
Fitter athletes are more relaxed. Being more relaxed improves reaction times. So those tour de force workouts make sense--though not just for factory racers. Club racers, track-day riders, even street riders benefit from that state of relaxed awareness that comes with being in shape.
What does this mean for you? It means being fit will make you faster and safer. It means you'll be more relaxed on your motorcycle, which will make learning to ride it better even easier.
A heavier rider raises the combined rider/machine center of gravity, exaggerating pitch movements under acceleration and braking. Excess weight slows acceleration and increases braking distance. And because the rider moves his body weight (or more in a high-G corner) whenever he shifts side to side, it compounds fatigue, which lessens control. When your quads--those large muscles in your thighs--are spent, you can't move around on the bike as needed; if your hands and arms are cramped, you can't be precise with steering or controls; and an imprecise rider is an unsafe rider.
Even if you're not overweight, being in better shape will make you a better rider. Top racers know from experience that cardiovascular fitness gives them a competitive advantage. Ask any club racer, track-day rider or canyon carver; they know that after 30 miles of knee-dragging, they'll pull in breathless and sweaty. Why? Isn't virtually all the work performed by the engine and brakes?
Answering those questions would make a great PhD thesis, but there's already a weight of opinion suggesting riders' increased heart rates are the cumulative result of several factors. Emotional stress, increased oxygen use by the brain, the effort involved in moving around on the bike, intense use of certain small muscles (notably in the hands, forearms and neck) and isometric muscle effort (by large muscles such as the quadriceps) all contribute to a serious need for oxygen. And don't scorn the notion that much of the work done while riding happens inside your helmet; as much as a third of all the energy consumed by your body is burned in your cranium. Up to 10 percent is used in processing visual information alone.
Mick Doohan, a nearly marathon-distance runner before his severe ankle injury, told us, "The idea is to be as fast at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. Some guys are really quick for two or three laps, but then go backward. You know their bikes are still good, so the problem's got to be them." Being physically fit improves your ability to concentrate for long periods. Get in shape and you'll not only ride longer, you'll make fewer mistakes and find you're more able to see and process visual information.
What are the essential elements of riding fitness? It's best if neither you nor your bike is handicapped by excess weight. And it's key that your heart and lungs can meet your body's--and your brain's--oxygen needs. A no-nonsense cardiopulmonary fitness program will help you on both counts.
Step 1: See your doctor. Ask if you can safely start a cardio fitness program. If the answer is yes, go to Step 2. If the answer is no, seek professional help.
Step 2: Buy a heart-rate monitor. Any good sports shop sells them.
Step 3: Calculate your target heart-rate zone. The rule of thumb has long been 70-85 percent of your peak heart rate. Peak heart rate is measured in beats per minute (bpm), and can be approximated as 220 minus your age. Thus, a 40-year-old will have a theoretical peak heart rate of 180, and should train between 126 and 155 bpm.
Step 4: Pick a suitable activity. Plan on training at least three days a week, with five to six days being even more effective. If you're height/weight proportional and in good basic shape, your training sessions should reflect the length of your sport rides (typically 20-30 minutes for club racers or track-day riders). Try to train in the upper end of your target zone. Every workout should begin and end with a gradual, 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down period.
If you're overweight, you'd be well advised to train for at least 45 minutes at a lower intensity. Use your monitor to ensure you're in your zone. If you're not breathing hard and working up a sweat, you're not working hard enough. But if you can't carry on a simple conversation, you're probably working too hard.
Because you're not training to compete as a swimmer, cyclist or runner, you need not specialize. In fact, you might benefit more from switching between workouts. If you train three or more days in a row, feel free to alternate between more- and less-intense sessions.
Step 5: Monitor results. Your gym or corporate health plan might offer a comprehensive fitness evaluation you can use every six months to monitor your improvement. If you're training on your own, track your weight and occasionally perform some standard test, such as measuring the time you take to swim 40 lengths of a swimming pool. Another good tip is to keep track of your resting pulse. Take it in the morning before getting out of bed. If your resting pulse is trending down, you're getting fitter.
Feel free to read men's magazines that promise "Six Weeks to Rock-Hard Abs." Just don't believe it. Be patient. The idea is to build a habit for life, not to quickly whip yourself into shape and then go back to your old, sedentary ways.
Mountain biking (off-road)
Pros: A good way to build cardiopulmonary fitness, with some direct benefits in terms of reflexes and balance.
Cons: Risk of training injuries increases in proportion to reflex and balance benefits. Every season some racer sheepishly misses his first race because of an off-season mountain-bike wipeout.
Pros:An excellent means of building cardio fitness and total body strength with a low risk of injury. This is Val Rossi's favored off-season workout.
Cons: Requires access to a 25-meter (or larger) pool for serious training. Lower-body range of motion does not mirror motorcycle ergonomics.
Pros: Mimics cross-country skiing, long described as one of the ultimate total-body fitness activities. Upper-body activity mimics motorcycle steering effort.
Cons: Pricey as home-fitness tool; lower-body ergonomics don't mirror those of motorcycle riding.
Pros: An excellent total-body strength and cardio training tool with ergonomics very close to motorcycle riding. Nicky Hayden's personal trainer recommended this for the U.S. star.
Cons: Not all gyms have them; pricey as home-fitness tool.
Road cycling/Stationary bike
Pros: An excellent means of building cardio fitness; range of motion mirrors motorcycle ergos. Sete Gibernau averages 300 miles a week during the off-season.
Cons: Relatively little upper-body muscular training.
Words: Mark Gardiner
The ultimate training tool
Physical training is all about finding your limits and pushing yourself. But riding well is also about finding the limits of your motorcycle. Sooner or later this means learning to ride at--and beyond--the limit of traction. The problem is on pavement there's a thin line between sliding and highsiding. Ouch!
Motorcyclist contributor Kenny Roberts was one of the first people to realize the safest way to develop sliding skills was by training at slow speed on small dirtbikes. Over the years his mini-flattrack training methods have been widely copied by other racers, as well as adopted and evolved by several riding schools. While any small dirtbike can be used, the gold standard has long been Honda's XR100R. The balance skills and reflexes transfer directly onto bikes with 20-30 times the power.
Riding schools such as Danny Walker's American Supercamp (www.americansupercamp.com 970/223-0525) have used and abused XRs for years and found them almost impossible to break. When Walker sets up his XRs he makes only two changes: He fits a Renthal handlebar that's a little more crashworthy with a better bend for dirttrackin', and he mounts a Dunlop 501 Elite front tire backward on the rear rim. The stock knobby has too much grip to slide smoothly, and it chews up tracks.
If there's a downside to the XR's legendary durability, it's that the little bikes command top dollar on the used market. According to the Clymer Powersport Vehicle Blue Book, '90-'00 XR100Rs should retail between $730-$1295. Riders over 6 feet and 200 pounds, who can be cramped on the tiny 100cc XR, can use the slightly larger XR150 or 200 models to similar effect.