Visualization Can Save Your Life

When the time comes for you to use your superior skills, will you?
When the time comes for you to use your awesome skills, will you?

Putting a Homo sapien on a motorcycle is just asking for trouble. You simply can’t escape the fact that we are all prone to doing really dumb things. Don’t bother denying it. You’re human and humans are fallible.

I believe that well-developed physical skills and sharp mental skills allow you to ride with more control and increase safety. But, is it enough to simply know these skills?

Missing Skills

There has been a great expansion of motorcycle training programs in the U.S over the last 20 years. So why has the fatality and injury rates on America’s roadways have actually increased? Whaaaaa?

One problem is that “well trained” riders often fail to execute the very skills they mastered in the parking lot.

It’s one thing to know how to master swerving or emergency braking, but it turns out that it’s quite another thing to actually apply these skills in the heat of battle, like when a car darts out in front of you at an intersection.

Is this good enough to train for real life?
Is this good enough to train for real life?

During MSF courses, students are asked to practice emergency stops by applying the brakes when their front tire reaches a set of cones. Once the technique is practiced a bit, instructors step in the path of travel, throwing their arms up to simulate the need for an emergency stop in an attempt to make the drill more realistic. Even though students experience more stress when the instructor is standing in the way, this trigger is not nearly stressful enough to emulate what happens when an actual two-ton vehicle suddenly appears in your path.

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

Train for Reality

Soldiers, pilots, police officers, firefighters, and other people exposed to high stress situations are trained using methods that emulate the real-world so they can handle the inevitable first battle, conflict, or emergency situation. Without this part of the training process, the skills are likely to either become too delayed or go unused as the brain wastes valuable time processing what is happening.

The training includes sounds, smells, and sights that shock the ears, nose, and eyes. Explosions, live ammo, alarms, and life threatening scenarios played by actors all prepare these trainees for the worst. That doesn’t happen with motorcycle training.

Nobody dares to suggest that instructors drive a Chevy onto the practice range at random times or walk unpredictably in front of unsuspecting students, or secretly drop sand or diesel fuel on the parking lot. These scenarios would help condition students for real-world situations, but liability means this method just won’t fly.

Are you ready?
Are you ready?

The Visualization Solution

The next best thing to exposing riders to real-word scenarios is visualization. Racers use visualization to run laps in their mind before hitting the track. They can be seen closing their eyes or staring into space as they imagine every nuance of the racetrack and every braking, shifting and cornering action with great precision.

Click a stopwatch as they begin and end a visualized lap and the best racers will be remarkably close to their real lap times. This exercise is known to be almost as effective as actually riding the machine on the track without using tires or fuel, or risking a crash.

Street riders can also use visualization to train themselves to manage a car pulling out from a side street or a patch of sand appearing suddenly around a blind corner. The MSF attempts to have new riders visualize real life hazards using videos and online simulators. But, I believe visualization can be more effective, if riders are taught how to do it.

Visualization Practice

Close your eyes and visualize yourself riding to work. As you enter a familiar intersection, imagine a car suddenly running the stoplight or stop sign. Feel the panic as your muscles tense and your eyes widen. Now, imagine yourself squeezing the brakes fully, the G-forces pushing you forward to the extreme.

Did you avoid a collision? If not, then try again. And again. You cannot do this too much.

Go back in time and plan better by slowing down and covering your brakes to reduce reaction time. Notice how much more time you gave yourself to respond. To avoid target fixation, imagine looking away from the car and toward an escape route. Good job.

Replay different outcomes and solutions. Imagine yourself swerving instead of stopping.

Next, visualize other scenarios, like rounding a blind corner and needing to avoid an animal, or realizing the the corner is tightening and your speed is too fast.

This training is not the same as having a car pull out in front of you, but it can be remarkably effective if done well…and it’s safe.

Do it!

Learning advanced braking and cornering skills and strategies for surviving will most assuredly increase your chances of making it home in one piece. But, it has now become apparent that this is simply not enough. Sit down and visualize yourself successfully managing some very scary hazards so you are better prepared for the inevitable conflict. It could happen tomorrow, so don’t delay.


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How to Survive Downhill Curves

Cornering errors are responsible for at least half of all fatalities. And of those corners, downhill curves are the most challenging. But, with some knowledge and practice you can master these tricky turns.

Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.
Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.

Before I describe how to deal with downhill turns, let’s revisit the basic cornering process.

  1. Look Well Ahead: This is obvious, but not instinctual for many. Riders who are nervous tend to look in the near distance. Discipline yourself to look well ahead so you can get a handle on what’s coming up.
  2. Slow: This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use your brakes and/or downshift to reduce speed, but you MUST consciously evaluate whether you need to adjust speed so you can negotiate the corner with plenty of traction and skill to spare. If in doubt, slow down! You can always get on the gas if you slow too much.
  3. Lean: You initiate lean by countersteering. The amount you must lean is determined by your speed and the radius of the turn (your body position also affects the amount of necessary lean). If you enter a turn at a speed that requires you to lean to the limit of your comfort level, then you’re risking a crash. The solution is to learn to lean, dammit. If you’ve never explored near-maximum lean on your bike (in a safe place, please) then you are poised to be a victim.
  4. Accelerate: Once leaned, you need to crack the throttle and continue to accelerate gradually through to the corner exit. The basic explanation for why you need to do this is that it stabilizes the suspension and chassis. Gradual acceleration also loads both tires for maximum grip.

The line (path) you choose around the turn is also important. The “outside-inside-outside” path is the gold standard, but should not be cast in stone. The delayed apex line is one that every rider should know about and use in many cases. This is when you allow the bike to orbit around the corner before bringing it in tight to the apex. An article explaining cornering lines is in the works.

Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate.
Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate. Notice how the centerline and edge of the road visually converge to indicate a tightening curve and downhill slope.

Downhill Curve How-To

Okay, with the basic cornering technique in mind, let’s discuss how it applies to downhill curves.

  1. Look Ahead: No difference here, except that what you should see are the telltale signs of a downhill curve: pavement sloping away from you, indicated by how the centerline and edge of the pavement visually converge in the distance. If these visual clues come together in the near distance, then the hill is steeper than if they converge farther away. Also, look for roadside objects to help you determine how tight the curve is and how steep the hill is (read more here).
  2. Slow: The main difference between a flat curve and a descending curve is how gravity pulls you and your bike’s mass down the hill. This means that you need to scrub more speed before the curve, otherwise you will find yourself going too fast mid-corner.You also need to begin braking earlier so you have more time and space to slow. Waiting too long will cause the bike to pitch forward, causing the rear tire to get light which can lead to instability. Trailbraking is useful for downhill turns as a way to smoothly slow the bike as you tip into the curve.

    Trailbraking not only gives you more time and distance to get the bike slowed, it also helps direct the bike around the curve. That’s becasue the bike will turn more easily when the brakes are lightly applied (too much brake force can have the opposite effect). The chassis geometry shortens as the suspension compresses and the front tire contact patch gains more of the available traction.

    Also, consider that gravity is pushing the bike downhill and releasing the brakes fully will cause the bike to accelerate in the direction the front wheel is pointed. Waiting to release the brakes until the bike is pointing around the corner helps the bike get pointed toward the corner exit. Usually trailbraking is done with the front or both brakes, but in this situation, dragging the rear brake only is another way to scrub off speed without overstressing the front tire to prevent the front tire from washing out.

  3. Lean: Initiate lean using contersteering, so no real difference here. However, a quicker turn-in is often needed to avoid running wide. I often coach riders to “let the bike drop” into the curve when entering a downhill curve.
    Will your ability and experience with lean angles allow you to do this? Or will you ride off the road?
  4. Accelerate: Accelerate? You want me to accelerate, even when gravity is already pulling the bike down the hill? Yep. Even though gravity is going to cause your bike to speed up, you still need to stabilize the bike and manage traction. The trick is to slow down enough before the curve so you can crack the throttle ever so slightly and hold that throttle setting or accelerate as you round the bend. This will get some of the weight off the front tire so the bike will track easily around the corner.Note that the steeper the curve, the later you will brake and the less you will accelerate, but you still need to accelerate. If you enter the curve very slowly, then you may need to keep the clutch in and then ease it out as you tip into the curve. But, get the clutch out immediately after tipping in to avoid freewheeling down the hill, which causes most bikes to feel unstable and track unpredictably. It’s better to introduce some measure of drive force ASAP.

The line you choose around a downhill curve should have you entering wide to the outside. As you tip in, you let the bike drop inside to a delayed apex (farther around the curve), then let the bike exit toward the outside of the corner.  This straightens the radius for better traction and the need for less lean angle.

Remember to continue to look where you WANT to go, not where you are afraid to go!

Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.
Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.

What about body position? When cornering at normal speeds, you want to drop your inside shoulder to engage with the bike. This helps you lean with confidence, but also allows the bike to remain a bit more upright.

 Practice!

Do not hesitate in acquiring these skills, because one day you too may find yourself facing a curve that you cannot handle. The best place to begin is in a parking lot where you will learn to lean your motorcycle with authority (parking lot drills are a feature of the RITZ Book). This means mastering countersteering and learning to turn quickly.  Once you feel pretty good about your progress, I suggest you attend a track day where you will explore the limits of cornering and braking in a safer environment. Many racetracks I’ve ridden have at least one downhill corner where you can practice all day long. Sign up for personal instruction if you want to fine-tune your cornering skills, including downhill curves.

What tips can you offer for downhill curves?


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Sometimes “it” Happens

Ed McGrath with his daughters Chelsea and Brittany.
Ed McGrath with his daughters Chelsea and Brittany.

I just got home from attending a memorial service for two lovely people killed by a heroin addict who apparently nodded off and veered into the oncoming lane and struck their motorcycle. This is a tragedy that is made worse by the fact that the two people were father and daughter.

My brother’s deceased friend Ed loved sharing his passion for riding with his daughters…something I have done for many years with Jeannine. The unimaginable happened when something completely out of their control occurred and their lives ended in a flash.

Read the news story.

Read Ed’s obituary.

Read Britanny’s obituaries

Avoidable?

Ed was doing nothing to jeopardize his and his daughter’s safety except the fact that they were on a motorcycle. It was 3:30 on a sunny midweek afternoon with good visibility and little risk of drunk or stoned drivers (unlike midnight on a Saturday night). Yet, Ed and Brittany were at the receiving end of a one-in-a-million chance that a stoner would cross the centerline just as they were in the vicinity. Why it happened simply cannot be explained.

Some would say that putting you and a loved on one a motorcycle is jeopardizing your and their safety. And they would have a good argument. I’ve known too many people who have lost their life while riding and there is nothing telling me that that trend will end anytime soon.

The Takeaway

In reality, there is not a lot I can say about the situation that killed my friend and his daughter. It sounds like it happened instantaneously, so that parking lot practice to improve his braking or swerving skills wouldn’t have likely helped.

So, what does this all mean? To me, it is yet another sobering reminder that riding a motorcycle comes with the real risk of death, or worse. I know we all “know” this as fact, yet I’m not sure we really “know” what it means until it happens to us. So, we keep riding, as we should. Just remind yourself from time to time just how vulnerable you are and to not take your safety for granted…it is not guaranteed.

What we can take away from tragedies like this is a renewed diligence to be the best riders we can be. Not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones. The pain and sorrow I saw at the memorial service today is evidence of just how deeply we are missed.

Sometimes, as is the case of Ed and Brittany there is truly nothing we can do to prevent a crash. So, we must decide…do we stop riding? Or do we ride on, knowing the odds are mostly in our favor? You choose.

There is Hope

Thankfully, the vast majority of incidents are avoidable with excellent mental and physical skills.

Do yourself and the people who care about you a big favor and learn all you can about motorcycle safety and refine your control skills and ability to perform evasive maneuvers so that you at least have a chance of avoiding tragedy.

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Ground Clearance & Grip

Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.
Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.

I just received another letter from a Motorcycle Consumer News reader, this time about a situation he encountered when riding on a twisty back road in Cali on his Street Glide. Here’s his story, followed by my response.


“Ken, your recent article (in Motorcycle Consumer News) on cornering traction was excellent.  I just returned to Las Vegas after traveling up the coastal hwy to Oregon then back down to Las Vegas. While on that trip I had an incident involving cornering that left me very puzzled.

While heading to the coast from the 101 on hwy 128 north of San Francisco I was enjoying the curves of the coastal range. I ride a Harley Street Glide and ride fairly aggressively but not what I consider unsafe. As I was entering one turn (posted at 20mph) I leaned the bike into the turn and suddenly heard metal screeching on asphalt and almost simultaneously was aware that I had lost traction and was heading for the outside of the corner and a steep drop off.

Automatically I jammed my left foot down to the asphalt, but with my speed around 30-40mph sprained my ankle pretty badly. Much to my surprise I regained traction on the outside of the corner and was able to hold it there through the last 1/2 of the corner. My conundrum is that I’m not sure what happened! I felt comfortable with the speed I had entered the corner and I had entered from wide to just inside the center lane when the incident occurred. Normally, if I’m leaning the bike too much I’ll be aware of the foot board dragging. In this case there was no warning, just metal screeching and loss of traction simultaneously. Also, the road was great, with fairly new asphalt and no noticeable debris. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated as this incident has made me extremely apprehensive whenever entering a corner with thoughts of this incident constantly in the back of my mind.”


Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike's limits.
Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike’s limits.

My Response

Without having seen or experienced the actual incident, I can only speculate on the cause based on knowledge of typical scenarios like yours. The fact is that ground clearance just doesn’t go from sufficient to nonexistent without a reason. It could be that you were leaning far enough that you were about to touch your floorboard when the mysterious factor occurred and your bike was suddenly grinding hard parts. This levered your tires off the ground and reduced traction.

Most times, when a bike suddenly goes from adequate ground clearance to zero ground clearance, it is a sign of traction loss caused by undetected surface contamination or debris, or abrupt throttle, brake or handlebar inputs, all of which are rider error. Sudden traction loss while the bike is leaned will cause the bike to drop quickly. This usually results in the rider tensing on the handlebars and chopping off the throttle, which exacerbates the problem.

If neither surface debris nor rider error existed, then you have to look at the possibility of a sudden and undetected change in surface camber that reduces ground clearance, or perhaps a depression in the road that would cause the suspension to compress.

Predicting that conditions can change quickly is a key survival strategy and applies to seemingly perfect pavement. New pavement can actually make ground clearance-robbing features such as undulations and dips difficult to see.

Knowing that your bike is a low slung machine means that you must be particularly sensitive and aware of these clearance hazards so that they don’t cause problems. One way to help manage limited ground clearance is to slow down.

Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.
Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.

You can also learn to use body positioning to help increase ground clearance. By simply dropping your head and shoulder to the inside, you shift the combined center of gravity of bike and rider so that your machine doesn’t have to lean quite as much. Practice this in a parking lot and notice that your floorboards don’t drag as readily. My book has drills that can help.

If you are riding briskly on your Street Glide and continue to have clearance problems, perhaps you are exceeding the limits of the bike and need to consider trading in for a model that is more suited to your cornering exuberance.

Now that we’ve discussed the possible cause, let’s look at your reaction. The sudden loss of ground clearance, for whatever reason, triggered a panic response that not only had no significant effect on allowing your big Harley to recover traction, but also caused you to injure your ankle. This panic response is part human nature and is how most riders react when faced with a potentially life threatening situation.

Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.
Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.

To minimize these survival instincts from causing more harm, you would need to re-train your mind and body to feel okay with minor traction loss. This is not easy to do when you ride a road-going cruiser, but is easily achieved with some off-road riding experience. Off-road riders routinely experience wide variations in traction and become accustomed to traction loss so that they do not overreact and make matters worse.

But, please understand that training yourself to react correctly is not a substitute for being aware of hazards and preventing them from causing an incident from happening in the first place.

The results of overriding a bike's capabilities can be disastrous.
The results of overriding a bike’s capabilities can be disastrous.

I hope this helps.
Ken


Do you have anything to add? Have you encountered a similar situation? How did it turn out? Please comment below.

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Guest Writer: Get Back on the Horse

The latest guest post is from long-time track day rider and club racer, Ian Vivero from Smelly Dog Racing who has an interesting point of view about post-crash psychology. So, listen up. The floor is yours’ Ian.


Ian #604. Photo by Arcy www.otmpix.com
Ian #604.
Photo by Arcy. www.otmpix.com

Getting Back on the Horse

In 14 years of riding I have, thankfully, only had a handful of crashes, and most were more embarrassing than anything else. Tip over’s at a stop or low speeds due to a patch of sand, a misplaced foot, etc. are common and happen to (almost) everyone in their early years. Even as a seasoned rider I recently tipped over my brand new Victory thanks to an unfortunate combination of factors. These things can hurt one’s pride, but for most we can walk away with minimal damage to self and bike, learn from our mistakes, and move on. These events are not what this post is about.

What I do want to talk about are two crashes, both of which occurred on the racetrack. The first one occurred during a track day on my 919, which was the result of a bad line that pushed me into an off-camber part of the track and left me with less than zero ground clearance, picking up my tires and putting me on the ground. The second occurred during a race in the rain when I crossed a paint line while trail braking into a corner and the front tire ran out of grip resulting in another low side.

Despite the obvious differences, there were many similarities between the two crashes. In both cases I was relatively unhurt and the damage to the bike was minimal enough to allow me to ride back to the pits. In both cases I knew exactly what I had done wrong (bad line, trail braking over wet painted markings) and how I could have avoided it.

The Aftermath

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I was left with a lasting reduction in confidence that I didn’t experience from my other get-offs. Why? Both occurred on a race track so perhaps it was the venue, though I’ve gone down on the track before and not had the same issue. And while the damage to the bike and my injuries were worse than a simple tip over, I’ve had worse mishaps that I was able to shake off. So what caused me to be so shaken up?

I believe the “when” mattered more than the “where” or “how”. You see, both crashes happened at the end of the day, which gave me no chance to get back out. Instead, I was left to wait until the next track day or race weekend to correct my mistake. This allowed my mind to endlessly replay the incidents over and over for days or even weeks.

Replaying the incident made a relatively minor crash grow into something much bigger and far scarier. When I finally did get back on track, it suddenly seemed like a dangerous place for me to be.

All of this was purely mental of course. By then I had largely recovered physically and the bike was mechanically sound. But because my mind was so clouded, my riding suffered horribly. Without realizing it, I began to fight myself in every corner, which caused me to keep running wide. To compensate I started braking earlier and crawling through the turns.

My muscles grew tired and sore within a couple laps from constantly working to keep the bike under control. My death grip on the bars left the front end feeling vague, leading to even less confidence. Each session left me more frustrated and exhausted than the last. Eventually I noticed what I was doing and began to relax and by the end of the day things seemed to be working properly again… And yet I was riding at a level far below where I had previously been. It took a great deal of time and effort to regain my lost mojo. Time and effort that could have netted some real gains were spent simply getting my confidence back.

The Takeaway

Which leaves me with this piece of advice for whoever cares to take it: The next time you drop your bike in a parking lot, lose your footing at a red light, or carry a bit too much speed at a track day and end up in the weeds, get up, get back on the bike and do whatever you just tried to do again, only this time do it right. Not only will you learn something in the process that can make you a better rider, but you will also retain your confidence before it has a chance to run off without you.


Thanks, Ian. The aftermath of a crash can be both physically and mentally scarring. I’ve seen countless riders lose confidence after a scare and either give up riding or not enjoy riding the way they had previously. While we cannot expect to avoid all mishaps, we can minimize them by riding within our limits (even when racing). Some say you have to crash to learn how to ride fast and win, but I don’t think it is a prerequisite. Yes, crashing comes with the territory of racing hard, but it usually sets you back and is generally a bad idea. You can learn to win without crashing, IMO.

You do this by learning all you can about traction and how a motorcycle stays on two wheels. This knowledge comes from many sources, including quality blogs, books, instructors and other skilled riders. But in the end, the secret to minimizing crashes is for you to apply this knowledge on every ride or race and develop sensitivity to the physics of riding well, at any speed.

Share your thoughts below.


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#1 Reason Why Motorcycles Crash in Corners

Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com
Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com

Motorcycles crash for many different reasons, including in no particular order:

  1. They are not very stable when ridden slow, so tip overs are common
  2. They are hard to see in traffic, so collisions with cars is far too frequent
  3. They only have two small tire contact patches, so seemingly small things can cause traction loss
  4. They require fairly precise rider decisions and inputs when traction is near its limit
  5. Most single-vehicle crashes are the result of a too-fast corner entry speed.

Case Study

My friend and track day student, Joshua had a problem with numbers 3, 4 and especially 5.

Josh had a great day at the awesome New York Safety Track until he didn’t. Check out his VIDEOS BELOW to see how his day ended. He walked away unscathed, thanks in no small part to his quality riding gear. ATGATT, baby. The same can’t be said for his beautiful GSXR1000. It slid off the track without much fanfare until it hit some protruding piece of Earth and flipped a few times. Oh well. It’s just a machine, remember.

Below, you can read Josh’s account of the situation and what he learned.

Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. :(
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. 🙁

The Fundamental Reason Why He Crashed

Riding a motorcycle is more of a mental exercise than physical. Yes, it takes physical coordination and a certain amount of strength to operate a motorcycle. But, riding a motorcycle well is much more than simply operating the machine. It also includes using excellent judgement and having deep knowledge about how to manage all sorts of situations.

Mark Brown from MotoMark1 uses the term “driving” to emphasize that you must not passively “ride” a motorcycle, but rather “drive” it with purposefulness, authority and competence.

Josh was doing great all day and, as was the case with another rider at the track that day, got over confident and pushed just a little bit harder than he should have. This mental lapse is essentially THE reason Josh crashed. A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Josh and I had worked together during a Personal Instruction Day last week at the NH track on strengthening his “skill foundation” to allow him to safely “drive” his bike at the pace he is eager to achieve.

We made good progress, but the eagerness and drive Josh has for rapid improvement seems to cause him to push harder than he should. This is common with highly motivated people. I can name two other very good riders who are motivated to ride at a top level, but have not yet learned and applied all the information necessary to be able to ride at that level…yet.

All motorcyclists who are eagerly developing their physical skills must also develop their ability to monitor their attitude, self-evaluate their real progress, and use judgement that is in line with their true capabilities.

It coulda been worse.
It coulda been worse.

The Physical Solution

Now that we understand that the crash could have been avoided with a bit of “judgment double-check”, let’s talk about what went wrong and the mechanics of how the crash could have been avoided. Remember: A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Because Josh had decided to “let it rip” down the straight (probably faster than he had done before), he entered the turn 1 braking zone at a higher speed than he had previously. That’s fine, BUT he did not adjust his braking behavior to match the increased approach speed. With an increase in speed comes the need to:

  1. brake earlier using the same or similar amount of brake force as when approaching at a slower speed, or
  2. use the same brake marker as when approaching the turn at the slower speed, but brake harder, or
  3. a combination of #1 and #2

Either method will work to achieve the goal of slowing to a comfortable entry speed. Braking earlier is generally the best solution where you have more time and space to modulate your brake force to slow without anxiety.


Josh did not alter his “begin braking” mark, so he found himself flying past his usual brake marker and therefore reached his turn-in point at a higher speed than he was familiar (or comfortable). You can clearly see in the forward-facing camera angle that he was missing the apex and then used greater handlebar pressure (countersteering) as he attempted to stay on the track, which overtaxed the front tire and it tucked.

An Expert’s Solution

Could the crash have been avoided in the hands of a seasoned expert? With the bike at that speed and in that position in the corner, I would say maybe, but probably not. HOWEVER,  the expert would have identified that he or she was traveling faster than before and because of this, would have adjusted the “begin braking” location to be earlier and increased the amount of brake force as needed to slow down sufficiently. Expert-level track day riders are comfortable braking very hard, because they have practiced this skill.

He or she would have also used trailbraking to further scrub off speed if necessary as the bike was eased into the corner. However, I want to emphasize that trailbraking is not really “meant” to be a technique used to salvage a blown corner. Done correctly, trailbraking is a planned method for stabilizing the motorcycle when entering corners. That said, if you have trained yourself to trailbrake as it is meant to be used, then it is at your disposal when you need a longer duration of braking force if you inadvertently enter a turn too fast. Read all about trailbraking HERE.

The Lesson

Remember that if you change one thing (faster straightaway speed), you must adjust other things (brake marker and/or brake pressure) to reach the entry speed you are able to handle. Please learn from Josh’s unfortunate mistake and keep your enthusiasm and eagerness in check and resist introducing significantly faster speeds until you understand the concept of cause and effect as it pertains to adjusting entry speed.

Crash Videos

Front view:

Rider Face View:

A message from Josh himself about what he learned:

Staying within limits is a lesson I strive to drive home to my students every weekend as an MSF RiderCoach. The motorcycle, the rider, and the time & space limits around them. My hope is that every rider I come in contact with has takeaway points and thinks about actions and decisions made while riding.

My overall goal as a rider is to learn, fine-tune, and practice as many new and advanced skills as I can. I feel the biggest joy of riding is that there is always something new to work on or perfect. Each year I try and take on something new I can use as a rider and coach. A few years ago I had an opportunity to take a course on dirt bike techniques and later on I was able to become a certified MSF Dirt bike Coach. Last year my new goal was to learn to become proficient in riding on the racetrack at speed.

I went out and bought every book and DVD I could find on the subject, and also a shiny GSXR 1000 that I thought at the time would be a perfect bike to go out and lay down some hot laps. Books and video’s are great tools, however to really be able to learn and apply the skills takes tons of coaching, practice and fine tuning.

My biggest obstacle is always trying to rush and accelerate my learning. I want so bad to be the best and smoothest that I do not take the advice I give to my students. I try and go from step A all the way to step Z in one day. Learning should be in stages and is a building block process. Learn the gross skill 1st and stay within your limits. Ken gave me the best advice of all when he said “Slow down and get smooth 1st”.

I was doing pretty good and learning the New Track. Taking my time and finding reference points and determining where I should look, brake, tip, and accelerate. It was near the end of the day with only 2 sessions left. I was a little tired and sore from working hard on my body position and riding. I started the 2nd to last session and started letting my mind drift away a little bit. I was thinking about the ride home and my fatigue level and on the video footage I had been recording all day; what I would be showing my friends and family and how cool I would look.

I decided to try one more lap and call it a day. I said to myself. “You can push a little harder and get one awesome lap to end the day.” I got to the start of the straight. I did a head check to see if I was holding up any riders. The coast was clear and I gave it all I got. I pinned the gas and tucked my head. Glancing at the speedometer I saw the numbers climbing 130,140,150. I looked up and saw the end of the straight fast approaching. I got on the brakes with a force that seemed very heavy. I was squeezing in on the tank with all my might to hold myself from pushing forward. I saw the turning point approaching fast and thought “Oh No I just blew it” I had lots of speed and not much track left.

I thought in the back of my head. You can do this, usually riders have less skills than the machine they are on. I tried as hard as I could to get into a hang off position and turn the bike. I gave it a flick into the corner and felt the front dropping out. I saw the ground rushing up to my shoulder and I lifted my head up and away from the turn. Boom, I was on the ground and tumbling, I could see the bike flipping as I was tumbling and sliding into the grass. Every second was in slow motion as I could hear the plastic cracking and breaking off the bike.

It seemed like I was going to slide forever and I was saying to myself. OK, please stop now. Once stopped I stayed still, counted to 10 and started to assess if anything was hurt or broken. Not even a scratch. All the gear I had invested in paid off big-time! I looked at the bike and wanted to cry. I knew as I started to scream down the straight I was pushing too hard. I had not taken the advice I want to instill in every single student. I got up and started looking the bike over. Seeing everything all smashed is a feeling I could do without. The session still had 15 minuets to go and all I could do was stand there and wave as my friends and fellow riders went by making smooth turns and having a blast. Sometimes we do not take our own advice and need a hard lesson to set us straight.

Josh


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Guest Writer: The Art of Group Riding

Marc Robidas is the newest RITZ guest blog contributor. Marc is an experienced road and track day rider who pilots a Ducati 798 on the track and a Hypermotard SP on the street.

Let’s see what Marc has to say about group riding.


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

The Art of Group Riding

I enjoy group rides. Each ride brings an opportunity to meet like-minded people and to discover new roads. Any group of people will vary in their range of skills. You know you’ve found a good group to ride with when no one feels they need to pick up the pace, and any reckless display of awesomeness is discouraged.

Ride My Own Ride

Not long into the ride, I have a sense of the other riders’ skills. It might be easy to keep up. Or maybe the rider ahead is slightly more skilled; they become my carrot.

Sometimes, I notice the gap growing between myself and the rider in front of me. There is mild guilt about creating a gap in the group of riders and the temptation to twist the throttle is strong. So off I go to close the gap.

Wait, wait, wait! What’s going on here? Am I really “riding my own ride”?

On twisty roads in particular, I savor the relationship between myself and the road with little or no influence from the other riders. When the road gets challenging, I let the gap grow sufficiently so the next rider is not an influence on my choice of corner speed.

Don't let pack mentality ruin your ride.
Don’t let pack mentality ruin your ride.

Sometimes this means the next motorcycle is out of sight. Allowing the group to stretched out allows each person to ride in a way that feels comfortable.

Comfort

Speaking of comfort, an all day group ride can add 300+ miles on the odometer. From a cold morning start, hot afternoon and wet finish to the day, bringing the right riding gear will make every minute a treat, and minimizes dangerous distraction.

The ride will undoubtedly be a mix of smooth twisties with pavement that has seen its better days. Although my bike’s suspension is on the firm side, it is adjustable. Softening the settings allows me to ride a full day in relative comfort.

A pre-ride meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page.
A pre-ride meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page.

Group Etiquette

Communication among each group member is essential. A pre-ride meeting is important to describe the route and the expectations of the group leaders. Any use of hand signals during the ride need to be explained.

Arrive at least 15 minutes early with a full tank of gas and an empty bladder. And, don’t be that guy (or girl) who is late for the rider’s meeting and is then clueless about the day’s plan. Group riding essentials are covered in the MSF’s guide: click here for the group ride PDF, and below is a video from the MSF about group riding. Take a look.


From Ken:

Group riding can be a blast, but it can also be quite dangerous if riders do not understand the idiosyncrasies of riding in a group. It’s also risky to ride with people who are not skilled. Be discerning about who you ride with and don’t be afraid to bow out if a particular group does not share your values of risk management.

Here is an article that talks about the dangers of Peer Pressure.


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When Motojournalists Die

RIP,  Jeff
RIP, Jeff

I’m saddened once again at the news that a fellow motorcycle journalist has died while riding his bike. Last week, I learned of the death of Backroads Magazine contributor, Jeff Bahr. Jeff collided with a Cadillac driven by an 86 year old man who pulled out from a shopping center in front of his Triumph Explorer.

Wait, There’s More

Jeff is only one of a string of motorcycle journalists whose ride on this Earthly plane ended suddenly. There are many others who I do not recall at the moment, but these stick in my head.

RIP, Larry
RIP, Larry

Larry Grodsky of Stayin’ Safe and Rider Magazine fame collided with a deer in 2006. Larry was 55 years old.

RIP, Christian
RIP, Christian

Christian Neuhauser of Roadrunner Magazine died when he was hit by a truck while riding a sidecar in North Carolina. He was 45.

RIP, Kevin
RIP, Kevin

Kevin Ash, a renowned British journalist died in 2013 on an off-road group ride in South Africa with other journalists test riding the new BMW R1200GS. He was 53.

RIP, Greg
RIP, Greg

Greg McQuide worked for Motorcyclist Magazine when he died back in 2000 after a truck cut across his lane on Interstate 40 while visiting the Honda Hoot in North Carolina. He was 20 years old!

I know there are more, but I am embarrassed to say I can’t remember them all. Help me if you can so we can pay respects to their contributions to motorcycling.

Why, WHy, WHY?

Jeff's Explorer.
Jeff’s Explorer.

I ask myself what could be happening to cause these presumably skilled, experienced and thoughtful motorcycle riders to die at what they do best? It’s certainly possible that each of these riders made a fatal mistake. Maybe it was an unfamiliar road combined with too great a speed, or perhaps they lost concentration for just a moment, which allowed a hazard to turn nasty.

What I think is more likely is the fact that motorcycle journalists have a dangerous job. You see, moto-journalists have an inordinately high exposure to the risks associated with riding a motorcycle. Yes, they sit for what seems like endless hours tapping at a keyboard (which has its own hazards, believe me). But, they also spend many hours and miles riding all kinds of motorcycles in all kinds of situations. And many of these bikes are not familiar to them.

Notoriety

Of course, many hundreds of motorcycle riders die each year who often don’t get much more than a line of text in the local newspaper. In contrast, when a national-level moto-journalist dies while riding a motorcycle, it is industry news. This makes it all seem more notable, but it also shoves a mirror into the face of every “average” motorcycle rider who asks “If it can happen to him (or her), then it can happen to me”.

Do All You Can

Anyone can find themselves facing the sharp end of the “motorcycling is dangerous” stick. The answer is not to give up riding (as if you would actually consider this), rather, the solution is to do all you can to minimize the risks. Even with all the knowledge and skill in the world, you still may end up in trouble. But, you owe it to yourself and your loved-ones to be the smartest and best motorcycle rider you can be.

Sorry to be a bummer. Reality sucks sometimes.

Share your thoughts below.

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Rider Behavior and Peer Pressure

Same, Same
There is comfort in conformity.

It may seem that peer pressure is something that we outgrow once we reach adulthood. But, even as grownups we continue to be influenced by people we associate and identify with.

As motorcycle riders, peer pressure can affect our behavior and influence our attitude toward risk. This can be very beneficial, or it can be detrimental, depending on the attitude and values of the group you ride or identify with.

I’ve seen otherwise really smart people do really stupid things on a bike because they do not think for themselves, and instead conform with the norms of the group. On the other hand, I’ve also seen reckless rookies become really smart and skilled riders through association with riders who value skill development and risk management.

Positive Behavior Change

The group mentality drives behavior.
Group mentality drives behavior, both good and bad.

Peer pressure and positive comparisons are one of the most effective ways to change behavior. A smoker who wants to quit is more successful if he or she doesn’t hang out with other smokers. The same goes for alcoholics.

A motorcycle rider who wants to increase the chances of surviving is smart to identify with riders who value risk management. This doesn’t mean riding without taking risks, but it does mean carefully considering the consequences of how you ride (and the protection you wear). Associating with risk-conscious riders is one on the best ways to manage risk.

The attitude of a group does not have to be overt. It can be sensed by how they act. For instance, riding with a group that values excellent control skill will challenge the others in the group to ride better. Good judgement is another skill that thoughtful riding groups value. By associating with these riders, your knowledge and skills will improve.

Style or Protection?

Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance?
Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance or someone else’s?

Protective gear is often dictated by style. This means that one rider will choose to wear a high-viz Aerostitch suit and full faced helmet, while another rider will choose a beanie helmet and black leather vest depending on the type of bike and riding he or she identifies with.

Style will inevitably influence riding gear choices, but should style really be the deciding factor in protection?

I’m reminded of a woman in a beginner motorcycle class I was teaching about ten years ago. We had just finished the segment on the importance of protective gear. This woman came up to me during the break looking upset. She preceded to tell me that what she had just learned scared her. It turns out her husband did not wear good protective gear and that she was sure she would be pressured into wearing a beanie helmet, jeans and t-shirt.

I’m not a therapist specializing in marital problems, but I did offer her a strategy that I thought may have helped her with an obviously overbearing biker husband. I suggested that she tell him that what she learned made her realize the importance of a good helmet and that she insist on wearing a helmet that helped reduce the risk of injury. I figured he couldn’t argue with that.

Fun at the Expense of Survival

If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.
If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.

The type of riding gear people choose is influenced by identity. But, even more concerning is how peer pressure and group identity can lead to some really ugly outcomes. This is often caused by group behavior that values “fun” at the expense of basic safety.

I’m the first to admit that riding fast is fun. But, I resist the pressure to ride fast on the street. Squidly sport bike riders who race and stunt on the street are highly represented in death statistics.

When it comes to the “biker” crowd, alcohol is a deadly combination that has been around for decades. Even though statistics suggest that there is less going on, drinking and riding it are still prevalent.

Pack mentality is tough to resist when you’re riding in a group. The most common result for sport riders is a steady increase in speed during group rides. For the cruiser riders, it seems to be an increase in raucous behavior.

Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.
Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.

But, I ride Alone

Riding solo is one way to “ride your own ride”. But, the fact is that group identity influences your behavior even if you strictly ride solo. For example, the type of bike you ride will likely define your choice of riding gear. Look around and you will be hard-pressed to find many cruiser riders wearing a full-faced helmet. You’ll also find it tough to spot a racerboy sportbike rider sporting a high-viz vest.

Yes, these are stereotypes, but am I wrong? Sure, there are those people who challenge norms by combining different styles of riding gear and bikes, but they are the exception.

It doesn’t matter if you ride alone. You are part of a larger group whether you like it or not. Your choice of riding style is an identification with the biker crowd, the touring crowd, the sportbike crowd, adventure crowd, or some other group. Accept it, but be sure you make decisions that are in line with your beliefs, not the beliefs of others.

I challenge you to look at your personal values and make choices based on your level of risk acceptance and go against the perceived norms of your riding genre if they don’t match.

Share your thoughts below.


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Sad, But True

tommy-Aquino-3I know not every reader of the Zone Blog follows motorcycle roadracing, so you may not have heard about the recent death of 21 year old young gun Tommy Aquino who was involved in a collision with a fellow rider while training at a motocross track in California. Even though Tommy’s death occurred on a motocross track, it is one more example of the sad realities of riding a motorcycle, whether on the dirt or the street.

It Happens

I don’t know the details of Tommy’s crash, but knowing that he was a very skilled rider begs the question, “If it can happen to him, what chance do I have?” Of course, most of you aren’t training to become a future world champion, but that doesn’t mean that you are immune to a similar fate.

The fact is that the public roads present as many or more dangers as a motocross track. Safety guru Larry Grodsky died while riding home from a safety conference. My friend and coworker, Chappy lost his life commuting home after work. My wife’s cousin died on a Sunday ride with a friend. The list of street riders who have died goes on and on.

I often say that most crashes are avoidable, and I stand by that statement, but the reality is that even the best riders can find themselves at the pointy end of a bad crash. Larry Grodsky is an excellent example, but there are many others.

Fred Rau, a colleague at Motorcycle Consumer News wrote a poignant column in the latest issue about a fellow rider who met his end on a group ride. The article illustrates the cold truth that sometimes shit happens even to the best riders. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the only reason his friend is dead now.

Hopefully, you all understand the realities of motorcycle safety and act accordingly. Not that you should ride scared or never push the envelope from time to time, but one key to survival is to know the real risks of riding and how to manage those risks. Unfortunately, many riders don’t take risk management seriously enough.

Don’t Give Up, Get Smart

I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 40 years and have survived this long partly because of luck, but mostly because I am very conscientious of where and how I ride. I don’t take my safety for granted.

I’m not saying that those who have met their demise were not conscientious. What I am saying is that life is unpredictable. But, we can minimize the risks.

Read this post to learn how.
And this one.

Risk versus Reward

I often tell people who are on the fence about whether they should ride a motorcycle to carefully measure the risk versus reward ratio. If there is not a big payback in terms of enjoyment, then I suggest they find something else to do. The reward must match or exceed the risk.

This is what I told my daughter Jeannine when she first started riding on the street back in 2006. I wanted her to know that the decision she was making to become a street rider had serious consequences. Of course, intellectually, she knew this, but it is important that we remind ourselves frequently about the risks of straddling a two-wheeled machine and then riding it at speed.

Is your risk to reward ratio acceptable to you?

Fight Complacency

If you haven’t evaluated your mental and physical skill sets lately, I suggest you do so. Why? Because it’s too easy to become complacent about the importance of excellent survival strategies and riding skills. As we ride more and more miles without incident, we gradually assume that we have this riding thing figured out and that the bad things won’t happen to us. Wrong!

We can’t control everything, but we can hedge our bets by increasing our knowledge and skill and making sure our behavior is in line with minimizing the risks of riding a motorcycle. Take this post as a reminder to do all you can to be the best rider you can be.

Proficiency-PledgeProficiency Pledge

Earlier this past year, I included a pledge in one of my MCN columns to encourage readers to think about their responsibility to be the best they can be. Take this pledge for yourself AND for the ones who love you. Feel free to add your own points.

Pledge:
  1. I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking one formal safety/skills course per season.
  2. I will practice my physical skills on my own to keep them sharp.
  3. I will wear protective gear on every ride.
  4. I will develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
  5. I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
  6. I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
  7. I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.

Signed:___________________________

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

*Anyone wanting to distribute this pledge to more than their immediate friends and family should contact me for permission.

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How to Survive Hairpin Turns

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Practice tight turns in a parking lot.
Practice tight turns in a parking lot.

The biggest problem riders have when dealing with hairpin turns is their anxiety about being able to make the turn. It’s a good idea to practice tight turns in a parking lot before you encounter challenging hairpin turns. Read more about slow speed riding techniques.

Slow Approach

One of the most likely reasons for a crash in a corner is entering too fast. When dealing with downhill hairpin turns, you also have the additional force of gravity pushing you downhill.

The trick is to get your bike slowed early and smoothly and then carry a bit of brake force past turn in to keep the bike stable, Read about trailbraking for more detail. Just be sure the surface is clean enough to allow slight braking while cornering.

Throttle On

The timing of when and how much you crack the throttle is critical for maintaining stability and direction of travel. In general, you want to begin rolling on the throttle as you release the brakes (see trailbraking seminar)

A bit of forward drive takes some of the load off the front tire when going downhill and gives you forward momentum when going up a hill. It also maximizes ground clearance.

But, be careful. If you are abrupt with the throttle, either by accelerating too hard or by chopping off the throttle, you risk running wide, overtaxing the tires and upsetting the chassis and balance

Downhill turns are challenging enough to put a sign up.
Downhill turns are challenging enough to put a sign up.

When approaching a downhill hairpin curve you need to slow down more and hang onto the brakes a bit longer (see trailbraking) to manage gravity, You then gradually crack the throttle slightly for maximum stability. Be sure to look well into the turn, at the corner exit.

Uphill Hairpins

When going uphill, you can approach with a bit higher speed. But, slow down enough to allow steady throttle throughout the whole turn. Be sure not to use too much throttle that you cause the front tire to lose traction and “skate”, which can push your bike too far to the outside of the turn.

You also don’t want to overload the rear tire with too much acceleration force. Steady, gradual throttle at the beginning of the turn is the key. Again, keep your eyes pointed all the way to the turn’s exit.

Look through the turn and accelerate slightly.
Look through the turn and accelerate slightly.

Enough Speed

Whether going up or down hill, you need to keep your speed up to maintain balance and stability. Sometimes, people simply fall over because they are going too slow. At very low speeds, slight deceleration or shift in body weight (tell passengers to remain relaxed, but still) is enough to upset balance and cause a tip over. Aim for smooth, steady drive.

Look Toward the Exit

Your eyes help direct your bike to where you are looking so look where you WANT to go. Turn your head to ratchet your eyes through to corner, always looking to the next visual target…entry, apex, exit. Read more about visual skills here.

What’s My Line?

It's important to get this right.
It’s important to get this right.

Try to select a cornering line that allows you to get your steering inputs done early and so the throttle finishes the turn. This usually means an outside-inside-outside path of travel. There are many advantages to this line, including a wide view through the turn and the ability to perform a quick turn-in that gets the bike turned early. It’s common for riders to fall in slow, tight corners because they introduce mid-corner steering inputs at the time when the front tire is already working hard.

Obligatory Crash Video

Here’s a video of my friend Matt who found out how a slight miscue in a slow, tight turn can put you on the ground. He was a rather new rider at the time and was spooked by the traffic. The bike was borrowed, so it was not familiar to him, either. He was unhurt. Erik from Twisted Throttle evaluates the crash protection from SW-MOTECH.

Why do you think Matt crashed? I’ll give my opinion in the comments below after some of you respond.

What tips do you find useful when dealing with hairpin turns?


 

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Tell Me Where it Hurts

Say no more.
Say no more.

According to the statistics report made by the Orange County personal injury lawyers, it says that the type of injuries sustained by motorcycle riders may not be what you think as it ranges from a scratch to the most fatal one. We all know that a traumatic bonk on the head is the most likely way to become dead. The brain just cannot handle being bashed around inside your cranium without suffering some bleeding or bruising.

That’s why those who understand the risks of riding a motorcycle wear helmets, and not those skull cap, yamaka, pseudo brain buckets, but a real DOT or ECE (“Economic Commission for Europe), or Snell approved unit; preferably one with really cool colors and graphics (if that’s your thing).

Legs and Feet

Take a look at the pie graph (mmmm, pie, source: CDC). While the head and neck are understandably high on the list of parts we injure. Statistically, it is even more likely that you will have some pretty beat up the legs and feet.

I’ve experienced this first and second hand. I’ve broken a foot from a parking lot tipover (note to self: remove disc lock before flight, dumbass) and tore my ACL (it’s in the knee) from a dirt biking tipover. And Caroline broke her foot falling over in gravel on (or should I say “off”) the racetrack.

This is why I wear armored boots and riding pants with knee armor. I guess most other riders in the U.S. have not heard this fact, because very few I see wear more than sneakers and jeans with the occasional person of questionable intelligence wearing flip-flops and shorts.

Really?
Really?

Leg Protection

As a person who promotes track days, I often get questions about what riding gear is acceptable when riding on the track. Most serious riders have riding jackets that are decent enough to pass tech at some track days, like Tony’s Track Days. So, that usually isn’t a problem. But, invariably when I ask about what riding pants they have, they look puzzled and say “None. I ride in jeans”. Oops.

I get it. I didn’t begin wearing riding pants until after I had been riding for about 15 years. That’s when I started thinking more about the risks of riding. Back then, there weren’t a lot of riding pants to choose from.

I discovered that Motoport gave a discount to MSF instructors, so I bought an Ultra II overpant that I wore for several seasons. It provided years of comfort and protection. And from the looks I got from the ladies, it looked good, too. OK. there were no ladies, but I can dream, can’t I?

I digress. Today, there are tons of options in protective pants that are not expensive and offer pretty good protection from at least minor leg injuries.

Lookin' good in my Motoport Riding pants.
Lookin’ good in my Motoport Riding pants.

Now, I always wear leg protection when I ride, usually my high-dollar MotoPort Ultra II stretch Kevlar zip-on uber-pants. I know these look good because I’ve been told so (by my wife, but she counts, right?) These are undoubtedly the most comfortable and protective pants I’ve seen, except when it gets to be over 85 F.

But now I have another option. Jeannine just bought me my first pair of Kevlar jeans (with knee armor). I was quite surprised at how well they fit and looked (maybe the ladies will notice me now). I haven’t worn them yet, but I like having the option of wearing protective pants that look “normal” when I walk into a store.

Twisted Throttle (and others) sell armored mesh pants that offer great ventilation and enough protection for one small-to-medium sized crash. That’s enough to make them well worth their relatively inexpensive cost.

Do yourself, your knees and your legs a favor and wear protective pants.

touring boots are comfortable with good protection.
Touring boots are comfortable with decent protection.

Foot Fetish

Caroline and my foot injuries happened even though we were both wearing motorcycle boots, which just goes to show you that not all boots are equal. Had I been wearing my Sidi race boots at the time I may have avoided the broken foot…maybe.

But, I was on a street ride where I was doing a fair amount of walking, so I was wearing my touring boots. These are good, but are a compromise between protection and comfort. I’m in the market for new street boots and will be selecting one that leans a bit more toward protection than my current boots.

Believe it or not, even with my history of foot injuries, I do ride wearing work boots from time to time. Convenience and practicality sometimes trump maximum protection.

race boots aren't made for walkin'
race boots aren’t made for walkin’

What injuries have you suffered? Is the pie chart in line with your experiences?


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How to Save a Front Tire Slide

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Sometimes it's not possible to save it.
Sometimes it’s not possible to save it. www.motorcyclistonline.com

Is it possible to not crash when you experience a front tire slide? Maybe.

Both of my recent track crashes were the result of a sliding front tire (both were caused by me asking too much of a cold front tire). Sometimes it happens too quickly for you to respond. But, sometimes there is enough time to perform a maneuver that just may save you from a fall.

Survival Instincts Are a Bitch

Let’s say you are rounding a curve and the handlebar starts to feel vague in your hands. At the same time, your proprioceptors (aka kinesthetic sense) tell your brain that balance is being compromised.

Your brain is alerted to the threat and triggers your muscles to tense. The rush of panic and muscle tension happens in an instant. Many riders end up on the ground because their survival instincts cause them to overreact and make matters worse.

Saving the Front in a Corner

I’ve got bad news for you, that vagueness you feel at the handlebars is your front tire losing traction. This is bad, because a front tire slide is one of the most difficult situations to recover from. When cornering, the front tire is responsible for both lateral grip and direction control (steering). More times than not, front tire traction loss is the result of asking too much of the tire. Side forces from cornering, in combination with cold rubber and perhaps contaminated pavement is an easy recipe for tire slip.

When the front tire loses grip, it “tucks” underneath the bike and throws the bike and rider violently to the ground. But, is it possible to save yourself from falling?

To help the front tire regain traction (or at least not lose any more grip) you must first not add to the problem. This means staying relaxed (Good luck with that). With light handlebar pressure, the tire and suspension can work fluidly to manage surface irregularities.

If you tense on the bars, you will put stress on the front tire and risk pushing the tire over the limit of grip. Whatever you do, avoid trying to countersteer the bike into a deeper lean.

Assuming you can remain somewhat relaxed and neutral, the next thing to do is to relieve the work the front tire is doing. To do this, get on the throttle! I know, it’s counter-intuitive, which is why it’s not easy to do. But gassing it transfers load from the overworked front tire to the rear tire.This allows the front rubber to halt its lateral slide and keep rolling.

Yes, you will probably run wide, but hopefully you have enough road/track to let this happen. You can minimize this drift by using moderate throttle application to save the front tire slide. Just don’t goose the throttle so hard that you careen off the road or track or spin the rear tire.

Uphill Unload

A fellow instructor pointed out a caveat  to the common cornering situation. Dan mentioned what can happen to traction when you are going uphill. He witnessed a fellow rider (with a passenger) lose the front and crash in front of him just as the crashing rider was getting on the gas. Why would this happen if what I say about relieving stress on the front tire is true?

The likely explanation is that the uphill slope, in combination with the weight of a passenger and the application of a bit too much throttle, unloaded the front tire too much. He probably also added a bit of steering input that tucked the front tire beneath him. The lesson is that load management and traction management go hand in hand and you need to develop a keen sense of how various factors can affect tire load and grip.

The Knee Save

For those who are accustomed to dragging knee, it is possible to relieve front tire stress by levering the bike with your knee. Anything you can do to take pressure off the front tire will help the tire regain grip.

Saving the Front While Braking

The other way to experience a front tire induced crash is to overbrake so you skid the front tire. This can happen whether you are upright or leaned. If this happens, get off the brake, NOW! This will let the front wheel roll again so you can regain control. Then get back on the brakes (you were braking for a reason, right?). But, this time squeeze the front brake progressively. You can still brake really hard (less so if you are leaned), but it must be done gradually to allow time to put load on the front tire, which increases traction.

Practice? Really?

It takes a good amount of skill and presence to control front tire skids. Like all other tricky situations, practice and experience increases the chance that you can act correctly and save a crash. Practice? How? Ride in the dirt, my friend! Pushing the front tire is a regular occurrence when riding on loose surfaces. Learning to control slides in the dirt is less risky than suddenly needing to manage a slide on your street bike. With this experience, you can train and condition your mind and muscles to react properly when a slide happens.

The other way to train yourself to react properly is to push your bike hard enough to get it to happen. I don’t recommend this, because front tire slides can easily go wrong. But, if you eventually go fast enough at track days or when racing, you will inevitably experience the vague feeling of your front tire on the edge of traction loss.

DO NOT go fast enough to slide the front on the street!! You will die. On the street, it’s not likely that you will have enough time or space to pull off this hero maneuver.

What? You don’t ride on the track or in the dirt? Well, the next best way to practice is to visualize successfully performing the maneuver. Imagine yourself cornering hard, feeling handlebar vagueness and then gradually rolling on the throttle as needed to drift the front. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best way to prepare for saving a front tire slide. Me and the ZX6R Monticello, NY.

Expect It

Another way to prepare for front tire slides (and many others) is to expect them to happen. This pertains to all times when you are in traction-reduced situations, including when cornering or braking hard.

Have you experienced a front tire skid or slide? If so, how did that work out for you?


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Is Crashing Really that Bad?

This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.
This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.

Crashing a motorcycle sucks. No doubt about that. I’ve had my share of run-ins with gravity and it’s not fun. But, does crashing a motorcycle always mean carnage and a hospital visit? It depends.

My crashes

I’ve had only one “real” street crash and one minor one. The minor one involved a car who rolled into the back of my Triumph Bonneville. I didn’t fall, so it was very minor.  I also had a minor parking lot tipover (note to self: remove the disc lock before attempting to ride away). But tipovers aren’t exactly what I call “crashes”. There are personal injury attorneys serving clients in Portland who can provide one with the necessary legal aid.

The “real” crash happened in 1978 when a car driver turned left in front of me…classic.

Thankfully, most of my crashes were racing incidents. I say “thankfully” because even though racing crashes suck, they don’t suck nearly as much as street crashes where the chances of injury after sliding into a tree, guardrail or oncoming car is quite high.

I’m truly grateful that the extent of my injuries from both track and street crashes were cracked ribs and a broken foot from the tipover.  These injuries were painful, but all healed without any complications. The personal injury attorneys serving in Green, Waters Ogle and McCarter can help in case of injury or accident cases.

Unfortunately, the “real” street crash resulted in a totaled 1973 Yamaha TX650 and the rear-end incident resulted in the Triumph’s taillight being smashed, but that’s what happens when you make impact with cars.

In all of the track crashes, bike damage was limited to easily replaceable parts, allowing me to get back on the track later that day. Sure, the cosmetic damage was a bummer, but I got over it–most people do. So, file a personal injury claim in Canada as it will help you to stand up on your feet again.

Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer
Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer

Safer Crashing

There was a time when crashing on the racetrack was just as likely to get you killed as crashing on the street. This was because racetrack safety was abysmal with concrete walls lining the course and pavement not any better than a potholed rural road.

Thankfully, track safety is much improved. Even though a lot of people complain about the safety issues at my local track (Loudon, NH), the current track is much better than the old Bryar track that had all sorts of safety problems. We didn’t complain much, since all of the tracks were that way.

Another reason there are fewer deaths and injuries today is because of better protective gear. Pudding bowl helmets lined in cork were the racers’ choice at one time. Now, we have helmets that are pretty darn effective at preventing the majority of head injuries. Add to that the improvements in material and armor incorporated into jackets, pants, boots and gloves and it is possible to crash without suffering too badly.

Of course, where you crash is the biggest factor in whether you will end up in a hospital or hearse. Collide with a car and even the best riding gear is not likely to save you from some kind of injury & claiming insurance is not difficult for lawyers in law firm for DUI located in Fairfax. Crash on a modern racetrack, and you’ll likely get up, brush yourself off and walk back to the pits under your own power.

Unfortunately, road safety has not improved for motorcycle riders. More tar snakes and guardrails seem to appear every year and drivers are more and more careless about paying attention. And road conditions are often allowed to get pretty bad before they are fixed.

Crashing on the street is a
Crashing on the street usually results in injury.

Perception of Risk

It’s been proven that people take greater risks when they feel protected. This is why drivers of large SUVs tend to feel less threatened than drivers of small cars. Most motorcycle riders understand that they are vulnerable to injury and ride accordingly.

This is why Risk Ignorance and complacency is so dangerous. The risks don’t change, but the inaccurate perception of the danger can make a rider think he or she can ride more aggressively or with less attentiveness.

Believe it or not, there were fewer racing crashes back in the day when races were held on road courses lined with stone walls, hedgerows, fences and houses lining the circuit. Racers knew that a fall would very likely result in death. So, most rode in a way that balanced risk and reward.

Today, there are many more crashes, but many fewer deaths and serious injuries because, with the exception of the Isle of Man and a few other “real” roadrace circuits, racing is conducted on closed courses with safety features such as runoff, gravel traps and airfence. Also, today’s protective gear is so much better. This means that racers can push harder, knowing that a crash will probably not be the end of the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, racetrack crashes can be lethal. It’s just that the risk to reward ratio has shifted so that it’s not unreasonable to expect to get up unscathed after a racetrack crash.

The Perception of Crashing

Another advantage racers have when it comes to crashing is that racers expect to crash. After all, they are pushing the limits of grip and skill and are sharing the track with a bunch of crazies all set on going as fast as they can, determined to take your spot on the podium.

So, when you do crash in a race situation, it’s not unexpected. And if you do go down, it’s unlikely that you are seriously injured, so you get over it rather quickly. This makes the mishap psychologically easier to deal with.

It’s different when you don’t expect to crash. For instance, crashing during a track day will likely be more upsetting, because it is not assumed that crashes are inevitable. But, track day crashes still fall under the category of “not likely to get injured”, so most track day crashers get over the mishap fairly easily.

Crashing on the street is a whole other matter. Street crashes are often particularly traumatic, not only physically, but also mentally. Most street riders assume that they will not crash, even though the risks are actually much greater when riding on the street. It’s understandable, because most street riders go many miles and years without a crash, which makes it easy to think that it won’t happen to them. So when it does, their world is shattered, even if they don’t suffer a significant injury.

Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.
Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.

Thankful, But Skillful

I’m able to write about my crashes today, because most happened on the racetrack in a controlled environment. I’m thankful that I have experienced very few street crashes.

Perhaps some of the reason why I’m still in one piece is luck, but I contend that the reason I have had few street crashes is because of my commitment to riding smart and never becoming complacent about risk. This includes learning all I can about riding and implementing effective strategies when riding in traffic or in the twisties.

Risk is always there and always will be. Learn to manage risk and perhaps you can join me as one who is mostly unscathed after many decades of riding a motorcycle…if we stay sharp and are blessed with a bit of luck.

What have you learned from your crashes?


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The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life

Both speed was and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed was and Lack of Visibility caused this crash.

I know what you’re saying. “You’re telling me that there are only 2 things I need to do to survive riding on the street?” You betcha. So, here is the caveat to this sensational statement; there are more like 1 Gazillion things you need to know to be the safest rider you can be. But, I don’t have that much time and you’d be bored by the time I got to number 15,000. So, I’m going with my top 2.

And with no further ado, here they are. The envelope. please.

#1 Being “Speed Smart”

#2 Being Visible

Of all the things you can and should know about riding a motorcycle, these two strategies will allow you to avoid 80 to 90% of the most common situations that lead to motorcycle crashes. I hear you yelling at your laptop or smartphone saying “What about [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE STRATEGY HERE]”. I understand… really. There is way more to know to avoid becoming roadkill than just these two strategies. But, I contend that most close calls and crashes can be avoided if you follow my suggestions and focus first on these two strategies. Let me elaborate.

All photos © Ken Condon


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #1: Be Speed Smart

Jeannine being Speed Smart
Jeannine being Speed Smart

Being “Speed Smart” doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the posted speed limit. I’m no angel when it comes to ignoring ridiculous speed limit signs, especially when the payoff is worth the risk of a ticket ( a great section of twisty tarmac with little traffic). No, I’m talking about being smart about when and where you wick it up. You can avoid a majority of close calls if you just keep the throttle under control. Here’s how.

Ride at “Expected” Speeds

It’s important to ride close to the marked speed limit when riding through town centers, and whenever you are near other drivers, especially when riding through intersections. Riding at a speed that is greater than is expected will likely result in the driver pulling in front of you, thinking he or she has time to go. This is largely because a motorcycle has a narrow frontal area, which makes it more difficult for drivers to judge your approach speed and distance.

Ride Slow in a Slow Environment

One of the most common reasons motorcycle riders crash is because they ride faster than the environment will safely allow. Riding at the speed limit makes total sense when there is a lot of traffic, but what about when the road opens up? It may be tempting to go WFO, but no matter how much you wish the road were a racetrack, it is not! You can get away with excessive speed for a while, but some day it will bite you. I can almost guarantee it. Really fast sport riding belongs on a racetrack, dummy.

Even if you are a racetrack hero, you must understand that the unpredictable nature of the street does not allow you to exercise your full cornering prowess. With hazards such as road surface hazards, unexpected changes in radius and camber, or other vehicles crossing into your lane you can easily exceed the limits of the environment even though you may be nowhere near your personal limits.

Cornering Correctly: Slow in, Fast out

The vast majority of single-vehicle crashes are the result of riders failing to negotiate a curve and a common reason for this is a rider entering a corner at a speed that is too fast for the conditions or for the rider’s ability. The best strategy is to slow to a conservative speed and then gradually accelerate when you are sure it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that you can always get on the gas, but you can’t go back in time to enter the turn at a slower speed.

Respect Time and Space

Still not convinced just how significant speed is to keeping you safe? Then consider the timing and circumstances of a typical 30 mph crash. At that speed you are traveling at 44 feet per second (1 mph = 1.47 ft/sec). Getting a motorcycle stopped at 30 mph takes just over two seconds and requires about 35 feet of space. But, braking distances include more than just the time and space to physically stop your motorcycle. It also includes “thinking time” and “reaction time”. At 30 mph you can count on using about .7 seconds or 31 feet to realize that there is a problem. It then takes you another .3 seconds or 13 feet to react by rolling off the throttle and reaching for the brakes. That means you traveled 44 feet before even touching the brakes. Finally, it takes you about 2.2 seconds or 35 feet (with a typical deceleration rate achieved by the average rider) to bring the motorcycle to a halt. Add this “braking time” to the “thinking time” and “reaction time” and you’ll need a total of 3.2 seconds and 79 feet with which to stop.


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #2: Be Visible

"SMIDSY"= "Sorry Mate, I Didn't See Ya"
“SMIDSY”= “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See Ya”

The most common phrase uttered by drivers who are involved in a motorcycle crash is; “I didn’t see him”. It’s easy to blame the driver for being inattentive. After all, texting, NAV systems, and other distractions are vying for drivers’ attention…you know who you are. While this is a reality on today’s roads, too many riders fail to recognize their role in being visible, choosing to wear dark colors and riding in a way that hides them from other drivers.

Even being seen is not as reliable as we would like. Most motorcyclists have stories of drivers pulling out in front of them even though the driver was looking directly at them. What would cause a driver to proceed if the rider was in plain sight? It’s common for a driver’s brain to dismiss the appearance of a relatively insignificant (small) vehicle (motorcycle) on the roadway and pull out without ever “seeing” the motorbike.

Use Effective Lane Positioning

In traffic, it’s important to constantly evaluate your ability to see and for others to see you. Poor lane position is a factor that can prevent you from being seen and seeing hazards. This includes not having sufficient following distance. Ample following distance provides a wider angle of view to see past the vehicle and allow other drivers to see you.

Proper lane positioning also includes your location within the width of your lane. Motorcycle riders have the option of riding in the left, center or right portion of the lane. This gives you the ability to place your bike where you can see farther ahead and where other drivers can see you. Exactly what is the best lane position? In many situations, riding in the left/center of your lane makes the most sense. This position allows you to see past the vehicle ahead and gives you a good angle of view of the oncoming lane.  Certain situations require you to alter this position, such as an oncoming vehicle threatening to cross the centerline.

Lane position changes continually depending on the road surface, other drivers, and your angle of view.

Loud Pipes

Basic science says that sound is not a reliable source of information. Sure, loud pipes increase the likelihood that drivers will know you are in the vicinity, but don’t be fooled into thinking that sound will help a driver locate where you are in traffic. This is why installing loud pipes is not a great strategy for increasing safety.

A much more reliable strategy is to be more visible. A driver who sees you and is able to accurately judge your speed and distance is much less likely to pull out in front of you. The importance of using strategies for being seen cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, too many riders don’t seem to understand this.


There are lots of other tips that are important for surviving on a motorcycle like don’t ride drunk or stoned, be attentive, etc. But. if you can follow these two strategies I outlined, you are well on your way to making it home at the end of a great day of riding.

OK. Now it’s your turn.

I know you’ve been chompin’ at the bit to tell the world what you think is the most important tip for surviving. So, let’s hear your comments.
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