8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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Lane position is one of the top strategies a motorcycle rider must utilize to avoid the most common multiple vehicle crashes. Here is a common scenario that illustrates the need to be hyper-aware of blind spots.

Scenario

You and your wife gather your things and pack your bike for a ride to visit family. As expected traffic is heavy, but people are calmly rolling along at about 25 mph. You position yourself in the left portion of your lane to see past a truck in front of you, leaving ample following distance in case the truck stopped quickly.

Suddenly, an SUV just ahead and to your left moves right, into your lane. You have little time to react, but it’s too late. Your front tire makes contact with the right rear bumper and you are both thrown to the pavement.

As innocuous as the situation seemed, you still needed to be aware of the risks around you. The driver who crossed into your lane did so because she thought the lane was clear. She claimed to have looked in her side mirror and even glanced over her shoulder before turning, but saw nothing.

Yes, the driver is responsible for making sure the lane was clear, but you were riding in her blind spot. Not smart.

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

  • Avoid lingering in blind spots. Drive through blind spots when possible (and safe) by traveling a bit faster than surrounding traffic. Filter or lane-split if you can (and if legal).
  • Ride in the driver’s peripheral vision, slightly ahead of the passenger or driver side door.
  • If that’s not possible, then drop back so the driver can see you in their mirrors and to place your bike out of harm’s way if the driver changed lanes suddenly.
  • Never “hide” behind other vehicles where it is nearly impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Position yourself at least 2 seconds behind vehicles you are following. More when following large vehicles.
  • Develop a sixth sense about your environment so you can respond before things unfold. Ask “what’s wrong with this picture”?
  • Predict what actions drivers are likely to make. Look for arm and head movements that can indicate an imminent lane change or turn.
  • Pay close attention to unexplained slowing, drifting or erratic behavior. I call this “vehicle body language”.

Environmental awareness and proper lane positioning are two of the most important strategies for being seen.

Anything to add?



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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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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 1- Trailbraking

This episode is on trailbraking. What is it, what are the benefits and how do you do it?

Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean.

Also available to download on iTunes and SoundCloud

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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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Video Lesson: The Result of Poor Braking Ability

This is a clear demonstration of the consequences of not having proper braking skills. Take a look and then I’ll give you my opinion. I’ll wait.

A shocking number of riders in this video’s original version blamed everything but the rider. Sad.

Well, this is the most classic example of a failure to apply the brakes properly under pressure.

The rider demonstrates an inability to “predict the future” through situational awareness leading to the sudden need for evasive action. And while you can argue that the rider was positioned too close to deal with the stopping vehicles and that the tar snakes reduced traction, the primary reason the crash occurred was lousy skills.

  • The rider skids the rear tire. Untrained riders react to panic braking situations the only way they know how…  which is to stomp on the big brake pedal with their strong leg, like when driving in a car.
  • He then throws out his “outriggers” (legs) so that his feet are now off the pegs…and off the rear brake.
  • Our rider fails to use the most powerful tool at his disposal—the front brake.
  • All the time, the rider fixates his eyes on the back of the truck. Target fixation is the final straw.

This is 100% avoidable with proper braking practice. This article covers the basics. DO NOT neglect to develop this critical skill.


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Proficiency Pledge

Proficiency-Pledge

I always thought pledges were a crock until I learned the potential benefit in encouraging behavior change, risk awareness and a quest for greater proficiency.

The point of signing this pledge is four-fold. First, it is a way to help you reflect on yourself as a rider. Second, it is a commitment that you can share with your family saying you are doing all you can to make it home at the end of a ride. Third, it holds you to following these behaviors. Fourth, it encourages you to continually improve areas where you may be weak.

This pledge is not only for yourself to make riding more fun and safe, but also for the ones who love you. A commitment to safe riding is an expression of respect and love toward your loved ones.

Imagine the emotional and financial pain they would suffer if you die or become injured. Imagine them being forced to care for you by cleaning your wounds, or worse. Sorry to be a bummer, but…

So, here we go.

Proficiency Pledge

  • I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking a formal safety/skills course.
  • I will continue to practice my physical skills to keep them sharp.
  • I will learn about and develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
  • I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
  • I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
  • I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.
  • I will wear protective gear on every ride.

Signed:___________________________

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

*Please distribute this pledge to your riding friends and family. I’d really appreciate it if you include credit and a link to this article. Thanks.

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The Cure for Riding Anxiety

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Since few of us are masters of every aspect of motorcycling, we invariably experience bouts of low-level anxiety or even panic. Anxiety mostly sucks, but it can also be a useful tool for helping you be a safer and more proficient motorcycle rider…if you pay attention.

From my article published in Motorcyclist Magazine:

“The best riders frequently check themselves for signs of stress and then act to regain relaxed composure so they can enjoy a safer and more gratifying ride. With anxiety out of the picture, they can also identify where the stress is coming from, whether that’s a lack of confidence in their ability or trepidation about a particularly risky environment, such as a rain-slick corner or a route riddled with dangerous intersections. Whatever the source, these riders use their awareness of stress to recognize their comfort limit and then back off so that anxiety does not affect control, safety, or fun.”

Too bad I couldn’t follow my own advice.

My Story

Recently, I’ve had a series of off-road mishaps of varying levels of severity that have messed with my Mojo.

I figured perhaps upgrading to a more capable and lighter machine would help. So, I sold the sturdy and rider-friendly KLX250/351s and bought a beautiful KTM450 XC-w. I never intended to buy the KTM, but the price was right, it was in a nearby town and it was sexy as hell.

I knew from the day I bought it that the 450 was more bike than I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t think I could manage the power or the edgy handling, but the fact that it was a less rider-friendly bike made my anxiety worse. Ugh.

So, I remedied the situation by buying a Honda CRF250x. It’s the bike I should have bought in the first place. It’s more like a play bike than the KTM, but more capable than the KLX. Let’s see if that was the cure.

The Test

With the confidence of a less intimidating bike I went riding with my friend Paul at his local dirt track. This area features a motocross-type sand section and some tighter technical trail stuff with some steep drops and climbs, as well as log crossings. The last time I was at his track on the bigger KTM I managed to overcome the challenging sections, but with difficulty. Going in, I totally expected things to go easier on the 250x.

Paul contemplates my plight.

Turns out that the cure was not a different bike. Sure, it helped, but the anxiety was still there. I stared at a particularly scary looking traversing hill wondering WTF? I got past it and tackled the hill several times, but was tense and on the edge of panic much of the time. The rest of the course was easier, yet I still felt anxiety.

Paul, being the supportive friend he is, told me to slow down and just roll around. I was trying to ride the way I am used to riding…sliding the rear and zipping at a decent pace. Well, that was just adding to the anxiety. Once I slowed down to a novice pace, I started having fun and things went sooooo much better.

Emotions trump Logic

So, why wasn’t I able to follow my own advice as outlined in the Motorcyclist article? Because emotions tend to trump logic. I wanted so much to overcome the fear that I pushed on instead of doing what I tell my students…slow down to reset your sense of confidence and competence.

I’ve never been as confident off-road as on pavement or on the racetrack, so I tend to think of myself as a rookie rather than the reasonably competent dirt rider I really am. By slowing down, I am reminded of my true competence. This reinforces the positive. And the more I ride this way, the faster I substitute anxiety with confidence.

By riding in complete control at all times I am (re)building a solid foundation that then allows me to climb out of this rut. If I were to fruitlessly keep pushing without stepping back, I would surely dig the hole even deeper and just reinforce the hold anxiety has on me.

The Cure

The CRF250x is more user friendly than the big KTM.

I tell my on-street students at the beginning of the day that we will be riding well within their comfort zone, becasue they can’t learn and build confidence if they are using all their attention on managing anxiety. And when it comes to my track day students, I tell them that they gotta go slow to go fast.

I believe that most anxiety can be traced back to just a few things…some are physical, like slow speed maneuvers or weak countersteering, but most are mental. Learning tricks to control the bike and read the road or trail with more confidence are keys.
 
Whether it’s street or dirt riding…Slow down so you can keep your eyes and attention well ahead of you. That way things are much easier to process. If you use too much bandwidth to manage anxiety you look down, tense at the handlebars and everything goes pear-shaped.
Of course, slowing down is only part of the cure of riding anxiety, but it’s an important place to start. You will likely also have to sharpen weak control skills that are adding to your anxiety.

Pressure to Measure

This is moments before I lost the front wheel over the high lip of a berm and gave myself some serious whiplash. I was pushing myself too hard trying to get past the intimidation I felt with the KTM.

This all sounds like solid advice, but I can tell you that it’s not easy to follow. If you’re like me, you have an established image of yourself as someone who can manage the challenges of a typical dirt (or street) ride and not be so slow as to hold up the group’s pace.

I’m also competitive, which doesn’t help. I tend to ride fast when the right thing to do is hang back and not feel compelled to keep up.

The takeaway here is to listen to your anxiety and respect it for its attempt to alert you to SLOW DOWN. Instead of forcing yourself to tackle challenges with abandon, take it easy to build back your confidence.

Ignore your anxiety at your own peril. As the saying goes: check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Share your experiences in the comments section below.


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Video Lesson: Intersection Crash

Here is another video posted by the rider who was involved in a crash at an intersection. See more video Lessons here.

One thing different about this rider is that he is taking the time to self-analyze his role in the crash and explore how he could have done better. Kudos Hans Solo!

I want to stress that in the real world, under battle conditions, we humans will make flawed decisions. It’s what we do. The takeaway is to have effective strategies so we can do all we can to avoid needing to use superhero skills…assuming we have them at our disposal. Hans should be commended. He is doing the hard work of looking in the mirror to evaluate what he could have done differently.

That said, I have a different take on what could have helped, so I’ll add my .02 about how things could possibly have turned out differently.

Monday morning quarterbacking can come off as smug, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity for my readers to learn from others’ mishaps if we can.
Take a look at the vid. I’ll wait.

If you can’t see the video:
Imagine a rider approaching a cross-street intersection with a white car waiting to turn left across his lane in a dedicated left turning lane. There is a gray car located at 10:00 from the rider who is also approaching the intersection. The rider accelerates to pass the gray car on the right before the intersection when the white, waiting car cuts across both the gray Nissan and the bike. The white car zips in front of the  gray car and the bike hits the white car broadside.  Sorry the video isn’t available.

 


OK, so here are my thoughts:

Lane Position & Conspicuity

Using the Dark Blue-Gray Nissan as a “pick” or blocker is often a good plan, but it’s a mistake to do it at the expense of being seen. In this case, Hans moved into the right lane to put the Nissan between him and the left turning cars. The problem is that the white car couldn’t see him as well (not that the driver was even looking) and Hans couldn’t see the white car as well. We call the blue-gray Nissan an eclipse vehicle.

Add to that the fact that the road was curving (see :45) in a way that makes Hans even less visible to the oncoming white car and you can see the problems with this particular lane position.

One possibility is if he had stayed in the left lane behind the Nissan, he could have seen the white car move earlier. But then if the Nissan hit the white car (they missed by inches), Hans would have needed to be far enough back to be able to brake in time to not rear end the Nissan. In the end, he made a fine decision, but the driver of the white car did something so unexpected that it’s tough to blame Hans for this decision.

Vision

Lane position plays a huge role in terms of being seen and being able to see ahead. Greater following distance would have allowed Hans to see the movement of the white car earlier. And remaining in the left lane (with lots of following distance) would have allowed him to see past the Nissan.

Because intersections are so dangerous, my eyes would be flicking around while my wide vision would be looking for any peripheral movement. You can see the white car move at 1:58. Impact comes at 1:59, so because of his speed he had almost zero time to react.

Speed & Stopping Distance

Hans wasn’t riding particularly fast, but his speed could have been better for the situation. Hans says he slowed (and downshifted) before impact, but I don’t hear any significant change in RPM…although he clearly brakes just before the crosswalk. What I saw was a seriously dangerous situation ahead that would have had me rolling off the throttle earlier and covering my brakes.

For reference, trimming just 5 mph off of 40-mph travel speed requires about 20 fewer feet to stop. Add to that the reality of perception time and reaction time that further increases actual stopping distances and you can see how much speed affects safety. Read my article in Motorcyclist about reaction time and speed.

So, how much time did Hans have to stop? A Nissan Altima is about 16 feet long, so at the time of initial brake application (seen by the front end dive) I estimate the distance between the rider and the white car to be about 40 feet. The speed he would need to be at to get the bike stopped in time is about 25 mph! See this chart from the MSF that documents that a VFR800 needs about 36 feet to stop at 29mph. This is with a trained rider in a controlled environment.

Keep in mind that Hans is likely to be an average rider who rarely (if ever) practices emergency braking skills. This means he, like most average riders, can only achieve a deceleration rate of 0.6 g’s even though most bikes are capable of 1.0 g. Add to that the reaction time of the average human is 1.3 seconds and you can see the problem.

Expect the Unexpected

The point of this article is for us to consider possible solutions that would have prevented or at least minimized the effect of the driver of the white car’s screw up. In this particular case, the white car cut off a large four-wheeled vehicle, so he would have surely cut in front of a motorcycle. This is an extreme case of a driver totally screwing up and is hard to believe. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t still do all we can to prepare for the unexpected. Do what you can to not let it happen to you!

That’s about all I got. I hope you heal fast, Hans.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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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.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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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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Video Lesson: Group Riding Crash Video

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Take a look at this video of the guy who crashes trying to avoid his buddy who just hit a dog. The second rider doesn’t hit his friend, but almost gets creamed by an oncoming Tractor Trailer. A lot of comments and Monday morning quarterbacking have filled social media already, so I wasn’t planning to add to the noise until a reader requested that I share my thoughts. So, here you go.

First off, I am really sorry this incident happened and I’m glad everyone is okay. I’m very thankful that the truck driver was paying attention so he was able to miss hitting the sliding rider. It’s really too bad about the dog, though.

For those of you who have not seen the video(s):

In addition to these clips, you can read a local TV station's post that interviews one of the riders, as well as a so-called "Expert". You can see that HERE.

A Second Incident Behind

Make note about the second video that another incident happened in the back of the group. This is an example of a chain reaction that can lead to more issues. Let’s analyze this to try and learn from the incident. Note that my comments are based on typical causation and not firsthand involvement.

What Went Wrong

A few things went wrong here:

Unleashed Animals

Animals are unpredictable, making it super difficult to know when they might dart in front of you. I hit a small dog last season when it ran out from some high brush and directly under my front wheel. We can’t control this, except to scan for movement along the sides of the road.

Staggered Formation

The staggered group riding formation that the group was using is not unreasonable when traveling on a straight section of road. But, if you look at the video from the rider ahead who looked back, you can see that the rider that struck the dog could not see the animal until it was really too late. That’s because the video rider was blocking the view of the side of the road.

Staggered formations also prevent the riders from using the full width of their lane and limited their option to swerve.

Instead of using a staggered formation that spans the full width of the lane, I suggest staggering only enough to see past the rider ahead so there is more distance between the yellow (center) line for riders staggering on the left part of the lane, and more distance between the white line for riders in the right part of the lane. This will help prevent them from “eclipsing” each other from hazards. This works best if there is ample following distance between riders.

Riding Too Close

It’s hard to tell just how close each rider is following, but a too close following distance commonly results in panic-induced over reaction. I suspect this was another factor.

A Lack of Training

The second rider got on the brakes hard, which is good. But, his abrupt braking caused his rear tire to leave the ground, which was quickly followed by smoke coming off the front tire from a skid. Once a front tire skids, it’s all over, most of the time.

Speed?

Speed is usually a factor in incidents, simply because the slower you go, the more time and space you have to respond to hazards. That said, it appears that the speed was reasonable for the road.

Another Example of the “I Had to Lay It Down” BS

The second rider said he avoided hitting his friend by deliberately dropping his bike. I hear this all the time…”I had to lay it down to avoid [fill in the blank]”.

I know, the idea is to try to avoid what could be a worse crash. And in VERY rare situations, this may be true. But, 99.9% of the time, crashing to avoid a crash makes no sense. Today’s brakes and tires allow tons of grip and stopping power to scrub off big speed very rapidly…if executed correctly.

Even if this was a viable solution, having the presence of mind to deliberately crash while facing a panic situation is not bloody likely. It’s way more likely that a person will react the way untrained humans do…by grabbing the brakes abruptly enough to cause the front tire to skid. Classic mistake.

Unfortunately, this video will help keep this dangerous BS myth alive.

Human Nature

The truth is that the second rider who crashed screwed up by braking too abruptly. Don’t feel too bad. We humans make mistakes.

As much as you’d like to think of yourself as a hero for sacrificing your bike and riding gear to avoid hitting your buddy, the odds are that you just braked so hard as to loft the rear tire and skid the front tire, which dropped your moto to the ground in an instant.

You’re not alone. A lot of riders claim that they layed down their bike because they:

  • genuinely believe it was the best thing to do
  • probably know better, but are in denial
  • helps them feel better about screwing up. And who can blame them, after all people easily accept this explanation in a positive way.

The Case For Training

It’s likely that this guy has not been exposed to such a severe situation before and was not trained to handle it. Unfortunately, most riders are ill prepared to handle this.

To be fair, it’s possible that I might do the exact same thing, because I too am human and make mistakes. But the odds are that I won’t, because I’m trained. One thing for sure is that I would not have deliberately crashed my bike because I thought it was best to throw in the towel.

Practicing braking techniques not only teaches your body how to execute the maneuver, it also puts the maneuver into your muscle memory. This is key when you have a split second to respond. Untrained riders snap, whereas trained riders are more likely to remain in control. ABS would have helped the second rider stay upright, but deferring rider ability to technology has its problems, too.

Notice that I say “respond” and not “react”. There is a difference. Trained riders respond, untrained riders react.

An Interview with a So-called “Expert”

Just look at the TV reporters and so called expert who gave the rider a big attaboy. The television station interviewed a local motorcycle safety instructor about the mishap:

“A perfect choice by the rider,” says Vandervest Harley-Davidson Riding Academy Coach Susie Davis. “The bikes can be fixed much easier than people can be fixed – so proud of them for doing that.”

Both men decided to drop their bikes and skid on the road instead of swerving to avoid the dog and then each other. Davis says that split-second decision may have saved their lives and the lives of the other motorcyclists with them.

”I think they did a miraculous job,” said Davis. “They let the bike go. They saved themselves. They came out alive. They’ve come out with minor injuries. I don’t know that it could have been done any differently.”

WRONG! This coach is dead wrong and is perpetuating this BS. Having a supposedly trained instructor miss the point just goes to show how deeply ingrained this myth has become. Sad.

A Similar Perspective

Riding Man author Mark Gardiner wrote these two excellent articles that corroborate my point of view. Check them out.

His Blog

Revzilla

The Takeaway

Untrained humans will react in a knee-jerk manner to panic situations. To avoid this:

  • Get yourself trained
  • Select lane positions that offer the best angle of view
  • Don’t lay your bike down, or at least stop claiming that laying it down was your only choice.

The guys did at least one thing right: They were wearing protective gear. Good job, there.

Share your thoughts below.



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8 Lessons to Learn from This Grom Crash

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Grom-CrashGroms are fun…really fun. They are small, yet powerful enough to do all sorts of silly shenanigans. Just watch my fellow scribes Ari and Zack from Motorcyclist Magazine for proof:

Gromkhana 1

Gromkhana 2

Playbike Dangers

The thing is that playbikes like the Grom can trigger a false sense of safety that can make a person think he or she is invincible.

The truth is that you can certainly be hurt or killed even on a little bike.

Another reason that small bikes can be unsafe is becasue they disappear in traffic. It’s hard enough to be conspicuous on a normal sized bike, but it’s extra tough on a Grom.

Lesson

Case in point is a video I saw that is no longer available of a Grom crashing into the side of a car.

It’s pretty obvious that an elderly driver thought he was good to go after waiting for a car ahead of the Grom to pass. It’s a classic case of “I didn’t see him”. Likely another case of inattentional blindness.

Before you launch hate missiles at the old guy you’ve got to remember that people make mistakes. Sure, the driver was at fault…no argument there. His insurance company will pay.

Knowing 100% that we can’t possibly hope to stop people from making mistakes means it’s up to us to do all we can not to become a victim of these people.

The Rider’s Mistakes

The rider in the video could have noticed that the car ahead was blocking him from view. He should have also predicted that the driver was ready to go as soon as the gray car went past. This would have alerted the rider to slow way down and be ready to apply the brakes–hard!

By the time he realized what was unfolding, it was too late. The rider heroically attempted to swerve to the left, but there was not enough time or space to sneak by.

One significant mistake the rider did not make (unlike soooo many other riders) is to wear full protective gear. He was mostly unhurt in the crash. Unfortunately, the dark riding gear probably didn’t help in the conspicuity department.

The Takeaway

Posting this video isn’t intended to callout the rider’s ineptitude; we all act on assumptions that don’t turn out as we expect. Rather, I use this video as an illustration of one of the most common reasons for multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes, so we can learn from it. The following lessons can be applied to any situation involving intersections. The rider in this video did not necessarily break any of these lessons, but perhaps he did.

Lesson 1: Don’t be fooled into thinking because you’re riding a small, low powered bike that you cannot get hurt or killed…you can.

Lesson 2: Recognize that you are hard to see when riding a motorcycle, and you’re nearly invisible on a pint-sized bike like a Grom.

Lesson 3: Develop a sixth sense about your surroundings and then listen to that sense.

Lesson 4: Learn about the classic crash scenarios so you can recognize when they are developing in front of you.

Lesson 5: When approaching intersections with waiting cars, slow down and cover your brakes.

Lesson 6: Have an escape plan in mind in case something does happen.

Lesson 7: Plan for the Worst, hope for the best.

Lesson 8: Make sure your emergency braking skills are well-practiced, just in case.

Did I miss anything? Add you thoughts in the comments below.


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5 Ways to Avoid Being a Dumbass on a Motorcycle

Because I’m considered a motorcycle skills and safety “expert”, some people think I’m immune to doing dumb things. Well, I got news…I am just as susceptible as the next guy at being a dumbass.

The results of ignoring my inner voice.
The results of ignoring my inner voice.

I will concede that I am probably above average in the “ride smart” category. I should be…after years of coaching, writing and lecturing about how to ride “right”. But, it tns out training and knowledge can only go so far in mitigating the influence of the dumb-dumb gene. See the Crashing Sucks article for proof.

In the end, we all must realize that we are fallible. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do about it.

1. Get Smart

There are riders out there who learn to “operate” a motorcycle without ever really knowing how to “ride” their machine. The difference between these two things is more than semantics.

  • “Operating” a motorcycle means you can get it to go, stop and turn with enough competence to get around. That is a very loose definition of riding.
  • “Riding” means being able to not only operate the bike proficiently, it also means you can predict problems, strategize to prevent conflict, and then control the machine when shit goes wrong.

Too many riders think that having the ability to clutch, shift, brake and turn well enough to get to the local hangout without injury is sufficient. In reality, the basic skills needed to truly minimize the likelihood of an expensive and painful ride to the nearest medical center are simply not enough.

Non_Sport_Track
Doing a track day will increase your riding smarts…a lot.

This is the risk posed by giving new riders a motorcycle endorsement after only a weekend of basic training, which essentially gives the newb a false sense that they are proficient riders when in fact they are not even close.

I know what some of you are saying…”I never had no stinkin’ training (or no further training beyond the BRC) and I’m doing just fine.” The question is, How do you measure “fine”?

Remember that what skills and habits you have are the only tools available (besides dumb luck) when a catastrophic event unfolds in front of you. In this case, most riders’ definition of  “fine” is nowhere near good enough.

So, the first thing to do to avoid being a dumbass is to get smart. Read, take parking lot courses, on-street training, track days, or simply practice on your own or with friends to keep your “safety/skills” muscle active and to combat complacency.

Swerve-brake
Taking a breath will help prevent close calls like this.

2. Take a Breath

Sharing the road with idiots is infuriating. Many drivers are mindlessly “operating” their vehicles, putting little value in courtesy or your safety. But, don’t make a bad situation worse by succumbing to road rage. There are a bunch of YouTube vids showing riders being total asses to a driver who made a mistake. Keep in mind that those drivers are NOT out to kill you. They are humans who make mistakes.

And if you reflect on your last driver-versus-rider situation, you will likely see that YOU contributed to the driver making a bad decision.

When it comes to tailgaters, it takes all kinds of willpower not to react in frustration and anger. But don’t. Read this article about tailgaters before your next ride.

3. Listen to Your Inner Voice

At the risk of sounding all new-agey, I must point out the importance of developing a relationship with your inner voice. Yes, you have an inner voice. Some people call it a gut feeling, but for me I actually hear a voice. This voice isn’t the product of some mental condition, rather it is a trait of very sane people who pay attention.

Example 1 (Good): I’m approaching an intersection at or slightly above the speed limit. Everything looks to be in order with cars stopped at the traffic light and pedestrians waiting patiently. But a faint voice tells me to slow down. I roll off the gas just in time for a dog to run out from the brush. Whether a part of me actually saw movement in my periphery, I cannot say. All I know is that my gut said to slow, so I did.

Example 2 (Bad): I see a particularly beautiful vista that I want to photograph, so I stop on the edge of the remote road. The front of my bike is pointed down a rather steep hill, but instead of shutting down the motor and leaving it in gear, I click the transmission into neutral and keep the bike running. I dismount and check that the sidestand is fully lowered and tug on the handlebars to make sure the bike won’t roll forward.

But, as I start to walk uphill to snap the photo, my inner voice says “are you sure leaving the bike in neutral is wise?”. I remember looking back one more time to make sure the bike was okay and ignored the voice. I took a photo, then started walking a bit further up the hill when I heard the sound of plastic on asphalt (see opening photo). Dumbass.

Collarbone-XRay4. Remember that Crashing Sucks

Believe it or not, a lot of people never think about what it would really be like to crash. This is why so many riders choose to stunt and race in public and why people choose not to wear full protective gear. It’s really common for someone to suddenly “see the light” and start wearing a helmet, or armored gear, or real riding pants, or a back or chest protector, only after he, she, or a friend suffered an injury that would have been prevented by any one of these pieces of protection.

Same applies to behavior…people ride like idiots until someone gets really hurt, or until they get in legal trouble. Only after they’ve paid some crazy fine and lost their license do they figure out that there are ways to have just as much fun without so much risk, and at less cost. Cough…track days.

So, remind yourself that riding a motorcycle exposes you to risk of serious injury. This truth doesn’t have to kill your riding buzz; rather having a healthy sense of self-preservation helps you make better decisions and opens your mind to options that are just as much fun but with less risk.

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Track Days and Racing is a smarter and safer way to scratch that adrenaline itch. photo: otmpix.com

5. Wake Up!

If the thrill of high-stakes risk is your thing, but your riding smarts don’t match your risk-taking, then the likelihood of you being a dumbass is higher than most.

Unfortunately, I probably will not be able to change your mind. Like an addict, you can only help yourself and that usually only happens after you’ve reached your own personal rock bottom.

I just hope your rock bottom doesn’t include taking out a family in a mini-van or one of your buddies. Wake up before it’s too late. Seriously. Cough…Track days…. Cough…Racing.


What am I missing? Add your comments below.

Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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Crashing Sucks: Ask Me How I Know

Collarbone-XRay
Broken Clavicle

I crashed. In the scheme of things, the mishap wasn’t a huge affair. I was only traveling about 15 mph when I tucked the front tire of a brand new Ducati Multistrada, but the vertical force was enough to pop my collarbone.

Dirt bike riding and road racing aside, it’s been quite a while since I last found myself on the ground next to or underneath a motorcycle.

My last road mishap was in 1978 when I fell victim to a dreaded left-hand turner at an intersection. I took a ride in the blinky bus (aka ambulance) but was promptly treated and released. My 1973 Yamaha TX650 didn’t fare as well and was sold for parts.

This most recent crash involved a street bike, but didn’t happen on the street, rather it occurred during a joint Bosch/Ducati press event in Detroit Michigan on the gravel test track at the Bosch proving grounds. You see, I was invited to test the most-awesome safety electronics found on the newest Ducati Multistrada. FYI, the cornering ABS is truly amazing.

Racing Crashes Don’t Count, Do They?

Racetrack crashes have also been relatively rare but do occur a bit more frequently, which is the result of pushing the limits or vying for a podium finish.

My previous track crash happened about 3 years ago when I pushed the front tire of the Twisted Throttle BMW S1000RR a bit too hard (I sense a theme) into a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon trying to get a good knee down photo. No injury, but a truckload of embarrassment.

A few years earlier I fell in turn 5 at New Jersey’s Thunderbolt Raceway when an old and cold front tire finally gave up and lowsided me onto the pavement. No injury to me, but the bike flipped and stuff broke. Despite the bike looking bad, both the ZX6R and I were back on track within two hours time.

A few racing crashes between those two mishaps round out my thankfully brief crashing resume. That’s really not too bad considering I have ridden a lot of street and track miles over almost 40 years with many of those miles dragging knee on the racetrack.

Crashed_Multi
Not too bad, really. Photo: Steve Kamrad

Crashing the “Uncrashable” Bike

Like I said, the crash that involved the new Ducati Multistrada, and resultant fractured clavicle, wasn’t a particularly big one.

I simply countersteered the bike a bit too hard while entering a turn on the gravel test track and lost grip at the front tire. I fared worse than the bike with the Multi suffering some cosmetic rash and a broken hand guard.

Before anyone blames the technology, this crash was not the bike’s fault! The Bosch electronics are designed to prevent braking and accelerating miscues, not manage the effects of pushing a front tire too hard into a turn. And since I was not on the brakes when I tucked the front tire, the bike is not to blame. These systems only manage available traction (when braking and accelerating); they do not create more traction! Read More about the Truths About Electronic Stability Control.

Why?

You may be asking why I would do such a silly thing. Surely I know enough not to push a 500+ pound street bike with quasi-dual sport tires on gravel, right? Yes, normally I would have never pushed the bike this hard, but what caused me to do this admittedly dumb thing stems from four factors:

  1. I was fooled into a false confidence: I had just performed mind-blowing feats of daring on wet pavement that warped my basic understanding of physics. This was possible because of the absolutely awesome Bosch electronics package that is integrated into the Multi. Traction control that allows hamfisted throttle inputs while dragging footpegs in the rain! Maximum braking on wet pavement while leaned at 37 degrees! Unbelievable.
  2. I was tired: Testing the TC and Corner ABS for like 20 minutes made me a bit woozy and I had barely recovered when I took to the gravel track. “Just one more run” was one run too many.
  3. A photographer was pointing his evil lens at me: This isn’t the first time I’ve pushed harder knowing that a camera is pointed my way. Most times, I simply drop a little deeper into a corner and turn my head a little farther to ensure my body position and general awesomeness is captured. This time, I was trying for the best action shot that would accompany the magazine article.
  4. I have just enough off-road confidence to get myself in trouble: I had already done 5 runs on the gravel course and was impressed with the way the Pirelli Trail II tires worked as I drifted the bike out of the corners using the limited traction control setting in “enduro” mode. But, when push came to shove, I wasn’t in quite the right position and was too slow on the throttle to keep the front tire from plowing through the gravel.
  5. I didn’t heed warnings coming from my inner voice: In hindsight, my inner voice told me to call it a day. I had acknowledged to myself that I was tired. But, just before I fell I made a few mistakes that indicated that I was pushing beyond my ability at that particular moment. My voice of warning was speaking, but did I listen? No.

Being “that guy”

As I got to my feet and shut off the engine I was in utter disbelief. Had I really just dropped a brand new Ducati? With shock wearing off, my inner voice began tormenting me with doubts about my professionalism, competence and judgment. Not surprisingly, the Ducati and Bosch folks were gracious about the whole thing (apparently this happens more than people think).

I ride motorcycles, and I ride them hard. So, I should expect an occasional mishap. However, part of me actually thought I had somehow trained myself out of being human, insulating myself from simple mistakes. While I have worked hard to be the best rider I can be, I am not (yet) perfect.

Getting Over It

My collarbone is healed after 8 weeks and I’m back on the racetrack and street. As expected, part of me is a bit spooked about gravel surfaces, but not enough to matter. I’m back to riding hard and feeling good again. A big reason why I bounced back quickly is because I know why the crash happened and how to avoid it in the future. It’s a lot tougher when you don’t know what happened and don’t know how to avoid a future crash…that can get into your head and under your skin.

To avoid a similar crash in the future I’ll be more mindful about my limits at any given moment.


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How To Survive Mid-Corner Hazards

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CornerBraking_TightenThe vast majority of single-vehicle crashes occur in a curve. Many times these crashes are the result of an assumption that the corner will be easy to negotiate, only to find that it suddenly tightens or there is a mid-corner hazard.

Negotiating most curves is fairly easy as long as you enter at conservative speeds that require lean angles that are well within your personal “lean-angle” limits. Mid-corner obstacles or surface hazards that require advanced braking techniques can also make an otherwise easy corner a real challenge. And if you’re like most riders, you do not have proficient enough skills to handle these types of complex cornering situations.

The best riders use their brains so they don’t have to use their muscles. In other words, they use strategies and good judgment that nearly negates the use of superhero cornering and braking skill. They certainly have these skills in spades, but they know they are doing something wrong if they need to use them regularly.

But, even the best riders have to manage an unexpected mid-corner hazard from time to time. So, let’s go over how to either maneuver around a corner hazard or stop if we can steer around it.

Either tighten or widen your line to avoid a corner hazard
Either tighten or widen your line to avoid a corner hazard. © Ken Condon

Mid-Corner Maneuvers

Sometimes we are faced with a situation where you encounter a fallen branch, a patch of sand or diesel fuel spill that you must avoid. If the hazard spans the whole road, you may need to stop (see next section). But, many times the better choice is to maneuver around the problem.

Let’s say you lean into a turn, and about halfway around the curve you spot some debris. You have to make a quick choice about whether to maneuver inside or outside of the problem.

Maneuver outside

If you have the room, it may be better to go around the outside of the problem (go around the left of the obstacle in a right hand turn and vice versa). However, this may be a poor choice if it means that you risk going off the road or into the oncoming lane. Also, once past the obstacle, you will have to quickly turn to stay in your lane.

Maneuver inside

The other option is to tighten your line and go to the inside of the obstacle. This requires you to lean quickly by pressing firmly on the inside handlebar. Done correctly, this option keeps you in your lane, but asks a lot from your tires and your confidence to achieve more extreme lean angles. Also, in a left-hand turn this may bring you dangerously close to the oncoming lane as your upper body hangs well over the centerline.

Another reason why this option may not turn out well is if you fail to turn tight enough to actually avoid the hazard…and you’ll hit the object at a greater lean angle. Not good.

Straighten, then Brake
Method #1: Straighten, then Brake. © Ken Condon

Braking in a Curve

Sometimes our only option is to slow down or stop. Unfortunately, traction is limited and adding significant brake force will likely overwhelm traction. To safely introduce significant stopping power without falling you must make traction available by first reducing cornering forces.

There are two basic techniques for stopping quickly in a curve.

  1. Straighten the bike fully for maximum braking
  2. Brake as hard as you can without skidding and then brake harder as the bike straightens.

Straighten, then Brake

This option is the one to choose if you must stop very quickly. First, straighten the motorcycle upright by pushing on the outside handgrip (countersteering). Once the bike is no longer leaning you can apply maximum braking. Brake progressively to avoid skidding. Read more about proper braking HERE.

This “straighten, then brake” method sounds good, but it means that the motorcycle will no longer be on a curved path, which makes it a poor choice if straightening the bike will send you into the dirt or into the oncoming lane. (See illustration)

Method #2: Gradually brake and brake harder as you straighten.
Method #2: Gradually brake and brake harder as you straighten. © Ken Condon

Brake while Straightening

When straightening before braking is not possible, or when you have a bit more time to stop, you can use the “brake while straightening” option. This technique involves applying the brakes as much as possible to slow, but not so much that traction is exceeded. Lean angle will decrease as the motorcycle slows making more traction available for braking. Brake progressively harder as the motorcycle straightens fully. (See illustration)

A hybrid version of these two techniques involves partially straightening the motorcycle before braking. This allows stronger initial brake force compared to the gradual straightening method, and it allows the motorcycle to stay on a curved path.

Trailbraking

Trailbraking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point and then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean fully.

But, trailbraking is intended to be used as a planned technique to refine cornering control and not as a way to salvage a blown corner entry and is not defined as a technique for avoiding a mid-corner hazard. That said, riders proficient at trailbraking will find the “brake while straightening” technique less intimidating to execute.

Trailbraking is often used to fix a too-fast entry mistake. If you are adept at trailbraking, you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). You may have salvaged the miscue this time, but slow down! Charging into corners will eventually bite you hard. Slow more than necessary…you can always get on the gas if you slowed too much.

No matter which method you choose, if you can’t avoid the object, straighten the bike so you hit it as upright as possible where you stand a better chance of not crashing.

ABS?

It is important to note that most anti-lock braking systems on the road today cannot prevent a cornering slide due to overbraking. However, some newer ABS systems can now detect sideward slides and prevent falls from braking hard in corners. Aren’t electronics amazing?

Practice

As you can see, handling mid-corner obstacles can be tricky. The best way to manage these hazards is to predict them and ride so that you always have options of either maneuvering or stopping with minimal drama. This usually means entering turns a bit slower than you think you need to and practicing your leaning skills so both become second nature.

Add your comments, below.

 

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How to Crash

J9_Crash
Faceplant owenstrackdayphotos.com

I sometimes get questions from students, readers and other fellow riders asking whether there are ways to minimize injury during a crash. I’ll give you the few tips I know, but realistically you don’t have too many options once you and your motorcycle part ways. In most cases you will not have any control of the situation to do much more than hang on for the ride.

Josh-crash-01
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground photo: Josh B.

What Are The Options?

It’s not all bad news. Some “easy” crashes (like a low side on smooth pavement with plenty of runoff area) may allow you to exercise a few options.

  • Try to relax to make your limbs less rigid to minimize the risk of torn ligaments and broken bones (think cooked spaghetti).
  • If you’re sliding, extend your arms and legs to help slow yourself down and to spread the load so you don’t burn through your riding gear.
  • If you start to roll and tumble, tuck your limbs against your body…kinda like when you rolled down a hill as a kid.
  • Try not to extend your arms to break the fall. It’s human nature to extend your arms as you are falling, but this can lead to a broken wrist or collarbone. Even if you don’t extend your arms like Superman, a good whack on the shoulder can still snap a clavicle in two.
  • Let go of the bike! Hanging onto the handlebars will only make things worse. You want to be as far away from the bike as possible when it starts tumbling.
  • Don’t stand up right away. More times than not, you are still sliding even though you think you’ve stopped. Next thing you know you are seeing sky, ground, sky ground.
  • Remain flat on the ground. It’s better to have another bike behind run you over than hit you as you sit or stand up. If you crash on the street and get run over by a car, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Assess the situation and crawl to safety. You’re pumped with adrenaline and may not make good decisions, so look first and then move.

Remember, these are “shot in the dark” suggestions that may help, but may not.

Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.
Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.

To The Moon, Alice!

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
A highside in progress.

If you’re particularly unlucky you’ll get to experience a highside. A highside is when your bike’s rear tire loses traction (usually while you are exiting a corner on the gas) and the rear of the bike swings sideways. Just then, the rear tire regains traction and immediately tries to realign with the front wheel. This turns your bike into a trebouche and you are the catapult’s fodder.

Your landing will be hard and what happens after that is anyone’s guess. I just hope you’re wearing good armor (and back protector) and have decent health insurance.

Crash Prevention

Instead of trying to control something that is not controllable, you’re much better off focusing on preventing the mishap from happening in the first place. Don’t drink and ride, don’t ride over your head, don’t ride faster than the environment can support, and become the smartest and most talented rider possible. Now, those are areas where you have some control.

Prepare For the Worst

Most crashes are preventable, but some aren’t, which is why it’s smart to be as protected as possible to minimize the damage. That means wearing a full-coverage helmet, sturdy jacket and pants with armor, gauntlet gloves, and boots that provide extra impact protection for your heel and ankles. Don’t leave home without it!

The Racetrack is Safer

Hopefully, any crashes you experience are on a racetrack where you aren’t likely to hit anything lethal (like unprotected guardrails and oncoming vehicles). If you end up hurdling over a car hood, I hope your affairs are in order because that rarely turns out well.

Have you crashed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

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How to Not Suck at Cornering

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This is a rider who sucks at cornering.
This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Hot on the heels of the The Power of the Quick Turn article is this followup post about what happens after you tip into a corner. Too many riders struggle with cornering, not necessarily because they are afraid to lean, but becasue they do not understand how to properly complete a turn.

Cornering Basics

By now you know that motorcycles must lean to change direction and that leaning is done by countersteering. Read about countersteering HERE.

Once the bike begins to lean, countersteering pressure is reduced and other dynamics take over that cause the motorcycle to arc around the curve, including front end rake and trail geometry, as well as something called camber thrust. Camber thrust is the term that describes how a tapered object (a motorcycle tire leaned over) orbits around its axis when rolling along a surface (the pavement).

In other words, the rounded profile of a motorcycle tire acts like a tapered styrofoam cup when it’s rolled on its side. Give it a push and it rolls in a circle.

Here is how author and  fellow USCRA racer Tony Foale describes camber thrust:

“As the inside edge of the tyre is forced to adopt a smaller radius than the outer edge, then for a given wheel rotational speed, the inner edge would prefer to travel at a smaller road speed, this happens if the wheel is allowed to turn about a vertical axis through the point of the cone. Just as a solid cone on a table if given a push.”

For our purposes, all you really need to understand is that your motorcycle is designed to track around a curve with minimal effort once the bike is in a lean. Front end geometry (caster effect, rake,  trail, etc.) all make this possible. If you want to read more, go to Tony Foale’s website and learn all about it.

If your bike is properly maintained and has relatively new tires with nearly the original profile intact, you should be able to initiate lean and then maintain that lean angle without introducing any significant handlebar inputs. Problems occur when the rider messes this process up. Most bikes will track predictably and with little effort as long as the rider doesn’t interfere with the process or introduce counterproductive inputs.

Variations in Machine Design

Some riders insist that they cannot round a corner without using significant handlebar pressure to keep their machine on the desired path. Instead of being able to relax and let the bike carve the path, they fight the bars all the way around the curve. It is possible that the machine is to blame, but these days this is rarely true.

While I have ridden bikes with really bad cornering dynamics, the vast majority of modern machines offer balanced, neutral handling that requires little-to-no mid-corner intervention. The only reason for handlebar adjustments are because of mid-corner changes in turn radius, camber or surface condition. A smooth constant radius curve, ridden well, requires almost no additional handlebar pressure.

It’s important to note that different types of bikes handle differently. Sportbikes are responsive to steering inputs, while cruisers tend to be slower steering, but more stable. Still, if the rider does all the right things, then the differences in machine does not make that much of a difference. The trick is to have the knowledge and skill to complete a corner proficiently.

Basically, it’s usually much more productive to evaluate the user instead of blaming the machine.

User Error

To repeat…once the necessary lean angle is established, most bikes are happy to track around a corner with little effort. So, why do some riders struggle with this part of the cornering process? The answer lies in a few areas.

  1. Tension at the handlebars. The front of the bike needs to be free to move up, down, and side -to-side in response to both large and small changes in the road surface. Being stiff on the handlebars interferes with this motion and causes the motorcycle to feel reluctant to turn. It also asks the tires to work harder to stay in contact with the surface. Another problem with stiff arms is that you are inhibiting the slight countersteering corrections that may need to occur to deal with changes in camber or other variations in corner surface. Loose arms allow fluid reactions.
  2. Poor body position. Think of your bike as your dance partner who wants you to lead. In the case of the cornering dance, a slight dip of the shoulder to the inside of the curve will encourage smoother cornering. In contrast, a rider who stays upright or leans outside is stepping on the bike’s toes, causing it resist fluid cornering.
  3. Not using the Throttle Correctly. For the motorcycle to track around the corner predictably and smoothly, the suspension must be stable and in the middle of its travel. Smooth, gradual acceleration throughout the curve produces the best results. Be sure to slow enough at the beginning of turns so that you can comfortably roll on the gas all the way to the exit. Unfortunately, a lot of riders fail to use steady throttle in corners. This is a problem, because changes in speed and drive force alter the arcing path the motorcycle takes. Abruptly chopping on or off the throttle upsets this stability and causes the bike to lift and fall in and out of the established angle of lean and introduces forces that result in a wobbly or weaving line around the corner. Note that acceleration typically makes the bike drift wide and deceleration can either cause the bike to drop into the corner more or cause it to stand up, depending on how abruptly the throttle is chopped and how the machine /tire combo responds to this input.
  4. Not Looking through the Turn. You tend to go where you look, so look where you want to go! By keeping your visual attention through the turn and toward the corner exit, your mind is able to better manage the corner. The other advantage is that the landscape slows down when you look ahead. This reduces anxiety and helps complete the concerning process. Looking ahead will not suddenly make you a cornering master, but without habitually looking ahead, you will never become one. Keep your eyes up.
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!

Cornering Technique

Okay, so let’s break it down.

  1. Look well ahead.
  2. Countersteer to initiate lean for the corner.
  3. Crack the throttle as soon as the bike is leaned. Use gentle drive at first and then progressively feed in more drive force. Roll on with more authority as lean angle is reduced near the corner exit. Steady drive creates steady cornering.
  4. Relax! If you established the correct angle of lean for the turn, the bike should require only slight adjustments in handlebar pressure. Corners that tighten will require you to press more on the inside bar to lean the bike more, but keep the throttle as steady as possible.
  5. Finish the turn. You’re not done yet. Keep looking toward the corner exit and roll on the throttle a bit more to let the bike drift toward the outside of the curve. This facilitates the “outside-inside-outside” cornering line, which I will discuss in a future post.
  6. Rinse and repeat for the next corner.

There is so much more to learn about the cornering process, but this is a good start. Implement these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a cornering master.

What tips can you share that help you to corner with more confidence?


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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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#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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