Body Position-Facebook Live

A virtual classroom on body positioning on a motorcycle.


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Cornering Lines-Facebook Live

Cornering Lines “classroom” session.

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Tips for Deciding Which Brake to Use

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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.

Front 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.

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.

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.

Emergency Braking

This rider has not practiced her emergency braking.

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.

Passengers

The rear brake is much more important with a passenger on board.

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

Favor the rear brake on sketchy 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.

Slow Speeds

Use the rear brake only in slow speed turns

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

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.

Linked Brakes

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.

Racetrack

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.

Track days are excellent for skill development.

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.

Practice

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.

Anything to add?


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10 Ways to Tell if You are a Good Rider

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What exactly is a “good” rider?

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?

Skillful cornering requires knowledge and practice.

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.

Measuring Competence

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.

Getting Better

Advanced training pays big dividends.

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.


WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON PERCEPTION

WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON BREAKING HABITS


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Tips for Surviving Alpine Switchbacks on a Motorcycle

This article was originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.

photo Caroline White

Their names are infamous; Pordoi, Sella, Gavia, Gardena, and of course Stelvio. These are just a few of the mountain passes that snake up and over the mighty Italian Alps and jagged Dolomites. Riding these epic roads is not for the faint of heart or the weak of skill. Riding the steep hairpin switchbacks isn’t fundamentally different than riding any other twisty motorway, except these roads are turned all the way up to 11. But with a little knowledge and pre-trip cornering practice you can tackle the wicked Alpine passes with enthusiasm, rather than dread.

Sharpen your cornering skills – You’ll need to be really good at looking well ahead, judging entry speed, selecting effective cornering lines and leaning the heck out of your rental bike. You also need to understand techniques for managing both uphill and downhill hairpin turns. Article Link

Keep your momentum up hill. photo Caroline White

Maintain uphill momentum – On the way up the mountain gravity works in your favor to help slow for turns. But, slow down too much and the bike will want to fall over. Minimize instability by getting on the gas early, but not so early so you run wide.

Control speed going downhill – When riding downhill gravity works against your attempts to scrub speed. This means you need to brake with greater force. To be safe, brake earlier so you can brake with less intensity.

Trailbrake – Get the bike slowed and help it to turn by braking past the turn-in point and then taper (trail) off the brakes as you lean more. Hold light brake pressure until the bike is pointed around the turn before fully releasing. Article Link

Use the rear brake – Apply the rear brake just before the front to minimize forward pitch and keep the wheels in alignment. Maintain light pressure on the rear binder for a moment after releasing the front brake to help “hook” the bike around turns.

Drive out of each corner –Gradually accelerate as soon as the bike approaches mid corner to maintain speed and stabilize the chassis. Well-timed acceleration ensures a predictable path of travel.

Look where you want to go! Ken Condon photo

Use smooth brake-to-throttle transitions – Smoothly release the brake while simultaneously rolling on the throttle to avoid abruptness that can squander traction and cause your bike to exit wide.

Practice slow speed turning – You will need excellent slow speed control to prevent mid-corner tip-overs on the countless tight “slower than first gear” switchbacks. Maintain stability using steady clutch and throttle control. The tightest turns may require some rear brake and counterweighting. Article Link

Look where you want to go – The eyes are a powerful tool for helping direct your motorcycle. But, too often when we are anxious we look down and toward what we fear, which increases the likelihood of a mishap. Look at the solution, not the problem! Article Link

Dealing with tour buses and bicyclists is part of riding the Alps. photo Caroline White

Watch for buses and bicycles – If you ride the Alps someday, you’ll be sharing the ridiculously narrow Alpine passes with tour buses and bicycle riders. Look well ahead and plan accordingly to avoid a collision. Expect to stop and wait until it’s safe to proceed.

 

Do yourself a favor and bone up on your cornering skills before you hit the Alpine switchbacks. You’ll have a more enjoyable and safer experience.

Some related Videos:

Discussing Hairpin Turns during Street Training


A ride down the Gardena Pass in the Dolomites in northern Italy.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

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


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10 Truths That All Motorcycle Riders Need to Know

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Here is a list of the top 10 things riders need to know (but often don’t):

1. Traction management and direction control are directly affected by load transferring to the tires.

2. Timing of deceleration, braking, countersteering and acceleration directly affects traction, direction control (line) and where the bike is pointed at the turn exit.

3. Intensity of brake and throttle application and handlebar inputs directly affects traction, chassis stability and direction control.

4. Specific Visual targets help to accurately read the road and minimize overspeed corner entry.

5. Dynamic Lane positioning is a critical tool for maximizing angle of view and conspicuity.

6. Trailbraking done correctly, maximizes stability, manages traction and refines corner entry speed and direction control at mid-corner and exit.

7. Even the best riders get into trouble if they don’t respect environmental limitations.

8. Electronic rider aids help manage traction; they do not create more traction.

9. Proper riding gear minimizes the risk of injury, but does not make you “safer”.

10. Reading lists like this can make you smarter about riding, but only application of knowledge can make you a better rider.

 
What would you add? Share your comments below
 
See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

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The Real Value of Knee Dragging

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Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera.
Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

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?

Confidence

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.

Read more – Fundamentals You Need to Know about Knee Dragging
Not going quite fast enough to touch down.
Not going quite fast enough to touch down. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Consistency

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.

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

Measure What?

The obvious thing measured by knee dragging is lean angle. But, what else is measured with the knee?

  • Your general pace: the faster you corner, the more you’ll touch down
  • Extreme lean angles are measured by how much your leg is forced to fold underneath the fairing
  • Pavement texture and traction potential
  • Line precision. Your knee should be placed in the same spot lap after lap
  • How quickly you are turning
  • How long you are at maximum lean
  • How soon you are picking the bike up
  • Overall level of confidence and comfort
Read more – Fundamentals You Need to Know about Knee Dragging-
The knee tells whether I can lean more to corner faster.
My knee tells whether I dare to lean more.

Don’t Rush It

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.

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

Share your thoughts on knee dragging in the comments section.


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Body Position Tips for More Effective Cornering

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

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

We Need More Clearance, Captain!

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

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

Easier Turning

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

Let’s Dance

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

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

Body Position “Levels”

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

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

The “basic” position

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

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

The “Intermediate” position

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

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

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

The “full” hang off position

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

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

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

Jack Your leg Into the Tank

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

Side-to-Side Transitions

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

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

At :28 in the video below you can see me pre-position for turn 3 at Loudon.

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.

Learn more about the Book by clicking here.


Check out this video. You can’t see my legs, but you get a good sense of how much I interact with the bike.

What body position tips have you used that helped you feel more comfortable on your motorcycle?


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Video: Cornering Seminar with Ken Condon

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

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

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

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

 

 


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Thinking in Vs-Dissecting Cornerspeed

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Paul Duval thinking in Vs – otmpix.com

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.

In this image we see speed over distance data (kph) for Thompson Speedway turns 1-4.

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.

photo: otmpix.com

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.

Examples:

  • 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.
photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

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.


otmpix.com

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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Video Lesson: How to Manage Downhill Turns

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE ENERGICA REVIEW, CLICK HERE. SORRY FOR THE MESS UP.

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and the nuances of managing a downhill turn, including trailbraking.

This is the sort of cornering techniques we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.

-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.

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Video Lesson: Cornering Finesse

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and show some of the nuances of body position, cornering lines, countersteering and visual skills.

This is the sort of cornering detail we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.

-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.

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Video Lesson: Learn by Following an Average Rider

Here’s a video of me commenting while following an average rider through a twisty road. I point out the rider’s body position, cornering lines and throttle timing, and comment on how he could do better. Notice his mid-corner adjustments. This is an indication of several cornering problems that are correctable. This is the sort of cornering detail we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.

-Ken-

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Tips for Getting Your Bike out of Winter Hibernation

This article covers the most basic maintenance points for getting a bike ready for another season of riding. If you’re a smart veteran rider who wants to elaborate, please add your comments below so we can all learn from your wisdom.

Those of us who live where the weather blows cold put our motorcycles under cover until the frosty temps subside. And that time of year is fast approaching.

Before taking your first ride you’ll need to make sure you and your motorcycle are up to the task. Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.

General Maintenance

With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks I’m about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, you’ll have to consult a moto-smart friend or your dealer’s service department.

Fuel System

Riders who park their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline are in for a heap o’trouble. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected.

If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.

Air Filter

Rodents seem to think that air boxes are the perfect place to build their nests. Look for clues like partial acorn shells or shredded fabric or paper. Even if you don’t see these telltale signs, it’s smart to get eyes on the filter. Unless you replaced the filter within the last year or so, you might want to have a new one on hand and just swap it. If the filter is in tact and doesn’t look too discolored or dirty, you an try to remove it and clean it with compressed air.

Too worn? The tire on the left still looks good, but it was getting old, so new rubber was mounted. Read the code on the sidewall to find the manufacture date.

Tires

Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires are older than 5 years (no matter the tread depth), I’d replace them. Read the date code on the sidewall. Example: 0415 mean the 4th week of 2015.

Drive Train

While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good cleaning an lube (this should have been done before you stored it…just sayin’). Then be sure to perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.

Those with shaft drive need to make sure your fluid doesn’t need to be changed or topped off and check for any leaks.

Engine Fluids

Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).

Brakes

Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or in the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good. The fluid should be like watered down apple juice. If the fluid is any darker, then plan on replacing it soon.

Grab a flashlight and take a close look at how much brake pad material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, replace the pads. It’s cheap insurance.

Battery

Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged with a Battery Tender. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is necessary.

Lights, Cables & Fasteners

Check that all of your lights are operational: front and rear brake light switches, turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam).

Confirm that the throttle and clutch cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike putting a wrench on as many fasteners as you can to ensure they are tight.

Awakening the Rider

Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle, it’s time to think about preparing for your first ride. Remember that your brain and muscles have deconditioned over the winter.

Some people begin their season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or with an advanced rider training program. But, at the very least, take some time to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, get in the game by practicing some cornering and braking drills like the ones in the RITZ DVD.

Spring Roads

Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Road salt is used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. A dusting of salt can decrease traction, so reduce speed where heavy concentrations of salt are present.

Sand is also widely used to combat slippery conditions and we all know how hazardous sand can be for a two-wheeler. Keep your eyes peeled for sand and avoid it whenever possible.

Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.

Inattentive Drivers

Perhaps most important is to remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road. You’ve got to be extra vigilant when riding in traffic by using strategies for being seen.


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Motorcycle Track Days: What You Need to Know

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What are Track Days All About?

Track Days are the most exciting, fun and effective way to improve your riding skills…period! You will learn how to corner and brake with a lot more confidence and control. And you will have a freakin’ BLAST.

Track Days are held on a closed course (racetrack), which means you learn in a safe environment and at real-world speeds. Learning on a racetrack allows you to ride freely and concentrate on and advancing your skill level without the typical hazards faced on the street…potholes, sand, tar snakes and Buicks.

Many types of machines at our regular track day events. While most ride sport bikes, there are also those who ride Tourers, Adventure bikes, and Sport Tourers. There are even special “Non-Sportbike Days”.

It’s one of the best investments in fun and skill development money can buy.

You may want to listen to this short podcast where Tony and I discuss many track day FAQs.

Learn to Corner Better

While parking lot courses have their place, riding your bike on a track will let you practice riding skills at real-world speeds – without the normal distractions found on public roads (like cars, sand, cops, etc).

Classroom sessions are usually included in the price of your day where you will benefit from discussions and demonstrations of advanced riding technique that you can then try on the track.

The fact that you visit each corner several times a day allows you to perfect your technique without the changing variables found on the street. These techniques are transferable to street riding.

The skills typically learned:


My wife, Caroline in "the bowl" at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s
My wife, Caroline in “the bowl” at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s

 


The Racing vs. Track Day Myth

Who said anything about racing? Here’s the thing; A track day is NOT a race event. Many people respond to a suggestion of attending a track day by saying “but I don’t want to race”. Now, I understand that most people automatically think “racing” when they hear “racetrack”. This is why I spend a fair amount of energy on educating the potential new customer that a track day just might be worth considering, both for having a blast, but also for becoming a better rider (much better).

If it’s not a race, then what is it?

Imagine the perfect twisty road, but with no oncoming traffic, sand, gravel, guardrails or folks in big sedans trying to figure out their GPS while talking and texting on their phones and you start to get the idea of what a track day is. Oh, and did I mention no speed limits? So, riding on a racetrack is not only a safer place to ride, but you can also go as fast as you want without the risk of getting an expensive speeding ticket and insurance points.

Not only are track days fun, they are also a great place to develop your skills. Most track days offer some instruction, with classroom time and perhaps a garage seminar on body positioning. You can also get some on-track coaching if you ask for it. Then you go practice what you’ve learned by circulating around the track. The beauty of riding on a racetrack is that you visit each corner multiple times a day so you can perfect each corner as the day goes on. You also get to explore the limits of your bike, the tires and your ability. Woot!

It’s not about speed!

Yes, we are talking about riding on a racetrack, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the latest rocket, or even that you have to go a whole lot faster than you do already on the street (in the novice groups). That’s the beauty of track days as opposed to a competitive racing environment; they have two completely different purposes. Both track days and racing allow you to go as fast as you dare, but track days allow you to go as fast as you want without the pressure to win a competition. When racing, you risk a lot more because your goal is to try and beat the next guy.


The goal of a Track Day

So, what exactly is the point of doing a track day then?

  • A Safer Place to Have Fun! With no surface hazards or roadside obstacles to hit and an ambulance just seconds away, the track is the safest place to ride, especially if you want to ride fast.
  • A Safer Place to Learn! You will be able to concentrate on refining cornering and braking skills by riding the same corners over and over.
  • Socialize! Commiserate and socialize with like-minded motorcyclists. Most new track day riders show up for their first day nervous and afraid, only to find a friendly group of fellow riders eager to help you learn the ropes.

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.comTrack Days Make Safer Street Riders

 

Safer Riders

I am often asked about the benefits of track days for street riders. The bottom line is that a day or two spent at a training-oriented track day helps develop braking and cornering skills beyond what can be done in most other courses and certainly better than relying on experience alone.

Learning to brake harder and lean deeper pays benefits when a car pulls out in front of you or a corner tightens more than expected. Riders who have never experienced floorboard-dragging lean angles usually panic, stand the bike up and run off the road, even though they had more ground clearance available. Those who have learned to lean deeply and to trust their tires are much more likely to remain in control and stay in their lane.

On the track, a rider practices braking skills by waiting to brake deeper and deeper into corners. Not to go faster, but to see just how capable their bike is at slowing. Trailbraking is also practiced…an important skill to have for safe street riding.

Finally, highly-developed physical skills allow more automatic responses to challenging situations, freeing more bandwidth to manage the hazards and variables of street riding.

Be sure to check out the Non-Sportbike Street Rider Track Training Day page.


Top Excuses why riders don’t do track days:

  • I don’t have Proper Riding Gear
    Yes, you need to protect your body in the event of a crash, but that’s a good investment whether you ride on the track or the street. Most track day organizations allow street gear, so you should already have most of what you need.
  • I am worried about crashing my bike.
    It can happen on the track, but it can also happen on the street (with more severe consequences). Track day crashes usually happen because the rider pushed too hard before they learned to manage the extra speed. Rarely do two riders come together to cause a multi-bike incident. And with no trees, mailboxes or oncoming vehicles to run into, serious injuries are also rare.
  • I’ll be the slowest rider out there.
    So what if you are the slowest rider out there? You’ll get faster as the day goes on and will likely be passing people by the end of the day.
  • I’m afraid I will be in the way of faster riders. This is a common concern. The answer is to ride your own ride and be predictable so faster riders can safely pass. This means learning the line and staying on it. Oh, and keep your eyes looking forward. It is the passing rider’s responsibility to pass…just like when skiing.
  • I don’t have a way to get up to the track.
    Many organizations have a forum or Facebook page where you can ask for help getting your bike and yourself to the track. If it comes down to it, just ride your bike there. You are risking crashing the vehicle you planned on taking you home and you’ll be tired ride home, but many people do it. Bike prep is usually minimal and can be performed at the track. Here is a video I did showing what is required for Tony’s Track Days. NOTE: some of these requirements are no longer required. See the bike prep page on Tony’s Track Days site.
  • I don’t ride a Sportbike.
    Again, so what? All types of bikes show up at track days…sport tourers, adventure bikes, standards, vintage bikes, even the occasional Gold Wing and cruiser.
  • It’s too expensive. Why should I pay to ride someplace?
    It makes little financial sense to risk serious injury, a speeding ticket, and insurance points rather than pay to ride on the track. The cost of a track day varies from region to region and from track to track, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $150.00 to over $300.00 per day. This often includes some instruction.
  • I’m not comfortable doing a track day yet.
    Maybe you’re just nervous. If so, then rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s smart to have some street miles under your belt, but if you’re comfortable riding around corners at brisk street speeds, then you’re probably ready to do a track day. Many organizations allow spectators to come check out what it’s all about. This is a great way to see if it might be right for you. And most organizations have two or three group levels so you are matched to others’ experience level.

I hope this has shed some light on the mysteries behind track days.

If you have questions, let me know and I’ll do my darnedest to help out. You should also check out the website of the track day organization you plan on joining. FYI, I work as the chief instructor for Tony’s Track Days. And check out other track day related posts and videos.

 
http://www.tonystrackdays.com/

Check out the other track day related posts and videos.


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Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.

This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.

First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.

I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.

It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).

Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:

1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?

2. why did he fall over?

Here is my explanation:

1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.

Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.

2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.

Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.

1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.

Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.

2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.

Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.

This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.

Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.

Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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Yet Another Crash Video We Can Learn From

Here is another video that I’m pretty sure demonstrates how we humans don’t want to admit when we screw up.  See the video of the poor guy who sideswiped a big truck on his R6. The problem that he says the wind drove him into the truck. Whaaa?

Note: you only need to watch the first 15 seconds to see the incident, but you’ll have to stick it out until the first passerby arrives to hear him mention the wind. WARNING: The video may be difficult to listen to as the poor guy writhes in pain. He also swears a bit.

While I know the wind out west can be strong enough to knock over tractor trailer rigs, I’m pretty sure wind had nothing to do with this incident. I think it’s another case of inaccurate self-evaluation and lack of rider ability and/or a serious lack of concentration.

I can’t tell how strong the wind was at the time of the crash, but the trees aren’t being blown around very much and his friend’s hair (he appears later in the video) is barely moving at all. Maybe he’s wearing copious amounts of hairspray, but I don’t think so.

Besides, if it were strong enough to blow a bike across a lane, I doubt the rider would be chatting away so casually before the incident. Also, the rock formations on the side of the road should have blocked any direct side forces.

Dangerous Distraction

One explanation for this seemingly bizarre crash is a complete and total brain fart. I’m not sure if he is talking to himself or to his friend who is riding ahead, but he wasn’t focused on leaning enough to make the curve.

Early Turn Entry

Notice how the rider began heading toward the inside of the corner too early, causing his bike to be pointed toward the oncoming lane. – Thanks for readers for pointing this out.

Countersteering, Baby!

Another contributing factor is that perhaps he did not have a good grasp of countersteering. A hard push on the right handlebar should have kept him in his lane even if it were windy.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another likely contributing factor in this incident. Target fixation is a phenomenon that explains why we go where we look. Once the rider realized he was drifting wide into the path of a big truck, he likely couldn’t take his eyes off the hazard and that’s where he ended up. Look toward the solution, not the problem.

Human Nature Strikes Again

I think this is another example of someone blaming something other than their inability to stay focused or steer effectively. Deferring blame is a basic human response to help explain how they could have made such a serious and basic mistake.

See this video of another crash that demonstrates how humans can delude themselves.

The reason to highlight these videos is not to place blame, but to recognize the danger of not knowing why an incident happened. Without that, we are destined to repeat the mistake.

What do you think?


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Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com
Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Ed Conde shares his experiences about how track days have helped his street riding.

The Next Level

I came to riding late. I did not begin riding until I was pushing 50. I tried to make up for lost time by training and reading everything that I could find. I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Course and the MSF Experienced Riding Course multiple times. The books and the courses definitely helped my street awareness and slow speed skills. However, I felt that these tools did not adequately prepare me for riding at speed on the street.

I tried improving my street riding by working on a skill or two each time I rode. I regularly practiced threshold braking, swerving, and weaving in parking lots. All of this helped a lot, but I felt that something was missing. I found that something when I began to do track days.

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

  1. Observation and feedback from track professionals.
  2. Action photographs that captured my riding and body position.
  3. The ability to repeat the same corners at speed without cars or other distractions.

Observation and Feedback from track professionals – There simply is no substitute for having an expert follow and observe you riding at speed. The difference between my perception of my riding and what experts saw was pretty sobering. I suspect that most of us are not as good as we think we are. Track instructors and control riders noticed that that my body position needed improvement, that I needed to relax, that my lines needed improvement, that my shifting needed work, and that my throttle/brake transitions needed to be smoother. This was a bit shocking considering how much time I had devoted to riding technique.

Action photographs – Photos do not lie! I have hated some of my track photographs because they captured all of the things that I was doing wrong. Track photographers often take photos at different curves and from different vantage points. My track photos gave me great feedback on my riding, although I did not always like what I saw.

The ability to repeat corners at speed – Being able to repeat the same corners at speed allowed me to see how changes affected my riding. It is impossible for me to duplicate this on the street where corners vary and hazards abound. While I practiced skills like trail braking, countersteering, downshifting, cornering lines, and body position in parking lots, everything changed at street speeds. Braking and downshifting from 30mph in a parking lot was a lot different than braking and downshifting from 65mph into a hairpin at the track. In addition, following an actual road was more realistic, for me, than following a cone course in a parking lot.

Are track skills useful on the street?

Folks often ask if the skills I learned at track days are transferable to the street. My answer is absolutely! Where else can you work on your riding skills safely at actual road speeds? While many skills learned at a Basic MSF Course or a “Ride Like a Pro” Course are extremely valuable, slow speed skills are often opposite to those I need at speed. While favoring the rear brake and counter weighting may improve my slow speed riding, it hinders my riding at speed.

Body Position Practice

Perhaps the best example of personal improvement from track riding is in my body position. (click on photos for larger image)

Track2009labeled
Figure 1

Figure 1 is a video screen shot of my first track day with Tony’s Track Days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009. At the time, I felt like I was riding well and actually passed most riders on the track. Looking at the photo now, I can see that I am almost scraping hard parts even though I am not riding fast. My upper body is leaning away from the turn and my eyes are not looking through the turn. I am pushing the bike beneath me dirt bike style which made me feel like I was really leaning.

HudsonLabeled
Figure 2

Figure 2 is a photo from 2011 taken near Bear Mountain, NY. I am trying to work on lessons learned at the track. I am no longer pushing the bike beneath me and my head is turned somewhat. The centerline of my jacket is now in line with the center of the bike. Despite some improvement, the footpeg is almost scraping at a modest lean angle.

DragonLabeled
Figure 3

Figure 3 is a photo from 2013 at the Tail of the Dragon. I had actually been working hard on skills learned at the track before this trip. The centerline of my jacket was now inside the centerline of the bike. My head turn was much better and I was beginning to weight the inside half of the seat. This photo is a big improvement, but I was still almost scraping my left footpeg at a modest lean angle.

TrackCurrentLabeled
Figure 4

Figure 4 is after multiple track days in 2014 and 2015. My head and shoulders are now lower and well inside the centerline of the bike. The head turn is better and almost all of my weight is on the inside half of the seat. I am not scraping despite a more pronounced lean angle. While I will not usually hang off this much on the street, I will use the better head & shoulder position and the weighting of the inside half of the seat on all my street rides.

 

Safer and More Confident Cornering

I will definitely use the skills that I have been learning at the track to ride better while conserving lean angle on the street. By keeping lean angle in reserve, I will have a safety margin if I need to tighten up my line during a curve. I will continue to attend parking lot courses because many fundamentals are learned best there. I will continue to practice slow speed skills with counter weighting, head turn, and dragging the rear brake. I will continue honing my street awareness skills and ability to anticipate trouble. However, I will not neglect training at speed with the help of professionals. I still have a lot to learn, but look forward to the challenge.

Track_Day_TTD_2015_Thompson_6-3-15c1-338
Anyone can do a track day. photo: otmpix.com

Editor Ken: Even if you ride a cruiser, tourer, ADV bike, or whatever, there is a track day for you. Non-Sportbike Track Days are available, as well as “traditional”sportbike track days . Either type of track day allows street riders to advance their skills in a safer environment than the street.

Share your comments below. Note that comments from those who have not commented before need approval before they are posted, so be patient, they will be published.


Ed Conde
Ed Conde

Ed Conde is an administrator and webmaster for the group New England Riders (NER). He enjoys finding the best motorcycle roads, views, and restaurants and posting them to the NER Best of the Northeast website.
His real job is running the federal government’s alcohol countermeasures laboratory and testifying at impaired driving cases. Ed enjoys learning about riding and marvels at the skills of top racers, motocrossers, and trials riders. He and his wife Debra ride all over the Northeast on their motorcycles.


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Truths About Electronic Stability Control

Bosch-CornerABS-rain
Grab the brakes or whack the throttle while leaned, Bosch has your back. Rain or shine.

The newest Ducati Multistrada has super sophisticated Bosch Traction Control and ABS electronics. These rider aids will make it a whole lot harder to crash! But, are they all they are cracked up to be?

The Bosch electronics I tested at the Bosch proving ground near Detroit included updated ABS with Combined Braking Systems (eCBS), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Lift (Stoppie) Control, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Cornering ABS, aka Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC).

The straight-line ABS is nothing particularly new, but the introduction of corner sensitive traction control and Corner ABS certainly is. The brain behind this technology is the Inertia Measuring Unit (IMU) that can detect angles of roll, yaw, and pitch. With this data, the ABS and Traction Control systems can intervene to prevent many crashes caused by over-exuberant braking or throttle inputs. Without the IMU, TC and ABS cannot detect and then intervene to arrest traction loss that includes a lateral slide. With the lean-angle sensitive IMU, it can bleed engine torque or brake power if it detects abrupt changes in pitch, lean or direction. Cool, huh?

Wet tile with ABS OFF.
Wet tile with ABS OFF.

Disclaimer: The system I am reviewing here is the latest technology found on only a few 2014-2015 machines. Older and less sophisticated electronic aid packages without the benefit of a lean-angle sensitive IMU will not perform the miracles I am about to describe.

Testing, Testing: ABS

To test the traditional straight-line ABS I made several high and low speed runs on gravel and wet and dry pavement. The ABS never let me down. Riding on a wet tile runway with ABS switch off caused the bike to slam onto the sturdy outriggers with just the touch of the brakes. It was possible to apply the brakes without skidding, but it took all the brake feel and control I could muster. With ABS switched on, I was able to grab the brakes and the bike remained balanced on two wheels.

Wet tile with ABS ON.
Wet tile with ABS ON.

Riding on the gravel course further confirmed the effectiveness of the ABS as the bike to remained upright even when applying copious amounts of front brake pressure. Set to Enduro mode, rear brake ABS is disabled to allow direction changes using a locked rear wheel …fun, but not something I recommend on a 511-pound motorcycle with street-biased tires.

Testing, Testing: Cornering ABS

Testing the Cornering ABS (what Ducati calls Motorcycle Stability Control or “MSC”) required me to grab the brakes as hard as possible while fully leaned in a corner. Really?

It was nearly impossible to toss aside decades of instinctive emergency corner braking technique and common sense to do this test. Normally I would reduce lean angle before (or while) applying the brakes. Instead we were told to jam on the brakes and hold lean angle as long as possible.

Demo of Cornering ABS.
Demo of Cornering ABS. Bosch photo.

I held my breath and headed for the curve before I leaned hard and went for it. It worked! Not only did the MSC manage the available traction, it also allowed me to slow rapidly while maintaining the path through the curve; no more crossing into the oncoming lane or hitting a guardrail in an emergency corner braking situation.

Trying this on dry pavement was unnerving as hell, but a passing shower meant that I got the chance to test this mind-bending system in the rain. This maneuver went against all of my instincts but once I trusted the system I was sold!

Testing, Testing: Traction Control

After the MSC test, I set out to further tax my nerves by testing the Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which consisted of whacking the throttle open in second gear at 37+ degrees of lean. Instead of a nasty crash, the rear drifted controllably with the rear tire slipping and gripping predictably. Look at me, I’m Valentino Rossi.

But, the TC isn’t foolproof. During one run, I made a particularly abrupt throttle input while dragging the footpegs (crazy, right?) that caused the rear tire to swing a bit farther than comfortable, prompting me to instinctively reduce throttle enough to regain grip. The next time, I was determined to stay on the gas to see if the system would sort things out. I can’t be 100% sure whether I was a bit more cautious or the electronics reacted quicker, but this time the bike remained in control as I blasted out of the corner.

Smitten

At the end of the test, I was compelled to express my sense of awe with my friends on Facebook: “OMG. Bosch has defied physics with the corner ABS and Traction Control. I just grabbed a handful of front brake at 37 degrees and whacked the throttle WFO while dragging my foot peg IN THE RAIN!”

Debate

Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.
Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.

These electronics are awesome, but there are some valid concerns circulating about how traction and stability control is going to influence traditional methods and attitudes. Here are the major concerns and my responses:

  1. Reliability: Motorcycle electronics seem to be the Achilles Heel of reliability, so skepticism about reliability is understandable. But, consider that solid state technology has no switches, relays or moving parts to fail compared to mechanical devices, and connections are designed and tested to prevent dust and water infiltration. Also, other electronic units, like ride-by-wire throttles, have no cables to break. In the event that a fault does occur, “limp-home” mode will allow you to get home. Will it fail? At some point, probably. But will it render the bike useless, probably not.
  2. Electronic intervention will interfere when I don’t want it to: Older, less sophisticated systems have fewer options and have been known to get in the way. But, with the wide range of intervention levels to choose from with the latest systems, it’s hard to think there isn’t a setting that suits almost any rider. It’ll take time to really learn what these systems are capable of and to find your perfect setup.
  3. Electronics will interfere with the essence of riding a motorcycle: Contrary to what a lot of Luddites and Skeptics think, these systems can be set to lurk in the background, never impeding with normal riding situations. I believe these systems enhance riding and can be set to your liking to never (or rarely ever) get in the way of riding enjoyment.
  4. Advanced traction control make advanced rider skills obsolete: I don’t see rider technique becoming obsolete any time soon. To avoid close calls and crashes, riders must have strong control skills and effective survival strategies. You can still careen into a Buick or off a cliff, just like before. While TC will manage traction loss from clumsy braking and throttling, riders will soon learn that getting the most out of their motorcycle comes from smooth, well-timed rider inputs and not electronics.
  5. Electronic aids will encourage bad riding: It is possible that these electronics can encourage risky behavior as people discover just how competent these systems are. What’s to stop someone from relying completely on the TC to manage grip while powering out of a turn, or letting the ABS manage grip as he trailbrakes hard into a turn? TC and ABS may help prevent a crash, but will not to lead to better riding skill or faster lap times. Good technique still trumps electronic aids. Just ask the Moto GP guys. And remember, electronics cannot fix stupid.
  6. Electronic aids can lead to false confidence: Yes. I can personally attest that a false sense of confidence is possible. After fully testing the MSC, ABS and advanced traction control I was somehow fooled for one moment into thinking that the bike was not crashable. Of course, I was wrong! It’s important to remember that these systems manage available traction under braking and acceleration; they do not create more traction! You cannot expect to magically lean onto the edge of your tire over sand or dip into a corner over gravel and come out unscathed.

Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.

Safety

One of the most important selling points of the Bosch rider aids is safety. But, these systems cannot influence all crash factors, nor are they able to correct for bad decisions like excessive speed or bad lane position.

Riders must still rely on good technique and judgment to prevent most crashes from occurring. The smartest riders will never need these systems as they continue to use traction management techniques like smooth, progressive brake and throttle application.

Practice

Whether you have new-fangled IMU-based electronics or basic ABS, you should take time to practice maximum braking to the point where ABS kicks in. Without finding that limit, you will never trust that you can brake as hard as the system allows and not likely use the total amount of stopping power available when you need it most. Braking that hard is unnerving at first, but trust me the system will intervene.


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