The majority of motorcycle riders do a decent enough job of keeping their bike on two wheels. This simple fact can give the self-perception of proficiency. Perhaps their skills are decent, but it’s hard to know, becasue we as humans suck at measuring our own abilities.
This is so common that two researchers named Dunning and Kruger created the Dunning–Kruger effect that describes how average people suffer from the illusion that their ability is much higher than it really is.
Science also uses the term “Illusory Superiority“. In a research study, a group of Swedes and Americans were surveyed, asking them to compare their driving skills with others. 69% of the Swedes said they were above average and a whopping 93% of Americans believed they were above average! Yeah, right!
Knowing this, is it possible to measure your level of proficiency with any real accuracy? Inaccurate perception of ability is a problem when judging risk tolerance and acceptance. It also leads to complacency in attention and skill development.
What is a “Good” Rider?
The first place to start is to ask what makes a rider “good”? Is it someone who displays impressive control skills on the racetrack or canyons, someone who can do a lengthy standup wheelie, or is it someone who can maneuver an 800-pound motorcycle within tight confines? Certainly, these riders deserve to be recognized for their abilities. But, when it comes to describing a “good” motorcyclist, we must place the ability to make it home every day at the top of the list.
Here’s a quick list that may indicate whether you’re a good rider or if it’s time for some immediate change.
You may be a good rider if:
You rarely experience close calls. Good riders are able to predict threats before they materialize and take appropriate action to “not let it happen to them”.
You have good visual habits. Most new (and many veteran) riders do not look far enough ahead to see and then prepare for what’s next. You must be able to scan a scene and determine the likelihood of a problem developing. Related article
You rarely have pucker moments when cornering. Cornering mistakes account for about half of all fatalities. Anxiety when cornering is the first sign of trouble. Related video.
You are an expert a reading the road. It’s not enough just to look well ahead. This is especially important when riding on twisty roads with blind curves. Good riders consciously look for specific visual clues to create a snapshot of the radius, camber of a corner even before they can see around the bend.
You have had professional training. Like most endeavors that require some semblance of strong coordination, timing, visual acuity and foresight, high level of skill development comes from learning from professional instructors. Sure, your Uncle Joe might be an accomplished rider, but few people know how to teach motorcycling. Training options.
You ride smart. Good riders train for the threat, but ride smart enough to rarely need their superior training. Even the most skilled riders will get into situations they can’t handle if they ride stupid.
You understand the risks. Many riders jump on their bikes without thinking much about the true risk they are taking. Most people ride for fun and would rather not think about the possibility of injury. Good riders understand that if they get seriously hurt, it’s their family and friends that will also pay. Related article.
You accept the risks. Even with an accurate perception of risk you still choose to ride. Cool. We don’t ride to be safe, after all. But, don’t let the thrill of adrenaline get the better of you. Good riders know when and where to wick it up. I highly recommend the racetrack for sporty riders.
You wear protection. This alone does not mean you’re a good rider, but it does indicate that you respect the risks and strive to minimize serious skin abrasions, broken bones or head injuries. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you can ride riskier becasue you’re better protected. Related article.
You have fun while also being safe. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, getting training and wearing protective gear is inconvenient and expensive, but it’s time and money well spent. The satisfaction of riding well and with high confidence increases enjoyment.
No matter how “good” a rider you think you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits, risky attitudes and dangerous perceptions that develop over time without you knowing it. A lot of riders think that seat time is the answer to being a better rider. But, it takes knowledge and purposeful practice to become as good as you think you are.
Change starts with awareness. Take some time to evaluate your current habits and assess whether you harbor unhelpful beliefs and unconscious attitudes. A bit of reflection and purposeful training increases satisfaction, reduces risk and increases enjoyment. It’s true.
Start by opening to the idea that you don’t know all you need to know and evaluate your personal strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to brush off incidents as an insignificant misstep that is quickly forgotten. Even small mistakes can be a sign that you need a bit more work.
The RITZ article on knee dragging is one of the most viewed posts on the website. I can understand why. Dragging a knee is a measure of sport riding accomplishment for many. Nothing says “sport bike hero” better than fully worn tires and scuffed knee pucks. Am I right?
Those of us who drag knee certainly enjoy the sensation, but the real benefit comes from the added confidence it provides. Yes…confidence.
Touching your knee to the pavement is a definitive measure of your exact lean angle. Without this measure, you must rely on your eyes and inner gyro-system to help judge whether your lean angle is nearing your personal limit or the limits of your machine.
Knee dragging provides a way to tell you whether you are leaned a little or a lot. This information helps you determine whether you are pushing hard and nearing the limits, or riding at a conservative pace.
To most street riders, this may not seem all that important. But, it starts to make sense once you begin cornering very fast at lean angles that should only be attempted on a closed course. That’s when you really start to rely on the information that knee dragging provides.
To make the most out of what knee dragging can offer, you must develop a body position that is consistent lap after lap. Otherwise, you’re changing the metric with which lean angle is measured. Riders who have not yet solidified their body position may be inconsistent in how their body is positioned so that their knee may touch the pavement erratically. These variations make the knee dragging an inaccurate measuring tool that can give the rider false confidence that he or she can push harder.
An expert track rider pays attention to exactly when and where his or her knee touches down, lap after lap. They know when to expect their knee to touch and for how long it will skim the surface. Their body position is well-established so they know that the measuring tool is calibrated and will not change. With this awareness, they have a baseline for experimenting and refining technique and to determine how hard they are pushing.
Too many riders make dragging a knee a priority at the expense of body dynamics and cornering control. The result is usually not good.
Remember that knee dragging is the product of excellent cornering skills, effective body positioning and yes, corner speed. Work on that and it’ll happen, eventually. Sign up for on-track Personal Training to help get your skills in shape.
Sometimes, you have the skills and the body position, so all that is missing is speed. But, that is the topic for another article.
Trailbraking is often misunderstood, causing many riders to avoid learning the techique. I often hear people say that they think trailbraking is a technique used only by performance riders and road racers. Not true.
This braking technique is actually quite important for safe and skillful cornering. The first rule for safe cornering is to enter a turn at a safe speed.
What exactly is a “safe” speed? It is a speed that allows you to negotiate the turn comfortably while applying gradual acceleration without the need for deceleration or mid-to-late corner braking. Steady acceleration keeps the bike stable and makes the bike corner predictably, so entry speed should allow for this steady drive through the curve.
The amount of brake pressure needed to slow the motorcycle is directly dependent on the approach speed and the point where you begin braking. Braking earlier means you can use less brake force and braking later requires more brake force.
Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean. Trail braking is most useful for tighter turns with a relatively high approach speed and for downhill hairpins.
On the racetrack, trail braking is typically done using the front brake only, although trail braking can be done with either the front only, rear only or both brakes. It can be argued that engine braking is also trailbraking. I’ve actually coined the phrase “trail-deceleration” to describe the timing of when to initiate engine braking and when to begin accelerating again.
As I mentioned earlier, trail braking is a technique associated with racing as a means to keep the competition at bay. But, it is also useful for street riders. Let’s see how.
*Contrary to what I say in this 2008 video, I have come to believe that trailbraking is very useful on the street to manage corner entry speeds. It is one of the skills we work on during on-street training.
1. Helps Refine Entry Speed
One advantage of trail braking is that it allows the rider to extend the time and distance used to establish entry speed. This can be a real advantage if a bit more braking is needed for a tightening turn or to avoid a mid-corner obstacle. By entering a turn with light brake pressure, you are less likely to upset the chassis if you need to slow a bit more. For minor speed adjustments, simply remain on the brakes a bit longer.
Staying on the brakes past turn-in allows more time and space to get your entry speed just right. On the other hand, if you release the brakes completely before leaning, you have committed to that entry speed. If you need to slow more, you’ll have to begin braking again, which can easily upset the chassis and stress the tires. To prevent front tire traction loss, you must avoid increasing brake force and lean angle at the same time.
For those of you who use the quick-turn method of initiating lean (an excellent thing to learn and use) understand that it isn’t often conducive to trail braking. Most times you will ease into the corner more when trail braking. To turn quickly, you will release the brakes quicker, immediately after turn-in.
Dragging the rear brake a little longer after releasing the front brake is useful for further refining entry and mid-corner speed. Being a weaker brake makes the rear brake easier to introduce smoother braking forces.
2.It Helps the Bike Turn
Trailbraking puts more load onto the front tire for increased traction to handle countersteering inputs. It also steepens chassis geometry as the forks compress to help the bike change direction. It’s important to know that as you begin to release the brakes, you must also relax your arms to let the front wheel track freely through the turn. Follow with a smooth transition to the throttle for a predictable line toward your exit (see #8 below).
Dragging the rear brake is also useful for helping the bike to “pivot” around the center of gravity by “pulling” the rear contact patch rearward.
3. It Enhances Stability (when done right)
Trail braking is also used as a way to enhance stability and control. Trail braking helps minimize forward and rearward chassis pitch that occurs when applying and then releasing the brakes. When the front brake is applied the forks compress, and when the brakes are released they rebound and extend. The forks compress once again when the bike is leaned into the curve. When trail braking, the forks remain compressed as the bike is leaned and the “off-brake” rebound action is eliminated. This also steepens the front end geometry for easier turning. The suspension stays compressed as the bike leans and then rebounds gradually as the brakes are released and the throttle is rolled on.
Trailbraking with both brakes helps slow, but also increases stability even more. The rear brake also increases stability by “pulling” the rear contact patch in line with the front contact patch, controlling any side-to-side fishtailing effect.
4. It Can be Risky (when done wrong)
Trail braking is a technique that combines both cornering and braking forces, which means that you must use light brake pressure otherwise you can lose traction. This is why it is best to get most, if not all, of your braking done before the turn. Because trail braking can be risky it should be used judiciously and should be avoided when traction is limited. However, trail braking is an advanced technique that can be useful for all riders.
Learning how to trail brake starts with overcoming the anxiety that the tires will slide. To prevent “tucking” the front tire and lowsiding, you must use light front brake pressure and understand that increased lean angle requires decreased brake pressure. Once this fundamental level of trail braking is learned, then you can use the technique.
5. Help Salvage a Blown Corner… I Suppose
Remember that trailbraking is a planned technique to refine cornering control and should NOT be confused with salvaging a blown corner entry (that’s called screwing up a corner becasue you didn’t judge entry speed correctly). That said, we all make mistakes and knowing how to trailbrake can be used to fix a mistake. One of the most common reasons for crashes in corners is when a rider enters a turn too fast and lowsides or goes off the road. Most untrained riders panic and either stand the bike up and leave their lane or grab the brakes and lowside. If you are adept at trailbraking, then you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). To reiterate…trailbraking is not technically “braking to save a blown corner”.
6. You Must Get a Feel for it
To brake effectively you must develop a feel for how much brake power is possible without losing control. Brake feel is a learned skill that includes understanding the dynamics of load transfer on traction as well as developing a feel for how your motorcycle’s brakes respond to subtle inputs. This knowledge is necessary if you are to learn to use brake force to maximum advantage.
One way to help refine the trail braking technique is to use two fingers on the front brake. This allows the use of both the brake and the throttle, which is useful for transitioning smoothly between braking and acceleration. The advantage of two-finger braking is that it allows the two remaining digits to remain on the throttle grip (usually the ring and pinkie). This is useful when implementing advanced throttle/brake techniques such as brake and throttle overlapping or throttle blipping (to be covered in a future post).
7. Trailing off is as important as Trailing on
Getting the right brake pressure applied is critical when trail braking. Progressively squeezing the brake transfers weight gradually and avoids spikes in tire load. But, it’s also important to release the brakes progressively to prevent abrupt rebound of the suspension, which can cause the tires to lose traction, especially when at full lean. Even if you don’t lose traction, the extended forks can push the bike into a wider line than desired.
8. Use the Thrake/Brottle Overlap Technique
The throttle/brake overlap technique (Thrake or Brottle, get it?) is how you smoothly transition from brakes to acceleration while leaned fully in a corner. Begin throttle roll-on just before completely releasing the brakes to smooth the transition from braking force to driving force. See me use this technique through turn 1 at Loudon in the video
The brake/throttle overlap technique takes some practice. One technique that is helpful is if you curl your fingers over the front brake lever as you squeeze, then simply straighten your fingers to release brake pressure as you roll on the throttle. You can practice this technique using Brake Drill #4 in Riding in the Zone.
9.Timing is Critical
How long you remain on the brakes is determined by the curve. Imagine yourself barreling dwn a tight downhill hairpin and need to scrub of, say 15-20mph. You trailbrake into the turn, but then release the brakes well before the middle part of the turn. What then happens is gravity “accelerates the bike at a time when you haven’t gotten the bike turned enough. The result is a too wide line that needs another turning inpt to stay in your lane. By hanging onto the brakes a bit longer, the front wheel is pointed more toward the corner exit and not toward the outside of the turn.
10. Brake Pressure is Critical
The right amount of brake pressure (force) will preserve traction (see #4) but also help the bike turn more easily (see #2). At some point in the trailbraking process, perhaps 1/3 around the curve, you are no longer trailbraking to slow down, rather you are using the brakes as a tool to help get the bike completely turned and pointed safely toward the exit (where you can then transition to the throttle (see #8). Brake too hard and the bike will likely stand up instead of lean in…not what you want at that point.
Trail braking Takes Practice
Trailbraking requires expert-level brake and corner control, which means that most people should be careful with this technique until they become proficient through practice. Once a rider is reasonably proficient at both braking and cornering, then he or she should start to explore the benefits of trailbraking, because one day, they’ll need this skill.
How to Practice Trail Braking
By mastering trail braking, you can train your mind and muscles so that you believe it is possible to slow the bike down even when leaned and stay upright. This mastery tells you not only that it’s possible to salvage the corner, but also tells you just how much braking force can be used without sliding the tires. If you think this skill will magically appear when you need it, you are dead wrong! You must practice to make this important tool available to you. How do you practice trail braking? Start in a clean and clear parking lot (see the video above) And then practice on the street where no surface hazards are present. Then refine and solidify the technique by going to a track day and asking an instructor to help you work on this technique.
Braking is one of the most important skills to learn. Regularly practice emergency braking and refine your corner braking technique so these skills remain sharp.
Intersections are very dangerous places to be. The reason drivers collide with motorcycles is because they either don’t see us or they misjudge our approach speed or distance. Here are some tips to help you become more visible at intersections.
Don’t Hide. Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you.
Move within your lane. Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. People see what they expect to see and a motorcycle may not register in their consciousness, even if they are looking at you. Another reason drivers can look at you but not “see” you is because of “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Realize that you appear stationary if you approach a driver straight on. Even if drivers do see you they may not be able to accurately judge closing speed and approach distance because of your bikes relatively narrow frontal area.One trick is to move across your lane as you approach drivers at intersections to visually “present” the broader side area of your bike. For a more dramatic display, weave back and forth in your lane to “sweep” your headlight across drivers’ field of view. You don’t need to go crazy; swerving a few feet left and right a couple of times should do the trick. And weave only if it’s safe to do so.
Be Bright. It’s smart to wear brightly colored riding gear that gets attention and separates you from the busy background. This includes wearing a light-colored helmet and jacket or vest, as well as putting reflective material on your bike and riding gear for being seen in low light situations.
Don’t rely on noise. While loud pipes get attention, sound is not reliable for telling drivers exactly where you are. Not only that, but loud pipes direct most of the exhaust noise rearward rather than forward where the majority of dangers materialize. Selective use of an aftermarket horn is as effective and a lot less annoying to others.
Be ready. Even after using these measures you will likely encounter drivers who invade your right or way. Being mentally ready makes you more likely to approach cautiously and respond skillfully when someone cuts you off. Being ready means actively looking for trouble, slowing down and covering your brakes before approaching intersections even when everything looks to be in order.
But, don’t be a victim. Instead, reflect on your part in any close calls. You may find that (if you’re truly honest and willing) most times you can identify at least one thing you did or didn’t do to prevent the incident.
The best riders predict that a driver might cut them off (or whatever) and are already prepared by covering their brakes and positioning themselves to give maximum time and space to respond.
All the best practices in the world sometimes cannot prevent some crashes. We can’t change the behavior of careless drivers. All we can do is minimize the risk. And wear good protection in case the unavoidable happens.
Like politics and religion, it’s usually a very bad idea to bring up the Loud Pipes debate in mixed company. But, this website is here to discuss such topics, because your well being is at stake.
Before you assume this is an anti- or pro-loud pipes opinion piece, rest assured that I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument and you will discover here which tells more about the best pipes durability and performances. I’ve had bikes with loud exhaust and stock exhaust.
My intent for writing this article is to shed light on the effectiveness of certain strategies for surviving the streets on a motorcycle, including loud pipes.
First, let’s discuss whether noise is effective at getting drivers’ attention. Before that can be answered fully, we must first define “attention”. A loud noise intended as an alert, such as a siren (EMS or law enforcement), a fire alarm, or a horn is perceived as something that requires attention and triggers immediate response.
The appropriate response depends on the noise. A siren heard while driving means you need to pull over. A blaring horn means you may be about to collide with another car (or the other driver is just being a dick). Either way, you snap out of any stupor you may be in and frantically look for the problem.
A siren blasting from a municipal building means a risk to the public, like an approaching weather or seismic event. Even this depends on where you live. In Kansas it’s likely to be a tornado. In California, think earthquake. It also depends on where you are. In a movie theater this may mean fire. You get it.
Did you know that drivers colliding with stationary construction crews is a big problem? Hard to believe, but I guess it’s a thing.
Several methods have been tried to mitigate this all-too-common problem with the latest being sound. An article from the Iowa DOT talks about their trial using audible attenuators to alert drivers of construction crews in the roadway. Read the article here.
Below is an accompanying video demonstrating the attenuator. Take a look. I’ll wait.
Many of you will take this attenuator solution as justification to run loud pipes.
But, hold on. There are differences between this system and loud motorcycle exhausts.
One big difference between the attenuator and loud bike exhaust noise is that the attenuator is directed toward the driver and is accompanied by bright flashing lights. The sound from a motorcycle exhaust is mostly directed rearward.
Sirens and horns are pointed forward for a reason. And when you consider that most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes come from in front, not behind, you can see the argument against loud pipes being responsible for saving lives.
Also, sound bounces off buildings, etc and is absorbed by vegetation, etc. This means that locating the source of the sound is tough. And the time it takes for a driver to identify your location could be way too late.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Another argument against loud pipes is that even the loudest exhaust may not be heard and then responded to in time. This is because cars are sound-insulated to the degree that moderately loud music or an AC fan on high can mask, mute or muffle the sound until it is just part of the background noise.
An open window certainly helps in this regard, but almost every vehicle on the road today has efficient air conditioning, which means fewer and fewer people drive with windows open.
OK. Let’s assume that your loud pipes alert a driver that you and your bike is in the vicinity. But, to avoid a collision requires the driver to know exactly where you are. Knowing you’re in the vicinity isn’t enough.
An example is a driver traveling in the same direction (you’re not riding in a drivers blind spot, right?) not being able to see you and then cutting you off. Unfortunately, your loud exhaust noise won’t tell him or her whether they can change lanes or not. They may look first, but maybe not.
One scenario that was pointed out to me that may justify loud(er) pipes is when in very slow traffic (think L.A.) and you are lane splitting. At these slow speeds it’s possible that a driver could hear a bike approaching from behind and will think twice about changing lanes. But, thankfully most riders don’t have to endure (or at least avoid) that extreme traffic situation, which brings us back to questioning th validity of the loud pipes strategy.
Let’s assume that loud exhaust systems can get attention. But what exactly is the noise conveying? It’s not telling drivers’ to pull over or run for cover, so what do we expect drivers to do exactly?
A Reliable Solution: Be More Visible
If your real goal for having loud pipes is to get drivers’ attention so they don’t cut you off or crash into you, then the arguments made in this article suggest you’d be wise to consider other (or additional) strategies. Here are some suggestions that are likely to be effective.
Now, I know that hi-viz jackets, vests and helmets may not be your thing. But, you don’t have to go all HAZMAT to become more visible. Harley-Davidson predictably sells mostly black jackets to satisfy their traditional customer base, however look beyond the badass blackness and you can find a few more visible options.
Those of you not as encumbered by traditional style requirements have many options available to you, including the aforementioned hi-viz, but also white or bright colored gear that looks both sporty and stylish…and helps you be seen better in traffic. Check out this Scorpion jacket at Twisted Throttle.
One of the MOST effective tools for being seen and avoiding crashes is effective lane positioning.
Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you. It’s up to you to select lane positions that put you in plain view.
Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. There’s this thing called “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Get drivers’ attention my moving within your lane. You can simply change lane positions, or do a slight weave as you approach.
You can rightly argue that a horn is in the same category as loud pipes. But, there is a difference. Unlike loud exhaust, a piercing horn has a more commanding meaning than the noise from loud pipes (yes, even from a “barking” throttle blip). Remember earlier when I talked about how the types of sounds communicate different meaning? Yeah, That.
Before you get all cranky thinking I’m not on your side. I believe that any added tool for being seen is worthwhile.
However, (you knew this was coming, right?) loud pipes can’t be relied on for adding the kind of conspicuity necessary to avoid collisions…visibility. People have to see you!
I’m no scientist, and this is not based on empirical evidence, but experience and logic suggest that relying primarily on loud pipes for visibility is a weak strategy. Does it help? To a degree. But, in my opinion, the effectiveness is trumped by the risk of discrimination from authorities, the disdain from your neighbors and the perpetuation of the outlaw image puts us in risk of heavy handed regulation.
Of course I know that this won’t convince anyone already enamored with the badass sound of their bike to dig up the stock exhaust from the basement. However, I hope this article gives you pause before you repeat the old saw “Loud Pipes Save Lives” without at least considering that this strategy may have a relatively minor effect on preventing crashes.
Admit it…loud pipes make your bike sound better and is a way to experience the raw, visceral power of your awesome machine. But, ask yourself if perhaps they aren’t as effective as most people think at saving lives.
Most riders sit pretty much upright in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with that, however they are not utilizing a simple tool that helps the motorcycle turn, engages the rider in the “dance” between human and machine and increases ground clearance when needed.
We Need More Clearance, Captain!
Positioning your body to the inside of your motorcycle when cornering means that the motorcycle does not have to lean as far for a given speed and turn radius.
Hanging off makes this so by shifting the combined weight of body and machine to move the center of gravity lower and to the inside.
Hanging off not only increases ground clearance, it also keeps the contact patch closer to the center of the tire and adds a degree of “power steering” to help initiate lean. By pre-positioning your body just before turn-in preloads the bike so it falls swiftly from upright to leaned. It can be unsettling the first time you do it as the bike turns so much easier, so experiment gradually.
Body position has an additional benefit of encouraging interaction between you, the bike, and the road. Move your body through a series of curves like you would a dance partner across a dance floor and you’ll be flirting with the Zone in no time. Lead with your eyes and shoulders and your motorcycle will willingly follow your lead.
Active body positioning isn’t just for sport bike riders. Try it on whatever motorcycle you ride.
Body Position “Levels”
You don’t have to hang off like Marc Marquez to benefit from body positioning.
When speeds and lean angles increase, it’s beneficial to use a more “active” body position that provides a greater amount of turning ease and ground clearance. There are three levels of body positioning for cornering: The “basic”, “intermediate”, and “full” hang off techniques.
The “basic” position
Use the basic body position for typical street speeds. This position involves simply leaning your upper body off-center, towards the inside of the turn. Position yourself as if you are kissing your mirror. Keep your inside shoulder low and forward while your eyes look through the curve. Your butt stays more-or-less centered on the seat.
The basic position is easy to do and is not intimidating, making it good for people just learning to hang off.
The “Intermediate” position
The intermediate stage is the body positioning technique I use when riding on street twisties. It is appropriate when riding more aggressively, but is no where near the level of extreme positioning typical of racers.
Learning this is quite simple. All you have to do is lean your upper body into the turn while rocking your hips so your inside sit-bone supports most of your weight. Rocking onto your inside butt cheek just before the corner positions your arms perfectly to countersteer with your inside arm and shoulder pressuring on the inside handlebar and your outside arm slightly extended and relaxed.
Rock onto the inside butt cheek just before the corner so that your body is in position as you countersteer. This is a very simple and effective technique.
The “full” hang off position
The full hang off position allows the most aggressive riders to achieve faster corner speed without dragging hard parts. Hanging off has a lot of benefits, but can cause problems if not done correctly. Here is a basic tutorial:
Get your weight on the balls of your feet.
Use your legs (a little of your arms) to lift your body into position with your butt on the inside edge of the seat.
Position your shoulders and head inside and low (kiss the mirror).
Keep your hips perpendicular to the motorcycle.
Keep about 2-4 inches between your crotch and the fuel tank.
Rest the inner thigh of your outside leg against the tank.
Support a little more than half of your weight with the inside foot.
Hold the grip like a screwdriver with the forearm more or less in line with the handlebar.
Relax your arms by supporting your weight with your legs and torso.
Rest your outside arm on the top of the tank.
Avoid rotating your hips around the tank, which can result in a “crossed” body position where the upper body is positioned over the center of the bike. Instead, keep space between your crotch and the tank so you can move laterally across the bike.
Jack Your leg Into the Tank
For extra support, you can press your outer thigh into the gas tank. With the ball of your foot on the outside footpeg, straighten your ankle to make firm contact between the peg and the tank. Extending your leg in this way helps support your body with your legs, not your arms. The cutouts in sport bike gas tanks are ideal for positioning your inner knee. Adding Stomp Grip® or TecSpec® can help make the contact even more secure.
Try not to use your handlebars when moving from side to side. Doing so can upset the chassis and traction. Instead, use your legs and torso. Get your upper body over the tank, keeping your arms bent. I find that more rearward footrests help with this.
Also, be sure to get your body in position before you initiate lean (often while braking for the turn). Waiting too long can make the corner entry rather stressful and chaotic. Pre-positioning your body results in a quicker turn in (the benefits of quick turning is a topic for another day). It takes some practice to brake while in the hang off position, but it is a technique that must be learned (another future blog topic, I think).
Hang at Your Own Risk
You should be discrete when hanging off on the street. Not only is a full hang-off posture not often necessary, it also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Even when hanging off on the racetrack, it’s not always necessary to hang off like Marquez. Hang off just enough to match your corner speed. Hanging off more may make for better photos, but it’ll wear you out sooner and could actually decrease control.
Slow Speed Maneuvers
One exception to the “inside” body position is when making slow speed maneuvers. In this case, you want to keep your body upright, on top of the bike. This is because stability is almost non-existent and adding body weight to the inside of the bike will lever the bike to the ground. Read about slow speed maneuvers here.
Body Positioning is discussed in the RITZ book. Parking lot drills are also provided so you can learn to make proper, “active” body positioning an integral part of your riding.
The ability to keep your motorcycle upright at parking lot speeds won’t necessarily save your life, it may save you from a broken foot (happened to me) and expensive damage. Sure, you can try to balance your bike using your legs, but it’s way better for your confidence and street cred if you rely more on proficient slow-speed maneuvering skill.
How Not to Suck at Slow Speed Riding
As speeds decrease, we lose the benefit of inertia and gyroscopic forces. The slower you go, the greater role you play in keeping gravity from pulling your motorcycle onto its side. This means keeping the Center of Gravity located directly above the tire contact patches (or keep the contact patches directly beneath the Center of Gravity).
To do this, you must constantly adjust the Center of Gravity / contact patch relationship. It’s like trying to balance a broomstick on your palm. It takes continual adjustment to keep the broom’s contact point vertically below the Center of Gravity so the broomstick remains upright— react too slowly and the broomstick falls to the floor.
You must do the same thing when trying to stay upright on a slow moving motorcycle. The difference is that the motorcycle is the “broomstick” and you must move the tire’s contact patch to keep in balance. This can be done by turning the handlebars left and right, causing the steering head– and the motorcycle’s Center of Gravity – to shift from side-to-side.
By shifting your bodyweight, you move the combined Center of Gravity of bike and rider over the contact patches. A limber torso and a loose grip on the handlebars helps maintain balance in this way.
When making tight turns, position your weight on the outside footpeg (the right peg for left turns) while keeping your body upright as the bike leans. This is called counterweighting.
Keep weight on your footpegs so you can lean the bike more-or-less independently of your body (and vice versa). This allows you to quickly shift body weight, turn the handlebars, or lean the bike to regain balance.
Look Like You Mean It
We tend to go where we look and where you want to go. When performing a tight U-turn that is 180 degrees behind you. Turn your head over your shoulder to look at the turn “exit”.
One other reason for keeping your feet on the footpegs is so your right foot can apply rear brake pressure if you need to slow.
The rear brake is also useful for increasing stability. Maintain steady drive while you drag the rear brake to control speed and also give the drivetrain a force to “pull against”. This “tension” steadies drive force and helps pivot the bike around when making tight U-turns.
One of the most critical controls to master when performing U-turns is throttle control. Forward drive must be delivered smoothly, otherwise you risk dropping your motorcycle. It’s really difficult to make a tight U-turn with the motorcycle lurching abruptly from ham-fisted on-and-off application of the throttle.
All Together Now
Let’s put all the parts together to perform a tight, slow speed turn:
Slow to a suitable speed
Once the motorcycle is slowed, release the brakes
Position your butt on the outside edge of your seat and keep your body upright (counterweight).
Lean the bike and turn the handlebars
Turn your head like a barn owl
Roll on the throttle enough to not stall and keep the throttle steady.
Ease out the clutch about halfway, using the “friction zone” for speed control.
Drag the rear brake lightly to refine speed control.
You may have to lean quite a bit, but that’s okay as long as you maintain steady drive. Minimize throttle movement by keeping your wrist down and anchoring your thumb or index finger to your handlebar control pod.
When you can, try to do your tight U-Turns from a rolling start. That way you have stability already under control. You can also utilize the “keyhole” technique of rolling forward and then swerving slightly away from the direction you want to go before making the turn. this gets the bike leaned earlier.
U-Turns from a Stop
This is a bit tougher. To make a tight turn from a stop, you will want to pre-position yourself and your bike before moving forward. This is done by turning the handlebars to almost full-lock while leaning the bike as far as you feel comfortable into the turn. Your right foot should be on the rear brake with your left leg supporting the bike. Turn your head over your shoulder to look at the turn “exit”.
Now, give it a bit of gas while easing out the clutch quickly enough to go from zero stability (standstill) to stable (about 3-5 mph) in as short a time and distance as possible. But, don’t rush. While doing this, maintain the laen angle and handlebar turn. Get it right and the bike hioooks around gracefully.
Speed Equals Stability
Remember, if you start to fall over, just ease off the rear brake or ease out the clutch a bit to get your speed up a little. But, not too much or you’ll run wide.
Slow speed handling doesn’t have to cause anxiety. A bit of knowledge and practice can increase confidence and decrease the likelihood of a slow speed tip-over and possible injury.
Tell me your experiences with slow speed successes and snafus.
To execute smooth downshifts, it is important to match the engine speed with the road speed. You can do this by slowly easing out the clutch (after you slow).
But sometimes a rapid downshift is necessary. The problem is that releasing the clutch at the wrong time and too abruptly can lead to lurching re-engagement and a rear tire skid or “chirp”. This is where throttle blipping comes in.
Throttle Blipping is the term used to describe the rev-matching technique where the rider momentarily “blips” the throttle to increase engine rpm to better match the revs to the road speed when downshifting.
You’ve probably heard riders blip their throttle as they downshift while rolling to a stoplight. But, throttle blipping is best heard when a sport bike is decelerating and downshifting (and usually braking) from high RPM and high speed.
Listen to my friend Aaron as he demonstrates some of the quickest and smoothest throttle blipping I’ve heard (or is it the magic of modern sport bike electronics?). Listen at the end of the straight starting at 0:15:
Here’s another video showing my throttle hand as I blip the throttle. See 2:20. For comparison, I enter the same corner, but without blipping at 4:08.
Here’s another video showing me smoothly execute three non-blipping downshifts at around 4:15:
The throttle blipping technique is done by quickly cracking the throttle open then closed (blip) while you simultaneously squeeze the clutch and click the gearshift lever. The point is to get engine RPM matched to the lower gear ratio before you release the clutch. The rapid blipping technique occurs within the span of about one-half second. The clutch is quickly squeezed and released as the transmission is shifted down and the right hand blips the throttle. This is repeated with every downshift, one gear at a time.
You can blip the throttle rapidly to reduce the time between gears, or you can be leisurely. High-performance riders blip the throttle very quickly when downshifting between gears as they set up for a corner. Street riders may choose to blip the throttle when downshifting. This is done more slowly when coming to a stop.
Brake and Blip
Oftentimes, you need to brake while downshifting, but trying to simultaneously brake while blipping is a difficult skill to master. The problem is that moving the right hand to blip also causes the braking fingers to move, which invariably changes brake pressure. Combining braking and throttle blipping can be done with less difficulty if you apply the front brake with your index and middle fingers while you close and open the throttle with your thumb and two outside fingers. Arching your brake fingers is also helpful in isolating throttle movements.
The point is to blip the throttle while keeping consistent brake lever pressure. This is most easily done when using very firm braking pressure , like when braking hard from high speeds where brake lever movements translate into relatively minor brake force changes.
Nowadays, you can get a motorcycle that will allow you to shift up and down without using the clutch. When downshifting, the bike’s electronics automatically blips the throttle perfectly as you downshift. Pretty slick.
Is Blipping Necessary?
Some motorcycles benefit from throttle blipping more than others. A big V-twin or single cylinder engine with a lot of engine braking can more easily lock the rear tire if the clutch isn’t released carefully, so blipping makes sense. But, for many bikes, especially ones with in-line 4 cylinder engines, it’s easy enough to quickly but gradually release the clutch between downshifts. It’s what I do when I ride my Triumph Street Triple on the street or track (see video below). With the introduction of slipper clutches on many sportbikes these days, it’s even less necessary to blip the throttle.
Still, a lot of riders swear by throttle blipping. That’s fine, if you do it skillfully. I find that it just adds another thing to do while I’m screaming into turn 1 at over 100mph. Listen to my downshifts at the end of the long straightaway in this video from a recent track day, starting at 2:06 and then throughout the video. You can hear how I simply downshift and then ease out the clutch. It’s done quickly, but smoothly:
One problem with throttle blipping is that it minimizes the stabilizing effect that comes from engine braking. Let me explain.
Engine braking (or rear brake force) causes the rear tire contact patch to drag behind the front tire’s contact patch. Think bungie cord. This pulls the rear of the bike in line with the front.
Blipping the throttle during downshifts minimizes engine braking compared to simply easing out the clutch. A little bit of engine braking still happens, it’s just not as much.
Throttle blipping can be a challenge to learn. But, here’s how.
Sit on your stationary bike with the engine idling and in neutral. Blip the throttle quickly (like a spasm) so the engine revs 600 to 1,000 RPM.
Next, simultaneously squeeze the clutch just as quickly as the throttle. Only squeeze the clutch in about half way. That’s enough to get the transmission smoothly into the next lowest gear.
The next part can’t be done while the bike is running, so shut it off and repeat what you just practiced, but this time press the shift lever down simultaneously with the throttle and clutch. All three controls are engaged at the same time, within the span of less than a half second.
Now go try it in a parking lot. I won’t be pretty at first, but stick with it. Good luck.
Do you blip your throttle? If so, or if not, tell us why?
A motorcycle turns by leaning. Once the bike is banked over, the geometry of the chassis, as well as the rounded profile of the tires and hard-to-describe forces cause the machine to arc around the curve. So, to turn a bike you must get the motorcycle to go from upright to leaned…precisely and efficiently.
This episode is on trailbraking. What is it, what are the benefits and how do you do it?
Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean.
Getting your motorcycle stopped in time to avoid a collision is one of the most important skills you can have. But, simply being able to apply maximum brake force isn’t enough (even if you have modern ABS). Here is an article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine a while back about braking and reaction time that I think deserves some more airtime. Enjoy!
You’re riding along minding your own business when suddenly you are facing the bumper of a left turning sedan. Every cell commands you to get the motorcycle stopped ASAP to prevent your early demise. But, will your response be quick enough?
It’s a good thing that we are hardwired to respond immediately to threats, but too often our synapses do not fire fast enough for a quick and effective respond. Thankfully, there are ways to help make sure you aren’t a victim of too little, too late.
There are actually two components of reaction time: “perception time” and “activation time”. Perception time is the time it takes to figure out what’s going on and decide what action to take. Response time is the time it takes to reach for the brakes. You also have to account for the amount of time it takes to actually get the bike stopped.
Let’s say you’re traveling at 40 mph, which is about 59 feet per second. Recent research indicates the average rider will use about 1.5 seconds to recognize the situation and reach max braking rate, also known as perception-response time. That number can increase to over 2 seconds if you’re daydreaming. That equates to between 88 and 117+ feet before any physical action is taken.
The actual time it takes to get the motorcycle stopped once the brakes are applied depends on speed, machine geometry/weight, available traction, and your ability to use your brakes fully without skidding (ABS helps in this regard). Recent research also shows that an average rider can only achieve a braking rate of 0.6 g’s. That means from 40 mph you’ll need 89 feet to complete the stop. The 1.5 seconds of perception-response time mentioned earlier adds another 88 feet for a total stopping distance of 177 feet.
With perception-response time adding nearly 50% to the total stopping distance, you can see why it’s so important to remain alert. You also want to develop your ability to predict when bad things are about to happen before they unfold. Get ahead of potentially hazardous situations by aggressively scanning for clues that indicate trouble. Be especially vigilant when approaching intersections where most collisions occur.
Stopping in a Corner
Hard braking when the bike is upright is tricky enough when facing an emergency. But, things get even more challenging when you have to stop quickly while leaned because of a hazard around a corner. Perception, response and braking times still apply, but now you also need more time to free up traction by reducing lean angle so you can brake hard with less chance of traction loss. This necessary action adds to total stopping distance. Machines with Cornering ABS offer a distinct advantage here where you can brake hard while maintaining lean angle.
You can reduce activation time by covering the front brake lever and rear brake pedal when approaching potential hot spots. Not only will this simple action reduce activation time, it also puts your whole system on alert.
Of course, the best way to reduce braking distances is to slow down. Trimming just 5 mph off your 40 mph travel speed requires about 32 less feet to stop. Add 5 mph and you’ll need about 35 more feet to stop. Speed up to 60 mph and you’re going to need an extra 155 feet to stop, for a total of 332 feet. Yikes.
Whether or not you avoid a crash is dependent on your ability to react quickly when an otherwise sublime day suddenly turns into a DEFCON 1 war zone. The best riders remain alert and ready for battle, wasting very little processing time before executing evasive action. They also cover the brakes to reduce activation time when approaching intersections. The final step is to regularly practice emergency braking techniques. Can you stop your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance while maintaining in control? Too many riders cannot.
Riding with a group of friends can be a blast. But, it can go all pear-shaped if certain precautions aren’t taken upfront. Some problems are merely inconvenient, like when the group has to wait around because someone didn’t arrive with a full tank of fuel or when someone goes AWOL during the ride.
Other problems are more serious, like when a guy runs into the back of another rider because he was riding too damn close, or when a knucklehead lowsides into a guardrail trying to keep up with the fast guys.
As a group leader, it is your responsibility to take some basic precautions. Let’s take a look at a few.
Before we start: These tips do not take the unique issues of very large groups into account. However, these tips can be used for groups of 2 to perhaps 30 riders. Trying to manage more riders than that and your into a whole other ball of wax. Breaking into smaller subgroups is a better solution.
We Gotta Talk
The root of most group riding mishaps can be traced to a few key factors. The first one is a failure to voice basic ground rules so that members know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Start by evaluating the group; are they aggressive and reckless, or law-abiding and considerate? Is there talk of drinking alcohol or stunting? If so, then nip it in the bud, or pay later.
Speed & Passing
The group is better off if all participants agree on general speed limits and passing. Some group rides I’ve attended come right out and say that I should expect illegal passing and speeds that exceed the legal limit. Knowing this ahead of time let’s me decide whether or not to participate.
One option is to break into sub groups with one sticking to more conservative speeds while following the rules of the road.
Another rule I want to know is whether there is passing within the group. I’m not a fan of inter-group overtaking because it encourages bravado and risky dicing. If passing within the group isn’t allowed, then faster riders should ride up front and everyone must maintain a safe following distance from each other. If a rider wants be in a different part of the group, he or she can wave someone past or change positions at the next stop.
When the leader decides to overtake slower traffic, he or she must be smart about whether it’s worth the risk. If you have a turn or stop coming fairly soon, just hang tight. But, if the opportunity presents itself to make a pass that is safe for all, do it. Your fellow riders then decide to pass or not and hopefully have the self-discipline to patiently wait if it’s unsafe to overtake.
Passing as a group is dangerous if riders blindly follow the person in front. It’s better to tell your group to wait until the rider ahead has almost completed the pass before committing. And when making the pass, maintain passing speed well beyond the slow vehicle so that the next person has room to return to the lane and file in behind you.
A staggered formation is often the norm when on long straight sections of road with at least a 2 second following distance from the bike directly ahead. This means that you will be only about one second behind the rider offset to your immediate left or right. Even though the staggered formation gives riders access to the width of the lane, this formation is pretty tight and can lead to collisions when attempting evasive maneuvers. By riding two abreast, you are limited to either the left or right portion of your lane. And that’s just not good enough for maximum safety.
That’s why the leader needs to abandon the staggered formation when the road is narrow or riddled with surface hazards and when the road turns twisty! When following single file, each rider has the full width of the lane to use cornering lines or avoid mid-corner hazards. .
There is a recent discussion about something called the “reverse formation”. It basically has the front rider in the right wheel track rather than the left. The idea is that it affords the second rider to see and be seen better. But, I have my reservations, because this puts the first rider in a spot that is hidden from view and prevents him or her from seeing ahead as well. See the video and add your thoughts in the comments below.
One time when riders should be side-by-side is when coming to a stop or entering traffic. When stopping, the leader should gradually slow and come to a complete stop. The rest of the riders should “box in” so the group is compact.
To keep the group together, the leader should stop and wait when possible, like at intersections and then wait for the last rider to arrive. Look for a thumbs-up before continuing. This is used in combination with each rider taking responsibility for the rider behind by waiting until the straggler is in sight before turning onto a new road.
One thing I see from time to time is a group leader who is too concerned with keeping the group together when it isn’t necessary (or safe). For example, if there are no turns or stops for people to get lost, then keep moving, make safe passes and let people have fun. And know when it is important to keep the group together, like in areas with many chances for wrong turns.
When it’s time to go, the leader should leave slowly. This helps prevent the bungie effect where riders in the back must go much faster to catch up with the leaders. Remember, the group is relying on the leader to lead the way.
Some groups use communicators between the group leader and a “sweep” rider to monitor things. This can really help manage group rides and is a way the leader can know if the pace is okay or if there is any potential trouble. An experienced volunteer should be put in charge of this sweep role.
Group riding often places safety in the back seat. It’s not unusual for safety-focused individuals to become reckless when exposed to pack mentality. One thing to emphasize that each person rides within their limits and to resist the temptation to keep up with the group. Far too many group rides end in tragedy because one or more participants exceed their riding ability.
Managing the group’s pace is the job of the leader. Many times the leader sets a moderate pace, only to increase the speed as the ride progresses. It’s okay to wick up the speed through a nice set of twisties, but you must then slow the pace to allow stragglers to catch up without much effort. This pattern balance fun with predictability that encourages slower riders from feeling a need to stay in touch.
When things do go wrong, you will want to be able to manage the situation. Ask if anyone is CPR or First Aid certified if you’re not. However, getting certified in first aid training cambridge is the safest as you may not always find help. Know if you’ll be riding in areas with no cell service and have an idea of the nearest population if you need to send someone to make a call.
It’s smart to attend a class or seminar that discusses how to manage an accident scene and a motorcycle scene in particular. Or, you can also check out lawyers for slip and fall injuries in order to understand accident incidents.
Before this happens, you also need to consider if you could be held liable. Some groups require waivers, but most don’t. It’s implied that each participant is responsible for his or her actions, but that doesn’t stop family from coming after you anyway. Sucks, I know. But it’s the society we live in. It’s another reason to follow these tips to avoid problems. Also, encourage full protective gear so relatively minor mishaps remain minor.
Set the Tone
Yes, being a true group leader (as opposed to a reluctant leader) means you are willing to take on the responsibility. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. It can be stressful, but is also rewarding to show others a good time. Group leading isn’t too hard with just a bit of preparation.
This leadership begins before the ride by posting rules and expected behavior, encouraging full protective gear and explaining logistics. A bit of foresight reduces risk and increases enjoyment. And if things go well, you’ll look like a hero. If things go wrong…well, just follow these tips and you will hopefully be okay.
Well organized groups select a strong rider to take up the back to keep an eye on things. This person can identify any particularly weak or aggressive riders and can help keep the group together. Communication to the group leader is a huge plus.
More on Group Riding
Marc R. one of our guest instructors penned a piece on riding in groups that dovetails nicely with this article. Check it out.
At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.
My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.
This is a clear demonstration of the consequences of not having proper braking skills. Take a look and then I’ll give you my opinion. I’ll wait.
A shocking number of riders in this video’s original version blamed everything but the rider. Sad.
Well, this is the most classic example of a failure to apply the brakes properly under pressure.
The rider demonstrates an inability to “predict the future” through situational awareness leading to the sudden need for evasive action. And while you can argue that the rider was positioned too close to deal with the stopping vehicles and that the tar snakes reduced traction, the primary reason the crash occurred was lousy skills.
The rider skids the rear tire. Untrained riders react to panic braking situations the only way they know how… which is to stomp on the big brake pedal with their strong leg, like when driving in a car.
He then throws out his “outriggers” (legs) so that his feet are now off the pegs…and off the rear brake.
Our rider fails to use the most powerful tool at his disposal—the front brake.
All the time, the rider fixates his eyes on the back of the truck. Target fixation is the final straw.
Guest writer Paul Duval shares his thoughtful observations about performance cornering based on electronic data gathering.
Corner speed. It is the holy grail of motorcycle road racing and track day riding alike. Knee down and railing, carving the corners like a snowboarder or giant slalom skier. It looks and feels awesome! Smooth technique pays big dividends and you can carry a lot of speed as your skills progress.
But how is it that you can be cranked way over thinking you have maxed your speed for a given corner and yet, some other dude comes by on the inside (or outside at a Tony’s Track Day!) and walks away from you before the bikes are even upright on the next straight bit?
And by the way, He’s not even leaned over as far as you are! There must be more to corner speed than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look at the middle of a corner.
Corner Speed Perception
If we draw the arc of your path on paper it looks like a smooth outside-inside-outside line and it is easy to visualize maintaining a somewhat constant speed, decreasing and increasing in a smooth fashion, but overall steady. One could imagine their speed data trace looking similar or the same as the arc of their line through the corner. This is, in fact, how most riders perceive cornerspeed. They feel they can put a number on it.
For example, that’s a 70 mph sweeper, or a 50 mph hairpin. But something is wrong. How did that fast guy in the example above pass while you were dragging knee, elbow, boot, etc. with 57 degrees of lean angle? If he’s going faster, wouldn’t he need MORE lean, not less?
V is for Variable Corner Speed
If we look at GPS speed data from a corner, we can see the first flaw in our perception of corner speed. It is not constant. It is not even close. From the start of the arc that we drew with our bike, speed drops precipitously until it reaches a low point much slower than expected somewhere near the middle of the arc. If you perceive a 70 MPH corner, the chances are your slowest point of that turn is 50MPH. This rapidly dropping speed line doesn’t rest at the bottom for long rather it reverses course and quickly climbs out of the hole. The trace of your speed data doesn’t look like a U. Instead it looks decidedly like a V. Our minds fill in the slow spot, and we perceive a 70 MPH corner.
The Pivot Point
The bottom of the V, or the slowest point of the corner is the important spot to recognize. From here on out I will call this the pivot point. The pivot point should actually be part of your cornering plan. In other words, you need a reference point (or a few) for this spot on track. It is the spot at which your bike can change direction the most easily.
This critical moment in riding is often ignored, but it is where the real direction change happens. As you trail off the brakes, your hands get lighter on the controls until you have no weight on the bars and you allow the wheel fall INTO the turn. THIS is the spot where your grip needs to be as light as possible.
To be clear, you still need to countersteer to initiate lean. Countersteering is an important technique, but in this article, we are focused on the middle of the turn, the pivot point.
When and Where to Pivot?
Most of you are thinking, “we are talking about the apex, right”? I am avoiding the word apex on purpose. Many people refer to the apex as the point where you are closest to the inside of the pavement. This is often not the same place as the pivot point.
For example, double apex corners and increasing radius corners tend to have the pivot point in a different location than the “apex”. This concept applies to all bikes, big and small, and all lines, point and shoot, or fast and flowing. Different bikes may choose different pivot points to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform.
In a “fast exit” corner, the pivot point would be located earlier and you would get on the gas sooner to take advantage of that fast exit.
In a “slow exit” corner, the pivot point is located later to take advantage off all the possible entry speed.
In a “balanced corner” (equally fast entry/exit) you have a little wiggle room. If you need entry speed to pass a rider you can pivot a little later, if you want to out drive them on the exit then pivot a little earlier.
Similar Mid-Corner Speed
Interestingly, if you compare a fast lap and a slow one, you will often see that the mid corner speed (slowest point) of the faster rider is not a lot different from that of intermediate riders. Maybe just a few MPH, or maybe no different at all!
What you will see is that the slopes of the V in the speed data trace are steeper, usually on both sides. The faster rider is faster into and out of the corner. Understanding where your pivot point is allows you to plan the fastest way the get to it, and the fastest way to get away from it.
So here comes that fast(er) guy blowing by you on the outside into a fast corner. You already feel you are mid corner and cranked over good, but he knows that he has some yards to go before reaching the pivot point, and is taking advantage by carrying more entry speed, tipping in slower and braking later or longer.
You both reach the same minimum speed in this corner, and you feel like he’s in touch for a moment. You might even feel like your “corner speed” is the same as his, but he quickly pivots the bike and walks away on the exit because he can accelerate sooner than you. Sigh.
Time to start thinking in Vs.
About Paul Duval
Paul Duval is a fellow track day instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, current top runner in Supersport classes at LRRS, and professional educator. You can see Paul in action at most Tony’s Track Days events.
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I always thought pledges were a crock until I learned the potential benefit in encouraging behavior change, risk awareness and a quest for greater proficiency.
The point of signing this pledge is four-fold. First, it is a way to help you reflect on yourself as a rider. Second, it is a commitment that you can share with your family saying you are doing all you can to make it home at the end of a ride. Third, it holds you to following these behaviors. Fourth, it encourages you to continually improve areas where you may be weak.
This pledge is not only for yourself to make riding more fun and safe, but also for the ones who love you. A commitment to safe riding is an expression of respect and love toward your loved ones.
Imagine the emotional and financial pain they would suffer if you die or become injured. Imagine them being forced to care for you by cleaning your wounds, or worse. Sorry to be a bummer, but…
So, here we go.
I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking a formal safety/skills course.
I will continue to practice my physical skills to keep them sharp.
I will learn about and develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.
I will wear protective gear on every ride.
Feel free to add your own points. Also, feel free to copy this pledge and print it out.* Then sign it, hang it on your garage wall, and give a copy to each of the people who care about you.
*Please distribute this pledge to your riding friends and family. I’d really appreciate it if you include credit and a link to this article. Thanks.
Surf any motorcycle forum or Facebook group and you’ll invariably find a thread asking for advice about the best motorcycles for new riders. Read the comments and you’ll see a very wide range of arguments for and against certain sizes, styles and models. You will also read discussions about whether the newbie will outgrow a 250cc “starter” bike too soon, followed by well-meaning people reassuring the new rider that they will be fine buying a 600cc super-sport machine or 1200cc cruiser.
You’ll even come across suggestions that a 1000+cc superbike or 1800+cc cruiser is just the ticket. These dodo birds can be identified by their native call: “I learned on a 195hp Hayabusa and did just fine, so don’t be a wussy.” Ummmm. okay.
One thing to consider when filtering advice is that people who have been riding a while seem to forget what it is like to be a newbie and view this issue through their own experience. And their advice is further skewed if learning to ride came to them easier than the average person. This leads to inappropriate advice that does not apply to most average beginners.
Here are my thoughts on the topic:
Size and Power Matters
I don’t care what the internet “experts” say, with few exceptions a new rider is better off starting on a physically smaller bike with modest power.
Newer riders use most of their bandwidth just staying upright without whiskey-throttling themselves into a fence. Toss them into the real world and their heads explode trying to juggle the controls while negotiating blind curves, distracted drivers and surface hazards they never had to worry about as car drivers.
You could argue that these challenges are present no matter what bike the beginner is riding. This is true, but a smaller, less powerful bike is easier to control and is much less likely to intimidate. The odds of a newer rider sticking with riding are greater if the bike they ride is fun…and fun to a newbie means easy to ride…and that means less weight and power.
Alright, there are times when a larger , more powerful bike makes sense like when it has to haul around a large human. In this case, I suggest a mid-sized bike with just enough power to comfortably maintain 70mph with adequate legroom and reach the handlebars.
The type of bike chosen needs to match physical limits. A person with a bad back should choose a bike with more upright ergonomics. Despite common belief, cruisers aren’t good for most people who have back issues, as the riding position rounds the spine, causing discs to bulge. People with neck or shoulder problems may need to stay away from race-replica sport bikes. I choose to ride a Triumph Street Triple as my track day bike, because it has most of the capability of a pure super sport bike, but with higher handlebars.
Reader Bruce A.pointed me to this cool site that can help you visualize how a person your size might fit on certain bikes. Click on the Options tab to see if your inseam will allow you to stand flat footed.
A big concern of most new riders (and a lot of experience riders, as well) is seat height, or more precisely, “can I touch flat-footed?”. This is understandable if the person is anxious about balancing a heavy motorcycle. The lighter the bike, the less concerning it is to have only the balls of your feet on the ground.
Most smaller riders choose cruisers because they typically have low seat heights. If you’re “inseam challenged” but want a bike that is more versatile than a cruiser, like a sporty standard or perhaps a small sportbike to carve curves to do track days you’ll have a few good options. Harley, Triumph and BMW offer low versions of certain models and many manufacturers have low seats and other components to help smaller riders feel more secure.
It may be possible to lower the chassis of some bikes using aftermarket suspension links and by slipping the forks higher in the triple clamps. You can also have seats cut down or find a lower aftermarket seat.
Here’s one thing to consider…after some time learning how to balance the bike while stopping and starting, then not being able to touch flat-footed becomes much less of an issue. Once you become familiar with the balance of your bike and learn the slow speed techniques, you will be surprised how easy it is to keep a bike upright.
This means that eventually, you will be able to consider almost any bike on the market. Just don’t go crazy…you may drool over a big cruiser, tourer or adventure bike, but be realistic that the bike is a good fit.
Case in point, any capable dirtbike has around a 34-inch seat height. Few people I know have an inseam that long, meaning that all dirt riders must manage while only touching tippy-toe. Dirt riders quickly learn how to balance, and their dirtbikes are very light. Sure, a dirtbike can still weight over 300 pounds, but that is manageable by most reasonably fit individuals. Another example of light makes right!
It’s tempting to throw down your money on a shiny new motorcycle. This option eliminates the stress of buying a used machine from some potential Craigslist scammer and you get the benefit of modern amenities and safety features, like ABS and traction control. Not to mention the pride of owning the newest model on the road.
However, dropping $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 on a bike that will likely get dropped puts a lot more stress on the new rider. Too much attention will be put on avoiding that first scratch on those shiny chrome or plastic parts. And stress does not create the best condition for fun or open learning. That’s why it’s almost always better to buy a cared-for used motorcycle that isn’t as precious.
Buying used means you need to do your research about whether an older model bike is appropriate, which includes being patient in your search for the right motorcycle. Unlike cars and trucks, most motorcycles do not rack up very high miles.
You will also likely need to do some maintenance tasks before the bike is fully up to snuff. Depending on whether or not you live in an area with long riding season, it’s not unusual to find a five year old bike with only 5,000 miles. That means that not too much will need to be done to make it roadworthy. However, a frequently ridden motorcycle five or more years old will have more 10,000 or more miles. Here are a list of components that often need replacement:
Keep in mind that whatever bike you buy (new or used), you want easy access to service and parts. Exotic bikes are cool, but it sucks if you have to drive hours to get it serviced and even worse if you have to wait too long for parts.
Another reason to buy used is so you have enough money left over in your budget to buy good protective gear. It is said that if you can’t afford a good helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots, then you can’t afford to be a motorcyclist. While that may sound draconian, it is a smart rule to follow.
You will also have money left to pay for advanced rider training. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once you know how to operate the bike that you know how to “ride”, which involves much more than simply being able to control the machine.
Ride a Slow Bike Fast (safely)
I want to emphasize that the bikes I am listing below are not only “beginner bikes”! These bikes are appropriate for new riders, but are also entertaining enough to captivate experienced riders who know how much fun it is to ride lightweight machines. Unfortunately, most people think that moving up to the large displacement as soon as possible is the way to go. It’s not.
Take me for example. I have ridden almost every large and small motorcycle on the market and still choose to stick with my middleweight Triumph Tiger 800 (streetbike) and Street Triple (track bike).
Speaking of track day bikes, I constantly caution track day riders from buying larger and more powerful bikes, and instead, stick with the smaller bike they started on and learn to ride it really well before considering a move.
Even riders at the top of their game don’t often find benefit in owning a bike with more power. Believe me, it is quite possible to ride faster on board a 600cc sportbike, or even a well-setup SV650 than someone struggling to manage the power of a liter-sized superbike. Lower-powered bikes push the rider to ride more efficiently and corner with greater precision. Big power tends to be a crutch that slows down skill development. As the saying goes, “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, rather than ride a fast bike slow”.
The video shows the Intermediate (Yellow group) session with Tony’s Track Days. Before anyone asks; the suspension and every other component on the 250R is stock. Thanks Younia, for the ride!
One last thing to consider are the benefits to riding off-road for new and experienced riders to learn traction management, body positioning and throttle control where there are no texting teens to punt you off the road.
Best Bikes for Newer Riders and Open-Minded Veterans
So, here is my list of street bikes appropriate for new or newer riders, by size and category:
Dual-sports are used on pavement and dirt. They have tall seat heights, but are very light compared to other street-legal bikes.
Honda CRF250L– A great choice if you can manage the seat height. $$
Yamaha XT225/250- Very low seat height and great as a commuter or for off-road adventures. $$ – Older 225s are just as good and with more comfort. $
Yamaha WR250r – More hardcore than other choices in this category. $$$
This is a list I came up with, but I know I’m missing some options, like older bikes. Please include your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll consider adding it to the list.
What You Won’t See On My List
A lot of beginners eye bikes in the 600cc class of sport bikes, thinking the engine size makes it manageable for a newb. But, 600s are shar edged tools that can cut a rider whose skills aren’t developed enough. Yes, beginners survive starting on a 600, but why put the beginner through the stress of having to manage a machine designed for experienced riders?
You may wonder why there are several 650cc and 800cc bikes on my list. Well, those bikes are designed to be easy to ride by average riders wanting a bike that is comfortable and practical for all types of riding. The engine displacement may be greater, but the power delivery is more mellow and user-friendly.
Cruisers are sized with big displacement engines, but they are tuned to lug around town and produce less power per cc than standard or sporty models. That’s why it’s not unheard of to find a newb riding a 1000 or 1200cc cruiser as their first bike. But, these bikes are still not great starter bikes becasue they are heavy with forward controls and a long wheelbase, making them unwieldy at slow speeds.
Get a used Ninja 250/300 if you’re small and like performance machines. Get a Honda Rebel 300 or 500 if you like cruisers and have a really short inseam. Score a Honda CRF250L or a Kawi KLX250s if you lean more toward off-roading and have long legs or get a XT225/250 if you have shorter legs. Get a Kawi 300 Versys if you like adventure-bike styling and capability. For a sportier bike, consider a Honda CBR250, Kawasaki 300 or 400 Ninja or a BMW 310R.
A step up in size may be just fine for a lot of beginners. In this case, the Honda CB500 series makes a lot of sense. I like the Vulcan S for a mid-sized cruiser and a cheap, used DRz400s for a bigger dual-sport. KLR650 is another (heavier) off road worthy option.
For someone who is pretty comfortable on two wheels, a Ninja 650 or SV650 are my most recommended bikes becasue they are capable of touring, commuting and doing track days. You can even ride dirt roads pretty well on these bikes. The Versys 650 is another great option, as is the Yamaha FZ-07.
For bigger dudes with the skill, a BMW 700/800GS or F800R may work (750/850 for 2019). For cruisers, you may get away with a Harley 883 or even a 1000 Sportster, but I’d seriously look at the Indian Scout. For sport bikes, consider a Honda CBR650 Ninja 650, or drum roll…a used SV650.
Since few of us are masters of every aspect of motorcycling, we invariably experience bouts of low-level anxiety or even panic. According to experts from Legacy Healing in Fort Lauderdale center, anxiety mostly sucks, but it can also be a useful tool for helping you be a safer and more proficient motorcycle rider…if you pay attention.
“The best riders frequently check themselves for signs of stress and then act to regain relaxed composure so they can enjoy a safer and more gratifying ride. With anxiety out of the picture, they can also identify where the stress is coming from, whether that’s a lack of confidence in their ability or trepidation about a particularly risky environment, such as a rain-slick corner or a route riddled with dangerous intersections. Whatever the source, these riders use their awareness of stress to recognize their comfort limit and then back off so that anxiety does not affect control, safety, or fun.”
Too bad I couldn’t follow my own advice.
Recently, I’ve had a series of off-road mishaps of varying levels of severity that have messed with my Mojo.
I figured perhaps upgrading to a more capable and lighter machine would help. So, I sold the sturdy and rider-friendly KLX250/351s and bought a beautiful KTM450 XC-w. I never intended to buy the KTM, but the price was right, it was in a nearby town and it was sexy as hell.
I knew from the day I bought it that the 450 was more bike than I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t think I could manage the power or the edgy handling, but the fact that it was a less rider-friendly bike made my anxiety worse. Ugh.
So, I remedied the situation by buying a Honda CRF250x. It’s the bike I should have bought in the first place. It’s more like a play bike than the KTM, but more capable than the KLX. Let’s see if that was the cure.
With the confidence of a less intimidating bike I went riding with my friend Paul at his local dirt track. This area features a motocross-type sand section and some tighter technical trail stuff with some steep drops and climbs, as well as log crossings. The last time I was at his track on the bigger KTM I managed to overcome the challenging sections, but with difficulty. Going in, I totally expected things to go easier on the 250x.
Turns out that the cure was not a different bike. Sure, it helped, but the anxiety was still there. I stared at a particularly scary looking traversing hill wondering WTF? I got past it and tackled the hill several times, but was tense and on the edge of panic much of the time. The rest of the course was easier, yet I still felt anxiety.
Paul, being the supportive friend he is, told me to slow down and just roll around. I was trying to ride the way I am used to riding…sliding the rear and zipping at a decent pace. Well, that was just adding to the anxiety. Once I slowed down to a novice pace, I started having fun and things went sooooo much better.
Emotions trump Logic
So, why wasn’t I able to follow my own advice as outlined in the Motorcyclist article? Because emotions tend to trump logic. I wanted so much to overcome the fear that I pushed on instead of doing what I tell my students…slow down to reset your sense of confidence and competence.
I’ve never been as confident off-road as on pavement or on the racetrack, so I tend to think of myself as a rookie rather than the reasonably competent dirt rider I really am. By slowing down, I am reminded of my true competence. This reinforces the positive. And the more I ride this way, the faster I substitute anxiety with confidence.
By riding in complete control at all times I am (re)building a solid foundation that then allows me to climb out of this rut. If I were to fruitlessly keep pushing without stepping back, I would surely dig the hole even deeper and just reinforce the hold anxiety has on me.
I tell my on-street students at the beginning of the day that we will be riding well within their comfort zone, becasue they can’t learn and build confidence if they are using all their attention on managing anxiety. And when it comes to my track day students, I tell them that they gotta go slow to go fast.
I believe that most anxiety can be traced back to just a few things…some are physical, like slow speed maneuvers or weak countersteering, but most are mental. Learning tricks to control the bike and read the road or trail with more confidence are keys.
Whether it’s street or dirt riding…Slow down so you can keep your eyes and attention well ahead of you. That way things are much easier to process. If you use too much bandwidth to manage anxiety you look down, tense at the handlebars and everything goes pear-shaped.
Of course, slowing down is only part of the cure of riding anxiety, but it’s an important place to start. You will likely also have to sharpen weak control skills that are adding to your anxiety.
Pressure to Measure
This all sounds like solid advice, but I can tell you that it’s not easy to follow. If you’re like me, you have an established image of yourself as someone who can manage the challenges of a typical dirt (or street) ride and not be so slow as to hold up the group’s pace.
I’m also competitive, which doesn’t help. I tend to ride fast when the right thing to do is hang back and not feel compelled to keep up.
The takeaway here is to listen to your anxiety and respect it for its attempt to alert you to SLOW DOWN. Instead of forcing yourself to tackle challenges with abandon, take it easy to build back your confidence.
Ignore your anxiety at your own peril. As the saying goes: check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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