The Mental Aspect Of Riding

Putting On Your Race Face

riding tips

Roadracing has often been described as more of a mental than a physical activity. Each racer goes through his or her own personal preparation rituals in order to achieve the best result on race day. Some riders are pointedly outgoing and gregarious, purposefully keeping their minds off the coming race. Others are more introspective, savoring the race-day environment of tension and expectation, milking it fully to attain their desired pitch. Still others choose a disposition of defiance or bravado. They’re all tuning a complex instrument, searching for the perfect note and the harmony they hope to find after the flag drops.

motoamerica, josh day, yamalube
The Mental Aspect of Riding
Yamalube/Westby Racing's Josh Day displays classic race countenance prior to the MotoAmerica Superstock race at Laguna Seca.©Motorcyclist

Retaining the enormous quantity of information that comprises a single lap is largely what any rider’s pre-race state of composure is all about. Behind the so-called race face, whatever that might look like for each individual rider, every nuance of the track is kept tidily wrapped and stacked in personally coded packets that must spring into action at the start.

You could say the race face is a protective mask worn to prevent outside influences from entering into a racer’s mind or that the mask serves to bridle a rider’s own mental forces, keeping these at the ready to be unleashed at the appointed time. The price of protecting that delicately self-constructed universe of perceptions and intricate maneuvers may be high, but failing to spend your last nickel’s worth of awareness on it would mean your aim as a racer was less than great.

Accurate impressions of each sensation—each erg of cornering, acceleration, braking, and traction force, each visual cue recorded, each instant of time coordinated into every control action—must remain sequestered and undisturbed until the rider unleashes the megawatts of stored psychic energy it takes to faithfully reawaken those impressions, lap after lap, to no one but the rider’s own satisfaction. That’s what is on the line.

Any average rider might look at a track and consider how they can adapt to it. A world-class racer looks at how he can exploit the track to conform to his own demands—once he imposes his will on the track, it is conquered. This is thought plus action. This is mind over matter at the very highest level. Having a clear picture of what is necessary to dominate the racetrack must then be translated into the always-elusive process of bike setup—another challenge entirely.

For a racer and his team, the challenge of communicating the collage of impressions of the forces at play while riding is a daunting one. From a practical standpoint, the language to describe these sensations hasn’t been developed yet. We don’t have the words yet to accurately describe our many perceptions, observations, control subtleties, and intentions when riding at speed—especially not when all of these can be happening simultaneously! The English language has more than a quarter of a million words, with about three quarters of a million word meanings, and we still haven’t scratched the surface of these descriptions. Slang, or sometimes just sound effects that evoke these dynamic processes, are often as close as we come.

The mark of a champion is a total commitment to his or her own observations. A champion must have an unshakable belief in what he or she sees and feels and an unwavering ability to live by and for that belief. These are the tools used to achieve that pitch-perfect note or to ride that special wavelength of a winner. Many riders need a race face to maintain this catalog of observations. It’s part of the game, and it helps to ensure the phenomenal rewards to be experienced from embracing and commanding the forces they consistently challenge.

Keith Code, credited as the father of modern track schools, founded his California Superbike School in 1980 and currently operates programs in 11 countries and on six continents. His "A Twist of the Wrist" series of books and DVDs are thought by many to be the bible of cornering.