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.
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?
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.
Braking while leaned in a corner is usually something you want to avoid. That’s because there is a limited amount of available traction that needs to be shared between both cornering and braking forces. This means you may not have enough traction to brake and a corner at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t brake in corners, you just have to do it with care.
Just how much traction you have to work with depends on several factors, including your speed, lean angle, tire condition and the quality of the pavement. Basically, you won’t be able to brake very much if you’re cornering hard or if the surface is dodgy.
One common scenario where corner braking may be necessary is when you round a blind corner and spot debris in the road. You quickly determine that it’s not possible to maneuver around the hazard, so you decide to slow down, reduce lean angle and ride over it. You apply the brakes deftly and maintain control by managing available traction. With speed and lean angle reduced, you safely ride over the debris.
At some point you’ll encounter an emergency that requires you to come to an immediate stop while in a curve. If you panic and abruptly grab the brakes, you’ll likely skid and fall. But, panic can be avoided if you have practiced your corner braking options.
Brake While Straightening
The first option for stopping quickly in a curve is to brake moderately at first and gradually increase brake force as lean angle is reduced. You can apply the brakes fully once the bike is nearly upright. This option is used when you have a decent amount of time and space to stop.
Straighten Then Brake
If the situation is urgent, you’ll need to use option two. To get the motorcycle stopped ASAP, immediately reduce lean angle (by pushing on the upper handlebar) to make traction available so you can apply the brakes hard. The problem with this option is that straightening the bike will cause you to shoot to the outside of your lane.
This is especially bad if the road is narrow or if your tires are already near the centerline or edge of the road. In this case, you’ll have to either use option one or straighten the bike as much as practical and then apply the brakes as much as the tires will tolerate.
Saving a Blown Corner
The same techniques can be used if you enter a turn too fast. Many (dare I say most?) times, it’s best to “man up” and lean more to match your corner speed. If you simply can’t muster the courage to lean more, are already dragging hard parts, or are sure you can’t make the turn even with increased lean angle, then you’re probably better off trying to scrub off some speed with the brakes.
If your speed is only a little too fast, you may be able to get away with smoothly decelerating and applying light brake pressure. If your entry speed is way too fast and you’re dragging all sorts of hard parts, your best bet is to quickly straighten the motorcycle enough so you can brake. Once speed is reduced, countersteer to lean the bike and complete the corner. Hopefully you have enough room to stay in your lane.
If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. Even if your timing and execution is perfect, there is no guarantee you won’t crash or go off the road. Extreme lean angles, sketchy pavement and marginal tires all play a role in whether you have enough traction to introduce even the slightest amount of brake power. The real solution is to avoid this situation in the first place by choosing conservative corner entry speeds. Remember that there is no safety penalty if you enter a turn slowly. But, there sure is if you enter too fast!
If you’re fortunate enough to own a modern, premium model motorcycle, you may have “cornering ABS” made possible with the latest Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU). This device communicates with the bike’s computer to measure not only variations in wheel speed, but also the side forces.
This data allows the unit to prevent skidding while leaned by limiting brake power. I had the pleasure of reviewing this technology on a Multistrada at the Bosch Proving Grounds a few years ago and I can tell you that the system works quite well. Still, it’s best to use proper technique and let the advanced technology lurk in the background as a safety net.
So, train yourself to not need the technology and instead become familiar with these corner braking maneuvers. A little effort practicing in a parking lot or at a track day will reap big benefits. Do it!
Please Donate to Keep the Articles Coming
If you liked this article and the many other articles on this site, please toss a few bucks into the hat. It’s greatly appreciated!
As predicted, Spring has begun to awaken as it has every year. This means that it’s time to dust off the bike and head back out onto the road. But, before you strap on your helmet and thumb the starter, there are a few things you must first take care of.
Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.
With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual, someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks we are about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, please consult your dealer’s service center.
One of the most common pre-season mechanical problems involve the fuel system. This is caused by riders parking their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected. The use of Ethanol makes the problem even more likely.
If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.
Check your air filter, as rodents seem to be particularly attracted to building nests in air boxes, which is cozy place with nest building filter material handy. Remove any debris and replace the filter if it’s been chewed or looks particularly dirty.
Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires show any signs of rot, now’s a good time to replace the old tires with new rubber.
And check the date code found in an oval stamp with 4 number indicating the week and year the tire was manufactured. 5 years is a good guideline to follow even if the tires look okay.
While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good lube. Hopefully you lubricated the chain before storage, which means no rust should be present. If this duty was neglected, give the chain a cleaning and lubricate it before the first ride, then perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.
Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).
Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or at the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good and plan to replace the fluid if it is the color of apple juice or darker.
Grab a flashlight and take a close look at your front and rear brake pads to see how much material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, have the pads replaced. It’s cheap insurance.
Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged. I use a Battery Tender Junior. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is in your future.
Lights, Cables & Fasteners
Once your battery is good to go, be sure to check that all of your lights are operational. Check that both front and rear brake light switches illuminate the brake light. Check turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam) to make sure they work.
Confirm that the throttle, clutch and brake cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike with a wrench and screwdriver, tightening any loose fasteners.
Awakening the Rider
Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle you can think about your first ride. But, before you press the starter button, keep in mind that your likely a bit rusty, too. Spending many months in a car can cause you to become oblivious to motorcycle issues like visibility or road surface hazards.
It’s also smart to take some time on their own to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, we recommend that every rider practice the critical skills by performing some cornering and braking drills.
Spring Roads and Inattentive Drivers
Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Traction-robbing road salt and sand are used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. Keep your eyes peeled for these surface hazards. In many towns and counties, the road sweepers will eventually take care of the majority of the excess sand.
Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.
And remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road, so be extra vigilant when riding in traffic.
Your owner’s manual can help you perform these routine tasks so you are prepared for the upcoming season. Taking the time to prepare for the upcoming season can ensure that it is a safe and enjoyable one.
I never really understood the draw toward a “motorcycle” that didn’t lean. My mentor, David Hough has been a sidecarist for many years, actively lobbying for the recognition of sidecars and trikes in safety programs.
He gave me my first ride in a borrowed Hannigan rig at Americade back in 1999 and later taxied me around his hometown in his beautiful BMW K1 outfit.
The ride was a lot of fun, but I wondered what the practical aspects of hack ownership were. Here is a list of the essentials you need to know before considering a hack.
Three-wheelers will not fall over, making slippery surfaces and slow speed riding situations much easier.
The sidecar driver doesn’t need to put a foot down to support the motorcycle when stopped, making it possible for short riders and disabled riders to not fear dropping the bike.
Carrying a child is less risky, where you can enjoy the piece of mind that they are secure. They may also enjoy the ride more if they can read, color, or play video games.
The possibility of riding year-round even in northern climates,
The ability to carry a pet,
Increased carrying capacity.
Sidecars are fun!
With all good things come some bad and this holds true with three-wheelers, too.
Extra weight and girth that effects acceleration, stopping and maneuverability.
Novice sidecar drivers fail to “remember the car”, running over various obstacles and curbs before learning to allow more space.
Parking may be easy as far as stability is concerned, but a sidecar or trike will take up most of a full-sized parking space.
More wear and tear on many of the motorcycle’s components– the frame, engine and brakes must withstand greater stresses.
Significant modifications are usually required to obtain a good-handling outfit, including a subframe to provide sidecar attachments, changing the front-end geometry to make steering easier and fitting wheels that will take automobile tires.
Converting back and forth is impractical once the motorcycle has been modified to handle well as a three-wheeler.
With the inherit stability of a sidecar rig, it’s easy to think that riding one is easy. But attempting to drive a rig for the first time will quickly convince you that a sidecar outfit requires special skills. I decided that the best way to learn how to operate a hack would be to sign up for a sidecar course.
The one-day sidecar course was for experienced riders. The course began with sidecar-specific information, such as motorcycle/sidecar attachments, and demonstrated the basics of sidecar operation, including body position, and throttle/ brake techniques.
I realized there was more to riding a rig than I previously imagined. The training company provided Honda 250 Nighthawks outfitted with Velorex sidecars. I learned that sidecars need to be matched by size and weight to the motorcycle to help keep the outfit stable. In general terms, the sidecar should weigh approximately 30% of the naked motorcycle.
One thing I learned right away is that a rig steers “backwards” from a two-wheeler. While a rigid sidecar outfit corners “flat” like an automobile, it has one less wheel to help resist a rollover, especially in right-hand turns when the car has a tendency to lift off the ground.
There are differences in turning techniques between two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Sidecars turn using “direct steering” (turn left to go left and turn right to go right) as opposed to countersteering for two-wheelers (turn right to go left and turn left to go right).
This 3-wheeler steering process is similar to driving a car, once you get the right messages from your brain to your hands. For an experienced rider, the sensation of cornering without leaning was odd at first, but became familiar within only a few minutes.
Even though countersteering isn’t part of normal sidecar operation, there are circumstances when a sidecar operator will countersteer. Motorcycle control reverts from direct steering to countersteering when the sidecar is “flying” and only two wheels are in contact with the ground.
As with two-wheeled motorcycle operation, the sidecar outfit turns more easily and smoothly with some throttle application. Throttle can be tricky while cranking the handlebars from side to side, but the results are quite noticeable. I even started playing around with the throttle a bit more aggressively and spinning the rear tire to help the rig turn the corner. “Drifting” sure was fun!
We also learned some expert sidecar skills, such as simultaneously rolling on the throttle and dragging the front brake, to help control the rig and keep the car on the ground in right-handers.
We repeated the exercise, but this time we learned to hang off the seat toward the inside of the turn to help prevent a rollover. It worked like a charm. We were able to negotiate the course with more speed and stability.
Braking technique is very similar between two and three wheelers– apply both brakes, squeeze the clutch, downshift, eyes up, no skidding– with the exception that you don’t have to put your foot down when you come to a stop.
I noticed with my first practice run into the braking area that the training rig pulled to the left under braking. The trainer I was driving didn’t have the sidecar brake connected. A brake on the car’s wheel can minimize this effect.
I also noticed how much brake pressure was needed to stop the rig. Sidecars add a lot of weight to a motorcycle and that weight adds a lot of braking distance to a stop. This is a good reason why a sidecar operator must recognize hazards early and maintain a greater following distance. Of course, the big advantage is that if you manage to skid the front tire, you don’t fall down.
When a front tire does skid, the rig will continue in the direction it is traveling even though the rider may attempt to change direction by turning the front wheel. If the front tire regained traction while the wheel is turned, the rig would suddenly follow in the direction the front wheel is pointed, possibly veering into traffic.
If you do skid the front tire you have the option of either keeping it locked or releasing and re-applying the front brake. If you decide to release the front brake, it’s important to make sure the wheel is pointed in the direction of travel!
Learning to Fly
One of the most fun parts of driving a sidecar is learning to “fly” the car. At first I thought this was more of a show-off technique than something useful. But it actually teaches the important skill of switching from direct steering to countersteering and back.
And there may be times when a hack driver needs to lift the car wheel over a pothole or curb. You want to be able to lift the sidecar wheel about a foot off the ground for extended periods by carefully balancing throttle and steering.
Controlled flying is enjoyable, but uncontrolled flying when swerving can be hazardous to your health. Swerving a three-wheeler is not unlike swerving a two-wheeler– two consecutive steering inputs, one to swerve and the other to recover. However, a sidecar needs direct steering and dramatic body changes to keep the rig from flipping.
The driver needs to quickly move body weight from one side to the other just before the steering input. Initiating a right-hand swerve and recovering after a left-hand swerve caused the car to lift into the air even after hanging my body as far over the sidecar as I could reach.
The other issue with swerving a sidecar is that the operator must remember just how wide the outfit is. This requires a much more dramatic swerve so the car can clear the obstacle.
A Unique Experience
As a longtime rider, I’m always looking for more experiences with motorcycles and was glad to have experienced the world of sidecars. If you get the opportunity to drive a hack, just remember that operating a sidecar is not as easy as just throwing a leg over the seat and driving away. But ilike always, a bit of training is worth the effort.
The USCA is an enthusiast organization, publishing a bi-monthly magazine, The Sidecarist. The USCA holds an annual rally that is an excellent opportunity to view sidecars and talk with owners. Ask nicely and you’ll probably get a ride, too. www.sidecar.com
Racer’s MultiTop mitts are a comfy and sporty option for all weather street rides.
gloves need to be protective, comfortable, and affordable. Designing
motorcycle gloves that measure up is challenging, but it is even
trickier when manufacturers also aim to make them waterproof.
The Racer MultiTop easily succeeds in the comfort department with supple cowhide and kangaroo-leather palms. The fingers are naturally curved and include stretch panels that make gripping the bars easy. A textured leather “grip panel” on the palm along the base of the fingers adds durability and provides a secure hold.
The breathable inner “waterproof” liner feels very nice against the skin and provides a level of insulation from cool temperatures, but these gloves aren’t bulky so they still offer good dexterity and feel for the controls. To keep wind from blowing up your jacket sleeves, the gauntlet cinches securely.
Carbon-fiber knuckle and finger protectors and palm and wrist padding mitigate impact injuries while the kangaroo palm and sturdy cowhide shell with Kevlar underlining provide multiple layers of abrasion protection. Two Velcro closure straps keep the gloves in place, and double stitching should keep the gloves intact against tearing forces. Thankfully, I haven’t crash-tested the MultiTop, but they seem to be robust enough for street duty.
Okay, so the MultiTop performs well in the comfort and protection departments, but what about the waterproof claim? The gloves rely on an unnamed waterproof inner liner to keep water out, and during the first two days of a cold, wet multi-day trip the MultiTop fended off rain and kept my hands comfortably dry. That began to change during the third consecutive day of rain as the leather became saturated. However, the inner liner continued to do its job and I never got raisin fingers. Unfortunately, once the shell is soaked the cold wind takes hold, and if I didn’t have heated grips, I’m sure I would have suffered terribly in the 45-degree temperatures.
Overall I really like these gloves. Just keep in mind that any waterproof glove with a leather shell will become soaked at some point, so the waterproof claim needs to be measured with realistic expectations. For shorter spats of wet-weather riding, the MultiTops would certainly hold up fine, and I’m convinced they would have continued to perform well if they had time to dry before being asked to endure another rainy day.
Comfortable, protective, and mostly waterproof.
Originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.
Please Donate to Keep the Articles Coming
If you liked this article and the other articles on this site, please toss a buck or four into the hat. It’s greatly appreciated!
Click the PayPal “Pay Now” button.
Then indicate quantity in $2.00 increments. – Example: put “2” in “QUANTITY” field to donate $4.00, “3” for a $6.00 donation, etc.
Why $2.00? Due to the PayPal fee structure, a $2.00 donation is significantly more beneficial compared to a $1.00 donation.