Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thunderhill, March 22-23, 2013

After riding at Sonoma at the end of March, I had a signficiant number of repairs to complete before Thunderhill. Fortunately I was able to order them from and after some drama the parts arrived in time.

Considering the damage I decided to replace everything in the rear axle, the third bearing (two had already been replaced at the track), all of the spacers, washers, even the axle itself. I didn’t want to risk any failures.

In re-assembling the rear axle I learned more about how an axle works and I learned that the factor and/or dealerships put on way too much axle grease. When I finished my repair I had feared I did something wrong. The axle looked clean! Fortunately I had spoken with Dave Moss before doing the re-assembly and confirmed how much grease is really needed.

I was really looking forward to this event as I was spending the afternoon of the 22nd with Dave Moss in a coaching session. I had already learned so much from this man off the track that I was quite excited to see what he could teach me on the track.

Considering he can get around Thunderhill on a 400cc bike faster than I can get around it on my 1000cc I was very much looking forward to learning.

Day One

My morning went smoothly, I was primarily focusing on hitting my marks, getting re-aquatinted with the track and looking for any changes in its surface, etc. Getting into my rhythm.

After lunch, Dave and I went out for our first session together. Per his instructions I was not running at 100% but more like 85% with a focus on hitting my marks. While I was doing this, he was behind me on his GXSR 750; both filming me and making audio notes/comments while we rode.

A few laps later Dave passed me and I was to follow him. He kept my pace (thankfully) and started showing me better lines through the corners. Unbeknownst to me, he was continuing to make audio notes while doing this; the goal being for me to listen to them later and cement the changes.

Dave ran about three laps with me in tow and then had me switch back up. Now it was my turn to show him what I learned just by following him. I felt some improvement in a few spots but not a great amount of improvement just yet. I was making the motions without understanding them. Time to get off the track and debrief.

I was surprised when Dave pulled a memory card out of his bike and popped open a laptop to review the video footage. I was expecting to get the videos “later”, not view them immediately. With the video playing on his laptop we discussed the session and the problem areas that he was seeing. Here is where the knowledge aligns with the motions. Through this debrief he explained to me why I should be making changes and what impact those changes are going to make to my riding and lap times.

Once the debrief was complete, Dave went off to fill his radiator (he had caught a rock in it recently) and I went off to finish hydrating for the next session.

Session two started in the reverse of the first, I followed Dave for a few laps while he pointed out the reference points we had discussed in the debrief. Again, a couple of laps following him and then a few laps of him following me. Listening to the audio commentary later, I can hear that there is already some progress. Not a lot, minor improvements, but the change has started.

Following session two was another debrief, a review of the second video and some additional points to change and focus on for our third and final session. Finished the debrief and then it was back to hydration for the third and final session of the day.

Session Three was both better and worse. Better in that I was understanding the goals better and seeing the markers better. However it was also worse because I was tired. Not tired physically, but tired mentally. I have gotten comfortable with the tracks that I run and in that comfort I have mentally relaxed. Today, everything was back in the forefront of my mind. I was focusing on every detail of the track, far more than I have done at THill in a long time. As a result, mental fatigue set in.

Watching the videos later I could hear it from Dave on the audio commentary, he guessed it was fatigue or frustration. It was fatigue, plain and simple. During the debrief he asked me if I was tired and I immediately assessed my physical condition; answering him that I was “fine”. In reality, on reflection, my body was fine but my mind was shot. I will need to expect and plan for this when I next work with him.

I ended the day with a great track walk. I still cannot believe I went an entire year without ever walking a track; easily the worst mistake I have made. Walking Thunderhill really opened my eyes, as it did at Sonoma, to the little things. The angles, the altitude changes, the corners. Touching the paint with my hand, seeing how sticky things are. These are important.
I need to walk every track I ride.

Day Two

Overnight the wind was so horrible that I initially decided to cancel the day. I was worried that the wind would continue and make it hazardous to ride.

Fortunately a quick chat with Dave changed my mind. Lyndia and I went to a nice breakfast and came back to a windy, but much calmer track. I decided to go out for session 2 and determine how it felt.

As part of my conversations with Dave, I decided to reduce power on my bike. I have heard from multiple sources that they were “glad” they came from an under powered bike first as it helped them to get everything they could from the machine. Therefore, to play with that concept I turned the power down on my bike to 60%. Now this does not mean that I am suddenly riding a 600cc motorcycle! But it does mean that my power is significantly reduced. If I want to go fast at 60% power, I need to find that speed in me.

First session was all about hitting those markers. Finding the points I saw in my walk, doing everything Dave talked about in the sessions. Repeating his advice over and over in my head as I went around the track.

I was slow, best lap from session one was 2:16. However, the interesting part was that my best theoretical time was a 2:13. That shows both that I am still inconsistent by a large margin and that I can go faster.

Session two was better. Still hitting my marks but I am feeling more “aware” of the track. I am used to this feeling and believe the lessons are starting to settle in a bit. Lap timer confirmed this. Less delta between my best actual lap and my best theoretical lap. In addition, discounting lap one, the delta on my laps is less.

Session three was my best and worst. Still not hitting the marks 100%, they are feeling more “mine”. I was also feeling like I had more time mentally between decisions. These are both signs that I am able to hit the marks without 100% focus. I am spending less attention on the markers and able to spend more attention on the rest of the experience. All positive things.

Unfortunately, session three ended my day early. On my sixth lap around the track, just as I hit the front straight, shifted between third and fourth, the bike screamed like she was in neutral. Damn; another false neutral, the transmission is not happy with me.

Shift again, still in neutral, oh shit; there went the transmission.

Shift again; neutral.

Raise my left hand to signal a problem and get off the race line. Hope that no one is going to rear end me at 130+.

I get the bike off the track, and with the help of one of the coaches, see that the sprocket is broken, not the transmission. Good news for sure, but the end of my day nonetheless.

Wrap up

Good trip? Yes.

I think the sprocket failure is a continuation of the bearings failure from Sonoma. I believe that the additional strain on the sprocket after the bearings started to go caused the sprocket to weaken early.

The coaching with Dave Moss was fantastic. It was exactly what I was looking for. He pointed out my errors in a way that I could comprehend and learn from. He has a great way of sharing knowledge without making you feel stupid. This in and of itself is priceless. Far too many “teachers” have knowledge but are incapable of sharing it in a consumable way.

If you are reading this and going to the track in NorCal; I highly recommend meeting Dave and getting to know him. You will become a better rider. If you are not going to the track, watch his Facebook page and attend one of his tuning sessions. Your bike, your butt and your back will thank you.
Next track day is back at Sonoma on May 20, 2013. Another day with Dave and I am very much looking forward to it.

I am still on my quest to break 2 minutes at both ThunderHill and Sonoma, with Dave’s help I expect it will happen this year.


Here is a short video of my last session of the trip.  It includes the breaking of the sprocket on the front straight.