The night before a race, many riders share a similar dream of getting to the line on time for a great start position, pulling a huge holeshot and exiting the first turn two bike lengths ahead of the pack before cruising to an effortless, uncontested victory. After the alarm rings on the morning of the race, though, all too often we awake to the harsh reality of things like a bad pick on the gate or a spinning rear tire that leads to a dreaded back-of-the-pack start, ruining the fantasy as well as the day. So how do you cope with the setbacks and make your way to the front of the pack after such a dismal start? Get aggressive!
Riding assertively seems to come almost naturally to 125cc World Champion Grant Langston. With a season full of smashing and bashing his way to the front of the pack in Europe last year, the KTM/Red Bull pilot has earned a deserved reputation as one of the most combative riders in the 125cc class.
“Aggressive riding is important, especially at the professional level,” said Langston. “Everyone is going nearly the same speed, and if you get a bad start and ride at the back of the pack for four or five laps, your race is done. The only way to get to the front of the pack is to do some banging, especially in the 125cc class where the bikes are slower.”
“Too often, people get frustrated and ride stupid behind other riders. Most people who are holding you up will go really fast through some sections, then they go slower through others. The best way to set yourself up to be able to pass someone like that is to stay as close as possible through the rider’s fast sections, and as soon as you hit the section of the track where he’s going slower, capitalize on his mistakes and go for the pass. You need to stay confident and committed, all the while trying different lines. Often, your competition will hear and feel your pressure and make a vital mistake. If you’re following a guy in his same rut when he bobbles, you risk either not making the pass or going down, neither of which will get you to the checkered flag first,” said Langston.
AGGRESIVE RIDING VS. DIRTY RIDING
“Though people think of me as aggressive,” said Langston, “that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a dirty rider. If I make contact with a rider in a turn, I don’t always think of that as being dirty. We may rub elbows or bang bars, but as long as I’m not deliberately T-boning someone, I feel that I’m riding fairly. If you stuff someone in a berm by taking their line away at the apex of the turn, that’s just assertive riding. Dirty riding is where you both enter a turn on the brakes, and the rider that’s behind slams their wheel into the leader’s swingarm, knocking the guy down on purpose. Also, T-boning someone, or going straight into them in a turn, is dirty. If you’re committed and holding your line properly, then a little banging never hurt anyone¿it’s just a necessary part of racing!”
SCREAMING YOUR WAY TO FIRST
Another popular, age-old technique involving aggressive riding, that won’t take anyone out but is sometimes effective, is screaming at your competition.
“It doesn’t work as well at the professional level, but when I was an amateur, I would literally scare people into letting me by. I used to come into turns either screaming or revving the hell out of my engine, and many times people would literally pull over. If you can break the leader’s concentration and make him worry about you, oftentimes you can force a mistake out of someone that’s slowing you down.”
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Sometimes you wind up in the opposite position of what we’ve discussed, where you get a great start but are being pressured for your position. When this happens, you still need to be contentious, but in a different way.
“If someone is pressuring me hard for my position, instead of trying to think about where the rider is and accommodate him, I will continue riding my normal lines. My dad always told me that if someeone’s on my ass but I feel more comfortable going outside through a turn, then go outside. If you rail the berm fast enough, there’s no way that you will get passed. If you dwell on trying to take away his lines, you’ll wind up slowing both of you down. Several times in last year’s World Championships, someone would be going faster than me. Oftentimes I just held my line, and if they went past me, I would try to freight train behind them for a lap or two until I figured out where they were making their time. Once I figured it out, nine times out of ten I’d blow right past them again in their slow sections.”