RITZ TV- Interview with author, Melissa Holbrook Pierson

In this episode of Riding In The Zone TV, I interview Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of “The Perfect Vehicle” and “The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing“.

We talk about all manner of riding topics, including her love of riding, how she got into the sport, women and motorcycling, how she relates to motorcycling, and much more. Enjoy this thoughtful conversation.

Stay tuned for more episodes. Subscribe to learn when new episodes air.

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Episode Two: An interview with author and avid rider, Melissa Holbrook Pierson.


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RITZ TV- Interview with Moto-philosopher Adam Novitt

In this episode of Riding In The Zone TV, moto-philosopher and iconoclast Adam Novitt challenges established Motorcycling norms and beliefs. Adam is a former MSF instructor, vintage motorcycle restorer and collector, Moto-Giro competitor and one of the most interesting people I know.

We talk about all manner of riding topics, including traditions, trends, perspectives that challenge the world of motorcycling, and much more. Sit back and mull over these musings.

Stay tuned for more episodes. Subscribe to learn when new episodes air.

Produced by Amherst Media

Episode Three: An interview with motorcycle philosopher and avid rider, Adam Novitt.


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Body Position Tips for More Effective Cornering

Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com
Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

Most riders sit pretty much upright in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with that, however they are not utilizing a simple tool that helps the motorcycle turn, engages the rider in the “dance” between human and machine and increases ground clearance when needed.

We Need More Clearance, Captain!

Positioning your body to the inside of your motorcycle when cornering means that the motorcycle does not have to lean as far for a given speed and turn radius.

Hanging off makes this so by shifting the combined weight of body and machine to move the center of gravity lower and to the inside.

Easier Turning

Hanging off not only increases ground clearance, it also keeps the contact patch closer to the center of the tire and adds a degree of “power steering” to help initiate lean. By pre-positioning your body just before turn-in preloads the bike so it falls swiftly from upright to leaned. It can be unsettling the first time you do it as the bike turns so much easier, so experiment gradually.

Let’s Dance

Body position has an additional benefit of encouraging interaction between you, the bike, and the road. Move your body through a series of curves like you would a dance partner across a dance floor and you’ll be flirting with the Zone in no time. Lead with your eyes and shoulders and your motorcycle will willingly follow your lead.

Active body positioning isn’t just for sport bike riders. Try it on whatever motorcycle you ride.

Body Position “Levels”

You don’t have to hang off like Marc Marquez to benefit from body positioning.

When speeds and lean angles increase, it’s beneficial to use a more “active” body position that provides a greater amount of turning ease and ground clearance. There are three levels of body positioning for cornering: The “basic”, “intermediate”, and “full” hang off techniques.

The “basic” position

The basic body position.Use the basic body position for typical street speeds. This position involves simply leaning your upper body off-center, towards the inside of the turn. Position yourself as if you are kissing your mirror. Keep your inside shoulder low and forward while your eyes look through the curve. Your butt stays more-or-less centered on the seat.

The basic position is easy to do and is not intimidating, making it good for people just learning to hang off.

The “Intermediate” position

The intermediate stage is the body positioning technique I use when riding on street twisties. It is appropriate when riding more aggressively, but is no where near the level of extreme positioning typical of racers.

Learning this is quite simple. All you have to do is lean your upper body into the turn while rocking your hips so your inside sit-bone supports most of your weight. Rocking onto your inside butt cheek just before the corner positions your arms perfectly to countersteer with your inside arm and shoulder pressuring on the inside handlebar and your outside arm slightly extended and relaxed.

Rock onto the inside butt cheek just before the corner so that your body is in position as you countersteer. This is a very simple and effective technique.

The “full” hang off position

The full hang off position.The full hang off position allows the most aggressive riders to achieve faster corner speed without dragging hard parts. Hanging off has a lot of benefits, but can cause problems if not done correctly. Here is a basic tutorial:

  • Get your weight on the balls of your feet.
  • Use your legs (a little of your arms) to lift your body into position with your butt on the inside edge of the seat.
  • Position your shoulders and head inside and low (kiss the mirror).
  • Keep your hips perpendicular to the motorcycle.
  • Keep about 2-4 inches between your crotch and the fuel tank.
  • Rest the inner thigh of your outside leg against the tank.
  • Support a little more than half of your weight with the inside foot.
  • Hold the grip like a screwdriver with the forearm more or less in line with the handlebar.
  • Relax your arms by supporting your weight with your legs and torso.
  • Rest your outside arm on the top of the tank.

Avoid rotating your hips around the tank, which can result in a “crossed” body position where the upper body is positioned over the center of the bike. Instead, keep space between your crotch and the tank so you can move laterally across the bike.

Jack Your leg Into the Tank

For extra support, you can press your outer thigh into the gas tank. With the ball of your foot on the outside footpeg, straighten your ankle to make firm contact between the peg and the tank. Extending your leg in this way helps support your body with your legs, not your arms. The cutouts in sport bike gas tanks are ideal for positioning your inner knee. Adding Stomp Grip® or Tec­Spec® can help make the contact even more secure.

Side-to-Side Transitions

Try not to use your handlebars when moving from side to side. Doing so can upset the chassis and traction. Instead, use your legs and torso. Get your upper body over the tank, keeping your arms bent. I find that more rearward footrests help with this.

Also, be sure to get your body in position before you initiate lean (often while braking for the turn). Waiting too long can make the corner entry rather stressful and chaotic. Pre-positioning your body results in a quicker turn in (the benefits of quick turning is a topic for another day). It takes some practice to brake while in the hang off position, but it is a technique that must be learned (another future blog topic, I think).

Hang at Your Own Risk

You should be discrete when hanging off on the street. Not only is a full hang-off posture not often necessary, it also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Even when hanging off on the racetrack, it’s not always necessary to hang off like Marquez. Hang off just enough to match your corner speed. Hanging off more may make for better photos, but it’ll wear you out sooner and could actually decrease control.

Slow Speed Maneuvers

One exception to the “inside” body position is when making slow speed maneuvers. In this case, you want to keep your body upright, on top of the bike. This is because stability is almost non-existent and adding body weight to the inside of the bike will lever the bike to the ground. Read about slow speed maneuvers here.

Body Positioning is discussed in the RITZ book. Parking lot drills are also provided so you can learn to make proper, “active” body positioning an integral part of your riding.

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How to Ride a Motorcycle Slowly

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Oops.
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photo ©Ken Condon

The ability to keep your motorcycle upright at parking lot speeds won’t necessarily save your life, it may save you from a broken foot (happened to me) and expensive damage. Sure, you can try to balance your bike using your legs, but it’s way better for your confidence and street cred if you rely more on proficient slow-speed maneuvering skill.

How Not to Suck at Slow Speed Riding

As speeds decrease, we lose the benefit of inertia and gyroscopic forces. The slower you go, the greater role you play in keeping gravity from pulling your motorcycle onto its side. This means keeping the Center of Gravity located directly above the tire contact patches (or keep the contact patches directly beneath the Center of Gravity).

To do this, you must constantly adjust the Center of Gravity / contact patch relationship. It’s like trying to balance a broomstick on your palm. It takes continual adjustment to keep the broom’s contact point vertically below the Center of Gravity so the broomstick remains upright— react too slowly and the broomstick falls to the floor.

You must do the same thing when trying to stay upright on a slow moving motorcycle. The difference is that the motorcycle is the “broomstick” and you must move the tire’s contact patch to keep in balance. This can be done by turning the handlebars left and right, causing the steering head– and the motorcycle’s Center of Gravity – to shift from side-to-side.

All photos © Ken Condon

Body Positioning

By shifting your bodyweight, you move the combined Center of Gravity of bike and rider over the contact patches. A limber torso and a loose grip on the handlebars helps maintain balance in this way.

Shifting body weight can help maintain balance.When making tight turns, position your weight on the outside footpeg (the right peg for left turns) while keeping your body upright as the bike leans. This is called counterweighting.

Keep weight on your footpegs so you can lean the bike more-or-less independently of your body (and vice versa). This allows you to quickly shift body weight, turn the handlebars, or lean the bike to regain balance.

Look Like You Mean It

We tend to go where we look and where you want to go. When performing a tight U-turn that is 180 degrees behind you. Turn your head over your shoulder to look at the turn “exit”.

Brake Control

One other reason for keeping your feet on the footpegs is so your right foot can apply rear brake pressure if you need to slow.

The rear brake is also useful for increasing stability. Maintain steady drive while you drag the rear brake to control speed and also give the drivetrain a force to “pull against”. This “tension” steadies drive force and helps pivot the bike around when making tight U-turns.

Drive Control

One of the most critical controls to master when performing U-turns is throttle control. Forward drive must be delivered smoothly, otherwise you risk dropping your motorcycle. It’s really difficult to make a tight U-turn with the motorcycle lurching abruptly from ham-fisted on-and-off application of the throttle.

All Together Now

Let’s put all the parts together to perform a tight, slow speed turn:

  1. Slow to a suitable speed
  2. Once the motorcycle is slowed, release the brakes
  3. Position your butt on the outside edge of your seat and keep your body upright (counterweight).
  4. Lean the bike and turn the handlebars
  5. Turn your head like a barn owl
  6. Roll on the throttle enough to not stall and keep the throttle steady.
  7. Ease out the clutch about halfway, using the “friction zone” for speed control.
  8. Drag the rear brake lightly to refine speed control.
Turn your head, turn the handlebars, lean the bike, slip the clutch, drag the rear brake, and control the throttle. That's not too much to do, right?
Turn your head, turn the handlebars, lean the bike, slip the clutch, drag the rear brake, and control the throttle. That’s not too much to do, right?

You may have to lean quite a bit, but that’s okay as long as you maintain steady drive. Minimize throttle movement by keeping your wrist down and anchoring your thumb or index finger to your handlebar control pod.

Rolling U-Turns

When you can, try to do your tight U-Turns from a rolling start. That way you have stability already under control. You can also utilize the “keyhole” technique of rolling forward and then swerving slightly away from the direction you want to go before making the turn. this gets the bike leaned earlier.

U-Turns from a Stop

This is a bit tougher. To make a tight turn from a stop, you will want to pre-position yourself and your bike before moving forward. This is done by turning the handlebars to almost full-lock while leaning the bike as far as you feel comfortable into the turn. Your right foot should be on the rear brake with your left leg supporting the bike. Turn your head over your shoulder to look at the turn “exit”.

Now, give it a bit of gas while easing out the clutch quickly enough to go from zero stability (standstill) to stable (about 3-5 mph) in as short a time and distance as possible. But, don’t rush. While doing this, maintain the laen angle and handlebar turn. Get it right and the bike hioooks around gracefully.

Speed Equals Stability

Remember, if you start to fall over, just ease off the rear brake or ease out the clutch a bit to get your speed up a little. But, not too much or you’ll run wide.

Slow speed handling doesn’t have to cause anxiety. A bit of knowledge and practice can increase confidence and decrease the likelihood of a slow speed tip-over and possible injury.

Tell me your experiences with slow speed successes and snafus.


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What you need to know about Throttle Blipping

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What is Throttle Blipping?

To execute smooth downshifts, it is important to match the engine speed with the road speed. You can do this by slowly easing out the clutch (after you slow).

But sometimes a rapid downshift is necessary. The problem is that releasing the clutch at the wrong time and too abruptly can lead to lurching re-engagement and a rear tire skid or “chirp”. This is where throttle blipping comes in.

Throttle Blipping is the term used to describe the rev-matching technique where the rider momentarily “blips” the throttle to increase engine rpm to better match the revs to the road speed when downshifting.

You’ve probably heard riders blip their throttle as they downshift while rolling to a stoplight. But, throttle blipping is best heard when a sport bike is decelerating and downshifting (and usually braking) from high RPM and high speed.

Listen to my friend Aaron as he demonstrates some of the quickest and smoothest throttle blipping I’ve heard (or is it the magic of modern sport bike electronics?). Listen at the end of the straight starting at 0:15:

Here’s another video showing my throttle hand as I blip the throttle. See 2:20. For comparison, I enter the same corner, but without blipping at 4:08.

Here’s another video showing me smoothly execute three non-blipping downshifts at around 4:15:

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

How to Blip a Throttle

The throttle blipping technique is done by quickly cracking the throttle open then closed (blip) while you simultaneously squeeze the clutch and click the gearshift lever. The point is to get engine RPM matched to the lower gear ratio before you release the clutch. The rapid blipping technique occurs within the span of about one-half second. The clutch is quickly squeezed and released as the transmission is shifted down and the right hand blips the throttle. This is repeated with every downshift, one gear at a time.

You can blip the throttle rapidly to reduce the time between gears, or you can be leisurely. High-performance riders blip the throttle very quickly when downshifting between gears as they set up for a corner. Street riders may choose to blip the throttle when downshifting. This is done more slowly when coming to a stop.

Blipping and braking smoothly takes practice.
Blipping and braking smoothly takes practice.

Brake and Blip

Oftentimes, you need to brake while downshifting, but trying to simultaneously brake while blipping is a difficult skill to master. The problem is that moving the right hand to blip also causes the braking fingers to move, which invariably changes brake pressure. Combining braking and throttle blipping can be done with less difficulty if you apply the front brake with your index and middle fingers while you close and open the throttle with your thumb and two outside fingers. Arching your brake fingers is also helpful in isolating throttle movements.

The point is to blip the throttle while keeping consistent brake lever pressure. This is most easily done when using very firm braking pressure , like when braking hard from high speeds where brake lever movements translate into relatively minor brake force changes.

Technology

Nowadays, you can get a motorcycle that will allow you to shift up and down without using the clutch. When downshifting, the bike’s electronics automatically blips the throttle perfectly as you downshift. Pretty slick.

Is Blipping Necessary?

Some motorcycles benefit from throttle blipping more than others. A big V-twin or single cylinder engine with a lot of engine braking can more easily lock the rear tire if the clutch isn’t released carefully, so blipping makes sense. But, for many bikes, especially ones with in-line 4 cylinder engines, it’s easy enough to quickly but gradually release the clutch  between downshifts. It’s what I do when I ride my Triumph Street Triple on the street or track (see video below). With the introduction of slipper clutches on many sportbikes these days, it’s even less necessary to blip the throttle.

Still, a lot of riders swear by throttle blipping. That’s fine, if you do it skillfully. I find that it just adds another thing to do while I’m screaming into turn 1 at over 100mph. Listen to my downshifts at the end of the long straightaway in this video from a recent track day, starting at 2:06 and then throughout the video. You can hear how I simply downshift and then ease out the clutch. It’s done quickly, but smoothly:

Engine Braking

One problem with throttle blipping is that it minimizes the stabilizing effect that comes from engine braking. Let me explain.

Engine braking (or rear brake force) causes the rear tire contact patch to drag behind the front tire’s contact patch. Think bungie cord. This pulls the rear of the bike in line with the front.

Blipping the throttle during downshifts minimizes engine braking compared to simply easing out the clutch. A little bit of engine braking still happens, it’s just not as much.

Practice

Throttle blipping can be a challenge to learn. But, here’s how.

Sit on your stationary bike with the engine idling and in neutral. Blip the throttle quickly (like a spasm) so the engine revs 600 to 1,000 RPM.

Next, simultaneously squeeze the clutch just as quickly as the throttle. Only squeeze the clutch in about half way. That’s enough to get the transmission smoothly into the next lowest gear.

The next part can’t be done while the bike is running, so shut it off and repeat what you just practiced, but this time press the shift lever down simultaneously with the throttle and clutch. All three controls are engaged at the same time, within the span of less than a half second.

Now go try it in a parking lot. I won’t be pretty at first, but stick with it. Good luck.

Do you blip your throttle? If so, or if not, tell us why?

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Mitas Sport Force + Tire Review

Photo- OTMPix.com

Originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.

North American sport and sport touring riders have a relative newcomer joining the sport tire fray with the Mitas Sport Force+. It turns out that Mitas (pronounced me-tass) has been around for a while as a maker of agricultural tires, but also manufactures vintage, moped, scooter, flat track, speedway, street and off-road motorcycle tires. The Sport Force+ expands the Czech company’s presence into the modern sport tire category that includes the Michelin Pilot Power and Pirelli Rosso Corsa, among others.

Riding Impressions: Track
My first introduction to the Sport Force+ was on a damp, but drying racetrack at Palmer Motorsports Park in Central Massachusetts. The Mitas tires warmed up quickly and then stuck like glue. The tires helped the Z750S test mule carve the technical track with good precision and composure. The front tire profile provides predictable

Photo- OTMPix.com

response that allowed confident and precise corner entry. Turn-in was not terribly quick compared to a race tire, but just right for a street tire. The bike held its line while trailbraking into corners and stood up as expected when exiting hard on the gas. The moderately stiff carcass provides good feedback and great stability under hard braking.

The only negative I found was that feedback from the front tire became vague as I picked up the pace. Reaching knee dragging lean angles was not a problem, but it takes trust to get there. Once off the racetrack, these sticky the tires easily passed the universal “thumbnail test” for perceived grip potential. Curiously, the front tread area wraps far enough around the tire to leave a rather large chicken strip even after reaching knee-dragging lean angles.

Riding Impressions: Street
Maximum grip and stability are important features when riding hard on the racetrack, but a sport street tire must also provide predictable manners and a reasonably comfortable ride. In this area, Mitas manages to find a good balance. Grip is more than adequate for street riding and the tire rolls into corners consistently and predictably. The somewhat stiff carcass transfers a bit more harshness to the chassis than similar sport tires, but that rigidness also contributes to feel and stability when cornering and braking more aggressively.

Cornering characteristics are very good with moderate countersteering effort needed to initiate lean. A slight amount of oversteer happens at about 30 degrees of lean angle with the bike falling into the turn a tiny bit more than expected, but nothing of concern.

Cornering characteristics are very good with moderate countersteering effort needed to initiate lean. A slight amount of oversteer happens at about 30 degrees of lean angle with the bike falling into the turn a tiny bit more than expected, but nothing of concern.

Pricing is competitive, but not exceptionally cheap, so the reason to consider the Sport Force+ is for its ability to perform at a very high level in all conditions while also providing decent longevity. Our test set spent a half-day on the racetrack at a fast intermediate pace along with 1,200 street miles that included Deal’s Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Considering the grip these tires provide, the lifespan is appearing to be surprisingly good. Of course, time will tell just how long they last.

Overall, the Mitas Sport Force + is a really good tire that compares well with the more recognizable sport tire brands. Sizing is strictly for 17 inch wheels and ranges from 110-120 fronts and 150-190 rears (You can find a 190 rear for sale HERE). Retail pricing is around $100.00 for fronts and $140.00 for a 180-size rear.


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RITZ TV- Episode 1- Interview with racer Stephanie Funk

In this first episode of Riding In The Zone, I talk to Stephanie Funk, a professional race driver whose love of motor sports has begun to bleed over into the world of motorcycling. Stephanie talks about her love of riding, how she got into the sport, women and motorcycling, how to get a closer look at the world of motorcycling through track days, and much more.

Stay tuned for more episodes. Subscribe to learn when new episodes air.

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Episode One: An interview with Auto racer and motorcycle track day rider, Stephanie Funk.


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RITZ Podcast Episode 4 – Starting the Track Day or Racing Season Off Right with Instructor and Racer, Paul Duval

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This episode is an interview with Paul Duval, championship LRRS racer and track day instructor shares his thoughts on getting up to speed for a new racing and track day season.

Also available to download on iTunes and SoundCloud

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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 3- Interview with Stephanie Funk, Car Racer & Track Day Rider

Today’s episode is an interview with Stephanie Funk, championship SCCA (car) racer and motorcyclist who shares her thoughts on racing and track days.

Also available to download on iTunes and SoundCloud

See all of the podcasts on SoundCloud or here


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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 2- Countersteering

Today’s episode is on countersteering. What is it and how do you do it?

A motorcycle turns by leaning. Once the bike is banked over, the geometry of the chassis, as well as the rounded profile of the tires and hard-to-describe forces cause the machine to arc around the curve. So, to turn a bike you must get the motorcycle to go from upright to leaned…precisely and efficiently.

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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 1- Trailbraking

This episode is on trailbraking. What is it, what are the benefits and how do you do it?

Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean.

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Will You Stop Your Motorcycle in Time?

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Practicing emergency braking is critical. But, is it enough?

Getting your motorcycle stopped in time to avoid a collision is one of the most important skills you can have. But, simply being able to apply maximum brake force isn’t enough (even if you have modern ABS). Here is an article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine a while back about braking and reaction time that I think deserves some more airtime. Enjoy!

You’re riding along minding your own business when suddenly you are facing the bumper of a left turning sedan. Every cell commands you to get the motorcycle stopped ASAP to prevent your early demise. But, will your response be quick enough?

It’s a good thing that we are hardwired to respond immediately to threats, but too often our synapses do not fire fast enough for a quick and effective respond. Thankfully, there are ways to help make sure you aren’t a victim of too little, too late.

Perception Time

There are actually two components of reaction time: “perception time” and “activation time”. Perception time is the time it takes to figure out what’s going on and decide what action to take. Response time is the time it takes to reach for the brakes. You also have to account for the amount of time it takes to actually get the bike stopped.

Let’s say you’re traveling at 40 mph, which is about 59 feet per second. Recent research indicates the average rider will use about 1.5 seconds to recognize the situation and reach max braking rate, also known as perception-response time. That number can increase to over 2 seconds if you’re daydreaming. That equates to between 88 and 117+ feet before any physical action is taken.

illustration: Ken Lee

Stopping Distance

The actual time it takes to get the motorcycle stopped once the brakes are applied depends on speed, machine geometry/weight, available traction, and your ability to use your brakes fully without skidding (ABS helps in this regard). Recent research also shows that an average rider can only achieve a braking rate of 0.6 g’s. That means from 40 mph you’ll need 89 feet to complete the stop. The 1.5 seconds of perception-response time mentioned earlier adds another 88 feet for a total stopping distance of 177 feet.

With perception-response time adding nearly 50% to the total stopping distance, you can see why it’s so important to remain alert. You also want to develop your ability to predict when bad things are about to happen before they unfold. Get ahead of potentially hazardous situations by aggressively scanning for clues that indicate trouble. Be especially vigilant when approaching intersections where most collisions occur.

Stopping in a Corner

Hard braking when the bike is upright is tricky enough when facing an emergency. But, things get even more challenging when you have to stop quickly while leaned because of a hazard around a corner. Perception, response and braking times still apply, but now you also need more time to free up traction by reducing lean angle so you can brake hard with less chance of traction loss. This necessary action adds to total stopping distance. Machines with Cornering ABS offer a distinct advantage here where you can brake hard while maintaining lean angle.

Be Ready

You can reduce activation time by covering the front brake lever and rear brake pedal when approaching potential hot spots. Not only will this simple action reduce activation time, it also puts your whole system on alert.

Of course, the best way to reduce braking distances is to slow down. Trimming just 5 mph off your 40 mph travel speed requires about 32 less feet to stop. Add 5 mph and you’ll need about 35 more feet to stop. Speed up to 60 mph and you’re going to need an extra 155 feet to stop, for a total of 332 feet. Yikes.

Whether or not you avoid a crash is dependent on your ability to react quickly when an otherwise sublime day suddenly turns into a DEFCON 1 war zone. The best riders remain alert and ready for battle, wasting very little processing time before executing evasive action. They also cover the brakes to reduce activation time when approaching intersections. The final step is to regularly practice emergency braking techniques. Can you stop your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance while maintaining in control? Too many riders cannot.

Read “How to Not Suck at Braking”

Read the article at Motorcyclist Online.

Thanks to Lou Peck, forensics expert at Axiom Forensics for help in writing this article.


 

 


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Tips for Leading a Motorcycle Group Ride

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Riding with a group of friends can be a blast. But, it can go all pear-shaped if certain precautions aren’t taken upfront. Some problems are merely inconvenient, like when the group has to wait around because someone didn’t arrive with a full tank of fuel or when someone goes AWOL during the ride.

Other problems are more serious, like when a guy runs into the back of another rider because he was riding too damn close, or when a knucklehead lowsides into a guardrail trying to keep up with the fast guys.

Group rides can be a great way to meet like-minded riders.

As a group leader, it is your responsibility to take some basic precautions. Let’s take a look at a few.

Before we start: These tips do not take the unique issues of very large groups into account. However, these tips can be used for groups of 2 to perhaps 30 riders.  Trying to manage more riders than that and your into a whole other ball of wax. Breaking into smaller subgroups is a better solution.

We Gotta Talk

The root of most group riding mishaps can be traced to a few key factors. The first one is a failure to voice basic ground rules so that members know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Start by evaluating the group; are they aggressive and reckless, or law-abiding and considerate? Is there talk of drinking alcohol or stunting? If so, then nip it in the bud, or pay later.

Speed & Passing

The group is better off if all participants agree on general speed limits and passing. Some group rides I’ve attended come right out and say that I should expect illegal passing and speeds that exceed the legal limit. Knowing this ahead of time let’s me decide whether or not to participate.

One option is to break into sub groups with one sticking to more conservative speeds while following the rules of the road.

Another rule I want to know is whether there is passing within the group. I’m not a fan of inter-group overtaking because it encourages bravado and risky dicing. If passing within the group isn’t allowed, then faster riders should ride up front and everyone must maintain a safe following distance from each other. If a rider wants be in a different part of the group, he or she can wave someone past or change positions at the next stop.

When the leader decides to overtake slower traffic, he or she must be smart about whether it’s worth the risk. If you have a turn or stop coming fairly soon, just hang tight. But, if the opportunity presents itself to make a pass that is safe for all, do it. Your fellow riders then decide to pass or not and hopefully have the self-discipline to patiently wait if it’s unsafe to overtake.

Passing as a group is dangerous if riders blindly follow the person in front. It’s better to tell your group to wait until the rider ahead has almost completed the pass before committing. And when making the pass, maintain passing speed well beyond the slow vehicle so that the next person has room to return to the lane and file in behind you.

Formation

A staggered formation is often the norm when on long straight sections of road with at least a 2 second following distance from the bike directly ahead. This means that you will be only about one second behind the rider offset to your immediate left or right. Even though the staggered formation gives riders access to the width of the lane, this formation is pretty tight and can lead to collisions when attempting evasive maneuvers. By riding two abreast, you are limited to either the left or right portion of your lane. And that’s just not good enough for maximum safety.

That’s why the leader needs to abandon the staggered formation when the road is narrow or riddled with surface hazards and when the road turns twisty! When following single file, each rider has the full width of the lane to use cornering lines or avoid mid-corner hazards. .

There is a recent discussion about something called the “reverse formation”. It basically has the front rider in the right wheel track rather than the left. The idea is that it affords the second rider to see and be seen better. But, I have my reservations, because this puts the first rider in a spot that is hidden from view and prevents him or her from seeing ahead as well. See the video and add your thoughts in the comments below.

Staying Together

One time when riders should be side-by-side is when coming to a stop or entering traffic. When stopping, the leader should gradually slow and come to a complete stop. The rest of the riders should “box in” so the group is compact.

To keep the group together, the leader should stop and wait when possible, like at intersections and then wait for the last rider to arrive. Look for a thumbs-up before continuing. This is used in combination with each rider taking responsibility for the rider behind by waiting until the straggler is in sight before turning onto a new road.

One thing I see from time to time is a group leader who is too concerned with keeping the group together when it isn’t necessary (or safe). For example, if there are no turns or stops for people to get lost, then keep moving, make safe passes and let people have fun. And know when it is important to keep the group together, like in areas with many chances for wrong turns.

When it’s time to go, the leader should leave slowly. This helps prevent the bungie effect where riders in the back must go much faster to catch up with the leaders. Remember, the group is relying on the leader to lead the way.

Some groups use communicators between the group leader and a “sweep” rider to monitor things. This can really help manage group rides and is a way the leader can know if the pace is okay or if there is any potential trouble. An experienced volunteer should be put in charge of this sweep role.

The Pace

Group riding often places safety in the back seat. It’s not unusual for safety-focused individuals to become reckless when exposed to pack mentality. One thing to emphasize that each person rides within their limits and to resist the temptation to keep up with the group. Far too many group rides end in tragedy because one or more participants exceed their riding ability.

Managing the group’s pace is the job of the leader. Many times the leader sets a moderate pace, only to increase the speed as the ride progresses. It’s okay to wick up the speed through a nice set of twisties, but you must then slow the pace to allow stragglers to catch up without much effort. This pattern balance fun with predictability that encourages slower riders from feeling a need to stay in touch.

Yamaha Champions School guru, Nick Ienatsch penned The Pace article that has been referenced by many riders over the years. Check it out.

Poo, Meet Fan

When things do go wrong, you will want to be able to manage the situation. Ask if anyone is CPR or First Aid certified if you’re not. However, getting certified in first aid training cambridge is the safest as you may not always find help.  Know if you’ll be riding in areas with no cell service and have an idea of the nearest population if you need to send someone to make a call.

It’s smart to attend a class or seminar that discusses how to manage an accident scene and a motorcycle scene in particular. Or, you can also check out lawyers for slip and fall injuries in order to understand accident incidents. 

Before this happens, you also need to consider if you could be held liable. Some groups require waivers, but most don’t. It’s implied that each participant is responsible for his or her actions, but that doesn’t stop family from coming after you anyway. Sucks, I know. But it’s the society we live in. It’s another reason to follow these tips to avoid problems. Also, encourage full protective gear so relatively minor mishaps remain minor.

Set the Tone

Yes, being a true group leader (as opposed to a reluctant leader) means you are willing to take on the responsibility. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. It can be stressful, but is also rewarding to show others a good time. Group leading isn’t too hard with just a bit of preparation.

This leadership begins before the ride by posting rules and expected behavior, encouraging full protective gear and explaining logistics. A bit of foresight reduces risk and increases enjoyment. And if things go well, you’ll look like a hero. If things go wrong…well, just follow these tips and you will hopefully be okay.

Sweep Riders

Well organized groups select a strong rider to take up the back to keep an eye on things. This person can identify any particularly weak or aggressive riders and can help keep the group together. Communication to the group leader is a huge plus.

More on Group Riding

Marc R. one of our guest instructors penned a piece on riding in groups that dovetails nicely with this article. Check it out.


 
 

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Video: Cornering Seminar with Ken Condon

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At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.

My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.

And finally, I bring a stack of books for people to buy.

OK. On with the show. It’s over an hour long, so find a comfy chair.

 

 


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Video Lesson: The Result of Poor Braking Ability

This is a clear demonstration of the consequences of not having proper braking skills. Take a look and then I’ll give you my opinion. I’ll wait.

A shocking number of riders in this video’s original version blamed everything but the rider. Sad.

Well, this is the most classic example of a failure to apply the brakes properly under pressure.

The rider demonstrates an inability to “predict the future” through situational awareness leading to the sudden need for evasive action. And while you can argue that the rider was positioned too close to deal with the stopping vehicles and that the tar snakes reduced traction, the primary reason the crash occurred was lousy skills.

  • The rider skids the rear tire. Untrained riders react to panic braking situations the only way they know how…  which is to stomp on the big brake pedal with their strong leg, like when driving in a car.
  • He then throws out his “outriggers” (legs) so that his feet are now off the pegs…and off the rear brake.
  • Our rider fails to use the most powerful tool at his disposal—the front brake.
  • All the time, the rider fixates his eyes on the back of the truck. Target fixation is the final straw.

This is 100% avoidable with proper braking practice. This article covers the basics. DO NOT neglect to develop this critical skill.


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Proficiency Pledge

Proficiency-Pledge

I always thought pledges were a crock until I learned the potential benefit in encouraging behavior change, risk awareness and a quest for greater proficiency.

The point of signing this pledge is four-fold. First, it is a way to help you reflect on yourself as a rider. Second, it is a commitment that you can share with your family saying you are doing all you can to make it home at the end of a ride. Third, it holds you to following these behaviors. Fourth, it encourages you to continually improve areas where you may be weak.

This pledge is not only for yourself to make riding more fun and safe, but also for the ones who love you. A commitment to safe riding is an expression of respect and love toward your loved ones.

Imagine the emotional and financial pain they would suffer if you die or become injured. Imagine them being forced to care for you by cleaning your wounds, or worse. Sorry to be a bummer, but…

So, here we go.

Proficiency Pledge

  • I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking a formal safety/skills course.
  • I will continue to practice my physical skills to keep them sharp.
  • I will learn about and develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
  • I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
  • I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
  • I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.
  • I will wear protective gear on every ride.

Signed:___________________________

Feel free to add your own points. Also, feel free to copy this pledge and print it out.*
Then sign it, hang it on your garage wall, and give a copy to each of the people who care about you.

*Please distribute this pledge to your riding friends and family. I’d really appreciate it if you include credit and a link to this article. Thanks.

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Best Motorcycles for Newer Riders

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This 400 pound 2000 MZ Scorpion 660 single makes 48hp and served as my daughter’s first street bike…and my road race bike. It cost $2,200

Surf any motorcycle forum or Facebook group and you’ll invariably find a thread asking for advice about the best motorcycles for new riders. Read the comments and you’ll see a very wide range of arguments for and against certain sizes, styles and models. You will also read discussions about whether the newbie will outgrow a 250cc “starter” bike too soon, followed by well-meaning people reassuring the new rider that they will be fine buying a 600cc super-sport machine or 1200cc cruiser.

You’ll even come across suggestions that a 1000+cc superbike or 1800+cc cruiser is just the ticket. These dodo birds can be identified by their native call: “I learned on a 195hp Hayabusa and did just fine, so don’t be a wussy.” Ummmm. okay.

One thing to consider when filtering advice is that people who have been riding a while seem to forget what it is like to be a newbie and view this issue through their own experience. And their advice is further skewed if learning to ride came to them easier than the average person. This leads to inappropriate advice that does not apply to most average beginners.

Here are my thoughts on the topic:

Size and Power Matters

I don’t care what the internet “experts” say, with few exceptions a new rider is better off starting on a physically smaller bike with modest power.

Newer riders use most of their bandwidth just staying upright without whiskey-throttling themselves into a fence. Toss them into the real world and their heads explode trying to juggle the controls while negotiating blind curves, distracted drivers and surface hazards they never had to worry about as car drivers.

You could argue that these challenges are present no matter what bike the beginner is riding. This is true, but a smaller, less powerful bike is easier to control and is much less likely to intimidate. The odds of a newer rider sticking with riding are greater if the bike they ride is fun…and fun to a newbie means easy to ride…and that means less weight and power.

Fit Matters

This older Honda Rebel is a popular bike for new riders with short inseams.

Alright, there are times when a larger , more powerful bike makes sense like when it has to haul around a large human. In this case, I suggest a mid-sized bike with just enough power to comfortably maintain 70mph with adequate legroom and reach the handlebars.

The type of bike chosen needs to match physical limits. A person with a bad back should choose a bike with more upright ergonomics. Despite common belief, cruisers aren’t good for most people who have back issues, as the riding position rounds the spine, causing discs to bulge. People with neck or shoulder problems may need to stay away from race-replica sport bikes. I choose to ride a Triumph Street Triple as my track day bike, because it has most of the capability of a pure super sport bike, but with higher handlebars.

Reader Bruce A. pointed me to this cool site that can help you visualize how a person your size might fit on certain bikes. Click on the Options tab to see if your inseam will allow you to stand flat footed.

Seat Height

Suzuki 650 Gladius (a version of the SV650)

A big concern of most new riders (and a lot of experience riders, as well) is seat height, or more precisely, “can I touch flat-footed?”. This is understandable if the person is anxious about balancing a heavy motorcycle. The lighter the bike, the less concerning it is to have only the balls of your feet on the ground.

Most smaller riders choose cruisers because they typically have low seat heights. If you’re “inseam challenged” but want a bike that is more versatile than a cruiser, like a sporty standard or perhaps a small sportbike to carve curves to do track days you’ll have a few good options.  Harley, Triumph and BMW offer low versions of certain models and many manufacturers have low seats and other components to help smaller riders feel more secure.

It may be possible to lower the chassis of some bikes using aftermarket suspension links and by slipping the forks higher in the triple clamps. You can also have seats cut down or find a lower aftermarket seat.

Learning Balance

Here’s one thing to consider…after some time learning how to balance the bike while stopping and starting, then not being able to touch flat-footed becomes much less of an issue. Once you become familiar with the balance of your bike and learn the slow speed techniques, you will be surprised how easy it is to keep a bike upright.

This means that eventually, you will be able to consider almost any bike on the market. Just don’t go crazy…you may drool over a big cruiser, tourer or adventure bike, but be realistic that the bike is a good fit.

Case in point, any capable dirtbike has around a 34-inch seat height. Few people I know have an inseam that long, meaning that all dirt riders must manage while only touching tippy-toe. Dirt riders quickly learn how to balance, and their dirtbikes are very light. Sure, a dirtbike can still weight over 300 pounds, but that is manageable by most reasonably fit individuals. Another example of light makes right!

New?

Ninja 250- sporty, comfortable and capable. This generation bike can be found cheap.

It’s tempting to throw down your money on a shiny new motorcycle. This option eliminates the stress of buying a used machine from some potential Craigslist scammer and you get the benefit of modern amenities and safety features, like ABS and traction control. Not to mention the pride of owning the newest model on the road.

However, dropping $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 on a bike that will likely get dropped puts a lot more stress on the new rider. Too much attention will be put on avoiding that first scratch on those shiny chrome or plastic parts. And stress does not create the best condition for fun or open learning. That’s why it’s almost always better to buy a cared-for used motorcycle that isn’t as precious.

Used!

Buying used means you need to do your research about whether an older model bike is appropriate, which includes being patient in your search for the right motorcycle. Unlike cars and trucks, most motorcycles do not rack up very high miles.

You will also likely need to do some maintenance tasks before the bike is fully up to snuff. Depending on whether or not you live in an area with long riding season, it’s not unusual to find a five year old bike with only 5,000 miles. That means that not too much will need to be done to make it roadworthy. However, a frequently ridden motorcycle five or more years old will have more 10,000 or more miles. Here are a list of components that often need replacement:

  • New tires (worn to the tread wear indicator, or older than five years)
  • Chain and sprockets (most OEM units last about 12-15,000 miles)
  • Brake pads (anywhere from 6-12,000 miles).

Of course, a oil and filter change and brake fluid replacement, as well as general lubrication needs to be done. Read more about motorcycle maintenance HERE.

Keep in mind that whatever bike you buy (new or used), you want easy access to service and parts. Exotic bikes are cool, but it sucks if you have to drive hours to get it serviced and even worse if you have to wait too long for parts.

Mo Money

Another reason to buy used is so you have enough money left over in your budget to buy good protective gear. It is said that if you can’t afford a good helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots, then you can’t afford to be a motorcyclist. While that may sound draconian, it is a smart rule to follow.

You will also have money left to pay for advanced rider training. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once you know how to operate the bike that you know how to “ride”, which involves much more than simply being able to control the machine.

Ken racing an old 50hp Kawasaki EX500 Ninja worth less than $2,000. Photo: Jonas Powell Photography

Ride a Slow Bike Fast (safely)

I want to emphasize that the bikes I am listing below are not only “beginner bikes”! These bikes are appropriate for new riders, but are also entertaining enough to captivate experienced riders who know how much fun it is to ride lightweight machines. Unfortunately, most people think that moving up to the large displacement as soon as possible is the way to go. It’s not.

Take me for example. I have ridden almost every large and small motorcycle on the market and still choose to stick with my middleweight Triumph Tiger 800 (streetbike) and Street Triple (track bike).

Speaking of track day bikes, I constantly caution track day riders from buying larger and more powerful bikes, and instead, stick with the smaller bike they started on and learn to ride it really well before considering a move.

Even riders at the top of their game don’t often find benefit in owning a bike with more power. Believe me, it is quite possible to ride faster on board a 600cc sportbike, or even a well-setup SV650 than someone struggling to manage the power of a liter-sized superbike. Lower-powered bikes push the rider to ride more efficiently and corner with greater precision. Big power tends to be a crutch that slows down skill development. As the saying goes, “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, rather than ride a fast bike slow”.

The video shows the Intermediate (Yellow group) session with Tony’s Track Days. Before anyone asks; the suspension and every other component on the 250R is stock. Thanks Younia, for the ride!

One last thing to consider are the benefits to riding off-road for new and experienced riders to learn traction management, body positioning and throttle control where there are no texting teens to punt you off the road.

Best Bikes for Newer Riders and Open-Minded Veterans

So, here is my list of street bikes appropriate for new or newer riders, by size and category:

250-400cc

Kawasaki KLX250s

Dual-Sport

Dual-sports are used on pavement and dirt. They have tall seat heights, but are very light compared to other street-legal bikes.

Street/Sport

Nighthawk 250Street Sport/Standard

Cruiser/Classic


500-800cc

Dual-Sport

  • Kawasaki KLR650- The Swiss Army knife of motorcycles. Big and heavy but a workhorse with good balance and power for all riders.$$
  • Suzuki DRz400s/sm – A larger dual sport for long-legged riders. The SM is a supermoto street version.$$
  • BMW F700/800GS- The slightly lower, street-leaning version of the more off-road 800GS. $$$

Street Sport/Standard

A mid-sized cruiser

Cruiser/Classic

Other bikes to consider:

This is a list I came up with, but I know I’m missing some options, like older bikes. Please include your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll consider adding it to the list.

What You Won’t See On My List

A lot of beginners eye bikes in the 600cc class of sport bikes, thinking the engine size makes it manageable for a newb. But, 600s are shar edged tools that can cut a rider whose skills aren’t developed enough. Yes, beginners survive starting on a 600, but why put the beginner through the stress of having to manage a machine designed for experienced riders?

You may wonder why there are several 650cc and 800cc bikes on my list. Well, those bikes are designed to be easy to ride by average riders wanting a bike that is comfortable and practical for all types of riding. The engine displacement may be greater, but the power delivery is more mellow and user-friendly.

Cruisers are sized with big displacement engines, but they are tuned to lug around town and produce less power per cc than standard or sporty models. That’s why it’s not unheard of to find a newb riding a 1000 or 1200cc cruiser as their first bike. But, these bikes are still not great starter bikes becasue they are heavy with forward controls and a long wheelbase, making them unwieldy at slow speeds.

Suzuki SV650

Bottom Line

Get a used Ninja 250/300 if you’re small and like performance machines. Get a Honda Rebel 300 or 500 if you like cruisers and have a really short inseam. Score a Honda CRF250L or a Kawi KLX250s if you lean more toward off-roading and have long legs or get a XT225/250 if you have shorter legs. Get a Kawi 300 Versys if you like adventure-bike styling and capability. For a sportier bike, consider a Honda CBR250, Kawasaki 300 or 400 Ninja or a BMW 310R.

A step up in size may be just fine for a lot of beginners. In this case, the Honda CB500 series makes a lot of sense. I like the Vulcan S for a mid-sized cruiser and a cheap, used DRz400s for a bigger dual-sport. KLR650 is another (heavier) off road worthy option.

For someone who is pretty comfortable on two wheels, a Ninja 650 or SV650 are my most recommended bikes becasue they are capable of touring, commuting and doing track days. You can even ride dirt roads pretty well on these bikes.  The Versys 650 is another great option, as is the Yamaha FZ-07.

For bigger dudes with the skill, a BMW 700/800GS or F800R may work (750/850 for 2019). For cruisers, you may get away with a Harley 883 or even a 1000 Sportster, but I’d seriously look at the Indian Scout. For sport bikes, consider a Honda CBR650 Ninja 650, or drum roll…a used SV650.

 

 


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Review: Racer High Speed Gloves

otmpix.com

I ride over 2,000 track miles every season. That means I spend a lot of time wearing road race gloves. I need high-performance gloves that are comfortable as well as protective.

Racer’s High Speed Glove is a premium CE certified, professional-level glove for road racers and serious track day riders. Racer says this is their best selling glove.

The glove is made of cowhide with TPU hard protectors on the knuckles and there is an egg-sized protector on the outside of the wrist. The knuckles are covered with rugged SuperFabric®.  There is a wide gauntlet closure and narrow wrist closure using Velcro.

From the Knox website.

The High Speed’s palms are made from kangaroo skin with a leather grip patch and two Knox® SPS palm sliders (SPS stands for “Scaphoid Protection System”). As you can guess by the name, these sliders are designed to prevent scaphoid injuries by allowing your hand to slide rather than grab the pavement and stretch or compress the wrist.

The pinkie and ring fingers are joined with a piece of leather to prevent what Racer calls “finger roll”. I’m not sure what that is, but I imagine connecting your two smallest fingers together makes a single sturdier digit.  My Heroic gloves have the same feature.

The gloves are comfortable to wear, taking exactly zero minutes to break in. The fingers are a bit stiff, but nothing concerning. The leather is perforated and vented at the gauntlet and a little bit along the fingers. Airflow seems adequate, since I never felt that my hands got particularly hot during the hottest days on track.

Gripes? I wish the gauntlet were 1/2″ longer so it better covers the sleeves of my leathers. Also, I would like some more protection on the back of my hand, just above the wrist. My Heroic SP-R Pro gloves have a simple rigid panel that seems to be a good idea. Maybe the High Speed glove could be a bit more protective in a few places, but I bet these would do a fine job keeping my paws in one piece in a crash.

Likes? I like a lot. I like the hard Knox scaphoid sliders and the slider on the outside of the wrist. I also like the fit and comfort. The Kangaroo hide is very soft, but protective. These gloves are comfortable enough to be used on the street.

You can get the High Speed in either Black or White/Black for $280.00. That sound expensive? Well, it’s the going rate for really good gloves. Besides, your hands are damn well worth it.


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The Cure for Riding Anxiety

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Since few of us are masters of every aspect of motorcycling, we invariably experience bouts of low-level anxiety or even panic. According to experts from Legacy Healing in Fort Lauderdale  center, anxiety mostly sucks, but it can also be a useful tool for helping you be a safer and more proficient motorcycle rider…if you pay attention.

From my article published in Motorcyclist Magazine:

“The best riders frequently check themselves for signs of stress and then act to regain relaxed composure so they can enjoy a safer and more gratifying ride. With anxiety out of the picture, they can also identify where the stress is coming from, whether that’s a lack of confidence in their ability or trepidation about a particularly risky environment, such as a rain-slick corner or a route riddled with dangerous intersections. Whatever the source, these riders use their awareness of stress to recognize their comfort limit and then back off so that anxiety does not affect control, safety, or fun.”

Too bad I couldn’t follow my own advice.

My Story

Recently, I’ve had a series of off-road mishaps of varying levels of severity that have messed with my Mojo.

I figured perhaps upgrading to a more capable and lighter machine would help. So, I sold the sturdy and rider-friendly KLX250/351s and bought a beautiful KTM450 XC-w. I never intended to buy the KTM, but the price was right, it was in a nearby town and it was sexy as hell.

I knew from the day I bought it that the 450 was more bike than I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t think I could manage the power or the edgy handling, but the fact that it was a less rider-friendly bike made my anxiety worse. Ugh.

So, I remedied the situation by buying a Honda CRF250x. It’s the bike I should have bought in the first place. It’s more like a play bike than the KTM, but more capable than the KLX. Let’s see if that was the cure.

The Test

With the confidence of a less intimidating bike I went riding with my friend Paul at his local dirt track. This area features a motocross-type sand section and some tighter technical trail stuff with some steep drops and climbs, as well as log crossings. The last time I was at his track on the bigger KTM I managed to overcome the challenging sections, but with difficulty. Going in, I totally expected things to go easier on the 250x.

Paul contemplates my plight.

Turns out that the cure was not a different bike. Sure, it helped, but the anxiety was still there. I stared at a particularly scary looking traversing hill wondering WTF? I got past it and tackled the hill several times, but was tense and on the edge of panic much of the time. The rest of the course was easier, yet I still felt anxiety.

Paul, being the supportive friend he is, told me to slow down and just roll around. I was trying to ride the way I am used to riding…sliding the rear and zipping at a decent pace. Well, that was just adding to the anxiety. Once I slowed down to a novice pace, I started having fun and things went sooooo much better.

Emotions trump Logic

So, why wasn’t I able to follow my own advice as outlined in the Motorcyclist article? Because emotions tend to trump logic. I wanted so much to overcome the fear that I pushed on instead of doing what I tell my students…slow down to reset your sense of confidence and competence.

I’ve never been as confident off-road as on pavement or on the racetrack, so I tend to think of myself as a rookie rather than the reasonably competent dirt rider I really am. By slowing down, I am reminded of my true competence. This reinforces the positive. And the more I ride this way, the faster I substitute anxiety with confidence.

By riding in complete control at all times I am (re)building a solid foundation that then allows me to climb out of this rut. If I were to fruitlessly keep pushing without stepping back, I would surely dig the hole even deeper and just reinforce the hold anxiety has on me.

The Cure

The CRF250x is more user friendly than the big KTM.

I tell my on-street students at the beginning of the day that we will be riding well within their comfort zone, becasue they can’t learn and build confidence if they are using all their attention on managing anxiety. And when it comes to my track day students, I tell them that they gotta go slow to go fast.

I believe that most anxiety can be traced back to just a few things…some are physical, like slow speed maneuvers or weak countersteering, but most are mental. Learning tricks to control the bike and read the road or trail with more confidence are keys.
 
Whether it’s street or dirt riding…Slow down so you can keep your eyes and attention well ahead of you. That way things are much easier to process. If you use too much bandwidth to manage anxiety you look down, tense at the handlebars and everything goes pear-shaped.
Of course, slowing down is only part of the cure of riding anxiety, but it’s an important place to start. You will likely also have to sharpen weak control skills that are adding to your anxiety.

Pressure to Measure

This is moments before I lost the front wheel over the high lip of a berm and gave myself some serious whiplash. I was pushing myself too hard trying to get past the intimidation I felt with the KTM.

This all sounds like solid advice, but I can tell you that it’s not easy to follow. If you’re like me, you have an established image of yourself as someone who can manage the challenges of a typical dirt (or street) ride and not be so slow as to hold up the group’s pace.

I’m also competitive, which doesn’t help. I tend to ride fast when the right thing to do is hang back and not feel compelled to keep up.

The takeaway here is to listen to your anxiety and respect it for its attempt to alert you to SLOW DOWN. Instead of forcing yourself to tackle challenges with abandon, take it easy to build back your confidence.

Ignore your anxiety at your own peril. As the saying goes: check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Share your experiences in the comments section below.


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Review: 2017 BMW R1200RS

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After spending the better part of two weeks in the saddle of a 2017 BMW R1200RS riding the Alps and Dolomites of Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, I have developed a pretty good idea of what this bike is about.

The R1200RS is Beemer’s sport touring bike that uses the ubiquitous 1170cc boxer opposed twin motor. The RS is essentially the faired version of the R1200R naked roadster. Similar bikes include the Ninja 1000, FJ-09 and Suzuki GSX-S 1000F. Or even the Motus or Energica E-bike.

You can familiarize yourself more with the specs and details of the RS at the BMW Motorrad website.

Pricing

The base price of the RS is around $15,000, but you’ll quickly find yourself nearing or exceeding the $20k mark after adding the Premium package and luggage.

The bike I rented from Moto Mader in Oberentfeld, Switzerland was equipped with the Premium package that includes among other things, Dynamic Suspension Adjustment (DSA) and Gear Shift Assist. The BMW site says the bike retails for $21,125 as it was equipped on my tour. See the screen shots for the price breakdown and a list of goodies you get for the extra $3k.

Weight

At 520 pounds wet, the RS is on the heavy side. That’s the same as the Ninja 1000 but is almost 50 pounds heavier than the Suzuki GSX-S1000F. Add another 30-40 pounds for luggage (and mounting hardware) and you’ve got a pretty hefty bike. Heck, the touring RT version is 600 pounds with luggage, so it’s not that much lighter than the full-on RT tourer, which is arguably a better package, especially with a passenger.

Engine Performance

The R1200 motor is a tractor. It produces 125 hp at the crank and 92 ft pounds of torque, so it’s no slouch. And it pulls from under 2 grand (rpm). The motor vibrates a fair amount at highway speeds, but it’s character is quite appealing. It was happy motoring down the Autobahn at 100mph, as well as pulling us up the first gear uphill hairpins.

The fueling from the ride-by-wire throttle was spot on, except for a little bit of “hunting” on deceleration on long downhills. It’s not as bad as on my Tiger 800, but I did notice it.

Shifting is reasonably smooth and the Gear Shift Assist allows upshifts without using the clutch or rolling off the throttle. The system worked great from 3rd-to-4th, 4th-to-5th, and 5th-to-6th, but was too rough when shifting in the lower gears. Clutchless downshifts are also rough, because it does not include the auto-blip feature found on the S1000RR. Still, it was nice to rip through the upper gears like a roadracer.

Handling

One word describes the RS’s handling: stable. But that stability comes at the cost of agility. The RS handles sweeping turns, both smooth and bumpy quite well, but when the it comes to tight, slow hairpin turns the RS felt cumbersome.

And slow speed maneuvers had the bike feeling unbalanced. It took me a few days to get used to the slow speed manners of the RS, which is about 2 and a half days longer than it usually takes for me to adjust to a new bike. To be fair, most of the time I had my lovely wife, Caroline in the passenger seat, which added to the unbalanced slow speed feel.

One highlight is the ESA- (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) feature. The dynamic ESA really works and makes the premium package worth considering.

I selected the “dynamic” suspension setting using the handlebar toggle switch and managed to stumble through the complex menu to select the appropriate mode for having a passenger. The bike comes with the typical rider modes (Rain, Road, Dynamic and User) which are easily accessed by a button on the right control pod.

Two-Up Performance

As I mentioned, I spent most of my time with a passenger on board. The bike has plenty of power to handle two people and full luggage. But, the RS is not the best bike for passengering. In contrast, the RT felt perfectly balanced with Caroline on the back. Go with the RT if passengers are your thing.

Riding solo, the bike is much more predictable and nimble enough for me to rip down the Stella pass with confidence. See the video below. But, the F800GT I rode would be my bike of choice from the Beemer lineup for the tight stuff.

Comfort and Protection

I chose the RS over the naked R for the extra wind and weather protection. This proved to be a good move, since we experienced some rather epic rain over five consecutive days.

The wide and relatively flat windscreen provides a decent amount of wind protection. It has a high and low setting that created little buffeting at slower speeds but was very loud at highway speeds at the high setting. Keep in mind that I’m 5’9″, so your results may vary.

The seat is quite comfortable, allowing me to be squirm-free for most of the day. I did need relief after long days in the saddle, but overall, it’s quite good. Caroline was happy with the passenger seat.

The heated grips were terrific when we encountered torrential rain and 49 F temperatures for hours on end. I envied the RT riders who also had heated seats and greater protection from the Alpine rain.

Luggage

The $1,100 optional side cases are standard BMW units that open sideways. They hold plenty of stuff and are waterproof. The latches are a bit cheap-feeling and a couple of the other riders had trouble with their topcase locks failing. We had no such problems.

Speaking of topcases, the small Beemer item was fine. But, at over $900.00 (I assume that includes the mounting hardware) I’d look for a bit larger Givi or Shad box for a lot less money.

The small BMW tankbag is secured with straps and costs a lot of bucks for what it is. It’s not waterproof, but has an inner drawstring bag to help keep things semi-dry. My recommendation: Get a SW-Motech /Bags Connection bag that is much sturdier and uses a slick locking ring system.

Compared with the RT

I switched bikes with another rider on the tour to see what the RT is like in comparison to the RS. I had been dismayed with the RS’s cumbersome two-up handling and was a bit apprehensive about riding the even heavier RT.

But, to my surprise, the RT was much more balanced. Slow speed maneuvers and negotiating the tight hairpins is a breeze. And seeing the way the solo RT riders were hustling their bikes around shows just how capable the RT is with or without a passenger. At least one rider plans to buy an RT after they got home. I can see why.

Niggle

One little thing I found perplexing is that the self-cancelling turn signals stay on too long. Long enough that I didn’t think the bike had the feature. Come on BMW.

The Takeaway

The RS is a beautiful bike, especially in the blue and white color scheme. I like the way the exhaust looks and the asymmetric headlights are cool. The bike sounds great and the motor is powerful and grunty.

I could definitely grow to love the RS, but would likely opt for a lighter weight FJ-09 with it’s raucous motor and cheaper price.

I enjoyed my time on the RS, especially after I got a better feel for it’s awkward slow speed handling. The bike rails through fast and medium-fast sweepers and hustles down the highway comfortably. And even though it’s not great in the hairpins I managed fine. Here is a video of me on the RS descending the Gardena Pass in Italy.

Tell us your thoughts below.


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