It’s no secret that left hand turning vehicles are a significant hazard. And because we know this, we are presumably on high alert when approaching intersections.
But, don’t get that prudence confused with fear. Riding afraid can cause its own problems and makes riding no fun at all.
You can’t control what the other guy does, but you can utilize specific strategies for minimizing the risk of being hit.
1. Ride at speeds that others around you expect.
2. Give yourself more time and space to respond by approaching intersections at conservative speeds. Speeding into intersections is a bad idea. Avoid trying to “make the light” (guilty).
3. Cover your brakes to reduce reaction time and to put you mind and muscles on “high alert”.
4. Be conspicuous. I’m all for high viz, but even more important is selecting the optimum lane position so others can see you. Always be aware of line of sight! Studies show that high beams on during the day can be helpful. Do not flash your lights…it’s too easily mis-communicated. Avoid “hiding” behind vehicles ahead…don’t tailgate.
5. Move across your lane to become more noticed and visible. This is the SMIDSY concept. You don’t have to weave as some advocate. A move across the driver’s field of view is sufficient so you visually break yourself away from the static background.
6. Know the clues. Drivers often have a “tell” that they are about to go…a turn of the head or a steering wheel movement should have you already going for the brakes (don’t overreact though). Look for wheel movement on cars approaching from the side.
7. Make sure your emergency braking skills are as close to 100% as possible. Most riders don’t come near the stopping potential of their bike and tires. Training and continual practice is key here. My parking lot course and track days are excellent for getting more comfortable with more extreme brake force.
8. Learn and practice “brake, then swerve” techniques.
9. Don’t rely on loud pipes and other passive strategies for your survival.
10. Look at situations like this as a challenge. I equate it to a video game, like w88, where you encounter hazards that you skillfully manage.
The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle in traffic is risky. People do stupid things and will continue to do so. It’s your job to do the very best you can to minimize the risk by using effective strategies that give you some measure of control.
This article appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine in 2017.
I know that talking about crashing can harsh your mellow. But, I’m betting you’ll want to know how to avoid the expense and embarrassment of an avoidable mishap. One way to increase your chances of arriving home unscathed is to learn from other riders’ mistakes. That’s where the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) come in.
These two organizations teamed up to create an updated study identifying factors that increase the risk of crashing. This is good news, because the last comprehensive study was published way back in 1981. That’s when USC professor Harry Hurt published his findings of 900 investigated accidents and 3,600 police reports of crashes in and around Los Angeles. The problem is that the results of The Hurt Report were based on eyewitness accounts, rider interviews and police reports, which are often unreliable and inaccurate.
What’s different about the new study is that it uses a “naturalistic” approach, recording the actions of 100 participating riders and then documenting factors that resulted in crashes and near-crashes as they happen. Data is captured by GPS, accelerometers, gyros, lane trackers, forward radar and five unobtrusive video cameras connected to the bikes. This technology dutifully observed and chronicled every move in actual riding conditions over the course of 366,000 miles in and around California, Florida, Virginia and Arizona. The average length of rider participation was one year.
The ages of the volunteer riders ranged from 21 to 79 years of age with roughly one-quarter being female. 41 riders owned a cruiser, 38 had a touring bike and 21 piloted sportbikes. Riding experience ranged from 1 month to over 50 years with pre-study annual mileage ranging from 40 to 40,000-miles. 65% attended and passed at least one rider course. For reference, the national average of formally trained riders in 2014 was only 44%.
Over the course of the study, 30 of the 100 riders crashed. That’s a rather big percentage, but it makes more sense when you consider that over half of the crashes (17) were low speed falls. Past studies didn’t include mundane tipovers, because nobody reported them.
The study doesn’t include conclusions about why riders crash or how to prevent a crash, so I will share my thoughts as we go on. First, let’s list the 30 crash scenarios:
Low speed ground impact (17 crashes)
Leaving the road (3 crashes)
Colliding with a vehicle turning left at an intersection (3 crashes)
Rider striking the back of another vehicle (2 crashes)
Vehicle crossing the rider’s path (1 crash)
Being rear-ended (1 crash)
Getting cut-off by a driver traveling in the same direction (1 crash)
Poor curve negotiation (1 crash)
Falling once underway (1 crash).
The descriptions of the crashes are a bit vague, but you get the idea.
Besides crashes, the naturalistic approach allowed the researchers to “witness” and record 122 near misses. This information helps the researchers identify factors leading up to the mishap.
Many of the study’s tables combine both crashes and near-crashes to identify the most common situations that increase risk. I went ahead and paraphrased the report’s most significant findings to save you from having to decipher the data yourself. You’re welcome.
Slow speed maneuvers are a problem. “Low speed ground impacts” account for over half of the recorded crashes. Whether you consider a slow speed tipover a “crash” or not, these pesky drops are quite common and can cause significant misery. Most are due to insufficient speed, mainly when starting, stopping or making a U-turn.
Curves are dangerous. 55% of the recorded single-vehicle mishaps happened in curves, mostly in right-hand turns and are usually the result of weak cornering skill and/or a too fast entry speed. We can also include poor visual skills as a common contributor to cornering mishaps.
Intersections are hazardous. No surprise here. Careless drivers surely can be blamed for not double-checking before proceeding, but too often a big load of responsibility lands squarely on the rider. You must remember that because of your bike’s relative small size it is difficult for drivers to see you or judge your approach speed and closing distance. Slowing down and selecting a lane position that allows others to see you can avoid the majority of mishaps at intersections. You also want to watch for signs of vehicle movement and cover your brakes just in case.
Rear-ending other vehicles is more common than you think. The number of riders running into the back of another vehicle is surprising. Typically, insufficient following distance, inattention, and a failure to recognize and respond to stopping traffic are likely causes. You can also count on target fixation and weak emergency braking skills as factors.
Beware of blind Spots. The study recorded several incidents where a vehicle traveling in the same direction nearly sideswiped the rider. This frequently happens when a driver fails to check twice before changing lanes, but is also caused by riders surfing in drivers’ blind spots. Don’t blame the driver if you are hiding.
Lack of knowledge, inattention and weak control skills increase risk by 9 times. This combo can result in a multitude of problems like running a red traffic light, failing to recognize a crash as it unfolds, failing to negotiate a corner, dropping the bike during a slow speed maneuver, or running into the back of a stopped vehicle.
Excessive speed and aggressive riding are particularly perilous. The study concludes that riding too fast and passing, particularly on the right, increases the risk of crashing by 18 times.
Aggressive riding combined with a lack of skill is very bad news. The risk of a mishap increases by a whopping 30 times if you mix squidly behavior with lack of knowledge, skill, and attention. That’s 30 times, people!
Tricky road conditions are challenging. Participating riders had issues with sloped surfaces and gravel or dirt roads. Uphill starts present problems for many riders as does maintaining control when riding downhill. Riders also have problems managing balance and traction on gravely surfaces.
Swerving may not be the best choice. Swerving to avoid an object often causes the bike to leave the roadway. This is likely if the rider has weak swerving skills. Many times it’s better to focus on stopping rather than swerving.
Animals, pedestrians and bicyclists need to be watched. People and animals can be unpredictable, so keep an eye out and cover your brakes!
The VTTI/MSF study confirms much of what we already know: that intersections and curves are dangerous and that aggressive riding is just plain foolish. It also reminds us of the importance of rider judgment, attitude, attention and knowledge so we can avoid situations that call for evasive action. And of course, it reinforces the need for excellent bike control.
You’d be smart to identify your own risky behaviors and then get to work to bolster your survival strategies and improve your control skills. And please don’t think that reducing risk comes at the expense of fun. It just isn’t true. The best riders know that a serious attitude, in partnership with well-developed mental and physical skills, makes riding both safer and more fun.
In this article, I will cover passing rules, technique, responsibilities and etiquette. Faster track day riders can often feel frustrated about not being able to pass effectively and efficiently, while newer track day riders may be anxious about passing and being passed. In this article, I will discuss these topics as they pertain to track day riders of all levels.
New Track Rider Passing Apprehension
New track day riders need time to become acclimated to the racetrack environment. That’s why a slower “get your feet wet” pace is necessary.
New track day riders often find themselves riding around the track in clumps with slower riders in the front of the pack. This is most likely to occur in the first few sessions of the Novice group. Thankfully, the late morning and early afternoon sessions flow much better. Why? Because people start passing.
Getting Used to Passing
Most new track day riders are primarily street riders where passing is limited to the occasional overtake of a slow car on a straight section of road. The racetrack offers many more opportunities for passing, but new track riders must convince themselves that passing is not only okay, but is encouraged, as long as the pass is safe and adheres to the rules of the group.
Part of the reason some riders are hesitant to pass is the absence of familiar indicators found on the street that define passing zones, including painted lines and signs telling the rider that it is safe or okay to pass. Once the rider learns that there is plenty of room to pass and has made a few passes on the track, this apprehension diminishes.
Most track day organizations have some passing rules. Passing rules provide a safer, more comfortable environment to have fun and practice riding skills. Rules also remind riders that this is a track day, not a race and discourage aggressive, race-style passing.
For novice groups, some organizations may limit passing to the straights, which minimizes anxiety and intimidation for new riders. Riding in the Zone Non-Sportbike Track Days is a bit more relaxed. Our passing rules allow passing from tip-in to the apex
This means passing on the “inside” onlyat the corner exit, well past the apex where the person being passed is at the apex and drifting to the outside of the track as they exit the corner. This rule prevents riders from “stuffing” the rider being passed and causing him or her to alter their course in order to avoid collision. This is important becasue you want to come as close to the apex as possible to execute the turn properly.
There may be some corners where passing is not allowed, no matter what group you ride in. These are corners where bikes are crossing from one side of the track to the other in a short area, like in a chicane.
Enforcing passing rules can be difficult, but we do a pretty good job through the use of cornerworkers and circulating staff trained to spot passing infractions. A gentle reminder from a staff member is all that is necessary to get the guilty party to conform with the rules.
Make the Pass!
You’ll hear instructors encouraging new track day riders to “make the pass”. This not only allows riders to maintain their pace, but it also prevents a train of riders to accumulate into a long procession. If one rider chooses not to pass, then the rider behind may not pass, creating a line of three riders. Three riders isn’t a train, but soon a fourth and fifth rider joins the group and a conga line begins to form.
The more riders in a line, the harder it is for anyone to pass, so the line grows exponentially longer and before you know it, there is a line of perhaps 8 to 10 bikes riding at a pace set by the slow person at the front. This leads to frustration and potentially risky passes as faster riders in the back desperately try to get by. I’ll talk about ways to avoid the need to make risky passes in a bit.
Passing is a skill that is more akin to chess than to rugby and when done right is very satisfying. Ask any racer what aspect of racecraft has allowed them to achieve success and they will likely put passing near the top of their list.
The trick to passing well is to look well ahead. You must evaluate the person you want to pass so you can make a plan; is he demonstrating a slower exit speed that you can take advantage of by accelerating a bit earlier and harder at the corner exit? Or perhaps he or she exits tight, which may allow you to accelerate around the outside.
Less desirable is if the sower rider exits slower an runs wide where you then cut up the inside (well past the apex) and accelerate away. This is risky if you combine added lean angle with acceleration. Always reduce lean angle as you accelerate!
Once you learn to pass well, you are able to maintain your pace and maximize the flow that leads to finding the “zone”.
Passing on the Gas
Passing can be done in a number of ways. Often, the best way to pass is on the gas as you exit. One trick to use when you want to pass a rider who is only a little slower than you is to hold back a bit before accelerating. This gives you space behind the slower rider for you to increase speed and gain on the rider as you both begin to exit the corner.
Yes, you give up a bit of mid-corner speed, but it gives you the ability to “run up” on the rider you want to pass. Be sure to look well past the rider you are passing to reduce the risk of passing too close.
You want to avoid following too closely to the rider ahead of you. If you attach yourself to the slower rider’s tail, then you are locked into his or her (presumably slower) pace through the corner and exit and you’ll lose the opportunity to catapult by.
Another way to pass is to do so while on the brakes, well before entering a turn. Passing while braking can be tricky, since you want to ideally get past the slower rider before beginning to turn.
To avoid cutting off the rider you just passed, you will likely need to start turning from the spot where you passed, not from the ideal line near outside edge of the track. This means that if you pass on the right before a right-hand turn, you will need to enter the corner from the center of the track to prevent cutting in front of the rider you just passed.
You may think that you have plenty of space to move over, but may have to brake hard to avoid hitting your rear tire, because you cut him off.
Avoiding Risky Passes
If you find yourself at the back of a large pack of slower riders, it may be tempting to overtake the whole group all at once. Oftentimes, this leads to anxiety about not completing the pass in time.
Also, slower riders may become startled by the much faster “closing” speed as the passer zips by. Another common situation is when more than one faster rider attempts to make a big pass, so that there are fast bikes passing on both sides down the straight, making passing zones a bit chaotic.
Another example of a risky pass is when a passer chooses to overtake in an area where the person being passed might drift to the outside of the corner, across the passer’s front wheel. “Pinching” can happen at the entrance or exit of a corner. See diagram.
You must predict that the rider does not know that you are coming up their side and may move over to set up for the corner or drift extra wide at the exit. As the passer, you must take responsibility by predicting that this might happen.
There is one rule for being passed and that is to do nothing but stay on your line. By being predictable, you allow the riders who are passing you to do so without drama. When being passed, do not move abruptly to the left or right in a way that might pinch someone who may be passing.
Sometimes, riders unconsciously move to the outside edge before a corner to set up for the turn. It’s smart to give some room just in case someone is making a late outside pass. This applies to both entering turns, as well as exiting a corner where a faster rider may be coming around the outside on the gas, so avoid drifting to the very edge of the track. See diagram.
How do you know that someone might be ready to pass you? You don’t, but you can predict that there may be a faster rider wanting to come by you at any time, which means that you should avoid going to the very edge of the track when possible.
And do not look over your shoulder! If you hear a motorcycle coming up from behind, keep your eyes ahead and stay on line and the risk of a passing incident becomes a non-issue.
It’s not unusual to have a line of fast riders on slow bikes being held up by a slower rider on a fast bike. The slower rider will likely want to accelerate hard on the straights (it is fun after all), leaving the slower bikes behind only to hold them up in the corners.
This leads to the faster riders (on slower bikes) feeling the need to take greater chances to try and get by the faster bike, since there is no way this will be possible on the straights where the fast bike rockets off.
You may want to accelerate less onto the straights if you suspect there is a group there, but don’t feel obligated. If you don’t want to slow down on the straights, another option is to pit in and let the group get past and then re-enter the track.
If you are one of the fast riders on a slow bike and are frustrated because a slower rider on a fast bike is holding you up, then consider pitting in, rolling down the hot pit, and re-entering the track once the slower rider is well enough ahead. This is smarter than attempting a risky pass to get by. Yes, it will disrupt your flow, but it is often a minor interruption that you can quickly put behind you.
Every session provides opportunities to practice passing. Instead of thinking of passing as a hassle, think of it as another skill to master. Not only will you be rewarded with many more flowing laps, but you’ll discover how satisfying clean passes can feel.
Let’s talk mirrors. Specifically, why we don’t allow mirrors on the racetrack. This topic asked by new participants of our Non-Sportbike Track Days, so I thought I’d address it here in detail.
Questioning the logic behind the “no mirrors” rule is understandable since we are taught as street riders and drivers that checking our six every 5 to 10 seconds is important for safety.
Why Having No Mirrors is Unnerving
On the street, we use mirrors to maintain situational awareness of our surroundings. This includes making sure that nobody is in our blind spots before we change lanes on the highway or be able to swerve to avoid a hazard. Mirrors also help us to see if an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind.
On the street, we use mirrors to know when someone is passing us. It is startling when someone passes when we didn’t know they were there.
On the street, mirrors help us to see whether we are holding up faster drivers or if they are driving too close, prompting us to perhaps let them by.
On the street, mirrors allow us to know that it’s safe to change lanes to make a pass.
Why Mirrors aren’t Needed on the Track
On the track, we don’t “change lanes”. Instead, we stay close to an agreed upon proper “outside-inside-outside line” that is taught throughout the day in every group.
On the track, we don’t need to worry about emergency vehicles. The track is cleared before any other vehicles go on track.
On the track, the situational awareness we must prioritize is the situation that is ahead of us. Your task is to skillfully execute the next corner. Any distractions from behind take precious bandwidth from this task. This is true for new, experienced and even expert track riders. Keep your eyes and attention ahead!
On the track, passes occur frequently enough that it is to be expected at any moment. No need to see if another rider is about to pass…do not do anything except to hold your line.
On the track, gradually ease off line into a “passing lane” to pass a slower rider. No need to see if another rider is behind. Simply set up your pass predictably and smoothly. Do not abruptly dart off line!
On the track, there are times when a rider that is even faster than you may want to pass both you and the rider you are passing. This isn’t a problem if you are predictable. Faster riders behind will accommodate your pass by waiting or giving you the space you need.
We learn to expect riders to pass us (and for us to pass others) multiple times a session. This is unnerving to new track riders because passing on the street is risky, requiring the passer to move into the oncoming lane. Passing is safer on the track becuse it is 40 +- feet wide and everyone is riding in the same direction. Read more about track day passing.
We learn to ignore faster riders behind us so we can focus on riding skillfully and safely. Riders behind are responsible for getting by safely. There is nothing for you to do to accommodate them, except be predictable and stay on the line.
As yourself what you would do differently if you were permitted to have mirrors on the track?
Would you move “out of the way” for faster riders? – I hope not. That would be unsafe. Remember that your job is to stay predictably on the line and to focus on your riding. That is the safe way to ride on the track.
Would you hesitate to pass a slower rider becasue you can’t be sure nobody is behind you? That would be unpredictable. People would expect you to pass a slower rider. Hesitating to do so creates problems. Make the pass.
Don’t bother reading this article if you are content with your riding level or if you have to ask why you should bother spending time and energy improving. However, if you want to increase your motorcycling enjoyment (and safety), then read on.
1. Surround Yourself with the Right people
Align yourself with people who help elevate you to improve your skills rather than people who either stagnate your growth or hold you back. Some riders are not interested in growing, some are simply stuck in their ways, while others are unaware of the benefits of improving. Which people are more likely to help you become a better rider?
And associate with others who share the same level of respect for risk as you. Hopefully you cohorts wear protection and ride responsibly.
Internet and Riding Groups
Join groups that not only align with your riding philosophy, but also encourage and support skill development.
And make sure these groups share accurate information from reputable sources and the moderators aren’t afraid to correct well-meaning, but misleading or inaccurate information.
Seek additional sources to make sure group members know what they are talking about. If not, find another group.
These are your closest riding friends. These like-minded friends are willing and eager to talk about riding skills. Sure, they will talk about the latest bolt-on goodie or the newest model, oil or tire choice. But, at some point they will end up talking about what they recently learned about motorcycle handling, control techniques and the merits of a method they heard about but have not yet tried.
2. Look in the Mirror
Maybe you like the feeling and danger that comes with having only basic riding skills, after all we don’t ride to be safe. But understand that the odds of you suffering the financial and personal costs is much greater than if your skills are advanced.
Ability to Recognize Mistakes
Blaming others is an impediment to growth. Even though “the other guy” may be legally at fault, ask yourself what you could have done to avoid being involved. Maybe nothing, but ask the question of yourself.
And remember that we don’t know what we don’t know. and that we are the worst judge of our true ability. The Dunning Kruger Effect says that the less experience you have at a task, the more you think you know. Don’t be caught out thinking you know what you need to know when you don’t.
Hot on the heels of risk tolerance is motivation to grow. If the perceived reward of improved skill isn’t apparent, then motivation will be low. On the other hand, if you’ve been curious enough to discover just how deep the well of enjoyment is with the introduction of advancing skills, then you’re on your way.
Related to motivation is passion. It takes a lot of courage for beginner riders to make the leap into becoming motorcycle riders. The don’t exactly have passion yet, but they are motivated enough to spend the energy and resources it takes to get into this endeavor.
A certain level of sustained passion is one reason why people stick with riding over the long haul. But, at some point this passion will inevitably level off unless you seek out new opportunities…and growth is the more enduring.
You have to be willing to put in some of your precious energy into making this growth happen. Read, watch videos and ask questions. In other words, seek to find out about what you don’t know.
You don’t need to spend money to get this process started, but at some point you should plan on setting aside money to take some training from professionals, which may include advanced parking lot, off-road, on-street or track day training.
Your Learning Style
Some people are impatient and want to cut to the chase, while others delve into the depths of learning something new. Some learn by absorbing information and then applying the technique, others learn best just by hitting the bullet points and then trying it out.
Whichever way you learn, understand that there are not any real shortcuts. Be patient.
Knowledge is the first step, but knowledge alone will not make you a better rider! You must apply the knowledge by practicing.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable at first when trying something new. You may be afraid to fail or to look like a novice. This is normal. We all go through it. Back to my earlier point…find supportive friends and groups and get some training from a pro organization that has seen it all.
I know that many riders choose not to attend one of my courses or a track training day for fear of embarrassment. Remember, everyone is in the same boat as you. Sure, some will be more proficient or faster than you . So Relax.
The difference between a close call and a crash often points to the rider knowing the effect an action has on control. Unfortunately, a lot of motorcycle riders react incorrectly.
When faced with a life-threatening situation we will pull from our knowledge and experience to decide on a course of action. This means that the quality of your knowledge and experience directly affects whether you act correctly or not.
However, it’s important to note that avoiding an incident requires for you to also have sharp skills, well-developed habits and a keen sense of situational awareness to avoid being put into difficult situations in the first place. Without these important mental skills, you will continually find yourself experiencing close calls and poor outcomes.
Failure to Act
Excellent skills, effective habits and keen awareness still may not be enough. Even with these skills, it is likely that we will react to a life-threatening event with instinctual survival responses.
Human beings are hard wired to react to threats in a similar way our ancient ancestors did when faced with being eaten by a large predator. In this situation it was smart to freeze in our tracks to hopefully go undetected, and if that didn’t work we would run as fast as we could.
Motorcyclists who face a serious hazard often freeze. This can result in the rider acting too late, or not at all, does not lean the motorcycle further as needed to stay on the road when a corner tightens.
After a moment of inaction often comes overreaction. A startled rider may overreact in a knee jerk manner by grabbing the brakes too hard or swerving in the wrong direction. Overreaction is often the root of many “I had to lay it down” scenarios. It’s common for panicked riders to stab the brakes when startled by a mid-corner problem, which can easily lead to a fall.
Oftentimes, there is no time to think. In this case, our mind does a split-second evaluation of the scene and signals the muscles and nerves to act. The action that occurs is not necessarily based on logic, and is surely not derived from thoughtful analysis about what is the best action to take.
Unfortunately, what the rushed and panicked brain concludes as a good idea is often a bad idea. Many riders who attempt to avoid a collision fail to execute the proper action. Often, a lack of mental foresight contributes to the poor outcome as your brain must use precious time to process the unusual event.
It’s human nature for our eyes to fixate solidly on a hazard. This is called target fixation. Since we tend to go where we look, it is important to try to look for an escape, rather than at the threat.
Resisting the natural tendency to look at a threat is not easy. The trick is to condition yourself to look to the solution, not the problem. You do this by finding opportunities on every ride you take to train your eyes and mind to consciously look away from real or imaginary hazards
One of the most common reactions when faced with the prospect of colliding with a car is to grab the brakes. While slowing down is usually a good idea, doing so by abruptly jabbing the brakes can lead to a skid and loss of stopping power and control.
A well-trained and practiced rider may be able to overcome the panic response and brake properly by applying the brakes fully without skidding. But, most motorcycle riders on the road are not that adept at emergency braking, because they don’t practice. This is why anti-lock braking systems are a good idea.
A lot of crashes that are the result of over braking occur in corners. This is because available traction is being shared between cornering and braking forces. It’s important to note that most ABS systems do not prevent a skid when cornering. However, bikes with the latest IMU technology take lean angle into account and is able to arrest a skid caused by overbraking while leaned.
Cornering is one of the most challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics. As humans, we are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees. This comes from our built-in sense of safety.
Regrettably, many riders fail to fully train their brain to accept more extreme lean angles. These riders run off the road when a corner tightens more than expected, because they cannot force themselves to achieve the required angle of lean. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.
Swerving is a very useful maneuver for avoiding a collision. Unfortunately, well-executed swerves are not terribly easy to do, especially for new or untrained riders, because swerving requires the rider to act with confidence and authority.
Because swerving is an advanced skill that few riders are proficient at and because there is a great potential for error, it is often better to try and slow or stop before the hazard. It’s important to remember that swerving and braking don’t mix well.
Expect the Unexpected
The best outcomes occur when the rider predicts that action is required before it becomes urgent. A rider who fails to predict that a car may turn left across his or her path at an intersection is at greater risk of having inadequate time to react appropriately to the situation.
In contrast, the rider who is continually on the lookout for the possibility of this scenario is already mentally and physically prepared and is more likely to act skillfully, and is less likely to act in a way that makes matters worse.
Originally appeared in Motorcycle Consumer News in 2012
As I write this column, I am grieving from the loss of a friend and coworker, taken by a careless driver who ran a red light. Chappie was an avid rider of exceptional skill and was aware of the risks of riding a motorcycle. Many of us can name one or more highly skilled riders who were involved in crashes; some may have even succumbed to their injuries. I am reminded of Larry Grodsky, the safety columnist for Rider Magazine and founder of the Stayin’ Safe on-road rider training program. Larry died when he collided with a deer. Larry fully knew the dangers of animals and took all precautions to avoid being exposed to this hazard. However, circumstances required him to ride later into the evening than he wanted. The chances of encountering a deer may have been elevated, but the risk was probably acceptable. Fate stepped in with a different idea.
Just last week, I answered two letters from readers looking for explanations to why they crashed or almost crashed. Both concerns had to do with traction loss in a curve. After reading each letter, it appeared that both riders were doing nothing that would have increased their risk and that each was fully aware of the long list of possible hazards before them. I answered their letters by mentioning the conditions that can exacerbate traction loss and how to spot surface hazards. What I didn’t include in these replies was a statement that sometimes crashes happen and that even the most knowledgeable, conscientious, and diligent rider can become involved in a mishap. Fatigue, a slip of concentration, or a slightly mistimed maneuver may be responsible, but sometimes the cause is a force or forces completely outside our control.
As someone who has dedicated much of his life to rider training, this does not sit well. Even though continual learning and purposeful practice improves my odds significantly, nothing can absolutely guarantee my safety.
Possible versus Likely
I do believe that “out of the blue” mishaps that befall alert, skilled riders are rare and that the vast majority of crashes are preventable. I also know that sometimes crashes happen, even when the rider has taken all precautions. To ride a motorcycle well we must ride with knowledge of this fact. We all must understand the risks we are taking by riding a two-wheeler so that we can do what is necessary to increase the likelihood that we live a long and healthy life. This means doing all we can to minimize the risks of riding.
The odds of getting hurt or dying as the result of a motorcycle crash are illustrated in statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, there were 4502 fatalities nationwide with a fatality rate of 24.39 per 100 million miles traveled. In comparison, drivers of all vehicle types died at a rate of 1.11 per 100 million miles traveled. NHTSA summarizes by saying: “Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, motorcyclists were about 30 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured.”
These statistics are upsetting. But, if this is news to you then you haven’t been paying attention. Motorcycling has always been riskier than driving a car. And it’s been riskier (statistically speaking) during some years and less risky during others. The reasons include: a surge of new riders during good economic times and/or when fuel prices are high; good weather that leads to more vehicle miles traveled; increases or decreases in safety initiatives at the government level. The list goes on, but you get the idea.
So, does that mean that the more you ride, the more likely you are to crash? Not necessarily. Statistics suggest trends, not absolute outcomes. The chance that flipping a coin will result in heads or tails is 50/50. But, you can flip a coin ten times and it’s possible to get heads all ten times. That doesn’t mean that the odds of getting tails have now gone up; it’s still 50/50. Let’s say the odds of crashing are 1 in 100,000. If we ride 99,999 times, does that mean we will crash on our next ride? No, because the likelihood of you crashing is not based on past rides.
It can be argued that the more you ride, the less likely you are to crash, because you’ve learned how to ride well. However, this only holds true if you have actually become more skilled, as opposed to simply having ridden more miles. It may be less likely that you will crash if you are skilled, but crashes still happen. The fact that we ride means that we are exposed to that risk. So, what can we do to reduce the chance of being involved in a crash? Excluding any mention of bad luck, or fate, or acts of God, we are left with our ability to manage the risk.
Why Crashes Happen
The reasons why crashes happen are not numerous: inattention, alcohol or drug impairment, lack of traffic-management strategies, poor risk perception, lack of mental preparedness and attention, and inadequate cornering, braking and slow-speed skills. Sure, there are other reasons we could add to the list, but you’ll find that this list covers a huge percentage of why crashes happen. You’ll notice that 5 of the 6 reasons I list are mental skills. Not being in the right mental condition to effectively and accurately evaluate the environment puts you at high risk of being involved in a crash.
The physical skills of cornering, braking and keeping a slow-moving motorcycle upright are also critical. It is necessary to have the highest possible level of ability to control your motorcycle, but often it is the lack of mental proficiency and good judgment that gets us into trouble. Poor mental skills require us to use superior physical skills to survive.
About half of all fatalities are the result of single-vehicle crashes and the vast majority of those crashes occur in a curve. Riders often fail to negotiate a corner because they enter the turn faster than they can handle (a lack of mental skill). This usually is followed by an inability to corner effectively at this higher rate of speed (a mostly physical skill). Had the rider used better judgment about entry speed, the corner would have passed without incident.
Single-vehicle crashes can also be the result of road surface hazards. Motorcycle stability relies on traction. Add sand, gravel, oil, anti-freeze, or water onto the pavement and you’ve got the potential for a crash. While the existence of road surface hazards are not in our control, we must learn to spot these hazards before they become a problem.
Car drivers do not need to pay any attention to trivial things like sand or gravel or tar snakes. That’s why many new riders crash as the result of surface issues. Veteran riders learned long ago the dangers of surface hazards and have developed a keen eye for spotting potential problems. However, even experienced riders can find themselves on the ground, having failed to identify a patch of sand or fluid spill.
Unfortunately, we can’t catch all potential surface hazards, but what we can do is predict the likelihood that sand or some other contaminant may be present. For example, riding near a construction site should prompt you to slow down and scan the surface more carefully. A wet road can make it nearly impossible to see a slick spot caused by oil, so it’s smart to reduce speed and minimize lean angle and brake force.
Low speed tipovers may not seem all that scary, but these seemingly benign mishaps can land you in the hospital with nasty fractures and soft tissue damage. Too many riders ignore their slow speed riding skills, partly because it doesn’t seem that important, but also because learning to control a motorcycle at walking speed can be rather intimidating. Stay tuned for an in-depth article on slow speed riding techniques in an upcoming issue.
The Other Guy
The other half of fatal crashes involves a second vehicle. Too many drivers operate their vehicles with ignorance, complacency, and carelessness. These drivers have no intention of killing anyone, but they do not consider that their behavior is putting all road users, not just motorcyclists, at risk. And it’s not just the victim who suffers. I’m sure the driver who took my friend Dereck’s life is living his own personal hell right now.
One factor that leads to careless behavior is how some people treat other drivers when they get behind the wheel. It’s common for otherwise courteous and thoughtful people to tailgate, or bully, or intimidate other drivers when in traffic. There is something about the perceived safety of one’s own automobile and the righteousness of many drivers’ sense of entitlement that causes them to judge others as incompetent and in the way.
There is also the feeling of safety that many drivers of large vehicles feel as they loom over smaller cars and motorcycles. Their perception of personal risk is reduced and the motivation to drive aggressively when late for work can be difficult to resist.
When it comes to motorcyclists, there is a “de-personalization” that happens when we cover our head and face with a helmet and dark shield. Instead of being perceived as a fellow human being, we can be seen as an inanimate object. Even fellow motorcycle riders can fall into this unconscious misperception. I often start track day rider’s meetings by having the attendees introduce themselves to each other. Then I ask them to remember the people they just met and understand that the person they are sharing the racetrack with is just like them; someone who is here to have fun and has to be at work the next day. It sets a tone for safer passing and more courteous behavior.
Do riders who choose to not wear a helmet fair better, since their head and face is not covered? I don’t know of a study that can confirm that theory. However, there have been studies showing that drivers come closer to bicycle riders who wear a helmet compared to riders who don’t. I’m not suggesting we all ride helmetless so that drivers perceive us more as humans; that would be trading a sure risk reducer (head protection) for the hope that a driver will treat us with more courtesy (wishful thinking). However, it does point out that we are sharing the road with fallible beings whose perception of reality varies. Knowing this, you must take precautions that take these variables into account.
A World of Distraction
Another factor that can increase risk is distractions by electronic devices and other sources of stimulation. Music devices, cell phone use, GPS, and texting is at an all time high. It’s common to see drivers wait until they get into their cars before dialing their phone. Even though law-enforcement discourages distracted behavior, the trend of driving while distracted is increasing. More than once, I’ve even seen members of law enforcement chatting on cell phones while driving their police cruiser. What message does that send?
It’s not only electronic devices that distract. Alcohol is the most obvious cause of poor judgment, but there are conditions that we may not consider risky, including having the wrong person in the passenger seat. It’s easy to let a conversation or distracting exuberance lead to poor decisions. The number of teen fatalities with at least one passenger in the car is much higher than teen drivers who are alone. This is why several states allow teens to drive only with immediate family (no joy rides) for the first several months of learning to drive.
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What to Do?
Yikes! With so many uncontrollable factors to contend with, it can seem foolish to ride a motorcycle at all. There is good news, however. We can train ourselves to reduce risk.
For instance, knowing that intersections are one of the most likely places where crashes occur, you must approach intersections with the alertness and precision of a hunted animal. Every sense should be heightened to spot anything amiss. Scan aggressively for movements from the side, front and behind that can signal a vehicle about to invade your space. Keep your brakes covered to minimize braking reaction time, and identify possible escape routes, just in case. To help drivers see you, make sure you are aware of lines of sight and use lane positions that ensure that drivers see you. I see too many riders who foolishly ride in drivers’ blind spots or “hide” behind other vehicles so that it is nearly impossible for drivers to see them until it is too late. You must develop a sixth sense about line of sight to ensure the highest level of conspicuity possible.
Another simple strategy is to wear bright colors. High-viz jackets and helmets are very popular lately. Unfortunately, high-viz is not the color of choice for most fashion-conscious riders. Okay, fine. If you choose to wear black, then be aware that you are increasing the risk of not being seen and don’t be surprised if drivers pull out in front of you more often than if you were to wear more conspicuous gear.
By choosing lane positions that ensure good lines of sight and by wearing bright clothing, we can help defend ourselves from careless drivers who may not see us. But, sometimes crashes happen where neither party is clearly to “blame”. Human beings make mistakes and one or two seemingly small mistakes occurring at just the wrong time can suddenly lead to two vehicles coming together. Even though true “accidents” do happen, you should take solace in the fact that there is usually some control you have in preventing mishaps from happening. In case accidents happen, Go Here and get the best attorney help. However, even the most diligent and skillful rider cannot control all situations at all times. People can avoid mistakes for claiming compensation with the help of attorneys. We share the roads with people that do not take driving seriously and are often in a daze so that they see what they expect to see and not what is in front of their eyes. This means that we must take more responsibility for our own safety by doing all we can to not let a crash happen to us.
Here I go again touting the need for rider training. The reason is that rider training is the gateway to reduced risk. When I say rider training, I don’t only mean formal training programs. I also mean continual practice, whether that is in a parking lot or at a track day. It can also mean purposefully refining mental strategies and control skills while you are on a typical ride or when commuting to work. The opportunity to become a better rider is always present.
The biggest challenge to effective training is motivation. How many riders take advantage of training opportunities to learn new techniques and to brush up on old ones? Not many. I understand. Spending a weekend rolling around a parking lot instead of touring the beautiful countryside does not appeal to many. However, the time spent focusing on mental survival strategies and physical control skills can mean the difference between making it home and spending several expensive days in a hospital bed, or worse. Even a fractured ankle or foot can change your plans for the rest of the season.
Self-help training is just as valid as formal training, as long as your knowledge and control skills are solid to begin with. Get a copy of “Riding in the Zone” or “Total Control” and find the sections in these books that outline parking lot drills. Then find a clean parking lot to spend a half-hour to practice the skills you think need refinement. Make it a social event by inviting a couple of like-minded riding friends to join you (especially those who really need to work on their control skills). Self-help rider training lacks the feedback of a professional instructor, but the drills outlined in a good book can provide you with the fundamental information to help you raise your skill level.
Even the most proficient riders are involved in crashes. However, there is no doubt that we can tip the scales in our favor, if we become as skillful possible, both mentally and physically.
Things often start out okay as you approach the turn, but any lack of cornering confidence sets up the typical cornering crash sequence.
Once the crash sequence begins, it is exponentially more difficult to execute the actions needed to negotiate the curve.
1. Too Fast Entry- You approach and enter the turn faster than your personal level of comfort with leaning or the capability of your bike. Don’t blame the corner. You messed up. Often, a more competent rider could have made the turn with no drama.
2. Poor lane position at turn entry- You enter the turn too close to the inside instead of the outside. Nervous riders who are afraid of running wide often approach corners in the middle-to-inside, making the turn sharper.
3. Narrow angle of view- An inside lane position also limits the view into and beyond the turn.
4. Poor turn-in timing- Countersteering too early or too late and with either too strong or too weak handlebar inputs leads to problems at the exit. (Nervous riders turn in too early).
5. Apex too early- Turn in too early and the bike will be pointed toward the oncoming lane or the edge of the road at the exit. This then requires a second turn input to stay on the road.
6. Mind freeze- When it becomes apparent that things aren’t going well, fear and doubt take over, leading to a shift into survival mode. (We can’t function well in this state).
7. Target fixation- Panic causes rider to look down and at the oncoming car or the guardrail. (Humans are programmed to look at what we fear).
8. Muscle paralysis- Panic leads to ineffective or non existent countersteering and the bike feels like it won’t turn. (It’s common to put pressure on both left and right handgrips as you brace for the worst).
9. Ineffective body position- Poor body position isn’t the most significant cornering failure, but relying on your body to turn the bike (without countersteering) is disastrous. Some riders lean in to try and coax the bike to turn more, while others counterweight for fear of leaning beyond their comfort level.
10. Panic braking- With panic comes the unwillingness to lean more. In response, humans tend to grab the brakes when panicked. Adding significant brake force when leaned leads to traction loss.
What to Do
So, there you have it. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play that aren’t listed here, but this is the most common cornering crash sequence. You can also overly this same sequence to most other crashes where one domino falls and others tumble quickly.
Understand that arresting the sequence is quite difficult once it has been activated. So, enter turns a bit slower and continually learn and consciously practice expert cornering techniques on every ride to prevent this from happening to you!
How to Corner Better
There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:
Swerving is necessary when a car pulls out in front of you and you don’t have time to stop. Or when an obstacle appears and you need to go around it. But, most riders really, really suck at swerving. So much so that some experts recommend that average riders not even attempt it and just concentrate on stopping.
That’s because untrained riders do not understand countersteering or cannot countersteer with authority. These riders give up slowing or stopping, but aren’t able to get the bike moved over in time (and collide at a higher speed than if they slowed). Even if they do avoid the hazard, they often fail to recover and as a result, run off the road or into another hazard.
That said, a rider trained in swerving has a distinct advantage in that she can choose to swerve, or brake and swerve if necessary. Like in most critical situations, untrained riders better have their life insurance paid up. Just sayin’.
Ask yourself ‘What if?’
Sometimes, you need to decide if swerving is the right choice. Let’s say you are approaching an intersection with a truck in the opposite lane waiting to turn left across your path. What would you do if the truck were to suddenly turn? Where would you go? Would it be better to swerve, stop, or accelerate? If people need Affordable Heavy Truck Part here, they need to click on the link and purchase it.
Imagine the scenario in detail and solve the problem several different ways. Then ask yourself whether you have the skills to execute all of the maneuvers required to avoid a crash. If not, then you would be wise to overcome your weaknesses so that when these skills are needed you will be ready.
How to Swerve
A swerve is essentially two consecutive turns; one to avoid an obstacle, the second to recover. One thing to consider is that you must find a safe place to swerve. Look for an escape route. Then execute.
Keep your body upright to let bike flop beneath you. Leaning with the bike will slow the swerve.
If you must brake, separate braking from swerving.
Brake then swerve
Swerve, then brake
The only way to increase the likelihood that a swerve during the heat of battle will be successful is to train and practice. Like the military, we train for the worst. We rarely need the advanced training…until we do! Be ready for the time the enemy strikes.
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.
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.
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!
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!
I never really understood the draw toward a “motorcycle” that didn’t lean. My mentor, David Hough has been a sidecarist for many years, actively lobbying for the recognition of sidecars and trikes in safety programs.
He gave me my first ride in a borrowed Hannigan rig at Americade back in 1999 and later taxied me around his hometown in his beautiful BMW K1 outfit.
The ride was a lot of fun, but I wondered what the practical aspects of hack ownership were. Here is a list of the essentials you need to know before considering a hack.
Three-wheelers will not fall over, making slippery surfaces and slow speed riding situations much easier.
The sidecar driver doesn’t need to put a foot down to support the motorcycle when stopped, making it possible for short riders and disabled riders to not fear dropping the bike.
Carrying a child is less risky, where you can enjoy the piece of mind that they are secure. They may also enjoy the ride more if they can read, color, or play video games.
The possibility of riding year-round even in northern climates,
The ability to carry a pet,
Increased carrying capacity.
Sidecars are fun!
With all good things come some bad and this holds true with three-wheelers, too.
Extra weight and girth that effects acceleration, stopping and maneuverability.
Novice sidecar drivers fail to “remember the car”, running over various obstacles and curbs before learning to allow more space.
Parking may be easy as far as stability is concerned, but a sidecar or trike will take up most of a full-sized parking space.
More wear and tear on many of the motorcycle’s components– the frame, engine and brakes must withstand greater stresses.
Significant modifications are usually required to obtain a good-handling outfit, including a subframe to provide sidecar attachments, changing the front-end geometry to make steering easier and fitting wheels that will take automobile tires.
Converting back and forth is impractical once the motorcycle has been modified to handle well as a three-wheeler.
With the inherit stability of a sidecar rig, it’s easy to think that riding one is easy. But attempting to drive a rig for the first time will quickly convince you that a sidecar outfit requires special skills. I decided that the best way to learn how to operate a hack would be to sign up for a sidecar course.
The one-day sidecar course was for experienced riders. The course began with sidecar-specific information, such as motorcycle/sidecar attachments, and demonstrated the basics of sidecar operation, including body position, and throttle/ brake techniques.
I realized there was more to riding a rig than I previously imagined. The training company provided Honda 250 Nighthawks outfitted with Velorex sidecars. I learned that sidecars need to be matched by size and weight to the motorcycle to help keep the outfit stable. In general terms, the sidecar should weigh approximately 30% of the naked motorcycle.
One thing I learned right away is that a rig steers “backwards” from a two-wheeler. While a rigid sidecar outfit corners “flat” like an automobile, it has one less wheel to help resist a rollover, especially in right-hand turns when the car has a tendency to lift off the ground.
There are differences in turning techniques between two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Sidecars turn using “direct steering” (turn left to go left and turn right to go right) as opposed to countersteering for two-wheelers (turn right to go left and turn left to go right).
This 3-wheeler steering process is similar to driving a car, once you get the right messages from your brain to your hands. For an experienced rider, the sensation of cornering without leaning was odd at first, but became familiar within only a few minutes.
Even though countersteering isn’t part of normal sidecar operation, there are circumstances when a sidecar operator will countersteer. Motorcycle control reverts from direct steering to countersteering when the sidecar is “flying” and only two wheels are in contact with the ground.
As with two-wheeled motorcycle operation, the sidecar outfit turns more easily and smoothly with some throttle application. Throttle can be tricky while cranking the handlebars from side to side, but the results are quite noticeable. I even started playing around with the throttle a bit more aggressively and spinning the rear tire to help the rig turn the corner. “Drifting” sure was fun!
We also learned some expert sidecar skills, such as simultaneously rolling on the throttle and dragging the front brake, to help control the rig and keep the car on the ground in right-handers.
We repeated the exercise, but this time we learned to hang off the seat toward the inside of the turn to help prevent a rollover. It worked like a charm. We were able to negotiate the course with more speed and stability.
Braking technique is very similar between two and three wheelers– apply both brakes, squeeze the clutch, downshift, eyes up, no skidding– with the exception that you don’t have to put your foot down when you come to a stop.
I noticed with my first practice run into the braking area that the training rig pulled to the left under braking. The trainer I was driving didn’t have the sidecar brake connected. A brake on the car’s wheel can minimize this effect.
I also noticed how much brake pressure was needed to stop the rig. Sidecars add a lot of weight to a motorcycle and that weight adds a lot of braking distance to a stop. This is a good reason why a sidecar operator must recognize hazards early and maintain a greater following distance. Of course, the big advantage is that if you manage to skid the front tire, you don’t fall down.
When a front tire does skid, the rig will continue in the direction it is traveling even though the rider may attempt to change direction by turning the front wheel. If the front tire regained traction while the wheel is turned, the rig would suddenly follow in the direction the front wheel is pointed, possibly veering into traffic.
If you do skid the front tire you have the option of either keeping it locked or releasing and re-applying the front brake. If you decide to release the front brake, it’s important to make sure the wheel is pointed in the direction of travel!
Learning to Fly
One of the most fun parts of driving a sidecar is learning to “fly” the car. At first I thought this was more of a show-off technique than something useful. But it actually teaches the important skill of switching from direct steering to countersteering and back.
And there may be times when a hack driver needs to lift the car wheel over a pothole or curb. You want to be able to lift the sidecar wheel about a foot off the ground for extended periods by carefully balancing throttle and steering.
Controlled flying is enjoyable, but uncontrolled flying when swerving can be hazardous to your health. Swerving a three-wheeler is not unlike swerving a two-wheeler– two consecutive steering inputs, one to swerve and the other to recover. However, a sidecar needs direct steering and dramatic body changes to keep the rig from flipping.
The driver needs to quickly move body weight from one side to the other just before the steering input. Initiating a right-hand swerve and recovering after a left-hand swerve caused the car to lift into the air even after hanging my body as far over the sidecar as I could reach.
The other issue with swerving a sidecar is that the operator must remember just how wide the outfit is. This requires a much more dramatic swerve so the car can clear the obstacle.
A Unique Experience
As a longtime rider, I’m always looking for more experiences with motorcycles and was glad to have experienced the world of sidecars. If you get the opportunity to drive a hack, just remember that operating a sidecar is not as easy as just throwing a leg over the seat and driving away. But ilike always, a bit of training is worth the effort.
The USCA is an enthusiast organization, publishing a bi-monthly magazine, The Sidecarist. The USCA holds an annual rally that is an excellent opportunity to view sidecars and talk with owners. Ask nicely and you’ll probably get a ride, too. www.sidecar.com
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”.
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:
You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
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?
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.
“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.
A lot of riders ask about which brake is appropriate for what situations. The short answer is that it depends on speed, desired maneuver and available traction. Here, I’ll discuss proper brake use as it pertains to various situations. Let’s start by defining the characteristics of each brake.
Your front brake is your “power” brake. The front brake is designed to take the burden of getting the bike and you stopped ASAP. The front brakes include components that provide maximum brake force…two large multi-piston calipers, large vented brake rotors, and brake pads designed to handle and dissipate lots of heat. Even the front brake components on smaller bikes and cruisers with a single front brake are more robust than the rear brake.
In contrast, the rear brake is the “control” brake. It provides additional braking power at road speed, but it is the tool you want to use to refine your speed and direction. Make sure to work with the experts from Chelsee’s AC & Brake Emporeum to help you decide the best choice for your needs.
Which Brake and Why?
Now that we have an understanding of the basic characteristics of each brake, we can discuss the benefits or disadvantages of each brake in specific scenarios.
Normal braking (street)
When slowing or stopping normally, use both brakes. This shares the braking load between both tires and helps stabilize the chassis.
Use both brakes to get the most braking power for the shortest stop. The caveat here is that emergency braking causes the load to transfer to the front tire, reducing weight on rear of the machine. This means that it’s much more likely to skid the rear tire and is why you’ll engage the ABS on the rear tire first.
Control the Rear
So, how to get the maximum brake force without skidding? Reduce rear brake pressure as you increase front brake pressure. This isn’t easy to get perfect, but is worth practicing. If all you can manage in an emergency is to use one brake, use the FRONT BRAKE! That’s where the majority of your brake power comes from. Do it firmly and progressively for maximum effect.
Consider that short wheelbase sportbikes will pitch onto their nose earlier and easier than a long and low cruiser or a heavyweight tourer. This means that the rear brake is more effective on these machines in an emergency.
The rear brake is much more useful and effective when carrying a passenger or heavy luggage, because of the extra weight on the rear wheel. This is true no matter what type of bike you ride.
Normal Stops at Intersections, etc.
For the smoothest, controlled “normal” stops, like at an intersection, taper off the front brake and finish with the rear brake. Reduce brake pressure and speed progressively. Avoiding abrupt stops is especially appreciated by passengers who hate having to brace themselves to avoid the unwelcome “helmet bonk”.
You can execute a smooth stop by using the front brake, but it takes more finesse and effort. Keep the right foot on the rear brake until completely stopped. This avoids rolling past your desired stopping point. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of riders surprised when the bike keeps rolling.
Poor Traction Surfaces
When riding on gravel, sand, wet leaves or slick construction plates, use the rear brake. This is because the powerful front brake is much more likely to skid when traction is sketchy and a skidding front wheel means a crash is imminent.Whereas a skidding rear tire is less likely to cause a crash unless it fishtails violently.
The MSF says to ride out a rear tire skid to avoid the rear tire hooking up when sideways and causing a highside. But, chances are that you’ll be okay if you release the rear brake before the rear kicks out too far. ABS reduces this risk significantly, but keep in mind that some less sophisticated ABS systems aren’t very effective at slow speeds, so you may end up with a skid that lasts a foot or two.
Favor the rear brake when creeping along in traffic, stopping smoothly from a slow speed and making tight u-turns. Be very gentle with the front brake, or avoid it altogether when speeds are below, say 8-10 mph; the front brake is too powerful for slow speeds and you risk stopping the bike abruptly which will cause imbalance. I like to lightly “dab” the rear brake as I make very tight u-turns. It gives me more speed control and feel.
Trailbraking is when you carry some brake force past the turn entry to allow more time to refine your entry speed. Light trailbraking (and/or deceleration) also helps the bike lean into the curve. Read all about trailbraking here.
There is a belief that trailbraking is using the rear brake only. But, you can use front only, rear only, both brakes, or even strong engine braking (what I call “trail-deceleration”) to get the desired speed reduction and easy turn-in.
Tight, Slow Corners
I just described a simple use of trailbraking. However, a skilled rider can fine tune their speed and direction control with a finely orchestrated use of the brakes. Start by using both brakes to slow into the curve, but about halfway around (this varies depending on the radius of the curve) smoothly release the front brake but keep a bit of rear brake applied.
This helps “hook” the bike around the last section of the curve and helps refine speed. Ideally, at this point you don’t want to slow anymore, so brake lightly. For uphill tight turns where momentum is important, I often overlap acceleration against that last bit of rear brake force to execute the smoothest transition I can. A bit of late rear brake also helps manage the effects of gravity in downhill curves.
Some larger bikes, particularly tourers link the front and rear brakes. While this limits the proportioning the rider has control of, many manufacturers design their brakes to give more or less power to the front or rear depending on the input of the rider. In this case, thee techniques still apply, but the effect is lessened.
On the racetrack and when riding fast and hard, it makes sense to concentrate on using the front brake only. Yes, you’re giving up the advantages of the rear brake, but brake forces are considerably higher where the rear wheel is barely in contact with the surface.
Professional-level racers develop their rear brake technique to help with direction control, but track day riders and amateur racers are usually better off keeping it simple.
Like most skills, braking skill is perishable and needs regular practice just to maintain proficiency. You don’t need anything more than a large parking lot or a straight piece of remote roadway. Brake hard from speed to practice emergency stopping and work on trailbraking when in appropriate corners. However, the best place to improve all of your skills is at a track day.
It sucks that motorcycles are such easy prey. Keeping possession of your machine requires deploying layers of theft deterrents that keep these lowlifes from riding your bike away or heaving it into a waiting van. But even with our best efforts, a determined criminal will still succeed. Let’s look at some strategies that can discourage thieves so they seek an easier target.
Locks Lower the risk of your bike being ridden away by locking your forks and deploying a disc lock. To prevent the bike from being hoisted into a van, snake a beefy cable lock through the frame and then around a strong, immovable object. An alternative is to lock multiple bikes together. And keep the cable tight and away from the ground when possible to make chiseling more difficult.
Park Smart- It’s smart to park your bike so thieves look elsewhere. Use a busy, well-lit parking spot. A conspicuous security camera is a bonus. Another option is to hide your bike so it won’t be seen in the first place. Thieves often troll the streets seeking specific makes and models, making a bike cover a useful tool.
AlarmsandElectronic Devices Motion alarms can stop a crime from progressing, but can be overridden and are often ignored. But for the best criminal suggestions, criminal defense attorneys for property crimes is the best to hire! Many modern bikes come with immobilizer keys that prevent a would-be thief from easily starting the bike If they want your bike bad enough, they will get it. In this case a GPS tracking device can help with recovery. While talking about crimes, defending against sexual crimes also plays an important role.
Scam Alert Another way to lose a motorcycle is when a crook takes advantage of your trusting nature. Be street smart when trying to sell your bike to a stranger. It’s easy for a posing buyer to ride away with your bike during a test ride or rendezvous with a nearby conspirator ready to toss your machine in a van once out of sight. Don’t allow a test ride without full cash payment first. And have a friend of large stature present for the meeting.
Valuables Securing your valuables is tricky unless you own cavernous hard luggage that accommodate your helmet, riding gear and valuables. If you don’t have locking hard-sided cases you can secure riding gear by threading a cable lock through your helmet’s faceshield opening, jacket sleeves and pant leg and then around grab handles or other frame member.
Coverage When all of your efforts aren’t enough and you discover a sickening void where you motorcycle was once parked you’ll be glad you had insurance coverage. Comprehensive insurance can be expensive enough that you may be tempted to take your chances, but if you live or work where crime happens, think again.