Last time I rode at Brands Hatch I started to develop backache during the day. I’m pretty sure that this was caused by poor body positioning when leaning for corners.
Because I don’t have any photos of my own mistakes, I’ll use some images of other rookie riders (taken by my GoPro) to try and illustrate the kinds of mistakes that I think I’m making. Apologies if you’re one of the riders in the photos… although it’s worth noting that they were all faster than me so they were probably making fewer mistakes anyway.
Looking at the photo above, I’m beginning to understand what Andy (an instructor with EasyTrack) was trying to get me to improve on. The red line also denotes the central upright position of a rider on the bike. The angle of incidence between the pink and red lines denotes the lean angle of the bike. The yellow line is an imaginary line drawn through the rider’s hips, while the green line is an imaginary line across the back in line with the shoulders.
If you study the (top) photo you can see that the rider has correctly displaced their hips to the right and the inside of the turn. However their head is displaced to the left of the red centre line instead of being over to the right. The shoulders are also incorrectly positioned to the left because of a twist starting at the hips (right of the red center line) and ending at the shoulders (only just right of the red center line). I’m pretty sure that I’m doing something similar (or worse) and that that is what caused my backache.
The photo to the left shows a much quicker rider using better body positioning. His hips are much further over to the right, along with his shoulders and head. There is no twist in his back compared to the top rider.
Interestingly, the lean angle between the two photos is about the same, yet the second rider was able to corner at a significantly higher speed. By leaning off the bike more and positioning his body better, he was able to carry more speed through the corner for the same lean angle.
Remember that one of the reason riders “hang off” is to reduce the lean angle on the tyres as it allows you to keep the bike more upright. Looking at videos of the two riders, I estimate that the second rider was about nearly 2 seconds (about 25%) faster through the corner than the first.
I spoke to an ex-racer about body positioning, recently, and he suggested a useful trick to try. Push your (inside) elbow in an exaggerated fashion towards the apex of the turn. This will force you to bend you elbow (and arm) and has the effect of “pulling” your body away from the bike more towards the inside. While doing this also focus on placing your head in the spot between the screen bubble and the mirror on the inside turn. If you move your head in this way, then you will automatically be positioning your shoulders correctly.
Apart from practicing on track, the best way to get your body used to leaning correctly is to fix your bike on its centre stand (or a paddock stand) and carefully move from side to side. (Please don’t blame me if you or the bike fall over!).
Getting someone to photograph or video you from behind can also be really enlightening for you to see whether you are in fact leaning correctly or not. The more you practice (on or off track) the more natural it will feel when you start doing it for real on track and the faster speeds you will be able to carry through corners… and all hopefully without the dreaded backache!