The Art of Fast - Six expert secrets

There are various different species of rider but with most cases the requirement of speed is essential. Visordown examines why some riders are faster than others, what being fast really means and uncovers the secrets of going faster

One man's fast is another man's slow. If you posted a lap of Donington good enough to put you on the third row of a MotoGP grid your mates wouldn't hear the end of it, but Rossi would be gutted. For some cracking the ton is enough; for others that's just warming the tyres.

Of course going fast isn't just about straightline speed. Anyone who has given an R1 or Blade its legs on a motorway will have gone faster than, say, a top motocross rider doing their day job, but try going head-to-head with him on his own turf and you'd see nothing but dust - 70mph across a rutted field can feel like 200mph on the road. Likewise, most riders would be able to reach 180mph or more on a two-mile runway, but it takes a different kind of bottle to travel that fast through built up areas on the TT course.

So what's going on in the minds of the truly fast? Can they really have time to think when they're travelling at speeds the human brain wasn't designed to deal with, or are they simply prepared to chance it more than us and hope for the best? Masters of various two-wheeled disciplines reveal what going fast means to them.

Niall Mackenzie

NIALL MACKENZIE is a former Grand Prix god and three-time British Superbike champion. He's also Visordown's road test editor. It's fair to say he knows a bit about going fast

Someone once asked me about racing, 'Is it a case of whoever has the most balls wins?' It may look like that to an outsider but it's not true. You might be brave into one corner and get away with it, but you won't get away with it for 20 laps; you have to keep your aggression under control. Some elements of going fast are natural, others are down to practice and fitness. Sometimes it's just down to being fired up, but you have to fight the urge to just go balls out. Trying too hard in bike racing can get you hurt, unlike in some other sports, so it's being afraid of getting hurt that actually keeps riders safe. In that sense, fear is a friend.

I build up to going fast bit-by-bit. You need good feel for braking, good feel mid-corner and good feel for accelerating. If you can join all those together then that's what it's all about. But even when you have those skills, you can have mental 'off-days' for no apparent reason. Great racers get these too but they just focus and get through those days the best they can. Other riders go to pieces when they don't feel right. Sometimes you wake up feeling you can take on the world but it doesn't happen all the time. Your whole mental attitude and biorhythms need to be just right to perform at your best, and you can't always control that.

There are different ways to approach going fast and BSB racers Scott Smart and Karl Harris represent two extremes. Scott thinks so much about his racing, it's like a science to him and sometimes he maybe thinks himself into a hole. Karl Harris is just a natural. If you ask him how he's doing a particular thing he can't tell you; it just comes naturally to him.

Many riders who struggle to go fast can usually trace the problem to their braking. I've seen lots of riders on track days just as fast as me in the corners and exiting them, but I catch them on the brakes. But there's more to it than jamming on the brakes later - you have to control the bike as it's turning into the corner and keep that corner speed. Braking later without losing the front is the key; you have to override your brain when it's telling you to stop for a corner. Nine times out of ten you'll get round when your brain says it's impossible. At the start of practice I'd brake at the 200m board but come race day I'd be braking at 100m. You have to build up to it because your brain won't let you brake that late straight away. It has to get used to it in increments.

The first day back on a race bike after the winter break is weird. Again, it takes time - maybe a day or two - for your brain to get used to it. You've got to re-calibrate to function at those sort of speeds.

If someone's fast in one form of bike sport he could be fast in another, provided he's young enough when he makes the switch. When you're older, it's harder to adapt to a new style. Jean-Michel Bayle had every off-road skill you could imagine but never quite clicked as a road racer.

If I had to make up a gap of one second on the last lap to win a title I could do it, but it would mean taking risks. You don't want to do that very often. Wayne Gardner talked about having a jar of risk he would open every now and then. He'd use a little but never too much, or for too long.

By the time I was sat on a grid, I had gone through endless laps in my head, hitting all my braking points, lines, gear changes etc. I was pre-programmed and just needed to push the start button, then focused on reference markers all the way through the race like doing a dot-to-dot puzzle. That kept me focused to the point where I didn't notice anything else going on around me.

Cyril Despres

CYRIL DESPRES is one of the world's great Rallye Raiders. The KTM-riding Frenchman has won the Dakar rally three times, the most gruelling race in the world. He also won the Ralley de Tunisia and the Rallye D'Orient in 2005.

For me, the main difference between good riders and not so good riders is concentration. The one who can stay concentrated for six hours at a time will win. Concentrating makes it much easier to stay on the good piste and to go fast. If you start to think, 'oh fuck, it's nice here,' or, 'oh fuck, my front wheel is moving around too much,' it pollutes your mind. I trust my team and I trust my bike so I just stay concentrated on going as fast as I can and don't think about anything else. All of the other details are just distractions. But keeping concentration is the most difficult thing. Some riders go to sports psychologists for help with their concentration but for me it comes quite naturally and I've never gone for help.

It's also important to keep two or three per cent in reserve - you should never ride on the absolute limit. If you ride on the limit, or over it, you will have some scares and that will affect your confidence and you will go slower. Keeping off the gas just a little means you will be slightly slower on some parts but overall you will be faster as you are more confident for longer. A lot of good technical riders can go fast for a while but then they crash, so it's important not to be over-confident.

We are now restricted to 160kph in the rallye but that still feels very fast in the desert because the bike is moving around much more than a road bike. I have a KTM 950 Adventure at home and going at 200kph is really easy. The concentration required to do about 140kph in the desert is about the same as you would need to do 200kph on the road.

Jamie Dobb

JAMIE DOBB was World 125cc Motocross champ in 2001 and the youngest ever British 125 motocross champion. He has also competed successfully in 250cc and supercross championships and is currently mentoring British MX2 rider Tommy Searle (pictured going fast).

Fast motocross riders - or fast road racers - don't think about anything when they're riding. You don't think when you're going to brake or turn-in, you just know. If you start thinking, you're going slow. People are put on this earth to do certain things - going fast is a god-given talent some have and others don't; it's what separates top riders from the rest. You can nurture people and smooth them out but you can't put speed there. It's in you or it's not.

There is fear of going fast in motocross, especially supercross with its big jumps. But you've got to have a bit of fear because it gives respect for what you're doing.

I think you honestly need more skill for motocross, and especially trials. You need more balance and feel and better throttle control. Riding off-road is more physically demanding too - I've seen road racing world champions on motocross bikes and you wouldn't even think they could ride a motorbike. It's embarrassing to watch. The fastest I went on my 125 was about 140kph but it feels about three times faster than on Tarmac. MotoGP is different - it's 200mph so you've got to have big balls to do that, but hitting a triple jump in supercross takes balls because there's a high risk of being paralysed.

Now I'm a professional spectator I can see what other riders are doing wrong which is stopping them from going fast. It's usually just little things, but if you want to be at the top of any sport you're looking for perfection. If you don't achieve that you're not going to be the best.

Motorcycle courier

JAMES NIXON spent eight years delivering packages in and around London, and made good doing it until faxes, e-mail and the internet spoiled the fun

I used to think riding through London was like a mix of drag racing and trials riding. I suppose much of what we were doing appeared suicidal, but it wasn't. There was a lot of thought going into it. Sometimes it felt like riding in a parallel universe to everyone else on the road, always trying to get ahead and steal an extra yard here or a few seconds there. You'd learn to recognise patterns of traffic flow and be able to aim for gaps that didn't exist yet but you knew would when you got there. It was about maintaining momentum and never, ever coming to a stop unless you had to.

The concentration was intense and relentless. You look at endless congestion and take in the picture as a whole and plan what might be going on 50 or 100 yards ahead, but you also had to deal with every vehicle individually, so your eyes are constantly darting around, assessing what is and might be happening, dealing with that information then disposing of it. On top of that you're listening for your controller calling on the radio and remembering the details of the next job. At the end of a busy day I'd be drained.

A lot of the time you'd be riding balls-out to get somewhere maybe a minute or two quicker than you otherwise would, and take risks to do it. If you're riding all day long a minute here and a minute there all add up; the more time you had in the day the more jobs you could do and the more money you earned, simple as that. The fastest riders at each firm got fed the most work. In the good old days before fax machines and the internet it was easy to earn £5-700 pounds a week as a courier. It paid to be quick.

Ian Lougher

IAN LOUGHER is the most experienced TT rider still racing today. With seven wins to his credit, he's got 23 years of experience on the world's most demanding road race circuit to draw on. Going fast is his forte.

Fast riding feels natural to me and I'm not really thinking about it. I think a lot of going fast is down to natural ability. You can learn so much but the rest is just in you. We've all got fear about going fast - there's no-one out there who simply doesn't care - but it's how you deal with it that matters. I try to get to a point where everything is in tune with the bike and my fitness levels are high, and apart from that I just expect the unexpected - and then, in a sense, whatever happens, I've expected it! It can take a while to get over a scare on the TT course but you can't afford to let it take time so you have to make yourself get back on the gas.

A lot of going fast is in the mind. I've had days when I've woken up on the morning of a race meeting and thought, 'It's not going to happen for me today' and I've ended up sixth or seventh in the first few races. Then something seems to change and I'm winning again. It's almost like I'd been trying too hard and got too nervous and just couldn't do it. Then I'd think, 'sod it, this isn't going to happen,' and I'd relax and win the next race!

My mind gets used to the speeds at the TT pretty quickly. I know what to expect after 23 years. I'm not looking at houses and walls, I'm just looking at the line I want to take. The only time I realise how fast the TT is is when I go to a short circuit afterwards and it seems so slow I think there's something wrong with the bike!

I seem to be able to up my game by a few seconds and go faster to win a race when I have to. It's weird but it's like a little demon inside saying, 'come on, you can do this, you can go faster.!' It's almost like calling on reserves that you didn't know you had. When I'm really on it and the bike feels great I'm almost in a trance-like state and not thinking about anything I'm doing. I don't get that feeling every time I race but when I do, I'm not aware of my hand working the brake or my foot changing gears. It's like I'm looking down on myself or watching someone else riding. It's a fantastic feeling.

Bike cop

PAUL MOSTYN has been a bike cop in the Metropolitan Police for 22 years and has been involved in countless high speed call-outs including last year's London bombings. Unlike bike racers, he has to contend with every day traffic hazards while riding his Honda Pan European at speed

Planning and observation is everything. You can't afford to react to a situation - you must anticipate it. We have flashing headlights, blue lights front and rear, and the two-tone siren fitted to our bikes but it's up to the individual officer which of these to deploy. People don't always know which direction a siren is coming from so it can make them panic and put themselves in more danger. I find the flashing headlights are more effective as they're directional and easily seen. But you can never be sure that people have seen you. If you presume that no-one has seen you, it can only get better from there.

It's a misconception that we have to have our blue lights and two-tones on to go over the speed limit. We don't need to have anything on. We have an exemption to the speed limit for legal reasons but we're not exempt from every road traffic law. We can't ride the wrong way down a one-way street, for example, or go through a Pelican crossing when it's on red. We have to keep all those rules in mind while still trying to get to our destination as quickly as possible. It's demanding, but during the three-week police training course all these things are drummed into you so much that it becomes second nature while you're riding.

Safety is my priority when I travel at speed. We have a saying that no call-out is so urgent as to justify an accident. That would defeat the object of going to the call in the first place.

I would say, personally speaking, that a blue light run is an adrenalin rush. Of course we enjoy going fast - we're trained to do it. Your brain is working very quickly and all your senses are heightened so it can be fun. But you've still got to deal with the emergency at the other end of it. You may get a rush from riding at speed but when you arrive at a fatal accident it really kicks you in the stomach.