I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people say things like this. But it’s usually said by people that have never raced, or even ridden, a bike. Because anyone that has, knows that the bike certainly doesn’t do all the work. And that riding one fast, even for only a few laps, can be one hell of a work out. Even if you’ve got the best bike in the world, racing’s not easy. If you want to be any good at it, it helps if you’re in shape…
Like most things in life, the stronger you are, the easier it is to ride a bike fast. Especially a big bike, because they don’t half take some heaving around. Pulling a race bike into a corner when all it wants to do is go in a straight line can take all the strength you’ve got. And the faster you go, the less the bike wants to turn and the stronger you need to be.
That’s just half of it, too. It’s not just the bike that needs heaving around; to get the best out of your bike, you need to climb all over it. That’s not just pulling your limbs out of the wind on the straights, it’s hanging off the bike like a gibbon round every corner, to make the bike turn and get your centre of gravity as low as possible. It’s hard work.
I’m not saying you need to be a body builder, far from it; in fact you need to be as strong as you can be, without being too heavy. Because weight isn’t your friend in bike racing.
Because if you’re too fat, you’re going to struggle down the straights. A lot. And not just because your poor engine will have all that extra weight to haul, you’ll have a right job getting your arms, legs and head tucked in and out the wind. There’s a reason that the majority of today’s MotoGP riders are built like school children. Their wiry little arms and legs have got all the strength they need where they need it, and zero extra weight, where they don’t need it.
I know there is an argument to say that riders carrying a bit more timber can usually find a bit more traction. And that’s probably true. But the benefits don’t even nearly ‘outweigh’ the negatives. If you’ll pardon the pun…
Its not just a case of doing all that stuff at your leisure, either. There’s no time to faff about. If you want to set fast lap times and win races, you’ve got to be sharp. You’ve got to carry out multiple operations at the same time; braking, adjusting body position, turning into a corner, looking for your apex.
You have to be able to climb from one side of the bike to the other, as quickly as possible. The faster you can do it, the faster you’ll get through that chicane. And the faster you do that, the faster your lap, and the higher you’ll finish. But you don’t need me to tell you that.
Well, that’s if you manage to finish. Because being a good bike racer isn’t just about doing one fast lap. It’s about being able to do them lap after lap without wearing yourself out too much. For plenty of people, a ten lap race is too much to ask for. You’ll quite often see amateur racers start making mistakes at half race distance, because they’ve simply run out of puff. Sometimes even sooner than that.
If you want to compete at a decent level, you’ve got to have a good level of fitness. Endurance is a big part of any bike race, and not just ‘endurance racing’. A MotoGP race isn’t an ‘endurance’, but they can still last over 45 minutes. 45 minutes of giving it everything you’ve got. And if that doesn’t sound a lot, you’ve probably never done a 15 minute trackday session at full tilt.
When your physically exhausted, the next thing to go is your concentration. And you need as much of that as possible in any sport, but especially bike racing. If half of your brain power is being taken up by thinking about how knackered you are, there won’t be anywhere near enough left for optimum performance. And that’s when you start to make mistakes.
Bike racing’s not easy. Anyone that thinks bike racing’s easy obviously hasn’t had a go at it. And whilst having a decent bike can quite often be the difference between winning and losing, you’ve still got to ride the thing. The physically demanding side of it might not be as obvious as that of boxing, or marathon running, but it’s definitely there.