Recently, a group of friends was out riding in Sikkim. Its scenic views exposed breathtaking views of the valley and the winds whispered calm nothings in our ears. There is a crazy 3 level zigzag section which spins across the mountainous terrain and has a lot of properly barmy hairpin bends. Out of the five riders, including me, three of them attempted some not so safe cornering maneuvers at not so sane speeds.
Their Yamaha R15s obliged without fuss and rewarded them with a huge grin on their face simply because they did not lean the motorcycle too much, thankfully, else it would have been a tongue-in-cheek moment for all of us. The motorcycle simply never seems to tire of anything related to cornering. Adventure and thrill aside, places like these are where the wheat is often separated from the chaff, men from the boys and proficient riders from the average riders.
Every so often we come across the perils of motorcycling – near misses, cornering crashes, unwarranted douchebaggery or simply unfortunate accidents that could have been averted due to a corrective action or better still wouldn’t have occurred in the first place if the rider had been paying focused attention. On the contrary, we also come across riders who have developed a magical level control on their motorcycles. We are quick to dismiss it as pure talent or what you may call as God’s gift but we almost never consider the path by which the person achieved that level of control.
Motorcycles are dynamic, in every sense of the word. They are affected by the slightest of movements made by the rider. The differences between a good rider and a great rider are subtle. Of course, it requires tons of training to get your stuff right. However, the devil is in the details.
Did you know that every human interaction which occurs is a carefully coordinated dance of body language? Yes, a dance. I am not talking about a hip-hop or freestyle. Not every dance features ostentatious displays of body movements. And certainly, they do not involve the risk of life and death. A motorcyclist on his bike is a subtle dance of sublime motorcycle control, precise body movements and infinitesimally small riding inputs indiscernible to the naked eye. A rider riding skilfully, road after road, corner after corner with utter smoothness is the perfect example of poetry in motion.
John McGuinness, the legendary Isle of Man TT champion, is one of the few who can showcase what motorcycle poetry is all about. He was once subjected to monitoring via sensors to determine what made him so much faster than many of his rivals on near identical bikes.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking – there were wires everywhere,” the 43-year-old road-racing champion told the BBC. “There were even temperature sensors down my underpants.” Apart from various sensors fitted onto the motorcycle to measure speed, acceleration, and braking, there were biometric sensors on McGuinness himself.
The results revealed something absolutely astounding. John’s heart rate, fatigue, and stress levels were significantly lower than the average Isle of Man racer. This means that even at those breakneck 200mph speeds, he remains surprisingly calm, under less stress and is able to process information much more efficiently. His mind is clearer and better focused.
“He was only at 120bpm [beats per minute] – well within the aerobic range – even at very high speeds,” says Mike Foley, EMC’s senior director of data science. “As his heart rate was much lower, his oxygen intake was lower.”
Yes, he really does have ice in his veins. More importantly, there was a difference between the racing lines taken by John and those taken by other riders. Now, this is where it starts to get real interesting. It was found that he approached the turns earlier, was able to lean his bike harder and could carry higher corner exit speeds. He was also smoother. That all this used to happen subconsciously in McGuinness’ every race is a testament to the man’s practiced approach. Sometimes, it makes sense to think that such people are truly gifted, but some say magic isn’t real. Little do they know, the magic is in the details.
— Vikram Malhotra
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