GETTING FITTER WILL enable you to truly enjoy riding while avoiding fatigue and injuries. But you can do more. You can take the fittest person and put them on a motorcycle and they’ll get exhausted in a few minutes if they use only force and muscles to ride the bike.
In 1983, just before I started riding and racing motocross, I watched one of the first Bercy Supercross events on television. I had no idea who was who at the time. I saw these guys riding like mad – man, they were flying, roost everywhere, their bodies were all over the place on their bikes, you could tell they was going fast.
They then showed this other rider. He hardly moved on the bike; he didn’t go sideways, there was hardly any roost. The commentator then said that his name was David Bailey; he was leading the semi-final and actually pulling away.
THE POWER OF VISIONING
From there on I used to watch David Bailey videos in slow motion, analyzing his every single bit of movement on the VHS recorder working overtime in slow motion and mimicking him in my training.
At the time, I didn’t know why I kept my elbows up. I sat way up front in the turns and my dad took countless hours of videos and photos. I was living in West Africa and we didn’t have World-class riders to hang out with. The tape player was my best friend and I spent hours watching my riding in slow motion, trying to improve it.
From here came the notion of visioning. I had to see myself ride a motorcycle — while riding. I wanted to imagine myself riding like Bailey. I would put in my head how he took that corner at Bercy, how he put his head over the bars, how he’d avoid the bike bouncing back when landing from jumps – and do the same.
At age 15, I was reading books on visioning techniques so that I could see myself riding; I would imagine myself like a tiger being so precise in all my movements. As a final test of my visioning, I used to sit on the bike at the track and at home, shut my eyes, take my stopwatch and with eyes shut see myself riding around the motocross track. When I came to the end of the lap, I’d hit the stopwatch off. When I finally came within one or two seconds of my lap times on a regular basis, I knew I’d mastered the power of visioning.
I then moved on to working on breathing techniques. The next time you go riding, take notice of how you breathe. See how many times you actually hold your breath when you’re about to hit that log out of nowhere, hit a jump, or defy gravity climbing hills or going down. When you stop breathing, you cut your oxygen inflow and your heart rate increases.
Listen to yourself breathe when you ride and try to control its flow. This will stabilize your heart rate and reduce your fatigue. Making a conscious effort to manage your breathing is very important.
By controlling your breathing you can also control your heart rate. And if you control your heart rate, you control how you see things in your mind and you’re able to think clearly and preempt terrain obstacles.
Controlling your breathing also controls how fast things are going in your mind. Everything needs to go in slow motion. If things start going too fast, you’re going too fast for your abilities. Your heart is in the red zone, you get out of control and your mind cannot respond in time.
Personally, I train physically to lower and control my heart rate through better breathing and I manage my speed on the bike based on heartbeats per minute. Swimming is a good way to work on it breathing techniques.
MASTERING THE BALANCING ACT
When I was racing motocross in Southern California in the early ’90s, there was this guy on a KX250 on a race day at the Perris Motocross track. He wasn’t first nor last, but he was riding well.
I kept my eye on him during the whole race and I was absolutely blown away when I realized he had only one right arm. He had to use the clutch, the brake and accelerate and he didn’t look like The Hulk, either. That got me thinking: how can he go so fast considering he has only one arm?
From that day, I started trying this technique at the start of every training session – riding with one arm. That came in handy 15 years later at the 2007 Dakar when my left hand got infected from a blister on top of my hand. I couldn’t use my left hand much as my tendons were all swollen.
The three most important muscle groups while riding are your legs, your abs and your back. But you can train like mad and still get tired if you don’t master the neutral riding position.
What is the neutral position? There are basically four forces applied to your body while riding. One is acceleration, one is braking, one is landing from jumps and the other is side-way forces when turning. Holding a neutral position will minimize the amount of muscles you have to use. Make sure to download this document Riding Tip #1 – Neutralizing Momentum if you haven’t yet.
Your legs do a lot more than standing up or sitting down. They absorb all the impacts and connect you to the bike. Your legs, your abs and lower back are what control your arms.
Next time you go riding, sit and maintain a stiff vertical position on your bike and accelerate. Your upper body will go backward. Hit the brakes and your body will go forward. Turn and your body wants to leave the bike. Notice how you are pushed backward, forward and sideways? You’ll also notice how your arms and hands need to work very hard to keep you on the bike. Hanging on will only create arm pump and give you hand blisters.
The next time you go riding, lift your left hand off the bar and accelerate. Feel your abs contracting and your body anticipating so that hand stays about 5 cm off the hand-grip. Then hit the brakes and suddenly you’ll feel the importance of squeezing your bike with your knees and the importance of your back muscles.
Most riders will just hang on to the bars but your legs, abs and back muscles are much stronger than your arms, so make full use of them. Repeat the same exercise while sitting down, standing up, going up hills, down hills, taking turns and riding through sand and rocks, and keep that left hand five centimeters up from the handlebar.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The fewer non-required movements on your bike, the more energy you’ll save. Minimize your body movements on the bike and understand why you do each of them, each need to have a purpose.
Finally, until the next time you go riding, close your eyes and envision yourself riding while applying those techniques and you will start creating brain automatisms.
+ Envision yourself riding
+ Control your breathing
+ Maintain a neutral balance