There’s no tried and true training plan for that, so I had to find my own way. Ultimately, it comes down to the characteristics racers need to have: A strong cardiovascular system, and great strength in your legs, core and upper body. While there’s no single plan that’s right for everyone, I hope you can learn from my journey. I know you’ll find that increased fitness can help you have way more fun on your bike.
When I started riding at age 8, fitness wasn’t something that crossed my mind. I just rode my motorcycle to work on my skills, but running out of energy or strength wasn’t a concern. When I was 13, I started racing machines that were 3-4 times my weight. These 400-pound motorcycles were hard to muscle around, especially when they got a bit out of control, so I knew I had to do something. But what?
Motorcycle road racing requires you to be in top physical condition, but it is not something you can do every day. In fact, most racers feel pretty fortunate to be able to ride once a week. With tires being close to $400 per set, track rental fees, mechanics to help turn wrenches, costs in getting to the track, etc., you could easily be looking at two to three thousand dollars per day. That’s why in the past fifteen years or so, racers have been looking to alternative physical training activities off the track to keep in shape to ride their bikes.
I started with running, push-ups, sit-ups, etc. at home which was fine for a while. The races I was doing then were only 6-8 laps at a time, which amounted to 10-15 minutes. Most people could be completely out of shape and still do those races with little to no problem. But, I was competing against boys, so I always had to work harder than they did.
Once I turned professional at age 16, I knew I really had to get serious about my fitness for the longer 18-20 lap (30-35 minute) races I was going to be facing. I had several personal trainers over the first few years of my pro career, but no matter what I did, I just didn’t have the stamina to get through the races and still be fast at the end. I tried everything from Crossfit to Olympic-level trainers to a certified personal trainer. They all had their own idea about how a motorcycle racer should train, but I’m not sure any of them ever knew the answer for me. I found it incredibly confusing and frustrating.
I am by no means a fitness professional, but these are the things I found the most effective and why you should implement them into your regimen:
- Cardio is “hardio”
Imagine doing the hardest workout of your life, pushing 95-100% for 30-45 minutes, while having to stay mentally sharp. That’s what racing a motorcycle at the top level is like, and why having a strong cardiovascular system is so important. When you’re pushing your body to the limit, it can be difficult to keep your mind focused. When you’re racing inches away from other racers on a 400-pound machine that makes dang near 200 horsepower, you need every bit of focus you can get! With a strong cardiovascular system, your body becomes more efficient and you are able to ride at a higher level, with less strain on your body, therefore allowing yourself to focus better and react more quickly. So, if you do nothing else, at least do some cardio.
Road cycling and mountain biking offer the best gain for your pain. In addition to getting your heart pumping, it also strengthens your lower body. In my last couple years as a professional racer, I found mountain biking to be my best all-around training tool. It kept my mind sharp because I had to react to obstacles quickly, or choose which line I wanted to take for a technical downhill section. It mimicked the cardio challenges of the motorcycle track too, slowing down on the flats (straight-aways), picking up during the uphills (quick-transitions and turns), all while having to stay mentally focused.
- Explosive and lasting strength
Turning a motorcycle at 100 plus miles per hour is quite a difficult thing, but having big muscles doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Over the course of a race when you’re pushing and pulling on the bars and pushing hard on both pegs several times each lap, those muscles can get worn out pretty fast. In order to combat this, you need to not only train your muscles to be able to react quickly with force, but to also have stamina.
Standard exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, and squats are important, but more complex exercises like jump squats and planks can take your fitness to the next level. If you can do this kind of high-intensity interval training at least once a week, over time you’ll see a difference in your riding. You’ll be able adjust to having those strenuous moments and still be strong at the end of the session.
- Acrobatic flexibility
If you’ve ever watched a motorcycle road race, you know that the riders can almost look like monkeys on top of a bike. They move all over the bike, side-to-side and front-to-back in all kinds of crazy ways that sometimes may seem impossible. Part of the reason is because they’re so flexible. That allows move freely.
Flexibility also helps prevent injuries. Muscles are pulled and torn less when riders are less tense. I’ve crashed hundreds of times, with very minimal injury and I would say the main reason is because flexibility is something I’ve always worked on.
If you can dedicate 10-15 minutes to stretch after every workout (bonus points if you can do a yoga session) I guarantee your soreness will be lessened significantly the following couple days, and you will be able to move better and prevent injury as well. There have been times when I’ve slacked on getting some stretching in, and I’ve definitely felt it so I know if really does make a difference.
There’s always going to be more than one way to do something, and training to ride or race a motorcycle is no exception. If your exercise journey is just beginning, I wish you the best of luck and hope my advice helps! While training might not be as much fun as riding, it will definitely make riding more fun. So, as you’re pushing your way through that third set of jump squats, don’t forget why you started and where you set out to go.