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Something that's popped up for me a few times is wanting to be able to evaluate my skill level at different tracks as I attend more CSS locations; but this can be difficult to do (e.g. students at CSS can vary widely in skill, so that can be an inconsistent metric). The only thing I've come up with is to use is lap times -- so long as my technique is on point, which my coaches make sure of, it seems at least a rational place to start. But many tracks I can't find the general expectations (e.g. lap times for track day groups). There's also times CSS modifies things, such as the 'slalom' for Laguna Seca.

 

I always think of my competition as myself but it is nice to have benchmarks (I'm running with a fast track day group, I could potentially club race this track, etc.), so I was wondering if anyone else does this or has a solution.

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I guess the first item would be to identify what is important to you in terms of "skill level". If your lines are more consistent, your apexes are tighter, you are using lines that allow for better throttle control, you are relaxed, you are in control of the bike (i.e. it is going where you want and expect it to go), etc., your skill level is improving, based on those indicators.

 

However, if what you mean is: "can I get around the track FASTER than other riders?" you probably need to start racing! :)

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Racing certainly has ways to help you with this, but it's not quite what I'm getting at -- to be clear lap times are simply the best metric I have at hand, not the ideal. What I guess I mean is two things:

  1. How can I evaluate my improvement other than 'gut feel'? Sometimes the improvement is stark and notable, but outside those leaps how can I evaluate my actual progress in becoming a better rider? Past a certain point it becomes hard to judge (for me hitting an apex within, say, 2 feet might feel accurate but after more riding/coaching it could be much less; and it can be hard to tell you've changed your own standards)
  2. Does this change based upon track? I know The Ridge because I've run it so much, but I've only been to Jersey once; without a baseline for Jersey how can I tell if I'm improving or riding 'well' (relative to the track, and beyond the aforementioned 'gut feel').

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For sure this is difficult to judge, for anyone. Laptimes are a measurement, and being able to achieve very CONSISTENT laptimes is a good indicator that a rider is well in control of their lines and speed and that the error rate is low, all of which indicates good riding skills. Seeing one's own laptimes come down on a given day at a given track is a good indicator that the rider is figuring out the track and making improvements. Being able to stay relaxed and ride without errors and without exhaustion is a great improvement, and something the rider can observe relatively easily for themselves.

However - trying to compare laptimes to other riders may not be very meaningful unless you are racing . At track days and especially at schools, riders ARE, by definition, working on making changes and sorting things out so their laptimes can vary considerably from actual go-for-it race pace times. At CSS riders are asked to ride at around 75% pace so that they have enough free attention to make observations and changes in their riding, plus there are formats and drills and sometimes different track configurations (compared to how other organizations run their day) so a school day laptime may not mean much when compared to a race laptime, or even open track day times. So if you are looking at a CSS laptime and trying to decide if you could race at that track, it may not really translate. Going out and doing a new racer's school at that track (unless you already have a race license?) would allow you to get a sense of whether you can be competitive, and most of them do a mock race at the end of the day, which is fun and instructive, and most schools will be able to tell you if your laptime is acceptable for you to race there. Racing creates a whole new set of challenges - the track pace is fast and that will immediately push you to find places where you can go faster, and likely make you push yourself enough to reveal next areas of improvement in your riding.

I think most of all you will need to decide your personal priorities for improvement, THEN figure out how to measure. What are your goals as a rider? Are you interested in being calmer on the track? Safer? More accurate? More consistent? More comfortable?  Do you want to be able to learn new tracks faster? Do you want quicker laptimes? Do you want to ride in A group at your local track? Do you want to start club racing?

Once you have your own goals set, finding ways to measure that should be easier.

Interesting question about whether it changes based on the track... I guess my answer would be that there are certain skills that identify a skilled rider. Consistent entry speeds, good control of the bike (accurate, effective steering with steering rate appropriate to the turn), secure, locked-on body position, relaxed upper body, and good visual skills come to mind. One can watch a skilled rider on a new track, and they may be riding slow and figuring out lines but you can see the skills are there and know that once they get the lines figured out they will be able to ride consistently and quickly. You can also go to an open track day and see someone getting good laptimes (by pushing really hard) but leaning the bike over too far on the gas, exiting corners at the ragged edge of the track, making steering corrections, stabbing the brake, hanging off too far and steering ineffectively, making rough downshifts, etc. and see that they may be going pretty fast but they are lacking some really important basics and although they know the track well, they are hitting some big barriers that will hold them back and/or cause them to crash if they try to go any quicker. 

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