• Sarah Merrell

How Building Endurance Can Improve Your Riding

Long before I ever became a motorcyclist, I was a gym rat. I spent my high school and college years sweating it out as a competitive runner, triathlete and certified group fitness instructor. So it was no surprise I married my personal trainer. With that marriage came motorcycles, and my fitness obsession was eclipsed by life on two wheels. Early on as a motorcyclist, I found that although I was slow and inexperienced, I did have one advantage: Endurance.

Now, don’t get me wrong—strength, flexibility and mental focus are also critical. But I can’t cover all four in one blog post, so this is my first post in a fitness series. I chose to cover endurance first since I’ve found it provides a solid foundation.

So what is endurance, exactly? It’s the ability, over a period of time, to continue or outlast without fatigue. And here is why endurance so important in motorcycling:

1. Fewer Mistakes

Have you ever found that when you’re tired, you’re more likely to start making mistakes? In pit bike racing, after hours of practice and qualifying races, I notice some of the racers who are typically very sharp, start to make missteps. They get predictable. They leave the door open for a pass. They brake a little too soon. They miss a miss a shift. Their reaction time isn’t quite as quick. And for a rider with stamina, those are opportunities. The same is true on the track or in any type of motorcycle racing whether it’s dirt bikes, flat track or road racing. Riders with good physical endurance capitalize on the mistakes riders who don’t.

2. Safer Riding

Fewer mistakes translate to my second point: Endurance helps you become a safer rider. For road riding, this is imperative since a mistake can turn into a mishap, or worse, a head-on collision that can harm you or someone else. This is common on technical mountain roads like The Dragon. A rider lacking in stamina will become physically tired at the end of a ride and will start making mistakes that can easily cause a crash.

3. Improved Health

While studying to become a fitness instructor, we learned about the positive benefits of aerobic or cardiovascular fitness. Endurance-related exercise that increases the heart rate for an extended period of time like cycling, swimming, running, rowing, hiking or even many CrossFit exercises, helps keep your heart lungs and circulatory system healthy. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week for optimal health. So how does this relate to motorcycle riding? Well, you can’t win races or perform well on the track or road if you’re ill or if your heart and lungs aren’t healthy. 4. Leveraging Horsepower-to-weight Ratio

Weight is often a taboo subject, but in a sport of speed and acceleration, we can’t dance around it. It’s just physics. But setting physics aside, here’s a real-life example. I’m not the fastest pit bike racer in our organization, but I’m the only girl and happen to be the lightest. On a small-bore bike 50 lbs makes a huge difference. I accelerate faster and carry more speed on the straights and it’s my number one passing opportunity because of it. Now on a 600cc or 1000cc bike, it’s going to make less of an impact than on a pit bike, but it’s still significant. I’m guilty (and many riders are) of looking for weight savings by replacing parts and making mods, when really I could just lose those pesky 15 lbs I still haven’t lost from the previous holiday season. Look at some of the best motorcycle racers in the world—like MotoGP racers. I’ve had the chance to meet Dani Pedrosa, Marco Simoncelli and Ben Spies when they raced MotoGP. They didn’t have a stitch of body fat. This is where endurance-related exercise can help. It burns calories and can aid in terms of weight management and a lower body fat percentage. Just an hour of running or cycling can burn nearly 600 calories depending on intensity.

Now that we've covered why endurance is important, let's look at how to put it into play.

Endurance-related physical activity can come in many forms but it truly comes down to personal preference. I’ve noticed many of my MotoAmerica racer friends and the instructors from Yamaha Champions Riding School enjoy cycling. First of all, it’s easy to transport their bicycle to races and track days and ride it on the track for exercise. But, I also know Sportbike Track Time coaches who prefer running. As a triathlete, I personally find swimming is the best since it’s a full-body workout and is great at toning and strengthening your core and back—key muscle groups that I’ll zero in on with more detail in this fitness series. However, it’s not always easy to have access to a pool. I also find cross-training between different forms of exercise can be helpful.

Make a Plan & Set Your Goals

Studies show people who set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound) are more likely to achieve them. So whether you’re new to this form of exercise or a seasoned veteran, it’s helpful to start by making a plan and setting clear goals with a set time frame fo complete it. For example, I fell off the wagon with my running over the summer so I set the goal of competing in a 10k (6.2-mile) race on Thanksgiving. To work up to it, along with my strength training workouts, I planned cardio days and set mileage goals for each week. You can even make a calendar and plan out your distances so you can effectively work up to your goal.


When it comes to fitness, peer pressure can be a good thing. Sometimes it’s challenging to get up and run by yourself on a Saturday morning. The struggle is real! This is where running groups, spin classes or even just having friends to join you can provide the motivation to get off the couch. My husband serves as my running buddy and on my long-distance run day each week, if I’m just not feeling it, he gives me that little push I need.

For those interested in how I work cardio to build endurance into my workouts, here's a sample schedule: - Monday: Off

- Tuesday: 0.5 mile warm-up run, strength training (lifting weights) and 30 minutes of cardio with high intensity intervals

- Wednesday: Off

- Thursday: 0.5 mile warm-up run, strength training and 3-mile run

- Friday: Off

- Saturday: 0.5 mile warm-up run, strength training (CrossFit style) and 15-minutes of rowing

- Sunday: Long distance run - usually 5 to 6 miles (depending on mileage goals)

I highly recommend checking out different blogs for fitness, running, cycling, etc. for workout ideas to build endurance. I follow this blog for workouts that can improve my running—or post-run recovery tips:

But, fitness is not one-size-fits-all and you have to find the activities you most enjoy and that will provide the best results for you, personally.

In my next fitness post, I’ll be covering the topic of strength and sharing some workouts the pros find to be most helpful in improving performance as a motorcyclist. Stay tuned!

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