4 little life lessons I learned while I was riding on a racetrack

A few years ago I took some lessons to improve my motorbike riding skills. The classes are normally held on a racetrack. Being a closed context, it makes it easier to learn in a reasonably safe environment. It was a great experience that I highly recommend to every biker, no matter how experienced you are.

Anyway, this article is not about motorcycles, speed or knee sliding. It’s about four things that I learned while I was riding, or at least trying to, on the racetrack. Just four small lessons that I found so valuable for my life. So I thought that they might be useful also to others.

#1 Deliberate repetition

A racetrack is a closed loop of asphalt. A finite sequence of corners and straights that you have to repeat lap after lap. At every lap you pass on the same straights, turn on the same corners. Every time you try to do things a little better. Brake a little later at the end of the straight. Stay a bit closer to the apex on every turn. You try to memorize every meter of the track, to learn where the bumps are and so on. 
The more the track get fixed in your memory the less you think about it and the more you can concentrate on yourself. On your position on the bike, on your movements. Small improvements that compound during the day until you find yourself going much faster than you did at the beginning of the day.

The keyword here is “repetition”. Going through the same track over and over.

I always thought that repetition was such a boring thing. I remember how much I hated reading the same thing again and again to memorize it when I was at school. And yet there, in that racetrack, repetition was what really improved my skills.

Repetition is a key strategy to mastery.

Recent researches in Neuroplasticity prove that repetition is a key part of the learning process. I’m not a scientist so I’ll leave it to you to discover the details about neuroplasticity but the main idea is that our brain can be trained like a muscle, at every age. And repetition is an effective technique to train our brain. However repetition is not enough.

You need to combine repetition with focused attention to create effective results. And this takes us to the next point.

#2 Focus on the target

In my previous post about “target fixation” I explained how our motorcycle follows our gaze. To go faster on a racetrack, remaining safe, you must keep your eyes on the points where your wheels need to go.

Stop looking at where you’re going and start looking at where you want to go.

Too often in our life we behave like passengers. We just sit there, look around, check for potential dangers while our life move forward. The fact is that if you’re not riding someone else or something else is. If you just look where the bike is going it means that the bike is taking you around the track and not viceversa. You’re not deciding the next action, you’re just reacting, like a passenger. You may feel you’re in control because you’re observing what’s happening around you. You may even feel safer and this is the real problem.

Because shit happens.

At some point something will get in the way and due the “target fixation” effect you won’t be able to avoid it because you’ll be just reacting instead of acting.

Wherever your focus is directed that’s where your energy goes (source)

Stop being distracted by the rest of the world, stop worrying about where you’re going. Stop being a passenger of your own life.

Ride it.

We live in an era of incredible distractions, we are flooded by information, content, data and stimuli. Our attention is spanned across multiple little things, each one taking away a fragment of our energy and attention. Does it ever happen to you to arrive and the end of the day without knowing where your time went?

“Focus is more important than intelligence.” -Robin Sharma

You need clarity and focus to go fast and stay in control.

#3 Train all your senses

So I was on a track. I had my powerful motorbike. No traffic, no limits. The first thing I thought was “how fast can I go?”. You can imagine my surprise when the instructor told me to duct tape my speedometer and my rev-counter.

He explained to me that, as a novice, it’s easy to get distracted by both of them. Some check the speed to see how fast they’re going and they miss the braking point. Others get scared by the numbers they read. Again, it’s about removing distractions so we can focus on the riding. But it’s also about learning to perceive things with all our senses.

It was a refreshing experience. Without any indicators to tell me the speed or the revs, I had to listen to the engine to know the right moment to shift gears. I had to begin to perceive the speed to know the exact moment where I needed to brake. Even fear plays an important part and you must learn to use it at your advantage. At the end of the day I didn’t know what has been my top speed but my lap time was better, and that’s what really matter.

Don’t trust what you see, even salt looks like sugar.

Don’t rely just on what you see or on what your tools tell you. Use all your senses to perceive what’s happening outside and inside you.

#4 Be fit

If you never rode a motorbike on a racetrack you probably think that it shouldn’t be so heavy. I mean, in the end it’s the bike that does all the work. It’s not a bicycle, there’s an engine.

Reality is that riding on a circuit is really demanding and if you’re not fit enough you’re going to struggle. Controlling a motorbike at high speed pushes you through a lot of forces. Accelerating, braking, bending with no pause requires strength and resistance. All these forces consume energy. The same energy you need to keep your focus and your concentration on what you’re doing. As I wrote before, focus is so important. When you’re going fast you can’t never allow your concentration to fade away. Most of the accidents on the racetrack happen at the end of the day, when the riders are tired. They lose focus and they make mistakes.

Although the brain accounts for less than 2% of a person’s weight, it consumes 20% of the body’s energy. — Drubach, Daniel. The Brain Explained. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2000.

Even if your work doesn’t involve any form of physical effort you need energy to perform well, to keep your focus on your next move, to be present.

Mens sana in corpore sano

Eat right, sleep well, exercise regularly. A fit body will give you more energy and increase your focus.

Conclusions

#1 Repetition is a key strategy to mastery.
#2 Wherever your focus is directed that’s where your energy goes.
#3 Don’t trust what you see, even salt looks like sugar.
#4 Mens sana in corpore sano.

So, these are the four little lessons that I learned while I was trying to touch the asphalt with my knee. I find them really useful for my own personal and professional life. I hope they can be useful for you too. Or maybe you will just decide to take a riding lesson. I assure you that you will have a lot of fun.

One last bonus advise from my experience.

The first 20 minutes they were testing our skills. I wanted to impress the instructor and the other students so I gave everything. I accelerate as much as I can, I brake really hard, I jumped from one side of the bike to the other. I put so much effort in it that I was sure I was doing great.

I’ve never been so wrong. I was just wasting energy and seconds everywhere. I felt like I was flying instead I was barely moving forward.

We spent the first half of the course to learn to slow down, connect all the dots and drive smoothly. Than, when I removed all the “not essentials movements useful only to impress girls“ I found my flow. That was the moment when I found the speed and the real fun started.

Sometime you need to slow down to go faster.

Small sustainable daily actions lead to stunning results.


Inspirations and further reading: