[Fundamentals] RRW #1: Apexes = Horsepower
My very first article published in RoadRacing World magazine in 2012.
I thought it fitting to start off my Substack journey with a throwback to the very first article I wrote for RoadRacing World magazine back in 2012. Nick Ienatsch, with whom I worked closely at the time, encouraged me to try my hand at writing and this was the first piece in a short series.
I like revisiting this article not only because it provides a brief history of how I got started in this sport, but because it represents the beginning of my journey to formulating the fundamentals of the Order of the Sport. The words are just as meaningful today as when I first wrote them.
I hope you enjoy it!
Apexes Equal Horsepower
By Ken Hill
Driving off the final turn onto Thunderhill Park’s long front straight, I saw a rider I knew about 15 bike lengths ahead. The rider was the local 600 fast guy and I was on my freshly put together R6. My Yamaha, just built-up from a crashed bike, was basically stock, except for track bodywork, an aftermarket pipe and set of sticky tires. My drive out of 15 onto the front straight was good, the best one of the day so far. I nailed my slowest point of the corner, allowing me to get to full throttle sooner, which had me catching an extra gear up the long front straightaway.
About halfway through the lap, I was on my guy and looking for a way around him. He missed his apex in turn 9 and as soon as he did, I knew I had the pass into 10, outbraking him because of my better drive. As I finished the next lap and took the checkered flag, I took my arm off the bar to signal I was getting off the track and looked back to see he was 2-3 seconds behind me.
He followed me to my pit area, flipped up his face shield and asked, “Who built your motor? That thing is fast, you pulled me off every corner and this bike has my Superbike motor in it.” I explained it was pretty much stock: suspension, brake lines, motor, gearing, etc. He said, “Yeah right” and rode off.
We all want to believe it’s the bike. It has to be the bike, right? How many beginning track-day riders have thought: If I just had Josh Hayes’ bike...
But wait: what’s the single biggest variable on your bike? It’s YOU, the rider, the person telling the motorcycle what to do. Between the Yamaha Champions Riding School and my one-on-one coaching, I’m on the track well over 100 days a year and the biggest misconception I see is this: riders looking for that silver-bullet of set-up, or that one new part that surely will get the bike to finish the corner. With all the things we spend our time, money and energy on in this sport, we spend the least on the thing that makes the biggest difference, the rider.
I didn’t buy my first motorcycle until I was 30 years old. Since I didn’t have any dirt track or motocross background, or really any type of motorsports background to fall back on, I looked for technique and was surprised at how little information was out there. (Of course, that was before the Internet. Now everyone is an expert.) What I was able to learn was from trial and error and what words of wisdom the fast guys would tell you, if you were lucky enough to have them tell you the truth. “Yeah really, I brake at the 1 board”. So, it was pretty much sink or swim. Fortunately, I swam and I owe much of my early success to two things: Attending the Freddie Spencer Riding School and working as a fly-in mechanic for a top level AMA team. What did they have in common? They both did what the best in the world did.
Freddie’s technique was simple: ride like the World Champions ride. Why? Because it’s faster and safer. I became an instructor at the Freddie School and am now at the Yamaha Champions Riding School and those techniques…do what the best do…is what we teach. At the highest levels of motorcycle roadracing…MotoGP, WSBK, AMA…they do what they do for only one reason: they can go faster, longer. If there was a better way to ride, they would adopt it.
Ask any racer from any of those series what they would do for .4 of a second on a race weekend and they will tell you, “anything”. I’m not as fast as Stoner, nor will I ever be, but I can apply the same technique to my own personal degree. Why would you not?
So, what are some of the things the best in the world do? We’ll start my Ken Hill Clinic series with Apexes. What? Apexes? So simple, but by far the number-one issue I see at trackdays and club level racing is riders missing their apex by not being close enough to them, or having their trajectory completely off. Does Casey Stoner miss his apexes? Uhhh, not if he can help it. If he misses one, it’s a major mistake.
Let’s define an Apex. An Apex is simply the closest portion to the inside part of the track you come to. But more importantly and almost always overlooked, is there is an Exit Apex as well, the closest portion to the outside part of the track you come to. Which one is more important? The Exit Apex is more important for a multitude of reasons: Exits are what matter in this sport…there is no track I know of that has more time decelerating than accelerating, so we want to be in a position to be accelerating as much as we can. The Exit Apex determines where the corner’s Apex is, by making the line back from the Exit Apex to the corner’s Apex as straight as possible, taking in consideration the entry as well. Done correctly, you will be taking away lean angle as you go from the corner’s Apex to your Exit Apex as you add throttle.
What is the fastest way around any track? To hold the throttle wide open everywhere. We can’t do that, of course, because those darn corners get in the way, but the technique I’m teaching you is this: put the bike in a position to be at full throttle as much as you can. Most riders get our sport backwards by trying to make up all their time on the entry of a turn, when in fact, the fastest lap is the opposite. Exit’s last longer. Sure, there are corners where the entry lasts longer and we’ll break those down in another article, but if you can hit your apex, put your bike in the correct place so you can accelerate, you’ll be ahead of most people on your trackday or race day.
So, you want to ride like a Champion? First thing you can do is hit your apexes…it can make a stock R6 faster than 600 Superbike.
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