The most easily overlooked factor in how a motorcycle performs is how the rider performs. The most effective way to make your bike faster, safer, and more comfortable is to improve your skills. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t upgrade your bike or gear, just that you should consider treating yourself as an upgradable performance bit as well. Let’s look at the three big categories: performance, comfort, and safety. New brakes might improve performance and safety. A new jacket could increase your comfort and safety. While new tires could check all three boxes, improving your skills and technique will have a bigger and longer lasting effect than anything else. Looking through corners can help you identify the best line, staying loose on the bike will mean you can ride longer without becoming fatigued, and knowing the limits of the bike can give you more confidence you won’t exceed the grip the tires offer. I love new gear, cool new parts, or even a new bike! The immediate feeling of improvement is undeniable, and it is much more satisfying than practicing u-turns in a parking lot. Pull into the next bike night, and most people will notice your new exhaust before they notice your rock-solid slow speed skills.
Skills generally take much longer to acquire, and they tend to require maintenance to keep them sharp. At least it seems that way if you don’t invest in them the same way you would your motorcycle. Many riders have decades of experience, and they’re generally great riders with tons of wisdom. Then, compare them to the kids who are too young to have a license, spend hours and hours every week working on their skills. They can outride most of the vets who’ve been riding since before these kids were born. Clearly, there is a way to speed up the whole learning process and maybe acquire some wisdom from the long term riders while you’re at it. To improve my riding I sought as much advice and feedback as possible from every source available, then tried to apply it to my riding. For me, feedback mostly came from taking GoPro videos every time I went to a track day. I watched the lines and techniques of everyone passing me and gave them a try next time I was riding. I also had a few friends at the track that were already great riders. The advice I got was pretty overwhelming at first. By focusing my efforts on improving just one aspect of riding at a time I found I was able to make noticeable improvements every time I threw a leg over the bike.
After a few years of improvement, I’ve changed up bikes a few times and made many improvements to all of them. However, working on my skills first made a lot of these upgrades more purposeful. Every time I put new tires on the bike I was able to tell pretty quickly how good the new ones were going to be and things like better suspension and a remapped ECU became easier to notice as well.
My focus on improving my skills at the track has yielded benefits to my riding in general. When I go out for a casual ride, I am able to ride for much longer, and I’m generally more relaxed when doing so. Having tirelessly practiced bike handling, body position, and quick turns have made me confident in the bike. My accident avoidance skills are intuitive, my braking is smooth and powerful, and I’m aware of my level of grip. Not having to worry about those factors lets me focus on managing traffic and mitigating dangers on the street.
There are a few ways to buy skill, and become better, or faster, or whatever your goals are. Lessons, track days, and racing have all yielded great improvements for me. There is something for everyone, and if you’re considering spending money to improve your bike, just remember that you are part of the bike too. First Supermoto Track Day, $1700 Bike, no clue
4th Year of Track riding and Supermoto - $1200 bike - still lots to learn, but can get around the track with much better form