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.
It’s no secret that left hand turning vehicles are a significant hazard. And because we know this, we are presumably on high alert when approaching intersections.
But, don’t get that prudence confused with fear. Riding afraid can cause its own problems and makes riding no fun at all.
You can’t control what the other guy does, but you can utilize specific strategies for minimizing the risk of being hit.
1. Ride at speeds that others around you expect.
2. Give yourself more time and space to respond by approaching intersections at conservative speeds. Speeding into intersections is a bad idea. Avoid trying to “make the light” (guilty).
3. Cover your brakes to reduce reaction time and to put you mind and muscles on “high alert”.
4. Be conspicuous. I’m all for high viz, but even more important is selecting the optimum lane position so others can see you. Always be aware of line of sight! Studies show that high beams on during the day can be helpful. Do not flash your lights…it’s too easily mis-communicated. Avoid “hiding” behind vehicles ahead…don’t tailgate.
5. Move across your lane to become more noticed and visible. This is the SMIDSY concept. You don’t have to weave as some advocate. A move across the driver’s field of view is sufficient so you visually break yourself away from the static background.
6. Know the clues. Drivers often have a “tell” that they are about to go…a turn of the head or a steering wheel movement should have you already going for the brakes (don’t overreact though). Look for wheel movement on cars approaching from the side.
7. Make sure your emergency braking skills are as close to 100% as possible. Most riders don’t come near the stopping potential of their bike and tires. Training and continual practice is key here. My parking lot course and track days are excellent for getting more comfortable with more extreme brake force.
8. Learn and practice “brake, then swerve” techniques.
9. Don’t rely on loud pipes and other passive strategies for your survival.
10. Look at situations like this as a challenge. I equate it to a video game where you encounter hazards that you skillfully manage.
The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle in traffic is risky. People do stupid things and will continue to do so. It’s your job to do the very best you can to minimize the risk by using effective strategies that give you some measure of control.
This article appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine in 2017.
I know that talking about crashing can harsh your mellow. But, I’m betting you’ll want to know how to avoid the expense and embarrassment of an avoidable mishap. One way to increase your chances of arriving home unscathed is to learn from other riders’ mistakes. That’s where the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) come in.
These two organizations teamed up to create an updated study identifying factors that increase the risk of crashing. This is good news, because the last comprehensive study was published way back in 1981. That’s when USC professor Harry Hurt published his findings of 900 investigated accidents and 3,600 police reports of crashes in and around Los Angeles. The problem is that the results of The Hurt Report were based on eyewitness accounts, rider interviews and police reports, which are often unreliable and inaccurate.
What’s different about the new study is that it uses a “naturalistic” approach, recording the actions of 100 participating riders and then documenting factors that resulted in crashes and near-crashes as they happen. Data is captured by GPS, accelerometers, gyros, lane trackers, forward radar and five unobtrusive video cameras connected to the bikes. This technology dutifully observed and chronicled every move in actual riding conditions over the course of 366,000 miles in and around California, Florida, Virginia and Arizona. The average length of rider participation was one year.
The ages of the volunteer riders ranged from 21 to 79 years of age with roughly one-quarter being female. 41 riders owned a cruiser, 38 had a touring bike and 21 piloted sportbikes. Riding experience ranged from 1 month to over 50 years with pre-study annual mileage ranging from 40 to 40,000-miles. 65% attended and passed at least one rider course. For reference, the national average of formally trained riders in 2014 was only 44%.
Over the course of the study, 30 of the 100 riders crashed. That’s a rather big percentage, but it makes more sense when you consider that over half of the crashes (17) were low speed falls. Past studies didn’t include mundane tipovers, because nobody reported them.
The study doesn’t include conclusions about why riders crash or how to prevent a crash, so I will share my thoughts as we go on. First, let’s list the 30 crash scenarios:
Low speed ground impact (17 crashes)
Leaving the road (3 crashes)
Colliding with a vehicle turning left at an intersection (3 crashes)
Rider striking the back of another vehicle (2 crashes)
Vehicle crossing the rider’s path (1 crash)
Being rear-ended (1 crash)
Getting cut-off by a driver traveling in the same direction (1 crash)
Poor curve negotiation (1 crash)
Falling once underway (1 crash).
The descriptions of the crashes are a bit vague, but you get the idea.
Besides crashes, the naturalistic approach allowed the researchers to “witness” and record 122 near misses. This information helps the researchers identify factors leading up to the mishap.
Many of the study’s tables combine both crashes and near-crashes to identify the most common situations that increase risk. I went ahead and paraphrased the report’s most significant findings to save you from having to decipher the data yourself. You’re welcome.
Slow speed maneuvers are a problem. “Low speed ground impacts” account for over half of the recorded crashes. Whether you consider a slow speed tipover a “crash” or not, these pesky drops are quite common and can cause significant misery. Most are due to insufficient speed, mainly when starting, stopping or making a U-turn.
Curves are dangerous. 55% of the recorded single-vehicle mishaps happened in curves, mostly in right-hand turns and are usually the result of weak cornering skill and/or a too fast entry speed. We can also include poor visual skills as a common contributor to cornering mishaps.
Intersections are hazardous. No surprise here. Careless drivers surely can be blamed for not double-checking before proceeding, but too often a big load of responsibility lands squarely on the rider. You must remember that because of your bike’s relative small size it is difficult for drivers to see you or judge your approach speed and closing distance. Slowing down and selecting a lane position that allows others to see you can avoid the majority of mishaps at intersections. You also want to watch for signs of vehicle movement and cover your brakes just in case.
Rear-ending other vehicles is more common than you think. The number of riders running into the back of another vehicle is surprising. Typically, insufficient following distance, inattention, and a failure to recognize and respond to stopping traffic are likely causes. You can also count on target fixation and weak emergency braking skills as factors.
Beware of blind Spots. The study recorded several incidents where a vehicle traveling in the same direction nearly sideswiped the rider. This frequently happens when a driver fails to check twice before changing lanes, but is also caused by riders surfing in drivers’ blind spots. Don’t blame the driver if you are hiding.
Lack of knowledge, inattention and weak control skills increase risk by 9 times. This combo can result in a multitude of problems like running a red traffic light, failing to recognize a crash as it unfolds, failing to negotiate a corner, dropping the bike during a slow speed maneuver, or running into the back of a stopped vehicle.
Excessive speed and aggressive riding are particularly perilous. The study concludes that riding too fast and passing, particularly on the right, increases the risk of crashing by 18 times.
Aggressive riding combined with a lack of skill is very bad news. The risk of a mishap increases by a whopping 30 times if you mix squidly behavior with lack of knowledge, skill, and attention. That’s 30 times, people!
Tricky road conditions are challenging. Participating riders had issues with sloped surfaces and gravel or dirt roads. Uphill starts present problems for many riders as does maintaining control when riding downhill. Riders also have problems managing balance and traction on gravely surfaces.
Swerving may not be the best choice. Swerving to avoid an object often causes the bike to leave the roadway. This is likely if the rider has weak swerving skills. Many times it’s better to focus on stopping rather than swerving.
Animals, pedestrians and bicyclists need to be watched. People and animals can be unpredictable, so keep an eye out and cover your brakes!
The VTTI/MSF study confirms much of what we already know: that intersections and curves are dangerous and that aggressive riding is just plain foolish. It also reminds us of the importance of rider judgment, attitude, attention and knowledge so we can avoid situations that call for evasive action. And of course, it reinforces the need for excellent bike control.
You’d be smart to identify your own risky behaviors and then get to work to bolster your survival strategies and improve your control skills. And please don’t think that reducing risk comes at the expense of fun. It just isn’t true. The best riders know that a serious attitude, in partnership with well-developed mental and physical skills, makes riding both safer and more fun.
In this article, I will cover passing rules, technique, responsibilities and etiquette. Faster track day riders can often feel frustrated about not being able to pass effectively and efficiently, while newer track day riders may be anxious about passing and being passed. In this article, I will discuss these topics as they pertain to track day riders of all levels.
New Track Rider Passing Apprehension
New track day riders need time to become acclimated to the racetrack environment. That’s why a slower “get your feet wet” pace is necessary.
New track day riders often find themselves riding around the track in clumps with slower riders in the front of the pack. This is most likely to occur in the first few sessions of the Novice group. Thankfully, the late morning and early afternoon sessions flow much better. Why? Because people start passing.
Getting Used to Passing
Most new track day riders are primarily street riders where passing is limited to the occasional overtake of a slow car on a straight section of road. The racetrack offers many more opportunities for passing, but new track riders must convince themselves that passing is not only okay, but is encouraged, as long as the pass is safe and adheres to the rules of the group.
Part of the reason some riders are hesitant to pass is the absence of familiar indicators found on the street that define passing zones, including painted lines and signs telling the rider that it is safe or okay to pass. Once the rider learns that there is plenty of room to pass and has made a few passes on the track, this apprehension diminishes.
Most track day organizations have some passing rules. Passing rules provide a safer, more comfortable environment to have fun and practice riding skills. Rules also remind riders that this is a track day, not a race and discourage aggressive, race-style passing.
For novice groups, some organizations may limit passing to the straights, which minimizes anxiety and intimidation for new riders. Riding in the Zone Non-Sportbike Track Days is a bit more relaxed. Our passing rules allow passing from tip-in to the apex
This means passing on the “inside” onlyat the corner exit, well past the apex where the person being passed is at the apex and drifting to the outside of the track as they exit the corner. This rule prevents riders from “stuffing” the rider being passed and causing him or her to alter their course in order to avoid collision. This is important becasue you want to come as close to the apex as possible to execute the turn properly.
There may be some corners where passing is not allowed, no matter what group you ride in. These are corners where bikes are crossing from one side of the track to the other in a short area, like in a chicane.
Enforcing passing rules can be difficult, but we do a pretty good job through the use of cornerworkers and circulating staff trained to spot passing infractions. A gentle reminder from a staff member is all that is necessary to get the guilty party to conform with the rules.
Make the Pass!
You’ll hear instructors encouraging new track day riders to “make the pass”. This not only allows riders to maintain their pace, but it also prevents a train of riders to accumulate into a long procession. If one rider chooses not to pass, then the rider behind may not pass, creating a line of three riders. Three riders isn’t a train, but soon a fourth and fifth rider joins the group and a conga line begins to form.
The more riders in a line, the harder it is for anyone to pass, so the line grows exponentially longer and before you know it, there is a line of perhaps 8 to 10 bikes riding at a pace set by the slow person at the front. This leads to frustration and potentially risky passes as faster riders in the back desperately try to get by. I’ll talk about ways to avoid the need to make risky passes in a bit.
Passing is a skill that is more akin to chess than to rugby and when done right is very satisfying. Ask any racer what aspect of racecraft has allowed them to achieve success and they will likely put passing near the top of their list.
The trick to passing well is to look well ahead. You must evaluate the person you want to pass so you can make a plan; is he demonstrating a slower exit speed that you can take advantage of by accelerating a bit earlier and harder at the corner exit? Or perhaps he or she exits tight, which may allow you to accelerate around the outside.
Less desirable is if the sower rider exits slower an runs wide where you then cut up the inside (well past the apex) and accelerate away. This is risky if you combine added lean angle with acceleration. Always reduce lean angle as you accelerate!
Once you learn to pass well, you are able to maintain your pace and maximize the flow that leads to finding the “zone”.
Passing on the Gas
Passing can be done in a number of ways. Often, the best way to pass is on the gas as you exit. One trick to use when you want to pass a rider who is only a little slower than you is to hold back a bit before accelerating. This gives you space behind the slower rider for you to increase speed and gain on the rider as you both begin to exit the corner.
Yes, you give up a bit of mid-corner speed, but it gives you the ability to “run up” on the rider you want to pass. Be sure to look well past the rider you are passing to reduce the risk of passing too close.
You want to avoid following too closely to the rider ahead of you. If you attach yourself to the slower rider’s tail, then you are locked into his or her (presumably slower) pace through the corner and exit and you’ll lose the opportunity to catapult by.
Another way to pass is to do so while on the brakes, well before entering a turn. Passing while braking can be tricky, since you want to ideally get past the slower rider before beginning to turn.
To avoid cutting off the rider you just passed, you will likely need to start turning from the spot where you passed, not from the ideal line near outside edge of the track. This means that if you pass on the right before a right-hand turn, you will need to enter the corner from the center of the track to prevent cutting in front of the rider you just passed.
You may think that you have plenty of space to move over, but may have to brake hard to avoid hitting your rear tire, because you cut him off.
Avoiding Risky Passes
If you find yourself at the back of a large pack of slower riders, it may be tempting to overtake the whole group all at once. Oftentimes, this leads to anxiety about not completing the pass in time.
Also, slower riders may become startled by the much faster “closing” speed as the passer zips by. Another common situation is when more than one faster rider attempts to make a big pass, so that there are fast bikes passing on both sides down the straight, making passing zones a bit chaotic.
Another example of a risky pass is when a passer chooses to overtake in an area where the person being passed might drift to the outside of the corner, across the passer’s front wheel. “Pinching” can happen at the entrance or exit of a corner. See diagram.
You must predict that the rider does not know that you are coming up their side and may move over to set up for the corner or drift extra wide at the exit. As the passer, you must take responsibility by predicting that this might happen.
There is one rule for being passed and that is to do nothing but stay on your line. By being predictable, you allow the riders who are passing you to do so without drama. When being passed, do not move abruptly to the left or right in a way that might pinch someone who may be passing.
Sometimes, riders unconsciously move to the outside edge before a corner to set up for the turn. It’s smart to give some room just in case someone is making a late outside pass. This applies to both entering turns, as well as exiting a corner where a faster rider may be coming around the outside on the gas, so avoid drifting to the very edge of the track. See diagram.
How do you know that someone might be ready to pass you? You don’t, but you can predict that there may be a faster rider wanting to come by you at any time, which means that you should avoid going to the very edge of the track when possible.
And do not look over your shoulder! If you hear a motorcycle coming up from behind, keep your eyes ahead and stay on line and the risk of a passing incident becomes a non-issue.
It’s not unusual to have a line of fast riders on slow bikes being held up by a slower rider on a fast bike. The slower rider will likely want to accelerate hard on the straights (it is fun after all), leaving the slower bikes behind only to hold them up in the corners.
This leads to the faster riders (on slower bikes) feeling the need to take greater chances to try and get by the faster bike, since there is no way this will be possible on the straights where the fast bike rockets off.
You may want to accelerate less onto the straights if you suspect there is a group there, but don’t feel obligated. If you don’t want to slow down on the straights, another option is to pit in and let the group get past and then re-enter the track.
If you are one of the fast riders on a slow bike and are frustrated because a slower rider on a fast bike is holding you up, then consider pitting in, rolling down the hot pit, and re-entering the track once the slower rider is well enough ahead. This is smarter than attempting a risky pass to get by. Yes, it will disrupt your flow, but it is often a minor interruption that you can quickly put behind you.
Every session provides opportunities to practice passing. Instead of thinking of passing as a hassle, think of it as another skill to master. Not only will you be rewarded with many more flowing laps, but you’ll discover how satisfying clean passes can feel.
Before I get into the review of “Get Started Riding Motorcycles – A Definitive Guide for Women”, it’s important to know whether the author of such books has the knowledge and experience to give advice. Not to worry. Alisa Clickenger is a powerhouse in the motorcycling industry with a long history of motorcycle travel, journalism and mentoring.
If your first impression from the title is that this book is for beginners, and particularly new women riders, you’d be correct. But, I know plenty of “experienced” riders, both male and female who will find nuggets of useful information.
The first one-third of the book covers the basics of bike and gear selection, as well as steps for getting your motorcycle license. Alisa does this with the help of guest contributors who share their knowledge of motorcycle options and gear selection, including industry influencer Sarah Schilke and gear expert Joanne Donn from GearChic.
The topic of bike and gear selection is important for women, who often struggle to find women-sized riding gear, particularly jackets and pants. Women’s stature is usually more compact than most men so finding motorcycle selection is rather limited. Poor choices in either of these purchases can hinder a new rider’s progress, safety and enjoyment.
The book talks about how to get a license and what a new rider can do to progress from their Basic Rider Course to riding on the road. This section covers strategies for managing traffic, carrying a passenger, riding in groups, how to manage parking, basic bike maintenance and even the challenges of riding with children.
Alisa also includes Rider Profiles throughout the book where women riders share advice and tell of their experiences in an interview format. This is very helpful for intimidated new riders to understand that they are not alone in their journey to become motorcyclists.
As a tour organizer and avid traveler, Alisa spends a fair amount of time talking about longer distance travel and what to expect on an organized tour. She shares tips for packing, ways to manage mental and physical challenges and discusses logistics that will help make first forays into motorcycle travel less daunting.
Empowerment and Support
Besides offering solid, practical advice for newer riders, Alisa shares her thoughts and experiences as a women in what has traditionally been a man’s world. This includes addressing issues that can erode confidence:
“For the first few months, I recommend sticking to simple, achievable goals like becoming a more confident rider, overcoming some of the initial fears or obstacles while learning the heck out of your riding”.
The focus on confidence, empowerment and community building will resonate with women who are about to dip their toe into the world of motorcycling. This book is a form of supportive community of like minded women sharing their knowledge to help make the new rider’s journey less taxing.
“Get Started Riding Motorcycles – A Definitive Guide for Women” is a well written and designed book with solid information. Experienced riders will find the book rather fundamental. But, that’s what it is meant to be.
The book is a comprehensive source for the moto-curious woman who is ready to take her first steps into two-wheeled travel. The focus on the female rider is where the book stands out. Alisa and her friends offer support and understanding, as well as practical information for aspiring motorcyclists, female or male.
Originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine, 2016
Sporty street tires must balance the durability and predictability needed for road use while also meeting the voracious demands of the occasional racetrack outing. This is no easy task, but Continental thinks they’ve got it right with the Sport Attack 3.
And I agree. After spending a day dragging knees on two test tracks at the Continental Proving Grounds, I came away impressed with the competence of the new generation Sport Attack. We sampled the Sport Attack 3 on several 600 and 1000cc sportbikes from three different manufacturers and in every case the tires managed to handle everything we could throw at them.
Our test day did not include a street ride, but the short jaunt on the access roads leading to the test area showed that the tires transmit the right amount of feedback but without being harsh over bumps. Straight-line stability is solid, cornering behavior is predictable and demeanor is confidence inspiring; all important traits of a good street tire.
On the racetrack the tires warmed up quickly. Knee pucks were dragging after only a lap and a half. I kept wicking up the pace, expecting to reach the limits of grip but it was not to be. The tires simply stuck even when pushed to near (amateur) race pace. I was able to accelerate hard, trailbrake deep and reach boot-dragging lean angles with no drama. No, they don’t have the telepathic feel or meteoric levels of grip of dedicated race rubber, but the tires performed admirably considering they are designed primarily for street dwellers.
For those who corner hard, Conti developed the compound and carcass to create Grip Limit Feedback, which is designed to alert the rider about imminent traction loss during extreme cornering. This technology also prevents side forces from abruptly kicking the tire outward, allowing time for the rider to manage remaining grip.
Instead of using multiple compounds, Continental employs their Multi Grip Technology where a single compound is cured using different temperatures to provide a harder center for durability and softer sides for corner grip. This method of using a single compound delivers better mileage, consistent grip and good feel.
I did detect a bit of numbness coming from the front tire at full lean, but nothing that stopped me from getting on with business. The front tire cannot be faulted for stability however, remaining composed under hard straight-line braking and even when trailbraking deep over bumps.
Corner transitions are not ultra-snappy, but I had no trouble flicking each bike through the track’s tight chicanes. Once at full lean, the tires held the preferred line and responded easily to mid-corner corrections. Certain bikes (but not all) had a tendency to stand up just a little when the front brake is applied mid-corner, but nothing problematic.
We were treated to a dry, sunny day so wet testing was not to be. However, Conti claims a 20% increase in wet weather grip. This is due to the new big block pattern that features variably-angled lateral grooves that significantly improve drainage. Changes in silica further enhance wet surface traction and contribute to fast warm up.
Five racetrack sessions aren’t enough to measure real-world mileage, but Conti promises that street mileage will improve markedly over the outgoing Attack 2. On the racetrack these tires held up quite well with the rear tires showed little significant wear, although the front tires suffered some tearing from extreme cornering loads. The average track day rider won’t push the Sport Attack 3 as hard as we did, so I would expect several track days out of a set with plenty of life left to destroy favorite twisty roads over several weekends. Your results may vary.
Continental really stepped up their game with the Sport Attack 3. It may not have the ultimate grip of more race-bred rubber, but I have a hard time faulting the balance and performance of the Sport Attack 3s. If you’re looking for a hypersport tire, I recommend you put these on your short list.
Standard sizing is available. Pricing has yet to be announced, but Continental says that the Sport Attack 3 will be priced below the competition. Check out the Continental Moto site for more details.
Let’s talk mirrors. Specifically, why we don’t allow mirrors on the racetrack. This topic asked by new participants of our Non-Sportbike Track Days, so I thought I’d address it here in detail.
Questioning the logic behind the “no mirrors” rule is understandable since we are taught as street riders and drivers that checking our six every 5 to 10 seconds is important for safety.
Why Having No Mirrors is Unnerving
On the street, we use mirrors to maintain situational awareness of our surroundings. This includes making sure that nobody is in our blind spots before we change lanes on the highway or be able to swerve to avoid a hazard. Mirrors also help us to see if an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind.
On the street, we use mirrors to know when someone is passing us. It is startling when someone passes when we didn’t know they were there.
On the street, mirrors help us to see whether we are holding up faster drivers or if they are driving too close, prompting us to perhaps let them by.
On the street, mirrors allow us to know that it’s safe to change lanes to make a pass.
Why Mirrors aren’t Needed on the Track
On the track, we don’t “change lanes”. Instead, we stay close to an agreed upon proper “outside-inside-outside line” that is taught throughout the day in every group.
On the track, we don’t need to worry about emergency vehicles. The track is cleared before any other vehicles go on track.
On the track, the situational awareness we must prioritize is the situation that is ahead of us. Your task is to skillfully execute the next corner. Any distractions from behind take precious bandwidth from this task. This is true for new, experienced and even expert track riders. Keep your eyes and attention ahead!
On the track, passes occur frequently enough that it is to be expected at any moment. No need to see if another rider is about to pass…do not do anything except to hold your line.
On the track, gradually ease off line into a “passing lane” to pass a slower rider. No need to see if another rider is behind. Simply set up your pass predictably and smoothly. Do not abruptly dart off line!
On the track, there are times when a rider that is even faster than you may want to pass both you and the rider you are passing. This isn’t a problem if you are predictable. Faster riders behind will accommodate your pass by waiting or giving you the space you need.
We learn to expect riders to pass us (and for us to pass others) multiple times a session. This is unnerving to new track riders because passing on the street is risky, requiring the passer to move into the oncoming lane. Passing is safer on the track becuse it is 40 +- feet wide and everyone is riding in the same direction. Read more about track day passing.
We learn to ignore faster riders behind us so we can focus on riding skillfully and safely. Riders behind are responsible for getting by safely. There is nothing for you to do to accommodate them, except be predictable and stay on the line.
As yourself what you would do differently if you were permitted to have mirrors on the track?
Would you move “out of the way” for faster riders? – I hope not. That would be unsafe. Remember that your job is to stay predictably on the line and to focus on your riding. That is the safe way to ride on the track.
Would you hesitate to pass a slower rider becasue you can’t be sure nobody is behind you? That would be unpredictable. People would expect you to pass a slower rider. Hesitating to do so creates problems. Make the pass.
Recently, many of the Moto-Tubers are making their own videos in response to the FortNine body position video.MotoJitzu posted a lengthy recap of well established body position principals and MCRider used the video as an opportunity to wag a finger at those who ride irresponsibility and hang off racer style on the street.
I like that Ryan’s video triggered a discussion about a motorcycle skill, even though his decision to focus on the extreme end of the spectrum unecessarily lit the fuse.
Here is my opinion: I see this as a lot of to-do about a relatively minor riding skill.
Body position is one of the last things I focus on when coaching on the street or track…unless the rider’s bp is significantly hindering their control, which isn’t very often.
Almost all street riders and most riders who are new to the track, pretty much lean in line with the bike (not counterleaning, nor leaning inside) as they have done for years as street riders, which is appropriate 99% of the time. This is fine becasue it usually is not something that causes safety concerns.
I will however focus more on body position when we are working on slow speed maneuvers, becasue this contributes significantly to balance and control.
Instead of spending all this energy on body position, let’s look at more critical issues, like vision, situational awareness, reading the road, precise speed control, cornering accuracy and traction management…skills that can kill us if neglected or misunderstood.
Notice that I don’t mention rider attitude or judgment… becasue I have come to believe that I cannot “teach” this. Preaching doesn’t work, it just alienates the people we most would like to reach. I do what I can to influence someone to ride smarter, but the people that need to hear the message aren’t going to listen. Fatalistic maybe, but also realistic. I’ll focus on what I can change.
Keep in mind that Much of my perspective these days is working with very experienced riders who are pretty set in their ways and attitudes. Newer riders are much more likely to respond to influential voices.
The fact is that there is no single right body position. A good rider is proficient at all body positioning and knows when to implement the bp that makes the most sense at the time. The above photo is of me rounding a tight blind curve with a more upright body position to help see around the corner.
One of the most scary aspects for first-timers at a track day is being passed and passing.
Let’s start with the responsible person in the passing situation…the passer.
Here are my top 10 tips to help track day riders learn to pass more skillfully.
Getting by someone who is significantly slower than you is rather easy…just be patient and make the pass with courtesy.
These 10 passing tips apply to all passes, but are particularly useful for the times when the rider is just a little slower than you.
When passing on the brakes approaching a corner, try braking at the same spot you normally do, but brake a little lighter, rather than scaring yourself by braking later and harder.
Offset your front wheel from the slower rider’s rear wheel…if they brake earlier, you can slip by…if you’re on their rear tire, you will have to slow when they slow.
Most passing opportunities require you to decide early whether you will pass on the left or the right…many passing areas favor one side over the other, so plan ahead…no last second changes of plan, please.
The passing rider will deviate from the ideal line to get past…kinda like moving into the passing lane on the highway. The rider being passed just stays in their “lane”.
When passing after the apex to the exit on what was the inside, turn sharper to “carve” underneath… passing inside is done ONLY after the apex when the rider is standing the bike up out of the corner! SEE ILLUSTRATION.
Plan to pass when the slower rider “opens the door”. This is when they move away from the edge of the track to set up for the next corner.
Outside passing is okay, but Expect the “door to close” as the rider exits wide to the outside edge of the track…don’t get pinched!
Get on the throttle 1/2 second earlier to gain momentum over the slower rider out of the corner….earlier, but smoothly!
Look PAST the rider you want to pass. Resist locking eyes on the rider ahead. This makes it harder to get by and can lead to panicky moments if you run into a corner too fast becasue you weren’t looking ahead.
Be patient! Passing is a game of strategy. Take a moment to recognize where you are faster and plan your move. You’ll have more opportunities if it doesn’t happen right away. You always have the option to get off the track and re-enter to separate yourself from a group of riders.
Remember it is the Passing Rider who is responsible for a clean and safe pass. The job or the rider being passed is to do nothing different.
Here are my top tips for Being Passed:
Be predictable…do nothing different than you normally would if nobody was around you. Relax and stay on the preferred line. Stay in your lane. Passers will find their passing lane by you.
Do not look behind you. I know that the lack of mirrors is disconcerting, but your job is to manage what is ahead of you, not what is behind. A loud bike may approach that may cause tension, but relax and remain predictable. Looking behind can cause you to drift off line and make it more difficult for the rider to get by you.
Leave about 6 feet from the very edge of the track. We exit our corners wide, toward the outside edge of the track, but leave some space for a rider who may want to pass on the outside.
Maintain your position on the straightaway…about the center of the track in many cases. Do not drift to one side to make room. A rider may be attempting a pass on that side and you will be pinching him or her.
You can let people pass more easily on the straight by accelerating just a little less. Do Not go more than 5-10mph slower! That would be unpredictable, because the other riders will expect you to accelerate hard.
Basically, your job is to ride your own ride, meaning that you should do what you would do if nobody were around. Stay on the proper line and brake and accelerate as normal.
Before you know it, you won’t pay any attention to riders behind you.
Don’t bother reading this article if you are content with your riding level or if you have to ask why you should bother spending time and energy improving. However, if you want to increase your motorcycling enjoyment (and safety), then read on.
1. Surround Yourself with the Right people
Align yourself with people who help elevate you to improve your skills rather than people who either stagnate your growth or hold you back. Some riders are not interested in growing, some are simply stuck in their ways, while others are unaware of the benefits of improving. Which people are more likely to help you become a better rider?
And associate with others who share the same level of respect for risk as you. Hopefully you cohorts wear protection and ride responsibly.
Internet and Riding Groups
Join groups that not only align with your riding philosophy, but also encourage and support skill development.
And make sure these groups share accurate information from reputable sources and the moderators aren’t afraid to correct well-meaning, but misleading or inaccurate information.
Seek additional sources to make sure group members know what they are talking about. If not, find another group.
These are your closest riding friends. These like-minded friends are willing and eager to talk about riding skills. Sure, they will talk about the latest bolt-on goodie or the newest model, oil or tire choice. But, at some point they will end up talking about what they recently learned about motorcycle handling, control techniques and the merits of a method they heard about but have not yet tried.
2. Look in the Mirror
Maybe you like the feeling and danger that comes with having only basic riding skills, after all we don’t ride to be safe. But understand that the odds of you suffering the financial and personal costs is much greater than if your skills are advanced.
Ability to Recognize Mistakes
Blaming others is an impediment to growth. Even though “the other guy” may be legally at fault, ask yourself what you could have done to avoid being involved. Maybe nothing, but ask the question of yourself.
And remember that we don’t know what we don’t know. and that we are the worst judge of our true ability. The Dunning Kruger Effect says that the less experience you have at a task, the more you think you know. Don’t be caught out thinking you know what you need to know when you don’t.
Hot on the heels of risk tolerance is motivation to grow. If the perceived reward of improved skill isn’t apparent, then motivation will be low. On the other hand, if you’ve been curious enough to discover just how deep the well of enjoyment is with the introduction of advancing skills, then you’re on your way.
Related to motivation is passion. It takes a lot of courage for beginner riders to make the leap into becoming motorcycle riders. The don’t exactly have passion yet, but they are motivated enough to spend the energy and resources it takes to get into this endeavor.
A certain level of sustained passion is one reason why people stick with riding over the long haul. But, at some point this passion will inevitably level off unless you seek out new opportunities…and growth is the more enduring.
You have to be willing to put in some of your precious energy into making this growth happen. Read, watch videos and ask questions. In other words, seek to find out about what you don’t know.
You don’t need to spend money to get this process started, but at some point you should plan on setting aside money to take some training from professionals, which may include advanced parking lot, off-road, on-street or track day training.
Your Learning Style
Some people are impatient and want to cut to the chase, while others delve into the depths of learning something new. Some learn by absorbing information and then applying the technique, others learn best just by hitting the bullet points and then trying it out.
Whichever way you learn, understand that there are not any real shortcuts. Be patient.
Knowledge is the first step, but knowledge alone will not make you a better rider! You must apply the knowledge by practicing.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable at first when trying something new. You may be afraid to fail or to look like a novice. This is normal. We all go through it. Back to my earlier point…find supportive friends and groups and get some training from a pro organization that has seen it all.
I know that many riders choose not to attend one of my courses or a track training day for fear of embarrassment. Remember, everyone is in the same boat as you. Sure, some will be more proficient or faster than you . So Relax.
The difference between a close call and a crash often points to the rider knowing the effect an action has on control. Unfortunately, a lot of motorcycle riders react incorrectly.
When faced with a life-threatening situation we will pull from our knowledge and experience to decide on a course of action. This means that the quality of your knowledge and experience directly affects whether you act correctly or not.
However, it’s important to note that avoiding an incident requires for you to also have sharp skills, well-developed habits and a keen sense of situational awareness to avoid being put into difficult situations in the first place. Without these important mental skills, you will continually find yourself experiencing close calls and poor outcomes.
Failure to Act
Excellent skills, effective habits and keen awareness still may not be enough. Even with these skills, it is likely that we will react to a life-threatening event with instinctual survival responses.
Human beings are hard wired to react to threats in a similar way our ancient ancestors did when faced with being eaten by a large predator. In this situation it was smart to freeze in our tracks to hopefully go undetected, and if that didn’t work we would run as fast as we could.
Motorcyclists who face a serious hazard often freeze. This can result in the rider acting too late, or not at all, does not lean the motorcycle further as needed to stay on the road when a corner tightens.
After a moment of inaction often comes overreaction. A startled rider may overreact in a knee jerk manner by grabbing the brakes too hard or swerving in the wrong direction. Overreaction is often the root of many “I had to lay it down” scenarios. It’s common for panicked riders to stab the brakes when startled by a mid-corner problem, which can easily lead to a fall.
Oftentimes, there is no time to think. In this case, our mind does a split-second evaluation of the scene and signals the muscles and nerves to act. The action that occurs is not necessarily based on logic, and is surely not derived from thoughtful analysis about what is the best action to take.
Unfortunately, what the rushed and panicked brain concludes as a good idea is often a bad idea. Many riders who attempt to avoid a collision fail to execute the proper action. Often, a lack of mental foresight contributes to the poor outcome as your brain must use precious time to process the unusual event.
It’s human nature for our eyes to fixate solidly on a hazard. This is called target fixation. Since we tend to go where we look, it is important to try to look for an escape, rather than at the threat.
Resisting the natural tendency to look at a threat is not easy. The trick is to condition yourself to look to the solution, not the problem. You do this by finding opportunities on every ride you take to train your eyes and mind to consciously look away from real or imaginary hazards
One of the most common reactions when faced with the prospect of colliding with a car is to grab the brakes. While slowing down is usually a good idea, doing so by abruptly jabbing the brakes can lead to a skid and loss of stopping power and control.
A well-trained and practiced rider may be able to overcome the panic response and brake properly by applying the brakes fully without skidding. But, most motorcycle riders on the road are not that adept at emergency braking, because they don’t practice. This is why anti-lock braking systems are a good idea.
A lot of crashes that are the result of over braking occur in corners. This is because available traction is being shared between cornering and braking forces. It’s important to note that most ABS systems do not prevent a skid when cornering. However, bikes with the latest IMU technology take lean angle into account and is able to arrest a skid caused by overbraking while leaned.
Cornering is one of the most challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics. As humans, we are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees. This comes from our built-in sense of safety.
Regrettably, many riders fail to fully train their brain to accept more extreme lean angles. These riders run off the road when a corner tightens more than expected, because they cannot force themselves to achieve the required angle of lean. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.
Swerving is a very useful maneuver for avoiding a collision. Unfortunately, well-executed swerves are not terribly easy to do, especially for new or untrained riders, because swerving requires the rider to act with confidence and authority.
Because swerving is an advanced skill that few riders are proficient at and because there is a great potential for error, it is often better to try and slow or stop before the hazard. It’s important to remember that swerving and braking don’t mix well.
Expect the Unexpected
The best outcomes occur when the rider predicts that action is required before it becomes urgent. A rider who fails to predict that a car may turn left across his or her path at an intersection is at greater risk of having inadequate time to react appropriately to the situation.
In contrast, the rider who is continually on the lookout for the possibility of this scenario is already mentally and physically prepared and is more likely to act skillfully, and is less likely to act in a way that makes matters worse.
Originally appeared in Motorcycle Consumer News in 2012
As I write this column, I am grieving from the loss of a friend and coworker, taken by a careless driver who ran a red light. Chappie was an avid rider of exceptional skill and was aware of the risks of riding a motorcycle. Many of us can name one or more highly skilled riders who were involved in crashes; some may have even succumbed to their injuries. I am reminded of Larry Grodsky, the safety columnist for Rider Magazine and founder of the Stayin’ Safe on-road rider training program. Larry died when he collided with a deer. Larry fully knew the dangers of animals and took all precautions to avoid being exposed to this hazard. However, circumstances required him to ride later into the evening than he wanted. The chances of encountering a deer may have been elevated, but the risk was probably acceptable. Fate stepped in with a different idea.
Just last week, I answered two letters from readers looking for explanations to why they crashed or almost crashed. Both concerns had to do with traction loss in a curve. After reading each letter, it appeared that both riders were doing nothing that would have increased their risk and that each was fully aware of the long list of possible hazards before them. I answered their letters by mentioning the conditions that can exacerbate traction loss and how to spot surface hazards. What I didn’t include in these replies was a statement that sometimes crashes happen and that even the most knowledgeable, conscientious, and diligent rider can become involved in a mishap. Fatigue, a slip of concentration, or a slightly mistimed maneuver may be responsible, but sometimes the cause is a force or forces completely outside our control.
As someone who has dedicated much of his life to rider training, this does not sit well. Even though continual learning and purposeful practice improves my odds significantly, nothing can absolutely guarantee my safety.
Possible versus Likely
I do believe that “out of the blue” mishaps that befall alert, skilled riders are rare and that the vast majority of crashes are preventable. I also know that sometimes crashes happen, even when the rider has taken all precautions. To ride a motorcycle well we must ride with knowledge of this fact. We all must understand the risks we are taking by riding a two-wheeler so that we can do what is necessary to increase the likelihood that we live a long and healthy life. This means doing all we can to minimize the risks of riding.
The odds of getting hurt or dying as the result of a motorcycle crash are illustrated in statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, there were 4502 fatalities nationwide with a fatality rate of 24.39 per 100 million miles traveled. In comparison, drivers of all vehicle types died at a rate of 1.11 per 100 million miles traveled. NHTSA summarizes by saying: “Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, motorcyclists were about 30 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured.”
These statistics are upsetting. But, if this is news to you then you haven’t been paying attention. Motorcycling has always been riskier than driving a car. And it’s been riskier (statistically speaking) during some years and less risky during others. The reasons include: a surge of new riders during good economic times and/or when fuel prices are high; good weather that leads to more vehicle miles traveled; increases or decreases in safety initiatives at the government level. The list goes on, but you get the idea.
So, does that mean that the more you ride, the more likely you are to crash? Not necessarily. Statistics suggest trends, not absolute outcomes. The chance that flipping a coin will result in heads or tails is 50/50. But, you can flip a coin ten times and it’s possible to get heads all ten times. That doesn’t mean that the odds of getting tails have now gone up; it’s still 50/50. Let’s say the odds of crashing are 1 in 100,000. If we ride 99,999 times, does that mean we will crash on our next ride? No, because the likelihood of you crashing is not based on past rides.
It can be argued that the more you ride, the less likely you are to crash, because you’ve learned how to ride well. However, this only holds true if you have actually become more skilled, as opposed to simply having ridden more miles. It may be less likely that you will crash if you are skilled, but crashes still happen. The fact that we ride means that we are exposed to that risk. So, what can we do to reduce the chance of being involved in a crash? Excluding any mention of bad luck, or fate, or acts of God, we are left with our ability to manage the risk.
Why Crashes Happen
The reasons why crashes happen are not numerous: inattention, alcohol or drug impairment, lack of traffic-management strategies, poor risk perception, lack of mental preparedness and attention, and inadequate cornering, braking and slow-speed skills. Sure, there are other reasons we could add to the list, but you’ll find that this list covers a huge percentage of why crashes happen. You’ll notice that 5 of the 6 reasons I list are mental skills. Not being in the right mental condition to effectively and accurately evaluate the environment puts you at high risk of being involved in a crash.
The physical skills of cornering, braking and keeping a slow-moving motorcycle upright are also critical. It is necessary to have the highest possible level of ability to control your motorcycle, but often it is the lack of mental proficiency and good judgment that gets us into trouble. Poor mental skills require us to use superior physical skills to survive.
About half of all fatalities are the result of single-vehicle crashes and the vast majority of those crashes occur in a curve. Riders often fail to negotiate a corner because they enter the turn faster than they can handle (a lack of mental skill). This usually is followed by an inability to corner effectively at this higher rate of speed (a mostly physical skill). Had the rider used better judgment about entry speed, the corner would have passed without incident.
Single-vehicle crashes can also be the result of road surface hazards. Motorcycle stability relies on traction. Add sand, gravel, oil, anti-freeze, or water onto the pavement and you’ve got the potential for a crash. While the existence of road surface hazards are not in our control, we must learn to spot these hazards before they become a problem.
Car drivers do not need to pay any attention to trivial things like sand or gravel or tar snakes. That’s why many new riders crash as the result of surface issues. Veteran riders learned long ago the dangers of surface hazards and have developed a keen eye for spotting potential problems. However, even experienced riders can find themselves on the ground, having failed to identify a patch of sand or fluid spill.
Unfortunately, we can’t catch all potential surface hazards, but what we can do is predict the likelihood that sand or some other contaminant may be present. For example, riding near a construction site should prompt you to slow down and scan the surface more carefully. A wet road can make it nearly impossible to see a slick spot caused by oil, so it’s smart to reduce speed and minimize lean angle and brake force.
Low speed tipovers may not seem all that scary, but these seemingly benign mishaps can land you in the hospital with nasty fractures and soft tissue damage. Too many riders ignore their slow speed riding skills, partly because it doesn’t seem that important, but also because learning to control a motorcycle at walking speed can be rather intimidating. Stay tuned for an in-depth article on slow speed riding techniques in an upcoming issue.
The Other Guy
The other half of fatal crashes involves a second vehicle. Too many drivers operate their vehicles with ignorance, complacency, and carelessness. These drivers have no intention of killing anyone, but they do not consider that their behavior is putting all road users, not just motorcyclists, at risk. And it’s not just the victim who suffers. I’m sure the driver who took my friend Dereck’s life is living his own personal hell right now.
One factor that leads to careless behavior is how some people treat other drivers when they get behind the wheel. It’s common for otherwise courteous and thoughtful people to tailgate, or bully, or intimidate other drivers when in traffic. There is something about the perceived safety of one’s own automobile and the righteousness of many drivers’ sense of entitlement that causes them to judge others as incompetent and in the way.
There is also the feeling of safety that many drivers of large vehicles feel as they loom over smaller cars and motorcycles. Their perception of personal risk is reduced and the motivation to drive aggressively when late for work can be difficult to resist.
When it comes to motorcyclists, there is a “de-personalization” that happens when we cover our head and face with a helmet and dark shield. Instead of being perceived as a fellow human being, we can be seen as an inanimate object. Even fellow motorcycle riders can fall into this unconscious misperception. I often start track day rider’s meetings by having the attendees introduce themselves to each other. Then I ask them to remember the people they just met and understand that the person they are sharing the racetrack with is just like them; someone who is here to have fun and has to be at work the next day. It sets a tone for safer passing and more courteous behavior.
Do riders who choose to not wear a helmet fair better, since their head and face is not covered? I don’t know of a study that can confirm that theory. However, there have been studies showing that drivers come closer to bicycle riders who wear a helmet compared to riders who don’t. I’m not suggesting we all ride helmetless so that drivers perceive us more as humans; that would be trading a sure risk reducer (head protection) for the hope that a driver will treat us with more courtesy (wishful thinking). However, it does point out that we are sharing the road with fallible beings whose perception of reality varies. Knowing this, you must take precautions that take these variables into account.
A World of Distraction
Another factor that can increase risk is distractions by electronic devices and other sources of stimulation. Music devices, cell phone use, GPS, and texting is at an all time high. It’s common to see drivers wait until they get into their cars before dialing their phone. Even though law-enforcement discourages distracted behavior, the trend of driving while distracted is increasing. More than once, I’ve even seen members of law enforcement chatting on cell phones while driving their police cruiser. What message does that send?
It’s not only electronic devices that distract. Alcohol is the most obvious cause of poor judgment, but there are conditions that we may not consider risky, including having the wrong person in the passenger seat. It’s easy to let a conversation or distracting exuberance lead to poor decisions. The number of teen fatalities with at least one passenger in the car is much higher than teen drivers who are alone. This is why several states allow teens to drive only with immediate family (no joy rides) for the first several months of learning to drive.
What to Do?
Yikes! With so many uncontrollable factors to contend with, it can seem foolish to ride a motorcycle at all. There is good news, however. We can train ourselves to reduce risk.
For instance, knowing that intersections are one of the most likely places where crashes occur, you must approach intersections with the alertness and precision of a hunted animal. Every sense should be heightened to spot anything amiss. Scan aggressively for movements from the side, front and behind that can signal a vehicle about to invade your space. Keep your brakes covered to minimize braking reaction time, and identify possible escape routes, just in case. To help drivers see you, make sure you are aware of lines of sight and use lane positions that ensure that drivers see you. I see too many riders who foolishly ride in drivers’ blind spots or “hide” behind other vehicles so that it is nearly impossible for drivers to see them until it is too late. You must develop a sixth sense about line of sight to ensure the highest level of conspicuity possible.
Another simple strategy is to wear bright colors. High-viz jackets and helmets are very popular lately. Unfortunately, high-viz is not the color of choice for most fashion-conscious riders. Okay, fine. If you choose to wear black, then be aware that you are increasing the risk of not being seen and don’t be surprised if drivers pull out in front of you more often than if you were to wear more conspicuous gear.
By choosing lane positions that ensure good lines of sight and by wearing bright clothing, we can help defend ourselves from careless drivers who may not see us. But, sometimes crashes happen where neither party is clearly to “blame”. Human beings make mistakes and one or two seemingly small mistakes occurring at just the wrong time can suddenly lead to two vehicles coming together. Even though true “accidents” do happen, you should take solace in the fact that there is usually some control you have in preventing mishaps from happening. In case accidents happen, Go Here and get the best attorney help. However, even the most diligent and skillful rider cannot control all situations at all times. People can avoid mistakes for claiming compensation with the help of attorneys. We share the roads with people that do not take driving seriously and are often in a daze so that they see what they expect to see and not what is in front of their eyes. This means that we must take more responsibility for our own safety by doing all we can to not let a crash happen to us.
Here I go again touting the need for rider training. The reason is that rider training is the gateway to reduced risk. When I say rider training, I don’t only mean formal training programs. I also mean continual practice, whether that is in a parking lot or at a track day. It can also mean purposefully refining mental strategies and control skills while you are on a typical ride or when commuting to work. The opportunity to become a better rider is always present.
The biggest challenge to effective training is motivation. How many riders take advantage of training opportunities to learn new techniques and to brush up on old ones? Not many. I understand. Spending a weekend rolling around a parking lot instead of touring the beautiful countryside does not appeal to many. However, the time spent focusing on mental survival strategies and physical control skills can mean the difference between making it home and spending several expensive days in a hospital bed, or worse. Even a fractured ankle or foot can change your plans for the rest of the season.
Self-help training is just as valid as formal training, as long as your knowledge and control skills are solid to begin with. Get a copy of “Riding in the Zone” or “Total Control” and find the sections in these books that outline parking lot drills. Then find a clean parking lot to spend a half-hour to practice the skills you think need refinement. Make it a social event by inviting a couple of like-minded riding friends to join you (especially those who really need to work on their control skills). Self-help rider training lacks the feedback of a professional instructor, but the drills outlined in a good book can provide you with the fundamental information to help you raise your skill level.
Even the most proficient riders are involved in crashes. However, there is no doubt that we can tip the scales in our favor, if we become as skillful possible, both mentally and physically.
Things often start out okay as you approach the turn, but any lack of cornering confidence sets up the typical cornering crash sequence.
Once the crash sequence begins, it is exponentially more difficult to execute the actions needed to negotiate the curve.
1. Too Fast Entry- You approach and enter the turn faster than your personal level of comfort with leaning or the capability of your bike. Don’t blame the corner. You messed up. Often, a more competent rider could have made the turn with no drama.
2. Poor lane position at turn entry- You enter the turn too close to the inside instead of the outside. Nervous riders who are afraid of running wide often approach corners in the middle-to-inside, making the turn sharper.
3. Narrow angle of view- An inside lane position also limits the view into and beyond the turn.
4. Poor turn-in timing- Countersteering too early or too late and with either too strong or too weak handlebar inputs leads to problems at the exit. (Nervous riders turn in too early).
5. Apex too early- Turn in too early and the bike will be pointed toward the oncoming lane or the edge of the road at the exit. This then requires a second turn input to stay on the road.
6. Mind freeze- When it becomes apparent that things aren’t going well, fear and doubt take over, leading to a shift into survival mode. (We can’t function well in this state).
7. Target fixation- Panic causes rider to look down and at the oncoming car or the guardrail. (Humans are programmed to look at what we fear).
8. Muscle paralysis- Panic leads to ineffective or non existent countersteering and the bike feels like it won’t turn. (It’s common to put pressure on both left and right handgrips as you brace for the worst).
9. Ineffective body position- Poor body position isn’t the most significant cornering failure, but relying on your body to turn the bike (without countersteering) is disastrous. Some riders lean in to try and coax the bike to turn more, while others counterweight for fear of leaning beyond their comfort level.
10. Panic braking- With panic comes the unwillingness to lean more. In response, humans tend to grab the brakes when panicked. Adding significant brake force when leaned leads to traction loss.
What to Do
So, there you have it. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play that aren’t listed here, but this is the most common cornering crash sequence. You can also overly this same sequence to most other crashes where one domino falls and others tumble quickly.
Understand that arresting the sequence is quite difficult once it has been activated. So, enter turns a bit slower and continually learn and consciously practice expert cornering techniques on every ride to prevent this from happening to you!
How to Corner Better
There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:
I always thought of the XT250 as a beginner dirt bike. It is an old-tech machine that hardly turns heads. I have owned several “real” dirt bikes, including a Honda CRF250X, DRz400, KDX200, KLX250s and KTM450 EXC. So, why is the only dirt bike in my garage a lowly XT?
Why an XT250?
Why would I go from a “real” dirtbike to what many would call a beginner’s bike? One reason is that I needed a bike that would fit in the 6.5 foot bed of my F150 with the tailgate closed. It turns out the XT is short enough when positioned at a slight angle.
Another reason is that as I hit my 60th birthday, I am tired of very tall bikes. The XT is quite low, almost too low for my 5′ 8″ height and 32″ inseam. But, it allows me the confidence to dab through the most challenging terrain.
Surprisingly, this simple bike is quite capable. I had no trouble whatsoever hanging with the big boys while riding at the West Virginian Hatfield McCoy trail system. See this video.
Of course, such a budget dirt bike benefits greatly by select modifications. The mods increase usability, durability and capability.
Notice that I didn’t say “performance”? That’s because I find the single cylinder air-cooled motor quite adequate for the type of riding we do here in the rocky, rooty and tight New England trails. But, the bike does just fine on faster two-track trails and dirt roads.
Handlebar & Grips
The stock handlebars are too low for standing. Some riders install bar risers, but I opted for a taller bend handlebar from Mika. I’d never heard of Mika, but the $60.00 price point was hard to beat.
I ordered the “Mini Low” bar but discovered that it was no taller than the stock bar. So, the fine folks at MotoSport initiated a return and replacement for a “Mini High”. The extra 23mm is just the ticket for being able to stand comfortably without bending over. Here is the Mika bend fitment chart.
The handlebar is really nicely finished and I can attest to its durability. A pair of Pro Taper Pillow Top Grips improved comfort and feel.
Protection is super important when attacking the gnar. Handguards protect the levers, but also your hands. The bike came with a flimsy pair of hinged Acerbic brush guards that were totally inadequate for hard duty.
The Barkbusters Jet guards have a sturdy, full wrap aluminum backbone with a color-matched plastic brush guard. Installation is simple enough, but there is some fiddling that needs to be done to position the inner mount.
These are some of the toughest guards around and are a must if you’re going to venture beyond the gravel roads.
You’ll notice that I drilled three holes in the post of the mirror because I used the mirror on the racetrack when instructing and the mirror would fold at 100+ mph. This mod is not needed on the street or trails.
The XT does not come with a skid plate off the showroom floor, which seems to be a big oversight in my eyes. I remedied the situation by installing a Moose skid plate to protect the underside of the engine and frame when surmounting rocks and other bits of nature.
The Moose plate is super sturdy and is reasonably priced at $130.00 US.
The XT’s weakest link is the suspension, particularly the front forks. The problem is that the forks can’t keep up with choppy terrain at higher speeds.
So, I installed upgraded fork parts from Cogent Dynamics. The XT250 kit includes .40 or .44 fork springs, fork oil and their DDC cartridge valves that rest on top of the damper rod assembly.
At $376.95, the kit is reasonably affordable fork upgrade. Installation is easy for anyone who is reasonably comfortable with spinning wrenches.
The upgraded forks performed well, although at first I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference until I picked up the pace on the rocky, choppy terrain where the stock forks fell short. I also noticed a general sense of increased confidence climbing and descending more technical stuff. A good upgrade. Predictably, now the stock rear shock feels inadequate.
Check out the video.
The stock Bridgestone Trailwing tires are great if you pretty much ride pavement with some intermediate off road thrown in from time to time. But, for the gnarly New England trails, I needed something more aggressive.
Enter the venerable Dunlop 606 rear and Pirelli MT-21 combination. Word is that the Dunlop front and the Pirelli rear aren’t as good as this combo. And I must say that I’m quite pleased with the performance of these tires, both off and on road. Both tires are DOT legal, too.
The stock XT footpegs must have been made for little people. Standing for any period of time becomes uncomfortable, but these tiny pegs also inhibit control.
After some research, I found the DMO Specialties footpegs for the XT. Look at the photo to see the difference between stock and aftermarket. The sturdy construction is impressive and at $56.00, this mod is a great deal.
Installation is simple enough for anyone who can handle a pair of pliers.
Cornering is one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics.
Why is Cornering so Exhilarating…and Scary?
According to Bernt Spiegel in his weighty book, “The Upper Half of the Motorcycle“, humans are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees due to our built-in sense of safety. 20 degrees is our maximum lean angle when running around a circle at full speed without slipping. Anything more than that and our survival senses trigger our panic response.
This is why novice passengers panic when first experiencing significant lean angles. They often stiffen and lean in the wrong direction in an attempt to overcome the overwhelming sense of falling.
The act of leaning into a corner stimulates this primal fear, which can either be terrifying or exhilarating, depending on your personal risk tolerance or level of training.
You may think that miles in the saddle is what you need to build sufficient cornering confidence. Sure, over time, the mind and muscles begin to trust that the tires will grip and that the motorcycle will remain rubber side down. But, the level of trust many riders possess is not sufficient for more challenging corners.
These are the riders who panic and run off the road when a corner tightens unexpectedly, because they cannot achieve the required angle of lean.
I Don’t Need No Stinking Training
We tend to train to the level we feel is adequate for our needs, which is measured by how we typically ride. Minimal corner training may seem adequate if all you do are easy rides on familiar roads with few significant curves. But, what about when you venture off to where the pavement twists and turns more than you’re accustomed? This is where trouble lurks.
And what about when you daydream your way into a blind, decreasing radius turn too fast? Will you respond correctly to stay on two wheels and in your lane? Trained riders are much more likely to do the right thing and ride it out. Chances plummet for average riders with minimal training.
Throttle and Speed Control
Correct throttle timing and control is another important aspect of cornering control. When we sense danger it’s natural for us to decelerate. But abruptly “chopping” the throttle upsets stability by compressing the suspension at a time when you need all the grip and ground clearance you can muster.
In extreme conditions, abrupt deceleration can cause hard parts to touch and the tires to get levered off the ground. This affliction happens mostly to low-slung cruisers.
Instead, try to keep the throttle steady throughout the turn to avoid spikes in tire load and to keep the suspension in the usable range to maintain stability and ground clearance. Easier said than done when panic is flooding your system.
You Can Always Get on the Gas
One of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of corner crashes is to enter turns at conservative speeds, especially in blind corners. That way, you are less likely to need to pull off superhuman maneuvers if a hazard appears or the corner tightens.
There is really no penalty for approaching a corner a little too slow, becasue you can always accelerate a bit earlier to make up for a too slow entry. The best advice is “Slow in, faster out”.
Target fixation is another significant problem when cornering. Since you tend to go where you look, it is important that you keep your eyes and attention pointed toward the corner exit.
This is tough to do because we instinctively target the object with our eyes. It’s okay to glance at what you must avoid, but then look away to an escape route around the hazard.
Foresight is Right
It’s not feasible to expect an untrained rider to magically lean the bike to extreme angles if they’ve never done so before. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.
Be on the right side of the equation by learning to lean your motorcycle beyond your comfort zone. Some purposeful parking lot practice will condition your mind and muscles to become accustomed to more extreme lean angles. Do it now before you need it!
How to Corner Better
There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:
The bike was setup as a street bike, but with a lot of little goodies already installed by the previous owner. Many are items I don’t typically spend money on, like an aftermarket exhaust and sexy cosmetic changes. But, they are cool!
Below, I describe the modifications I did to make the bike more track worthy and also list the stuff the previous owner installed.
There is a debate about whether frame sliders are a good thing or is they actually cause more damage. Sliders are great for minor drops, but can also catch a curbing or edge of the track and cause the bike to flip. This happened to a ZX636 I once owned. I decided to take the chance and install some R&G Aero Frame Sliders.
These sliders are high quality, with a robust two-location mounting block. The pucks are the usual Delron nylon units. To reduce the chances that the slider will catch when sliding, I cut the pucks down by about 1-1/4 inches. So far, I haven’t put them to the test.
Engine Case Covers
Protecting expensive engine cases is of primary importance. I have used Woodcraft products, but like the full coverage of the R&G covers. These British Superbike approved race-spec covers are made of tough plastic and include replaceable sliders. I bought the complete kit which includes both left and right covers. Buy the case covers here.
Installation is easy. All you have to do is remove a few of the case bolts, locate the cases and replace with the supplied bolts and spacers. One small issue was that the opening around the oil fill cap wasn’t quite big enough, so I trimmed it with a file.
Exhaust and Protector
The Arrow exhaust is a work of art. And it sounds awesome, especially without the db insert. However, one of the racetracks we frequent has a decibel limit and I am not willing to take the risk of getting dinged.
Besides, the exhaust still sounds great even with the insert…like a hot rod.
The R&G exhaust protector is a nice piece that straps onto the exhaust can using a hose clamp. There is a rubber protector strip to keep the clamp from marring the exhaust. Buy one for the stock exhaust here.
Front Axle Sliders
R&G also makes axle sliders to help keep the forks and brakes away from the ground. The only thing is that you have to take them off to get the axle out to remove the wheel to change the tire. Not bad, but it adds time. Buy axle sliders HERE.
You can also note in the photo below the zip tie around the fork tube. This slides down to indicate how much fork travel is being used. Also note the torque spec is written in Sharpie for easy reference.
Regarding the brakes, they could use improvement with some higher performance brake pads. They are very good, but I’m used to more sensitive brakes; these are just a bit less powerful and slightly numb.
One accessory I think is worthwhile are aftermarket levers. Not only do they hold up better in a crash, but they give better feel and they look trick. I’ve had cheap Chinese knockoff that work okay, but these adjustable ASV levers are much nicer. They are pricey though.
Gas Cap Mod
The Aprilias are known for leaking fuel around the gas cap when full, especially when braking hard. I would find a fuel stain along the top of the tank, that is disconcerting to say the least. I can imagine fuel dumping in a crash and setting the bike on fire.
The problem is that the gas cap gasket doesn’t sit tight against the fill opening. The fix is to place an O-ring between the gasket and the fuel cap. Measure the gasket and buy a few different size o-rings to see which one fits and allows the gap to lock. I got mine at a hardware store.
Turn Signal Removal
Removing the turn signals is easy enough. All you need to do is unscrew the lens from the housing, unplug the two wires and pull the wires out from the stalk. Then tuck the wires securely under the side fairing.
RSV4 tail conversion
This is a popular mod among Tuonoistas. The stock Tuono tail looks just fine and as a bonus, has a passenger seat. Because the RSV4 tail has no accommodations for a pillion, the passenger pegs were removed and the exhaust hanger connects to the right peg mount.
You can see in the photo that I put some electrical tape on the pointy parts to prevent the tail from getting scratched as I swing my leg over the bike when mounting.
The bike came with a taller MRA windscreen, which certainly makes riding long miles more comfortable, but it also helps with neck fatigue when ripping down a straightaway at 140mph. And the smoke version looks great.
My track day organization, Tony’s Track Days, has a regular Pirelli dealer which makes using that brand a no brainer. Even so, I totally love the feel of the Pirellis, whether the Supercorsa or the race slick. Since I had some 180/60/17 SC1 rear slicks hanging around, I mounted them up and they are working great. I’ll be putting on the spec 200 tires when I’ve used up the 180s.
Regarding wear, I am getting an impressive 6-7 days at a combination of intermediate (when instructing) and expert pace. That’s not what I expected when I first got the bike. I get even more from the fronts, of course.
That’s it for now. I’ll update this post as I make more modifications.
First thing I learned is how to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. Don’t fight your bike, learn about its wants and needs.
1. The Tuono turns in great, but doesn’t hold a line mid corner without some effort. To remedy that, I need to get a lot of weight over the front end. Much better. I ended up lowering the front end (by sliding the forks up by 3mm in the triple clamps, which cured much of the mid corner effort.
2. The Tuono feels a bit cumbersome at half pace. Like a lot of harder edged sportbikes (and race set ups), it can be tough to get the Tuono to change direction (even with the tall bars). However, pick up the pace and all is well. Also, lowering the front helped. as well.
3. The stock suspension is soft, even for my 150 pound physique. Thanks to Peter Kates from GMD Computrack Boston for adjusting the Sachs suspension to the best it’s going to get. A lot more preload helped settle the bike in the fast transitions. But, even though the suspension is “busy”( moves around at full lean over sustained bumps). I’d surely need to spend some bucks on better boingers if I want to go much faster with less effort.
4. I tend to drag my boots in corners with mid-corner bumps. Not becasue of low footpegs, but becasue of the soft suspension. More preload and more aggressive body positioning helped.
5. If you have not ridden a liter bike at a track day, then you probably haven’t had to think about “big biking” people who are on slower bikes whose rider is faster in corners. It’s courteous to be aware that you may be holding up someone. Be kind and ease up on the straight every once and a while.
6. The Tuono puts down about 150hp. That’s great, but having power can fool you into thinking you’re fast. Sure, my overall lap times are better, but my corner speed is about the same as on the 130hp GSXR and even the 95hp Street Triple.
7. High handlebars suit my riding style. I never felt as comfortable on the GSXR as I have on the Street Triple or the Tuono. Riding a high handlebar bike fast requires you to hold the inside grip like a screwdriver to allow your upper body and elbow to dip low inside for the most effective body position.
8. Tire wear has been surprisingly good. I thought the bike would eat rear tires, but it’s been fine. I strive to be smooooth and the Tuono gives me more confidence to open the throttle early so I spread the drive over the whole edge-to middle part of the tire, instead of lifting before triggering the 150 hp. See photo.
9. Traction control is quite abrupt. I was exiting turn 3 at Thompson Speedway when I thought the chain had jumped a few sprocket teeth. It turns out I had inadvertently hit the TC button located on the left control pod and increased the setting to 5, causing intervention. I thought this indicated a spent rear tire, but putting it back to the less intrusive #3 out of 8 (1 being least intervention), the tire was fine.
10. The Arrow exhaust (with db insert) sounds amazing. But, it’s rather quiet compared with a lot of other track bikes. And I’m okay with that. The V4 still sounds like a hot rod.
Swerving is necessary when a car pulls out in front of you and you don’t have time to stop. Or when an obstacle appears and you need to go around it. But, most riders really, really suck at swerving. So much so that some experts recommend that average riders not even attempt it and just concentrate on stopping.
That’s because untrained riders do not understand countersteering or cannot countersteer with authority. These riders give up slowing or stopping, but aren’t able to get the bike moved over in time (and collide at a higher speed than if they slowed). Even if they do avoid the hazard, they often fail to recover and as a result, run off the road or into another hazard.
That said, a rider trained in swerving has a distinct advantage in that she can choose to swerve, or brake and swerve if necessary. Like in most critical situations, untrained riders better have their life insurance paid up. Just sayin’.
Ask yourself ‘What if?’
Sometimes, you need to decide if swerving is the right choice. Let’s say you are approaching an intersection with a truck in the opposite lane waiting to turn left across your path. What would you do if the truck were to suddenly turn? Where would you go? Would it be better to swerve, stop, or accelerate? If people need Affordable Heavy Truck Part here, they need to click on the link and purchase it.
Imagine the scenario in detail and solve the problem several different ways. Then ask yourself whether you have the skills to execute all of the maneuvers required to avoid a crash. If not, then you would be wise to overcome your weaknesses so that when these skills are needed you will be ready.
How to Swerve
A swerve is essentially two consecutive turns; one to avoid an obstacle, the second to recover. One thing to consider is that you must find a safe place to swerve. Look for an escape route. Then execute.
Keep your body upright to let bike flop beneath you. Leaning with the bike will slow the swerve.
If you must brake, separate braking from swerving.
Brake then swerve
Swerve, then brake
The only way to increase the likelihood that a swerve during the heat of battle will be successful is to train and practice. Like the military, we train for the worst. We rarely need the advanced training…until we do! Be ready for the time the enemy strikes.