How to Avoid Crashing in Corners

In this article, I will outline the cornering crash sequence that often leads to the dreaded single-vehicle motorcycle crash, aka “running wide in a corner”.

We know that proper lane position, effective visual acuity and strong countersteering skills are crucial for successfully negotiating a curve. However, once the crash sequence starts it’s difficult to halt the cascade of mistakes that lead to cornering mishaps.

Getting in over your head sucks!

The top 10 Cornering Crash Factors

Things often start out okay as you approach the turn, but any lack of cornering confidence sets up the typical cornering crash sequence.

Once the crash sequence begins, it is exponentially more difficult to execute the actions needed to negotiate the curve.

1. Too Fast Entry- You approach and enter the turn faster than your personal level of comfort with leaning or the capability of your bike. Don’t blame the corner. You messed up. Often, a more competent rider could have made the turn with no drama.

2. Poor lane position at turn entry- You enter the turn too close to the inside instead of the outside. Nervous riders who are afraid of running wide often approach corners in the middle-to-inside, making the turn sharper.

3. Narrow angle of view- An inside lane position also limits the view into and beyond the turn.

4. Poor turn-in timing- Countersteering too early or too late and with either too strong or too weak handlebar inputs leads to problems at the exit. (Nervous riders turn in too early).

5. Apex too early- Turn in too early and the bike will be pointed toward the oncoming lane or the edge of the road at the exit. This then requires a second turn input to stay on the road.

6. Mind freeze- When it becomes apparent that things aren’t going well, fear and doubt take over, leading to a shift into survival mode. (We can’t function well in this state).

7. Target fixation- Panic causes rider to look down and at the oncoming car or the guardrail. (Humans are programmed to look at what we fear).

8. Muscle paralysis- Panic leads to ineffective or non existent countersteering and the bike feels like it won’t turn. (It’s common to put pressure on both left and right handgrips as you brace for the worst).

9. Ineffective body position- Poor body position isn’t the most significant cornering failure, but relying on your body to turn the bike (without countersteering) is disastrous. Some riders lean in to try and coax the bike to turn more, while others counterweight for fear of leaning beyond their comfort level.

10. Panic braking- With panic comes the unwillingness to lean more. In response, humans tend to grab the brakes when panicked. Adding significant brake force when leaned leads to traction loss.

What to Do

So, there you have it. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play that aren’t listed here, but this is the most common cornering crash sequence. You can also overly this same sequence to most other crashes where one domino falls and others tumble quickly.

Understand that arresting the sequence is quite difficult once it has been activated. So, enter turns a bit slower and continually learn and consciously practice expert cornering techniques on every ride to prevent this from happening to you!

How to Corner Better

There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days and regular Sportbike Track Days

Advanced parking Lot Courses

Parking Lot Practice on your own.


This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Read more:

How not to Suck at Cornering

How not to suck at braking

Vision-Facebook Live

How to Avoid Cornering Panic


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7 of the Best XT250 Modifications

I always thought of the XT250 as a beginner dirt bike. It is an old-tech machine that hardly turns heads. I have owned several “real” dirt bikes, including a Honda CRF250X, DRz400, KDX200, KLX250s and KTM450 EXC. So, why is the only dirt bike in my garage a lowly XT?

Why an XT250?

Why would I go from a “real” dirtbike to what many would call a beginner’s bike? One reason is that I needed a bike that would fit in the 6.5 foot bed of my F150 with the tailgate closed. It turns out the XT is short enough when positioned at a slight angle.

Another reason is that as I hit my 60th birthday, I am tired of very tall bikes. The XT is quite low, almost too low for my 5′ 8″ height and 32″ inseam. But, it allows me the confidence to dab through the most challenging terrain.

Surprisingly, this simple bike is quite capable. I had no trouble whatsoever hanging with the big boys while riding at the West Virginian Hatfield McCoy trail system. See this video.

Enjoy some trail riding on the XT.

Of course, such a budget dirt bike benefits greatly by select modifications. The mods increase usability, durability and capability.

Notice that I didn’t say “performance”? That’s because I find the single cylinder air-cooled motor quite adequate for the type of riding we do here in the rocky, rooty and tight New England trails. But, the bike does just fine on faster two-track trails and dirt roads.

Modifications

Handlebar & Grips

The stock handlebars are too low for standing. Some riders install bar risers, but I opted for a taller bend handlebar from Mika. I’d never heard of Mika, but the $60.00 price point was hard to beat.

I ordered the “Mini Low” bar but discovered that it was no taller than the stock bar. So, the fine folks at MotoSport initiated a return and replacement for a “Mini High”. The extra 23mm is just the ticket for being able to stand comfortably without bending over. Here is the Mika bend fitment chart.

The handlebar is really nicely finished and I can attest to its durability. A pair of Pro Taper Pillow Top Grips improved comfort and feel.

Mika Mini High handlebar and ProTaper Pillow Top Grips.

Barkbusters Handguards

Protection is super important when attacking the gnar. Handguards protect the levers, but also your hands. The bike came with a flimsy pair of hinged Acerbic brush guards that were totally inadequate for hard duty.

The Barkbusters Jet guards have a sturdy, full wrap aluminum backbone with a color-matched plastic brush guard. Installation is simple enough, but there is some fiddling that needs to be done to position the inner mount.

These are some of the toughest guards around and are a must if you’re going to venture beyond the gravel roads.

See the installation video below.

Mirrors

If you’re planning on doing any real off-roading, you’re better off putting the stock mirrors away and mounting some good aftermarket units. I chose the Doubletake mirrors. These are mounted on a B349-U RAM ball and medium length RAM arm.

You’ll notice that I drilled three holes in the post of the mirror because I used the mirror on the racetrack when instructing and the mirror would fold at 100+ mph. This mod is not needed on the street or trails.

Barkbusters Jet Handguards and Doubletake mirror mounted on a RAM ball and arm.

Skid Plate

The XT does not come with a skid plate off the showroom floor, which seems to be a big oversight in my eyes. I remedied the situation by installing a Moose skid plate to protect the underside of the engine and frame when surmounting rocks and other bits of nature.

The Moose plate is super sturdy and is reasonably priced at $130.00 US.

Moose skid plate

Suspension

The XT’s weakest link is the suspension, particularly the front forks. The problem is that the forks can’t keep up with choppy terrain at higher speeds.

So, I installed upgraded fork parts from Cogent Dynamics. The XT250 kit includes .40 or .44 fork springs, fork oil and their DDC cartridge valves that rest on top of the damper rod assembly.

At $376.95, the kit is reasonably affordable fork upgrade. Installation is easy for anyone who is reasonably comfortable with spinning wrenches.

Cogent Dynamics DDC Fork kit

The upgraded forks performed well, although at first I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference until I picked up the pace on the rocky, choppy terrain where the stock forks fell short. I also noticed a general sense of increased confidence climbing and descending more technical stuff. A good upgrade. Predictably, now the stock rear shock feels inadequate.

Check out the video.

Tires

The stock Bridgestone Trailwing tires are great if you pretty much ride pavement with some intermediate off road thrown in from time to time. But, for the gnarly New England trails, I needed something more aggressive.

Enter the venerable Dunlop 606 rear and Pirelli MT-21 combination. Word is that the Dunlop front and the Pirelli rear aren’t as good as this combo. And I must say that I’m quite pleased with the performance of these tires, both off and on road. Both tires are DOT legal, too.

Dunlop 606
Pirelli MT-21.

Footpegs

The stock XT footpegs must have been made for little people. Standing for any period of time becomes uncomfortable, but these tiny pegs also inhibit control.

After some research, I found the DMO Specialties footpegs for the XT. Look at the photo to see the difference between stock and aftermarket. The sturdy construction is impressive and at $56.00, this mod is a great deal.

Installation is simple enough for anyone who can handle a pair of pliers.

The stock peg on the left. The DMO Specialties peg on the right.
https://youtu.be/aSVybkpxZNI
Enjoy this video of the XT in action.
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How to Avoid Cornering Panic on a Motorcycle

Cornering is one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics.

Why is Cornering so Exhilarating…and Scary?

According to Bernt Spiegel in his weighty book, “The Upper Half of the Motorcycle“, humans are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees due to our built-in sense of safety. 20 degrees is our maximum lean angle when running around a circle at full speed without slipping. Anything more than that and our survival senses trigger our panic response.

Image Courtesy of Bernt Spiegel’s “Upper Half of the Motorcycle”

This is why novice passengers panic when first experiencing significant lean angles. They often stiffen and lean in the wrong direction in an attempt to overcome the overwhelming sense of falling.

The act of leaning into a corner stimulates this primal fear, which can either be terrifying or exhilarating, depending on your personal risk tolerance or level of training.

You may think that miles in the saddle is what you need to build sufficient cornering confidence. Sure, over time, the mind and muscles begin to trust that the tires will grip and that the motorcycle will remain rubber side down. But, the level of trust many riders possess is not sufficient for more challenging corners.

These are the riders who panic and run off the road when a corner tightens unexpectedly, because they cannot achieve the required angle of lean.

I Don’t Need No Stinking Training

We tend to train to the level we feel is adequate for our needs, which is measured by how we typically ride. Minimal corner training may seem adequate if all you do are easy rides on familiar roads with few significant curves. But, what about when you venture off to where the pavement twists and turns more than you’re accustomed? This is where trouble lurks.

And what about when you daydream your way into a blind, decreasing radius turn too fast? Will you respond correctly to stay on two wheels and in your lane? Trained riders are much more likely to do the right thing and ride it out. Chances plummet for average riders with minimal training.

Throttle and Speed Control

Correct throttle timing and control is another important aspect of cornering control. When we sense danger it’s natural for us to decelerate. But abruptly “chopping” the throttle upsets stability by compressing the suspension at a time when you need all the grip and ground clearance you can muster.

In extreme conditions, abrupt deceleration can cause hard parts to touch and the tires to get levered off the ground. This affliction happens mostly to low-slung cruisers.

Instead, try to keep the throttle steady throughout the turn to avoid spikes in tire load and to keep the suspension in the usable range to maintain stability and ground clearance. Easier said than done when panic is flooding your system.

You Can Always Get on the Gas

One of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of corner crashes is to enter turns at conservative speeds, especially in blind corners. That way, you are less likely to need to pull off superhuman maneuvers if a hazard appears or the corner tightens.

There is really no penalty for approaching a corner a little too slow, becasue you can always accelerate a bit earlier to make up for a too slow entry. The best advice is “Slow in, faster out”.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another significant problem when cornering. Since you tend to go where you look, it is important that you keep your eyes and attention pointed toward the corner exit.

This is tough to do because we instinctively target the object with our eyes. It’s okay to glance at what you must avoid, but then look away to an escape route around the hazard.

Look where you want to go!

Foresight is Right

It’s not feasible to expect an untrained rider to magically lean the bike to extreme angles if they’ve never done so before. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.

Be on the right side of the equation by learning to lean your motorcycle beyond your comfort zone. Some purposeful parking lot practice will condition your mind and muscles to become accustomed to more extreme lean angles. Do it now before you need it!

How to Corner Better

There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days and regular Sportbike Track Days

Advanced parking Lot Courses

Parking Lot Practice on your own.

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days will give you more confidence!

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Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC – Track Day Bike Prep

After a full season owning a 2011 Suzuki GSXR750 track day bike, I decided to take a different route and grabbed a 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC.

Check out the article I wrote about some things I discovered about the Tuono.

The bike was setup as a street bike, but with a lot of little goodies already installed by the previous owner. Many are items I don’t typically spend money on, like an aftermarket exhaust and sexy cosmetic changes. But, they are cool!

Below, I describe the modifications I did to make the bike more track worthy and also list the stuff the previous owner installed.


The first thing I do with any bike I plan on taking to the track is to bolt on engine and frame protection. Twisted Throttle is a sponsor of this website and sell R&G and SW-Motech accessories that work really well and are reasonably priced. Click here or on the Twisted Throttle logos on this page to buy accessories and help support the site.

Frame Sliders

There is a debate about whether frame sliders are a good thing or is they actually cause more damage. Sliders are great for minor drops, but can also catch a curbing or edge of the track and cause the bike to flip. This happened to a ZX636 I once owned. I decided to take the chance and install some R&G Aero Frame Sliders.

R&G Aero Frame Sliders

These sliders are high quality, with a robust two-location mounting block. The pucks are the usual Delron nylon units. To reduce the chances that the slider will catch when sliding, I cut the pucks down by about 1-1/4 inches. So far, I haven’t put them to the test.


Engine Case Covers

Protecting expensive engine cases is of primary importance. I have used Woodcraft products, but like the full coverage of the R&G covers. These British Superbike approved race-spec covers are made of tough plastic and include replaceable sliders. I bought the complete kit which includes both left and right covers. Buy the case covers here.

The racing version includes replaceable sliders
Installing the covers is quite easy.

Installation is easy. All you have to do is remove a few of the case bolts, locate the cases and replace with the supplied bolts and spacers. One small issue was that the opening around the oil fill cap wasn’t quite big enough, so I trimmed it with a file.

A little trimming was necessary to clear the oil fill cap.

Exhaust and Protector

The Arrow exhaust is a work of art. And it sounds awesome, especially without the db insert. However, one of the racetracks we frequent has a decibel limit and I am not willing to take the risk of getting dinged.

Besides, the exhaust still sounds great even with the insert…like a hot rod.

The R&G exhaust protector is a nice piece that straps onto the exhaust can using a hose clamp. There is a rubber protector strip to keep the clamp from marring the exhaust.
Buy one for the stock exhaust here.


Front Axle Sliders

R&G also makes axle sliders to help keep the forks and brakes away from the ground. The only thing is that you have to take them off to get the axle out to remove the wheel to change the tire. Not bad, but it adds time. Buy axle sliders HERE.

You can also note in the photo below the zip tie around the fork tube. This slides down to indicate how much fork travel is being used. Also note the torque spec is written in Sharpie for easy reference.

Regarding the brakes, they could use improvement with some higher performance brake pads. They are very good, but I’m used to more sensitive brakes; these are just a bit less powerful and slightly numb.


Levers

One accessory I think is worthwhile are aftermarket levers. Not only do they hold up better in a crash, but they give better feel and they look trick. I’ve had cheap Chinese knockoff that work okay, but these adjustable ASV levers are much nicer. They are pricey though.


Gas Cap Mod

The Aprilias are known for leaking fuel around the gas cap when full, especially when braking hard. I would find a fuel stain along the top of the tank, that is disconcerting to say the least. I can imagine fuel dumping in a crash and setting the bike on fire.

The problem is that the gas cap gasket doesn’t sit tight against the fill opening. The fix is to place an O-ring between the gasket and the fuel cap. Measure the gasket and buy a few different size o-rings to see which one fits and allows the gap to lock. I got mine at a hardware store.


Turn Signal Removal

Removing the turn signals is easy enough. All you need to do is unscrew the lens from the housing, unplug the two wires and pull the wires out from the stalk. Then tuck the wires securely under the side fairing.


RSV4 tail conversion

This is a popular mod among Tuonoistas. The stock Tuono tail looks just fine and as a bonus, has a passenger seat. Because the RSV4 tail has no accommodations for a pillion, the passenger pegs were removed and the exhaust hanger connects to the right peg mount.

You can see in the photo that I put some electrical tape on the pointy parts to prevent the tail from getting scratched as I swing my leg over the bike when mounting.


MRA Windscreen

The bike came with a taller MRA windscreen, which certainly makes riding long miles more comfortable, but it also helps with neck fatigue when ripping down a straightaway at 140mph. And the smoke version looks great.

MRA windscreen photo: otmpix.com

Tires

My track day organization, Tony’s Track Days, has a regular Pirelli dealer which makes using that brand a no brainer. Even so, I totally love the feel of the Pirellis, whether the Supercorsa or the race slick. Since I had some 180/60/17 SC1 rear slicks hanging around, I mounted them up and they are working great. I’ll be putting on the spec 200 tires when I’ve used up the 180s.

Regarding wear, I am getting an impressive 6-7 days at a combination of intermediate (when instructing) and expert pace. That’s not what I expected when I first got the bike. I get even more from the fronts, of course.

Pirelli SC1 race slicks are the bomb.

That’s it for now. I’ll update this post as I make more modifications.

Check out the Street Triple modification and Street Triple Track day prep articles.



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10 things You Should Know about the Aprilia Tuono V4

Now that I’ve ridden the 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC for a full season of track days, I feel it’s time to share some thoughts. You can read about the modifications I did and the accessories I installed HERE.

photo: Tim DeLorenzo

First thing I learned is how to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. Don’t fight your bike, learn about its wants and needs.

1. The Tuono turns in great, but doesn’t hold a line mid corner without some effort. To remedy that, I need to get a lot of weight over the front end. Much better. I ended up lowering the front end (by sliding the forks up by 3mm in the triple clamps, which cured much of the mid corner effort.

2. The Tuono feels a bit cumbersome at half pace. Like a lot of harder edged sportbikes (and race set ups), it can be tough to get the Tuono to change direction (even with the tall bars). However, pick up the pace and all is well. Also, lowering the front helped. as well.

3. The stock suspension is soft, even for my 150 pound physique. Thanks to Peter Kates from GMD Computrack Boston for adjusting the Sachs suspension to the best it’s going to get. A lot more preload helped settle the bike in the fast transitions. But, even though the suspension is “busy”( moves around at full lean over sustained bumps). I’d surely need to spend some bucks on better boingers if I want to go much faster with less effort.

4. I tend to drag my boots in corners with mid-corner bumps. Not becasue of low footpegs, but becasue of the soft suspension. More preload and more aggressive body positioning helped.

5. If you have not ridden a liter bike at a track day, then you probably haven’t had to think about “big biking” people who are on slower bikes whose rider is faster in corners. It’s courteous to be aware that you may be holding up someone. Be kind and ease up on the straight every once and a while.

6. The Tuono puts down about 150hp. That’s great, but having power can fool you into thinking you’re fast. Sure, my overall lap times are better, but my corner speed is about the same as on the 130hp GSXR and even the 95hp Street Triple.

7. High handlebars suit my riding style. I never felt as comfortable on the GSXR as I have on the Street Triple or the Tuono. Riding a high handlebar bike fast requires you to hold the inside grip like a screwdriver to allow your upper body and elbow to dip low inside for the most effective body position.

8. Tire wear has been surprisingly good. I thought the bike would eat rear tires, but it’s been fine. I strive to be smooooth and the Tuono gives me more confidence to open the throttle early so I spread the drive over the whole edge-to middle part of the tire, instead of lifting before triggering the 150 hp. See photo.

9. Traction control is quite abrupt. I was exiting turn 3 at Thompson Speedway when I thought the chain had jumped a few sprocket teeth. It turns out I had inadvertently hit the TC button located on the left control pod and increased the setting to 5, causing intervention. I thought this indicated a spent rear tire, but putting it back to the less intrusive #3 out of 8 (1 being least intervention), the tire was fine.

10. The Arrow exhaust (with db insert) sounds amazing. But, it’s rather quiet compared with a lot of other track bikes. And I’m okay with that. The V4 still sounds like a hot rod.



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Tips for Using the Throttle in Corners- Webinar

Join Ken in this Facebook Live seminar.


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Learning precise throttle control when cornering is critical for maximum control and safety.

Emergency Swerving on a Motorcycle

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.

  • Firm push/pull countersteering by pushing and pulling at the same time Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood.
  • 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

Swerving Practice

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.

  • Find a clean and open Parking lot
  • Visualize (or place) an obstacle in your path
  • Countersteer with authority! Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood
  • Keep your body upright let bike flop beneath you
  • Practice in a parking lot first
  • Practice at speed on an empty, straight road using the dashed lines as cones.

Remember that swerving is often more dangerous than emergency braking and can lead to an off road excursion…unless you are trained. So, get to it!


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Dirt Riding Gear Choices

Here’s a little tour of what’s in my dirt riding gear closet. Maybe this can help you decide what gear is right for you. Please, please, please protect yourself when riding off road.



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How to Brake in a Corner on a Motorcycle

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 there may not be 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 practice 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 there is a decent amount of time and space to stop.

Brake while you straighten if you can’t straighten first.

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 must either use option one or straighten the bike as much as practical and then apply the brakes as much as the tires will tolerate.

Straighten and then brake for the most rapid stop

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 there is 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 there is 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!

Technology

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!

You may also like:

How not to Suck at Cornering

How not to suck at braking

Vision-Facebook Live

How to Avoid Cornering Panic


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Breaking Habits-Facebook Live

We all have bad habits. Find out some of the most common ones.


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Getting You and Your Motorcycle Ready for Spring

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.

Performing Maintenance

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.

Fuel System

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.

Air Filter

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.

Tires

Tread wear indicators can be found in the bottom of the tread.

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.

Drive Train

Pull the chain away from the sprocket to check for wear.

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.

Engine Fluids

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

Change brake fluid if it looks darker than apple juice or hasn’t been changed in a couple of years.

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.

Brake pad wear indicators

Battery

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

Cornering practice

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.

Some riders begin your season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or from an experienced instructor who offers on-street or track day training (like me).

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

There’s a lot to look for on the street.

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.


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Motorcycle Sidecar Essentials

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.

Advantages

  • 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!

Disadvantages

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.

Hack School

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.

Hack school

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.

Steering

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.

Throttle

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.

Body Position

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

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.

Swerving

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.

United Side Car Association

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


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Motorcycle ABS: It’s Better Than You Are

Some riders consider ABS to be a sign of weakness, an unnecessary device for rookies or grandpas. The tough guy philosophy is often something like, “I can brake better without it.”

Guest writer Lou Peck shares his knowledge about Anti-lock braking systems.

I recently stepped into a SoCal dealership looking for an ABS-equipped motorcycle and the salesman tried to convince me that “ABS doesn’t really do anything unless it’s wet, or you’re on dirt,” and “you don’t need ABS on a light bike.” Several knowledgeable riders in my own community also thought ABS was useless. That’s when I realized most riders just don’t know how and why ABS can help…and that needs to change.

As a forensic engineer, I’ve reconstructed hundreds of motorcycle collisions and have a bit of a different perspective on the topic. I’m hired to figure out how a collision occurred and if it could have been avoided. I’m typically tasked with figuring out speeds of the involved vehicles, vehicle locations, and timing. The photo below shows what I usually see when I investigate motorcycle crashes.

Notice the skid mark from the rear tire.

Notice the skid mark from the rear tire of the motorcycle. My colleagues and I see evidence of a skid from a locked rear brake in most cases we work. The famous Hurt Report found that only 22% of riders braked appropriately when faced with a hazard, stating that “most riders would overbrake and skid the rear wheel, and underbrake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration” [1].  Not good.

How does ABS Work?

The amount of stopping force a tire can generate is related to how much it’s slipping, as opposed to simply rolling. Most people don’t know that optimum traction occurs when the tire is slipping at a rate of something like 15%. Above or below that and you’re not getting max grip for stopping.

Optimum traction is at 15% slip

When tire slip approaches about 20%, ABS automatically releases the brakes a bit and then quickly reapplies. That’s the pulsing vibration you feel at the brake lever or pedal. This releasing and reapplying occurs several times per second, keeping the tire slip in the range shown in the graph.

ABS is Better Than You

Since ABS operates in a range surrounding the peak but not constantly at the peak, professional test riders can often come to a stop in a shorter distance with ABS disabled. Mr. Tough Guy probably heard this and his ego insists he can out-brake an ABS system. The truth is that the vast majority of riders do not have the skills of a test rider. It turns out most riders can only brake at about 60% of the bike’s capability, compared with nearly 100% for test riders.

The Heat of Battle

And performing an optimal braking maneuver on a test track without the threat of an impending collision is a lot easier than trying to perform a flawless emergency braking maneuver on the street. If you don’t get the bike stopped in time you’re in big trouble.

Skidding is Bad

A skidding tire makes matters much, much worse. When a tire slip approaches 100% (lock-up), stopping power is reduced by about 20%. Not only does skidding reduce stopping power, it also reduces lateral stability of the tire and with no grip to spare, the tire will slide left or right. For the rear, this means it might step out to the side causing the motorcycle to rotate, sometimes to the point where it just rotates and rolls all the way to the ground in a lowside fall. Locking the front results in the motorcycle almost immediately hitting the deck. Not a good evasive tactic.

You’re Not as Good as You Think

Most riders can only exploit 60% of the bike’s stopping power, and that probably includes you. Below are six solid studies showing the average rider can only hit a deceleration rate of 0.64 g’s when most bikes are capable of about 1.0 g [2-7]. Those studies analyzed 1,200+ braking tests, from over 600 different riders, conducted in controlled environments with no threat of injury or death and no uncertainty of the appropriate response (do I brake, swerve, accelerate, etc.). Even in this controlled environment, locking occurred often [3].

ABS is Your Friend

So, what happens when we introduce ABS? Some smart guy named Vavryn investigated the behavior of 181 riders during 800 tests [4]. The riders performed two tests on their own non-ABS motorcycle, and then two on an ABS-equipped motorcycle. The average braking rate for motorcyclists on their own motorcycle was 0.67 g’s. However, when riding the motorcycles equipped with ABS, that number jumped up to 0.80 g’s, nearly 20% improvement despite riding an unfamiliar machine. Overall, 85% of the subjects improved braking with the ABS motorcycles, and the novice riders achieved ABS-braking rates almost equal to experienced riders.

ABS helped novice riders brake as well as experienced riders.

The Difference Between Whew and Ouch

What’s the difference between braking at 0.80 g’s compared to 0.64 g’s? Say you’re going 50 mph, brake at 0.80 g’s and are just barely able to avoid hitting a left-turner because you’re riding an ABS-equipped bike. Now, let’s say you’re in the same situation, but only brake at 0.64 g’s…you’ll hit at over 20 mph. Ouch!

In 2013, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published an in-depth study of over 425,000 motorcycle insurance claims that directly shows the benefit of ABS [8]. It turns out that motorcycles equipped with ABS saw a 20% reduction in collision frequency (those equipped with ABS and a combined braking system saw a massive 31% reduction). Relative to fatal motorcycle collisions, ABS alone was associated with a 31% reduction [9]!

I used to be an expert racer with a tight and technical home-track that required a lot of hard braking, and I got pretty good at it. However, after seeing what I’ve seen in my line of work, I don’t fully trust myself to fully exploit the motorcycle’s ability when presented with a life-threatening hazard. Fortunately, ABS is there to ensure I don’t lock a tire and lose control and reduce my chances of being involved in a collision. That’s why I own a street-bike with ABS, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Lou Peck

Lou Peck is a Forensic Engineer based out of Southern California. Lou has authored many peer-reviewed technical publications in the field of motorcycle collision reconstruction and regularly testifies as an expert witness. Lou is a former roadracer and track day instructor.

[1] Hurt, H.,Ouellet, J., and Thom, D., “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical report,” Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, 1981.

[2] Hugemann, W., Lange, F., “Braking Performance of Motorcyclists,” 1993.

[3] Ecker, H., Wasserman, J., Hauer, G., et al., “Braking Deceleration of Motorcycle Riders,” International Motorcycle Safety Conference, Orlando, 2001.

[4] Vavryn, K., Winkelbauer, M., “Braking Performance of Experienced and Novice Motorcycle Riders – Results of a Field Study,” International Conference on Traffic & Transport Psychology, 2004.

[5] Bartlett, W., Greear C., “Braking Rates for Students in a Motorcycle Training Program,” Accident Reconstruction Journal, Vol. 20(6), pp. 19-20, 2010.

[6] Muttart, J., Fisher, D., Kauderer, C., et al, “Influence of Riding Experience on Glance Behavior, Brake Response Time and Deceleration Rates by Drivers and Motorcyclists,” Proceedings of the Sixth International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design, Lake Tahoe, CA, 2011.

[7] Dunn, A., Dorohoff, M., Bayan, F., et al, “Analysis of Motorcycle Braking Performance and Associated Braking Marks,” SAE Technical Paper 2012-01-0610, 2012.

[8] Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Bulletin, “Evaluation of Motorcycle Anitlock Braking Systems, Alone and in Conjunction with Combined Control Braking Systems,” Vol. 30, No. 10, April 2013.

[9] Teoh, E., “Effects of Antilock Braking Systems on Motorcycle Fatal Crash Rates: An Update,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2013.


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Review: Racer Gloves MultiTop Gloves

Racer’s MultiTop mitts are a comfy and sporty option for all weather street rides.

Motorcycle 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.

Price:$150
Contact:racerglovesusa.com
RITZ Grade:B+
Summary:Comfortable, protective, and mostly waterproof.

Originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.


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A virtual classroom on body positioning on a motorcycle.


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Cornering Lines “classroom” session.

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Knee dragging 101: What You Need to Know

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Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner.

Every motorcycle track day event photographer knows that the money shot that every  rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess.

Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.

Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool. Read this Article about the Real Value of Knee Dragging.

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

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?

So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.

To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.


Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com
MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  • How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  • As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  • Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  • How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  • As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  • As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.

Note that this article discusses the specific topic of dragging knee. It is assumed that you already know the purpose of hanging off the inside of the motorcycle.

Read this article on body positioning

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).

The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.

The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.

Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?

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


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10 Tips for Returning Riders

“Returning riders” are usually middle-aged men who decide to get back into motorcycling after a long hiatus. That’s cool. But, a lot of these “Baby-Boomerang” riders end up getting into accidents. Here are some tips to help make re-entry a bit easier.

1. Recognize False Confidence. Many returning riders assume they can pick up where they left off decades ago only to discover that they aren’t quite up to the challenge. Even though the basics of riding hasn’t changed much, smart returning riders decide to get re-trained because they understand that moto-skills are perishable. They do this before they commit to a bike purchase.

2. Buy a Smaller Bike. Older riders usually have enough in their bank account to buy the biggest, baddest machine on the showroom floor. But, a too big, too tall, or too powerful a bike can be the ruiner of fun. Smart RRs put their ego aside and opt for a small or middleweight bike that is less likely to intimidate and erode confidence. A smaller bike will invite fun and provide the opportunity to learn without the stress of having to harness a beast. And instead of slapping down big bucks on a brand new bike, consider a clean late model used bike. It’s even better if it has a scratch or two so you don’t get too upset if you drop it while you get your legs back underneath you.

Advanced training pays big dividends.

3. Take a Course. The easiest and best way to get retrained is to take a course. I suggest that returning riders take a new rider course to ensure they have the basic skills so they can start with a strong foundation. But, don’t stop there. Too many riders think that receiving their course completion card means that they are done learning. That dangerous belief often leads to complacency and inaccurate risk perception. Fatality statistics would improve if more riders saw motorcycling as a lifelong endeavor of learning, practicing and growing. Please plan on signing up for an intermediate or advanced course at some point.

4. Read Skills Articles and Books. There are several great books and tons and tons of articles available that describe techniques and strategies for becoming a highly proficient rider. Google “riding a motorcycle at slow speeds”, “stopping a motorcycle in a corner”, or any other technique that has you stumped and you’ll likely get the information you need to become a better rider. Several articles can be found at RidingInTheZone.com.

5. Gear Up. Returning riders often experience a tipover or two as they regain their composure. With this in mind, it’s foolish not to wear protection. Not only will good riding gear reduce the chances of injury, it also protects you from the elements and makes riding more comfortable and enjoyable. Reasonably priced gear offers decent protection and matches any style. Some people may choose not to wear full gear because of image or peer pressure. Thankfully, returning riders are usually mature adults who can resist having fashion or the opinions of others influence life decisions.

6. Reject the Old Myths. Back in the day you may have heard that you should learn to “lay the bike down” and always “avoid the front brake”. These are two examples of techniques that survive from the bad-old-days. Today, only riders who are uneducated in the ways of proper braking consider using these techniques. In almost every case, it’s better to attempt a quick stop or swerve rather than tossing your motorcycle to the ground. The old saw about avoiding the front brake comes from the idea that you will flip over the handlebars like when you were a kid on a bicycle. It also comes from riders who grabbed the front brake lever too hard, locked the front tire and crashed. Today’s grippy tires and controllable brakes are capable of safely stopping a motorcycle in a very short distance, but only if the operator knows how to use the brakes effectively. Another controversial dictum is that loud pipes save lives. While loud pipes get attention, you are much better off using strategies to be seen like selecting lane positions that put the bike in plain sight and wearing bright gear.

7. Accurately Perceive Risk. Everyone knows that the risks of riding a two-wheeler are greater than when driving in a car. However, a lot of people don’t realize just how risky riding is until they experience a close call or crash. Those who ride with readiness in mind have a greater chance of responding quickly and appropriately than someone who assumes the best and is not prepared for the worst.

8. Check Your Attitude. Returning riders may be more mature, but that doesn’t mean over exuberance and bad judgment won’t creep in from time to time. Risk is reduced significantly when the limits of rider ability and the environment is closely scrutinized and respected.

9. You’re Not as Young as You Were. Motorcycling isn’t tolerant of people who are weak of mind or muscle. If you aren’t able to maintain a certain level of sensory sharpness, coordination, strength and mental competence you are putting yourself at greater risk of a crash. And if you do crash you are more likely to get hurt; a 20-something will bounce while a 50 year old will break.

10. Improve your Strengths. It’s possible to perform as well (or better) as when you were younger if you can remain relatively fit, learn to be physically and mentally efficient and capitalize on the wisdom that comes with age.

Be smart about your return to riding and you’ll be rewarded with many years of enjoyment. You may even get to meet Lyle Lovitt.

Whether you’re a newly-minted older rider, a returning rider or a veteran codger, you are smart to recognize that you may not know all you need to about staying safe. Get regular training and continually practice cornering, braking and evasive maneuvers. Also, minimize the negative effects of aging by exercising, eating well and visiting your eye doctor. You’ll feel better, ride better and have more fun while reducing the chance of injury

This article has been updated from the original that appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine.


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9 Tips for Being a Perfect Passenger

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Being on the back of a motorcycle can be relaxing and fun, but make no mistake that being a passenger carries with it some significant risk and responsibility. Follow these tips to make the experience safer and more fun.

Insist on Safety

Before you decide to place your derriere on someone’s pillion you must make absolutely sure the person holding onto the handlebars is smart and skilled enough to keep both of you safe. I’d think twice about getting on a bike with someone who brags about riding fast, complains about close calls with “idiot cagers”, or seems to drop their motorcycle a lot. Tell him or her that you won’t play until their survival smarts, control skills and attitude toward safety improves.

ATGATT

You simply must dress for the crash. Even the best riders have mishaps. Always wear full protective gear no matter the temperature (even if your rider chooses not to). To keep comfortable, wear layers against wind chill and changes in temperature. More about riding gear here.

Mount with care

Before you get on the bike, make sure the passenger footpegs are in the down position and then wait until the rider says it’s okay for you to proceed. He should have both feet firmly on the ground with the front brake applied. If you’re tall enough you may be able to swing your leg over the seat with the other foot still on the ground. However, if you have short legs or the bike is tall, then you may have to use the footpeg to step up. This will throw the bike off balance, so make sure you step carefully and that the rider is ready.
Another method is for you to mount the bike first and then scoot from the rider’s seat backward onto the passenger perch. Make sure the bike is stable on its stand with the transmission in gear to prevent the bike from rolling. Try various methods until you find one that suits both of you. When it’s time to dismount, do so carefully so as not to unbalance the machine. Again, experiment to find the best method.

Be still

Once mounted, your job is to be as unobtrusive as possible so the rider doesn’t even know you’re on the bike. Try to relax to let the bike move fluidly beneath you. When riding at slow speeds be aware that even small shifts in body weight can cause balance problems. Also, keeping your feet on the pegs even when stopped makes it easier for the rider to maintain balance.

Hang on

Some riders ask their passengers to hold onto their waist, while others prefer them to use grab rails or a seat strap. Sporty riders may prefer one hand on the back of the fuel tank to brace for hard braking while the other hand grips a handrail. If your partner has a narrow enough waist you may want to look into tank-mounted passenger handle grips.

Anticipate and brace yourself

No matter your method for hanging on, you need to be attentive to what’s going on. Accelerating can cause you to fall backward and braking forces can slam you into the rider, so pay attention and brace yourself.

Lean with the Motorcycle

Motorcycles must lean to turn. Unfortunately, nervous passengers tend to sit upright, causing the rider to work harder when cornering. Instead, lean with the motorcycle. One helpful tip is to look over the rider’s inside shoulder.

Practice

Riding a motorcycle is challenging, which means that it takes practice to get it right. It’s smart to start your rides with a short warm-up session at a local parking lot. Practice braking and cornering to ensure you and your partner become unified teammates.

Say What?

Bluetooth communicators are great for sharing your excitement and alerting him or her of hazards that may not be obvious. Don’t be a backseat rider, but having two pairs of eyes on the job can be a good thing. Check out Sena Bluetooth and Mesh Communicators.

Anything to add?


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