Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.

This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.

First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.

I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.

It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).

Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:

1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?

2. why did he fall over?

Here is my explanation:

1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.

Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.

2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.

Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.

1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.

Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.

2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.

Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.

This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.

Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.

Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Crashing, Motorcycle Safety, New Rider Zone, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips, Video Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
6 comments on “Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail
  1. Matthias Weiss says:

    The choice of motorcycle may have something to do with its ability to handle the hole. I have a sport tourer (F800GT) – far from an adventure bike in its ability to handle rough terrain, but if I ride across New England’s frost damaged back roads and I see I can’t avoid a pot hole, I am standing on the pegs to help the suspension and let the bike move freely under me. (Fellow horseback riders may know this as “two-point”.) That includes riding two-up. This way I overcame some pretty harsh bumps without any puckering or underwear damage, though once I was worried about my front rim. The thing is, if you ride with your feet next to the axle of the front wheel, it is very difficult to execute this emergency maneuver.

  2. Greg Tutunjian says:

    Whew. I’m glad they rode off the road into a shallow ravine and didn’t ride off a cliff as the video title implies. The ravine is bad enough. I yelled loud enough the first time I saw the 2 bikes go over that my neighbor heard me through our shared wall. Tough to watch things like this.

    One bike has a Texas plate, so perhaps this occurred in Texas (to attempt to answer Joe’s question.)

    There’s a patch of sand on the road in the bend (where the bikes rode through before leaving the road) that the Audi wagon spins its tires on when it leave the scene after briefly stopping. You can hear the car tires spin, and the helmet camera briefly shows the sand. This sand probably didn’t help those 2 riders.

    I agree with Ken’s analysis plus the comments added more details and additional confirmation, too. Ken: Kudos to you for working with me on panic breaking on sand that day you led my 1:1 on-street training in 2015 plus our slow speed and cornering work, too. MSF Advanced Rider Workshop in April of this year: Rider Coach emphasized “Look Up” after several months being off the bike…Rode home with that habit burned in.

    I also think these riders (or at least one of them) would have benefitted from Accident Scene Management (Road Guardians, for one source.) One rider stood in the road for a few moments…I’m sure he could see what was coming at him (but not what was approaching him from behind.) After ASM training, I’m carrying a comprehensive first aid kit plus more, those snap lights that last for hours to warn cars and delimit an area to avoid. I was surprised no bikes turned on their flashers when they pulled over on the side of the road.

    The other video where the rider gets too close to the yellow line and gets clipped…lackadaisical riding is my conclusion. You can sit on the bike and take it out for a ride…or you can integrate yourself with the bike (+ training) and the two of you ride down the road as an integrated unit. One benefit of track day this year was the ability to remain integrated with my bike for 20 minutes at a time and internalize that, round after round and work on skills throughout the day. The debriefs were invaluable, too.

    This is one (more) reason I love the fact that my bike weighs 425-440 lbs dry (depending on the review or manual you look at.) I always quote the 425…plus my body weight of 196 (down from 216 in April) and I’m headed to around 185 or so with strength and flexibility improvements. I practice in parking lots (on sand and without) and purposely loiter in school yards on weekends to practice controlled slow speed work in addition to panic breaking, head turn, etc. It all pays off.

  3. Steve says:

    Another thing to note is how close all of the riders are to one another. At the point where the first rider is going down, there are 5 bikes in the single video frame on an inclined corner.

    When I looked at the video, it appears to me that the second rider (first to go down) was following too close to the first rider (second to go down) who may have slowed for some unknown reason causing the second rider to veer hard inside to avoid hitting the first riders.

    I don’t know for sure, but it looks to me like the second rider is VERY close to the first, just missing them as he careens off the road. It could be an optical illusion, however, from the viewpoint of the camera.

    Regardless, I see far too many bikers who ride in a group follow far too closely (not heeding a proper separation gap). All it takes is a lead rider to abruptly stop for any number of reasons, which causes a chain-reaction collision or possibly a situation like this where following riders have to take drastic action.

    • Ken Condon says:

      Good catch, Steve. It’s tough to see, but the first rider seems to slow enough that the second rider had to react. More following distance, along with good visual skills would have helped the situation a ton.

  4. C. Galanopulo says:

    The lead bike crash is a mystery to me from that video. It seems he drove off the road purposely; maybe thinking there was more of a shoulder there. Weird! 2nd bike is pretty straight forward mistakes but third in line sees sand/hole goes outside of hazard. Video biker uses good judgement and parks well past accident on straightaway. 700 to 900 lbs bikes slowly rolling over you or even pinning you can kill. Lucky people.

  5. Joe proia says:

    OMG !!!! I guess for NE (is this where it happened?) this might be considered a “hairpin”, but there were a lot more options available to the operators. The author is spot-on in terms of what could/should have been done and the causes.

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