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Lessons from bike racing: What they never tell you

12th Jan 2018 2:38 pm

Having completed his first season of racing at the TVS Young Media Racer Program, Rishaad Mody discovers the highs and lows of competing on a track.

I had the good fortune of being able to attend a full season of racing this year, thanks to TVS. While I was quite apprehensive about it, it was something that had to be ticked off my bucket list. Over the last few months, I competed in all three races of the inaugural TVS Young Media Racer Program and also had an unforgettable experience of one race weekend, competing in the national championship with the real racers.

To recap, this initiative is TVS’ way of giving journalists a taste of real racing and we all competed on the fun RTR 200 race bike. I won the first two races, and despite only managing third in the final round, I was pretty pleased to have been judged best rider in the programme! But the biggest takeaway is all that I’ve learned about racing and myself over those four thrilling months. Here are some of the things you only discover once you try it.

FITNESS IS VITAL

Having skill is great, but it’s useless if you don’t have the physical fitness to use it. As I recently discovered, riding at full pace on the edge of your abilities is massively tiring. I can set reasonably fast laps for long stretches, but when riding at my very maximum, 5-8 laps was the most I could manage in Chennai’s sizzling heat. It’s the most frustrating feeling when you know you can go faster, but your body doesn’t allow it. Stamina and core strength are vital on the bike because, once you begin to tire, your muscles start to tense up and you lose the feel of the motorcycle. Stiffness on the bike leads to mistakes and only two things can come out of it – slow lap times or a fast crash.

SOMEONE FASTER ALWAYS COMES ALONG

As painful as this is to the ego, it cannot be closer to the truth. You could be the fastest in your riding group, but eventually, you’ll meet your match. I am fairly fast among my peers, but the top national-level riders are at a pace I can’t fathom. But, when the best of them compete at the Asian level, they often find a big challenge ahead. The fastest of those Asian riders then head to Europe, where the learning curve takes a sudden and very steep climb. Only the fastest of this lot finally breaks into MotoGP and WSBK, and yet, someone finishes last every weekend. As for us mortals, encountering faster riders only pushes us to go that much faster!

YOU'RE GOING TO CRASH. DEAL WITH IT. 

If you don’t eventually crash, you aren’t pushing hard enough; it’s as simple as that. We all have a certain level of natural pace, some higher than others. But at some point, you hit a wall in terms of how fast you can go without scaring yourself. Scaling this obstacle requires pushing yourself well beyond your comfort zone. This is the advantage of meeting faster riders; they force you into pushing your envelope to keep up. But of course, riding into the unknown means you’re going to go beyond the point of no return and crash.

If it isn’t that, someone else will either lose control, make a mistake or attempt an overambitious move and you will be collateral damage. I had two crashes this year at the race track due to no fault of my own. But I hold no grudges because I knew what I was getting myself into. Ultimately, it’s going to happen and you need to be okay with it. This is one of the key differences between racing cars and bikes; there’s no tough roll-cage and secure six-point seat belt keeping you safe here. A little leather and armour is all you get and that’s why bravery goes a longer way in motorcycle racing. 

RACING IS THE ULTIMATE THRILL

Motorcycles on their own are deeply exciting, but combine that with the spirit of competition and you’ve got one of the most ultimate thrills possible. The excitement of lining up at the starting grid, braving the intense heat, waiting for those lights to go out is only met by the equal level of nerves before a race.

But the second those lights go out everything else is forgotten and your brain goes into the single-minded mission of going as fast as you possibly can. There’s no spare mental capacity for any of your worldly problems, and for those fifteen minutes or so, your mind is completely focused. In some strange way, on a good day, when the bike feels right and the rider is in their element, it’s an almost meditative experience. If you’re the thrill-seeking sort of person, this is as good as it gets.

IT'S NOT PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Bike racing in a one-make series like the TVS RTR 200 championship is shockingly affordable in India. Everything from the race bike to fuel and full protective apparel (leather suit, gloves, protective armour and boots) is provided to those who need it. There isn’t even a charge for crash damage and it all comes for just Rs 3,500 for a full race weekend. All you have to do is take care of your travel and accommodation, and bring a DOT or ECE-rated helmet with a double D-ring closure. You’d be hard-pressed to find more affordable racing anywhere else in the world. Even the Asian-level riders who recently raced in the Asian Road Racing Championship in Chennai couldn’t believe how affordable our one-make championships were. If you’re considering getting into motorcycle racing, don’t let the fear of costs scare you away.

IT'S NOT FOR EVERYBODY

As thrilling as racing can be, it also requires you to have the right mental make-up. Beyond the ability to ride quickly, you’ve got to be the type of person who enjoys being thrown into the deep end, that too without a life jacket. You’ve got to crave the thrill of competition and have that killer instinct within to want to fight it out as hard as you can. And as mentioned earlier, you also have to be okay with crashing and the bodily harm that comes with it.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some top-level racers over the years from different disciplines like Isle of Mann, MotoGP and WSBK. They’re all very different people, but there was one consistent trait I noticed. It’s in the eyes; they all have an incredible intensity. I guess it makes sense, as people who willingly fly around a race track (or public road in the case of the Isle of Man!) at speeds over 300kph, while simultaneously having inch-close battles, have to be a teensy bit crazy in the head! As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed my season of racing, but I have no doubt that this isn’t the sport for me;  my brain just isn’t wired that way. But the only way you’ll find that out is if you try it for yourself. 

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