Things often start out okay as you approach the turn, but any lack of cornering confidence sets up the typical cornering crash sequence.
Once the crash sequence begins, it is exponentially more difficult to execute the actions needed to negotiate the curve.
1. Too Fast Entry- You approach and enter the turn faster than your personal level of comfort with leaning or the capability of your bike. Don’t blame the corner. You messed up. Often, a more competent rider could have made the turn with no drama.
2. Poor lane position at turn entry- You enter the turn too close to the inside instead of the outside. Nervous riders who are afraid of running wide often approach corners in the middle-to-inside, making the turn sharper.
3. Narrow angle of view- An inside lane position also limits the view into and beyond the turn.
4. Poor turn-in timing- Countersteering too early or too late and with either too strong or too weak handlebar inputs leads to problems at the exit. (Nervous riders turn in too early).
5. Apex too early- Turn in too early and the bike will be pointed toward the oncoming lane or the edge of the road at the exit. This then requires a second turn input to stay on the road.
6. Mind freeze- When it becomes apparent that things aren’t going well, fear and doubt take over, leading to a shift into survival mode. (We can’t function well in this state).
7. Target fixation- Panic causes rider to look down and at the oncoming car or the guardrail. (Humans are programmed to look at what we fear).
8. Muscle paralysis- Panic leads to ineffective or non existent countersteering and the bike feels like it won’t turn. (It’s common to put pressure on both left and right handgrips as you brace for the worst).
9. Ineffective body position- Poor body position isn’t the most significant cornering failure, but relying on your body to turn the bike (without countersteering) is disastrous. Some riders lean in to try and coax the bike to turn more, while others counterweight for fear of leaning beyond their comfort level.
10. Panic braking- With panic comes the unwillingness to lean more. In response, humans tend to grab the brakes when panicked. Adding significant brake force when leaned leads to traction loss.
What to Do
So, there you have it. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play that aren’t listed here, but this is the most common cornering crash sequence. You can also overly this same sequence to most other crashes where one domino falls and others tumble quickly.
Understand that arresting the sequence is quite difficult once it has been activated. So, enter turns a bit slower and continually learn and consciously practice expert cornering techniques on every ride to prevent this from happening to you!
How to Corner Better
There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:
riders” are usually middle-aged men who decide to get back into
motorcycling after a long hiatus. That’s cool. But, a lot of these
“Baby-Boomerang” riders end up getting into accidents. Here are some
tips to help make re-entry a bit easier.
1. Recognize False Confidence. Many returning riders assume they can pick up where they left off
decades ago only to discover that they aren’t quite up to the challenge.
Even though the basics of riding hasn’t changed much, smart returning
riders decide to get re-trained because they understand that moto-skills
are perishable. They do this before they commit to a bike purchase.
2. Buy a Smaller Bike. Older riders usually have enough in their bank account to buy the biggest, baddest machine on the showroom floor. But, a too big, too tall, or too powerful a bike can be the ruiner of fun. Smart RRs put their ego aside and opt for a small or middleweight bike that is less likely to intimidate and erode confidence. A smaller bike will invite fun and provide the opportunity to learn without the stress of having to harness a beast. And instead of slapping down big bucks on a brand new bike, consider a clean late model used bike. It’s even better if it has a scratch or two so you don’t get too upset if you drop it while you get your legs back underneath you.
3. Take a Course. The easiest and best way to get retrained is to take a course. I suggest that returning riders take a new rider course to ensure they have the basic skills so they can start with a strong foundation. But, don’t stop there. Too many riders think that receiving their course completion card means that they are done learning. That dangerous belief often leads to complacency and inaccurate risk perception. Fatality statistics would improve if more riders saw motorcycling as a lifelong endeavor of learning, practicing and growing. Please plan on signing up for an intermediate or advanced course at some point.
4. Read Skills Articles and Books. There are several great books and tons and tons of articles available that describe techniques and strategies for becoming a highly proficient rider. Google “riding a motorcycle at slow speeds”, “stopping a motorcycle in a corner”, or any other technique that has you stumped and you’ll likely get the information you need to become a better rider. Several articles can be found at RidingInTheZone.com.
5. Gear Up. Returning riders often experience a tipover or two as they regain their composure. With this in mind, it’s foolish not to wear protection. Not only will good riding gear reduce the chances of injury, it also protects you from the elements and makes riding more comfortable and enjoyable. Reasonably priced gear offers decent protection and matches any style. Some people may choose not to wear full gear because of image or peer pressure. Thankfully, returning riders are usually mature adults who can resist having fashion or the opinions of others influence life decisions.
6. Reject the Old Myths. Back in the day you may have heard that you should learn to “lay the bike down” and always “avoid the front brake”. These are two examples of techniques that survive from the bad-old-days. Today, only riders who are uneducated in the ways of proper braking consider using these techniques. In almost every case, it’s better to attempt a quick stop or swerve rather than tossing your motorcycle to the ground. The old saw about avoiding the front brake comes from the idea that you will flip over the handlebars like when you were a kid on a bicycle. It also comes from riders who grabbed the front brake lever too hard, locked the front tire and crashed. Today’s grippy tires and controllable brakes are capable of safely stopping a motorcycle in a very short distance, but only if the operator knows how to use the brakes effectively. Another controversial dictum is that loud pipes save lives. While loud pipes get attention, you are much better off using strategies to be seen like selecting lane positions that put the bike in plain sight and wearing bright gear.
7. Accurately Perceive Risk. Everyone knows that the risks of riding a two-wheeler are greater than when driving in a car. However, a lot of people don’t realize just how risky riding is until they experience a close call or crash. Those who ride with readiness in mind have a greater chance of responding quickly and appropriately than someone who assumes the best and is not prepared for the worst.
8. Check Your Attitude. Returning riders may be more mature, but that doesn’t mean over exuberance and bad judgment won’t creep in from time to time. Risk is reduced significantly when the limits of rider ability and the environment is closely scrutinized and respected.
9. You’re Not as Young as You Were. Motorcycling isn’t tolerant of people who are weak of mind or muscle. If you aren’t able to maintain a certain level of sensory sharpness, coordination, strength and mental competence you are putting yourself at greater risk of a crash. And if you do crash you are more likely to get hurt; a 20-something will bounce while a 50 year old will break.
10. Improve your Strengths. It’s possible to perform as well (or better) as when you were younger if you can remain relatively fit, learn to be physically and mentally efficient and capitalize on the wisdom that comes with age.
Whether you’re a newly-minted older rider, a returning rider or a veteran codger, you are smart to recognize that you may not know all you need to about staying safe. Get regular training and continually practice cornering, braking and evasive maneuvers. Also, minimize the negative effects of aging by exercising, eating well and visiting your eye doctor. You’ll feel better, ride better and have more fun while reducing the chance of injury
This article has been updated from the original that appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine.
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Being on the back of a motorcycle can be relaxing and fun, but make no mistake that being a passenger carries with it some significant risk and responsibility. Follow these tips to make the experience safer and more fun.
Insist on Safety
Before you decide to place your derriere on someone’s pillion you must make absolutely sure the person holding onto the handlebars is smart and skilled enough to keep both of you safe. I’d think twice about getting on a bike with someone who brags about riding fast, complains about close calls with “idiot cagers”, or seems to drop their motorcycle a lot. Tell him or her that you won’t play until their survival smarts, control skills and attitude toward safety improves.
You simply must dress for the crash. Even the best riders have mishaps. Always wear full protective gear no matter the temperature (even if your rider chooses not to). To keep comfortable, wear layers against wind chill and changes in temperature. More about riding gear here.
Mount with care
Before you get on the bike, make sure the passenger footpegs are in the down position and then wait until the rider says it’s okay for you to proceed. He should have both feet firmly on the ground with the front brake applied. If you’re tall enough you may be able to swing your leg over the seat with the other foot still on the ground. However, if you have short legs or the bike is tall, then you may have to use the footpeg to step up. This will throw the bike off balance, so make sure you step carefully and that the rider is ready. Another method is for you to mount the bike first and then scoot from the rider’s seat backward onto the passenger perch. Make sure the bike is stable on its stand with the transmission in gear to prevent the bike from rolling. Try various methods until you find one that suits both of you. When it’s time to dismount, do so carefully so as not to unbalance the machine. Again, experiment to find the best method.
Once mounted, your job is to be as unobtrusive as possible so the rider doesn’t even know you’re on the bike. Try to relax to let the bike move fluidly beneath you. When riding at slow speeds be aware that even small shifts in body weight can cause balance problems. Also, keeping your feet on the pegs even when stopped makes it easier for the rider to maintain balance.
Some riders ask their passengers to hold onto their waist, while others prefer them to use grab rails or a seat strap. Sporty riders may prefer one hand on the back of the fuel tank to brace for hard braking while the other hand grips a handrail. If your partner has a narrow enough waist you may want to look into tank-mounted passenger handle grips.
Anticipate and brace yourself
No matter your method for hanging on, you need to be attentive to what’s going on. Accelerating can cause you to fall backward and braking forces can slam you into the rider, so pay attention and brace yourself.
Lean with the Motorcycle
Motorcycles must lean to turn. Unfortunately, nervous passengers tend to sit upright, causing the rider to work harder when cornering. Instead, lean with the motorcycle. One helpful tip is to look over the rider’s inside shoulder.
Riding a motorcycle is challenging, which means that it takes practice to get it right. It’s smart to start your rides with a short warm-up session at a local parking lot. Practice braking and cornering to ensure you and your partner become unified teammates.
Bluetooth communicators are great for sharing your excitement and alerting him or her of hazards that may not be obvious. Don’t be a backseat rider, but having two pairs of eyes on the job can be a good thing. Check out Sena Bluetooth and Mesh Communicators.
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A lot of riders ask about which brake is appropriate for what situations. The short answer is that it depends on speed, desired maneuver and available traction. Here, I’ll discuss proper brake use as it pertains to various situations. Let’s start by defining the characteristics of each brake.
Your front brake is your “power” brake. The front brake is designed to take the burden of getting the bike and you stopped ASAP. The front brakes include components that provide maximum brake force…two large multi-piston calipers, large vented brake rotors, and brake pads designed to handle and dissipate lots of heat. Even the front brake components on smaller bikes and cruisers with a single front brake are more robust than the rear brake.
In contrast, the rear brake is the “control” brake. It provides additional braking power at road speed, but it is the tool you want to use to refine your speed and direction.
Which Brake and Why?
Now that we have an understanding of the basic characteristics of each brake, we can discuss the benefits or disadvantages of each brake in specific scenarios.
Normal braking (street)
When slowing or stopping normally, use both brakes. This shares the braking load between both tires and helps stabilize the chassis.
Use both brakes to get the most braking power for the shortest stop. The caveat here is that emergency braking causes the load to transfer to the front tire, reducing weight on rear of the machine. This means that it’s much more likely to skid the rear tire and is why you’ll engage the ABS on the rear tire first.
Control the Rear
So, how to get the maximum brake force without skidding? Reduce rear brake pressure as you increase front brake pressure. This isn’t easy to get perfect, but is worth practicing. If all you can manage in an emergency is to use one brake, use the FRONT BRAKE! That’s where the majority of your brake power comes from. Do it firmly and progressively for maximum effect.
Consider that short wheelbase sportbikes will pitch onto their nose earlier and easier than a long and low cruiser or a heavyweight tourer. This means that the rear brake is more effective on these machines in an emergency.
The rear brake is much more useful and effective when carrying a passenger or heavy luggage, because of the extra weight on the rear wheel. This is true no matter what type of bike you ride.
Normal Stops at Intersections, etc.
For the smoothest, controlled “normal” stops, like at an intersection, taper off the front brake and finish with the rear brake. Reduce brake pressure and speed progressively. Avoiding abrupt stops is especially appreciated by passengers who hate having to brace themselves to avoid the unwelcome “helmet bonk”.
You can execute a smooth stop by using the front brake, but it takes more finesse and effort. Keep the right foot on the rear brake until completely stopped. This avoids rolling past your desired stopping point. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of riders surprised when the bike keeps rolling.
Poor Traction Surfaces
When riding on gravel, sand, wet leaves or slick construction plates, use the rear brake. This is because the powerful front brake is much more likely to skid when traction is sketchy and a skidding front wheel means a crash is imminent.Whereas a skidding rear tire is less likely to cause a crash unless it fishtails violently.
The MSF says to ride out a rear tire skid to avoid the rear tire hooking up when sideways and causing a highside. But, chances are that you’ll be okay if you release the rear brake before the rear kicks out too far. ABS reduces this risk significantly, but keep in mind that some less sophisticated ABS systems aren’t very effective at slow speeds, so you may end up with a skid that lasts a foot or two.
Favor the rear brake when creeping along in traffic, stopping smoothly from a slow speed and making tight u-turns. Be very gentle with the front brake, or avoid it altogether when speeds are below, say 8-10 mph; the front brake is too powerful for slow speeds and you risk stopping the bike abruptly which will cause imbalance. I like to lightly “dab” the rear brake as I make very tight u-turns. It gives me more speed control and feel.
Trailbraking is when you carry some brake force past the turn entry to allow more time to refine your entry speed. Light trailbraking (and/or deceleration) also helps the bike lean into the curve. Read all about trailbraking here.
There is a belief that trailbraking is using the rear brake only. But, you can use front only, rear only, both brakes, or even strong engine braking (what I call “trail-deceleration”) to get the desired speed reduction and easy turn-in.
Tight, Slow Corners
I just described a simple use of trailbraking. However, a skilled rider can fine tune their speed and direction control with a finely orchestrated use of the brakes. Start by using both brakes to slow into the curve, but about halfway around (this varies depending on the radius of the curve) smoothly release the front brake but keep a bit of rear brake applied.
This helps “hook” the bike around the last section of the curve and helps refine speed. Ideally, at this point you don’t want to slow anymore, so brake lightly. For uphill tight turns where momentum is important, I often overlap acceleration against that last bit of rear brake force to execute the smoothest transition I can. A bit of late rear brake also helps manage the effects of gravity in downhill curves.
Some larger bikes, particularly tourers link the front and rear brakes. While this limits the proportioning the rider has control of, many manufacturers design their brakes to give more or less power to the front or rear depending on the input of the rider. In this case, thee techniques still apply, but the effect is lessened.
On the racetrack and when riding fast and hard, it makes sense to concentrate on using the front brake only. Yes, you’re giving up the advantages of the rear brake, but brake forces are considerably higher where the rear wheel is barely in contact with the surface.
Professional-level racers develop their rear brake technique to help with direction control, but track day riders and amateur racers are usually better off keeping it simple.
Like most skills, braking skill is perishable and needs regular practice just to maintain proficiency. You don’t need anything more than a large parking lot or a straight piece of remote roadway. Brake hard from speed to practice emergency stopping and work on trailbraking when in appropriate corners. However, the best place to improve all of your skills is at a track day.
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It sucks that motorcycles are such easy prey. Keeping possession of your machine requires deploying layers of theft deterrents that keep these lowlifes from riding your bike away or heaving it into a waiting van. But even with our best efforts, a determined criminal will still succeed. Let’s look at some strategies that can discourage thieves so they seek an easier target.
Locks Lower the risk of your bike being ridden away by locking your forks and deploying a disc lock. To prevent the bike from being hoisted into a van, snake a beefy cable lock through the frame and then around a strong, immovable object. An alternative is to lock multiple bikes together. And keep the cable tight and away from the ground when possible to make chiseling more difficult.
Park Smart- It’s smart to park your bike so thieves look elsewhere. Use a busy, well-lit parking spot. A conspicuous security camera is a bonus. Another option is to hide your bike so it won’t be seen in the first place. Thieves often troll the streets seeking specific makes and models, making a bike cover a useful tool.
AlarmsandElectronic Devices Motion alarms can stop a crime from progressing, but can be overridden and are often ignored. Many modern bikes come with immobilizer keys that prevent a would-be thief from easily starting the bike If they want your bike bad enough, they will get it. In this case a GPS tracking device can help with recovery.
Scam Alert Another way to lose a motorcycle is when a crook takes advantage of your trusting nature. Be street smart when trying to sell your bike to a stranger. It’s easy for a posing buyer to ride away with your bike during a test ride or rendezvous with a nearby conspirator ready to toss your machine in a van once out of sight. Don’t allow a test ride without full cash payment first. And have a friend of large stature present for the meeting.
Valuables Securing your valuables is tricky unless you own cavernous hard luggage that accommodate your helmet, riding gear and valuables. If you don’t have locking hard-sided cases you can secure riding gear by threading a cable lock through your helmet’s faceshield opening, jacket sleeves and pant leg and then around grab handles or other frame member.
Coverage When all of your efforts aren’t enough and you discover a sickening void where you motorcycle was once parked you’ll be glad you had insurance coverage. Comprehensive insurance can be expensive enough that you may be tempted to take your chances, but if you live or work where crime happens, think again.
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Their names are infamous; Pordoi, Sella, Gavia, Gardena, and of course Stelvio. These are just a few of the mountain passes that snake up and over the mighty Italian Alps and jagged Dolomites. Riding these epic roads is not for the faint of heart or the weak of skill. Riding the steep hairpin switchbacks isn’t fundamentally different than riding any other twisty motorway, except these roads are turned all the way up to 11. But with a little knowledge and pre-trip cornering practice you can tackle the wicked Alpine passes with enthusiasm, rather than dread.
Sharpen your cornering skills – You’ll need to be really good at looking well ahead, judging entry speed, selecting effective cornering lines and leaning the heck out of your rental bike. You also need to understand techniques for managing both uphill and downhill hairpin turns. Article Link
Maintain uphill momentum – On the way up the mountain gravity works in your favor to help slow for turns. But, slow down too much and the bike will want to fall over. Minimize instability by getting on the gas early, but not so early so you run wide.
Control speed going downhill – When riding downhill gravity works against your attempts to scrub speed. This means you need to brake with greater force. To be safe, brake earlier so you can brake with less intensity.
Trailbrake – Get the bike slowed and help it to turn by braking past the turn-in point and then taper (trail) off the brakes as you lean more. Hold light brake pressure until the bike is pointed around the turn before fully releasing. Article Link
Use the rear brake – Apply the rear brake just before the front to minimize forward pitch and keep the wheels in alignment. Maintain light pressure on the rear binder for a moment after releasing the front brake to help “hook” the bike around turns.
Use Effective Cornering Lines – Enter from the outside or middle of your lane and don’t turn in too soon. Aim for a “delayed apex” that is about 3/4 around the curve so you’re pointed safely down the road and not at the oncoming lane or outside edge of the road. Cornering Lines Article
Drive out of each corner –Gradually accelerate as soon as the bike approaches mid corner to maintain speed and stabilize the chassis. Well-timed acceleration ensures a predictable path of travel.
Use smooth brake-to-throttle transitions – Smoothly release the brake while simultaneously rolling on the throttle to avoid abruptness that can squander traction and cause your bike to exit wide.
Practice slow speed turning – You will need excellent slow speed control to prevent mid-corner tip-overs on the countless tight “slower than first gear” switchbacks. Maintain stability using steady clutch and throttle control. The tightest turns may require some rear brake and counterweighting. Article Link
Look where you want to go – The eyes are a powerful tool for helping direct your motorcycle. But, too often when we are anxious we look down and toward what we fear, which increases the likelihood of a mishap. Look at the solution, not the problem! Article Link
Watch for buses and bicycles – If you ride the Alps someday, you’ll be sharing the ridiculously narrow Alpine passes with tour buses and bicycle riders. Look well ahead and plan accordingly to avoid a collision. Expect to stop and wait until it’s safe to proceed.
Do yourself a favor and bone up on your cornering skills before you hit the Alpine switchbacks. You’ll have a more enjoyable and safer experience.
Some related Videos:
Discussing Hairpin Turns during Street Training
A ride down the Gardena Pass in the Dolomites in northern Italy.
The RITZ article on knee dragging is one of the most viewed posts on the website. I can understand why. Dragging a knee is a measure of sport riding accomplishment for many. Nothing says “sport bike hero” better than fully worn tires and scuffed knee pucks. Am I right?
Those of us who drag knee certainly enjoy the sensation, but the real benefit comes from the added confidence it provides. Yes…confidence.
Touching your knee to the pavement is a definitive measure of your exact lean angle. Without this measure, you must rely on your eyes and inner gyro-system to help judge whether your lean angle is nearing your personal limit or the limits of your machine.
Knee dragging provides a way to tell you whether you are leaned a little or a lot. This information helps you determine whether you are pushing hard and nearing the limits, or riding at a conservative pace.
To most street riders, this may not seem all that important. But, it starts to make sense once you begin cornering very fast at lean angles that should only be attempted on a closed course. That’s when you really start to rely on the information that knee dragging provides.
To make the most out of what knee dragging can offer, you must develop a body position that is consistent lap after lap. Otherwise, you’re changing the metric with which lean angle is measured. Riders who have not yet solidified their body position may be inconsistent in how their body is positioned so that their knee may touch the pavement erratically. These variations make the knee dragging an inaccurate measuring tool that can give the rider false confidence that he or she can push harder.
An expert track rider pays attention to exactly when and where his or her knee touches down, lap after lap. They know when to expect their knee to touch and for how long it will skim the surface. Their body position is well-established so they know that the measuring tool is calibrated and will not change. With this awareness, they have a baseline for experimenting and refining technique and to determine how hard they are pushing.
Too many riders make dragging a knee a priority at the expense of body dynamics and cornering control. The result is usually not good.
Remember that knee dragging is the product of excellent cornering skills, effective body positioning and yes, corner speed. Work on that and it’ll happen, eventually. Sign up for on-track Personal Training to help get your skills in shape.
Sometimes, you have the skills and the body position, so all that is missing is speed. But, that is the topic for another article.
Intersections are very dangerous places to be. The reason drivers collide with motorcycles is because they either don’t see us or they misjudge our approach speed or distance. Here are some tips to help you become more visible at intersections.
Don’t Hide. Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you.
Move within your lane. Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. People see what they expect to see and a motorcycle may not register in their consciousness, even if they are looking at you. Another reason drivers can look at you but not “see” you is because of “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Realize that you appear stationary if you approach a driver straight on. Even if drivers do see you they may not be able to accurately judge closing speed and approach distance because of your bikes relatively narrow frontal area.One trick is to move across your lane as you approach drivers at intersections to visually “present” the broader side area of your bike. For a more dramatic display, weave back and forth in your lane to “sweep” your headlight across drivers’ field of view. You don’t need to go crazy; swerving a few feet left and right a couple of times should do the trick. And weave only if it’s safe to do so.
Be Bright. It’s smart to wear brightly colored riding gear that gets attention and separates you from the busy background. This includes wearing a light-colored helmet and jacket or vest, as well as putting reflective material on your bike and riding gear for being seen in low light situations.
Don’t rely on noise. While loud pipes get attention, sound is not reliable for telling drivers exactly where you are. Not only that, but loud pipes direct most of the exhaust noise rearward rather than forward where the majority of dangers materialize. Selective use of an aftermarket horn is as effective and a lot less annoying to others.
Be ready. Even after using these measures you will likely encounter drivers who invade your right or way. Being mentally ready makes you more likely to approach cautiously and respond skillfully when someone cuts you off. Being ready means actively looking for trouble, slowing down and covering your brakes before approaching intersections even when everything looks to be in order.
But, don’t be a victim. Instead, reflect on your part in any close calls. You may find that (if you’re truly honest and willing) most times you can identify at least one thing you did or didn’t do to prevent the incident.
The best riders predict that a driver might cut them off (or whatever) and are already prepared by covering their brakes and positioning themselves to give maximum time and space to respond.
All the best practices in the world sometimes cannot prevent some crashes. We can’t change the behavior of careless drivers. All we can do is minimize the risk. And wear good protection in case the unavoidable happens.
First, let’s discuss whether noise is effective at getting drivers’ attention. Before that can be answered fully, we must first define “attention”. A loud noise intended as an alert, such as a siren (EMS or law enforcement), a fire alarm, or a horn is perceived as something that requires attention and triggers immediate response.
The appropriate response depends on the noise. A siren heard while driving means you need to pull over. A blaring horn means you may be about to collide with another car (or the other driver is just being a dick). Either way, you snap out of any stupor you may be in and frantically look for the problem.
A siren blasting from a municipal building means a risk to the public, like an approaching weather or seismic event. Even this depends on where you live. In Kansas it’s likely to be a tornado. In California, think earthquake. It also depends on where you are. In a movie theater this may mean fire. You get it.
Did you know that drivers colliding with stationary construction crews is a big problem? Hard to believe, but I guess it’s a thing.
Several methods have been tried to mitigate this all-too-common problem with the latest being sound. An article from the Iowa DOT talks about their trial using audible attenuators to alert drivers of construction crews in the roadway. Read the article here.
Below is an accompanying video demonstrating the attenuator. Take a look. I’ll wait.
Many of you will take this attenuator solution as justification to run loud pipes.
But, hold on. There are differences between this system and loud motorcycle exhausts.
One big difference between the attenuator and loud bike exhaust noise is that the attenuator is directed toward the driver and is accompanied by bright flashing lights. The sound from a motorcycle exhaust is mostly directed rearward.
Sirens and horns are pointed forward for a reason. And when you consider that most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes come from in front, not behind, you can see the argument against loud pipes being responsible for saving lives.
Also, sound bounces off buildings, etc and is absorbed by vegetation, etc. This means that locating the source of the sound is tough. And the time it takes for a driver to identify your location could be way too late.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Another argument against loud pipes is that even the loudest exhaust may not be heard and then responded to in time. This is because cars are sound-insulated to the degree that moderately loud music or an AC fan on high can mask, mute or muffle the sound until it is just part of the background noise.
An open window certainly helps in this regard, but almost every vehicle on the road today has efficient air conditioning, which means fewer and fewer people drive with windows open.
OK. Let’s assume that your loud pipes alert a driver that you and your bike is in the vicinity. But, to avoid a collision requires the driver to know exactly where you are. Knowing you’re in the vicinity isn’t enough.
An example is a driver traveling in the same direction (you’re not riding in a drivers blind spot, right?) not being able to see you and then cutting you off. Unfortunately, your loud exhaust noise won’t tell him or her whether they can change lanes or not. They may look first, but maybe not.
One scenario that was pointed out to me that may justify loud(er) pipes is when in very slow traffic (think L.A.) and you are lane splitting. At these slow speeds it’s possible that a driver could hear a bike approaching from behind and will think twice about changing lanes. But, thankfully most riders don’t have to endure (or at least avoid) that extreme traffic situation, which brings us back to questioning th validity of the loud pipes strategy.
Let’s assume that loud exhaust systems can get attention. But what exactly is the noise conveying? It’s not telling drivers’ to pull over or run for cover, so what do we expect drivers to do exactly?
A Reliable Solution: Be More Visible
If your real goal for having loud pipes is to get drivers’ attention so they don’t cut you off or crash into you, then the arguments made in this article suggest you’d be wise to consider other (or additional) strategies. Here are some suggestions that are likely to be effective.
Now, I know that hi-viz jackets, vests and helmets may not be your thing. But, you don’t have to go all HAZMAT to become more visible. Harley-Davidson predictably sells mostly black jackets to satisfy their traditional customer base, however look beyond the badass blackness and you can find a few more visible options.
Those of you not as encumbered by traditional style requirements have many options available to you, including the aforementioned hi-viz, but also white or bright colored gear that looks both sporty and stylish…and helps you be seen better in traffic. Check out this Scorpion jacket at Twisted Throttle.
One of the MOST effective tools for being seen and avoiding crashes is effective lane positioning.
Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you. It’s up to you to select lane positions that put you in plain view.
Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. There’s this thing called “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Get drivers’ attention my moving within your lane. You can simply change lane positions, or do a slight weave as you approach.
You can rightly argue that a horn is in the same category as loud pipes. But, there is a difference. Unlike loud exhaust, a piercing horn has a more commanding meaning than the noise from loud pipes (yes, even from a “barking” throttle blip). Remember earlier when I talked about how the types of sounds communicate different meaning? Yeah, That.
Before you get all cranky thinking I’m not on your side. I believe that any added tool for being seen is worthwhile.
However, (you knew this was coming, right?) loud pipes can’t be relied on for adding the kind of conspicuity necessary to avoid collisions…visibility. People have to see you!
I’m no scientist, and this is not based on empirical evidence, but experience and logic suggest that relying primarily on loud pipes for visibility is a weak strategy. Does it help? To a degree. But, in my opinion, the effectiveness is trumped by the risk of discrimination from authorities, the disdain from your neighbors and the perpetuation of the outlaw image puts us in risk of heavy handed regulation.
Of course I know that this won’t convince anyone already enamored with the badass sound of their bike to dig up the stock exhaust from the basement. However, I hope this article gives you pause before you repeat the old saw “Loud Pipes Save Lives” without at least considering that this strategy may have a relatively minor effect on preventing crashes.
Admit it…loud pipes make your bike sound better and is a way to experience the raw, visceral power of your awesome machine. But, ask yourself if perhaps they aren’t as effective as most people think at saving lives.
Most riders sit pretty much upright in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with that, however they are not utilizing a simple tool that helps the motorcycle turn, engages the rider in the “dance” between human and machine and increases ground clearance when needed.
We Need More Clearance, Captain!
Positioning your body to the inside of your motorcycle when cornering means that the motorcycle does not have to lean as far for a given speed and turn radius.
Hanging off makes this so by shifting the combined weight of body and machine to move the center of gravity lower and to the inside.
Hanging off not only increases ground clearance, it also keeps the contact patch closer to the center of the tire and adds a degree of “power steering” to help initiate lean. By pre-positioning your body just before turn-in preloads the bike so it falls swiftly from upright to leaned. It can be unsettling the first time you do it as the bike turns so much easier, so experiment gradually.
Body position has an additional benefit of encouraging interaction between you, the bike, and the road. Move your body through a series of curves like you would a dance partner across a dance floor and you’ll be flirting with the Zone in no time. Lead with your eyes and shoulders and your motorcycle will willingly follow your lead.
Active body positioning isn’t just for sport bike riders. Try it on whatever motorcycle you ride.
Body Position “Levels”
You don’t have to hang off like Marc Marquez to benefit from body positioning.
When speeds and lean angles increase, it’s beneficial to use a more “active” body position that provides a greater amount of turning ease and ground clearance. There are three levels of body positioning for cornering: The “basic”, “intermediate”, and “full” hang off techniques.
The “basic” position
Use the basic body position for typical street speeds. This position involves simply leaning your upper body off-center, towards the inside of the turn. Position yourself as if you are kissing your mirror. Keep your inside shoulder low and forward while your eyes look through the curve. Your butt stays more-or-less centered on the seat.
The basic position is easy to do and is not intimidating, making it good for people just learning to hang off.
The “Intermediate” position
The intermediate stage is the body positioning technique I use when riding on street twisties. It is appropriate when riding more aggressively, but is no where near the level of extreme positioning typical of racers.
Learning this is quite simple. All you have to do is lean your upper body into the turn while rocking your hips so your inside sit-bone supports most of your weight. Rocking onto your inside butt cheek just before the corner positions your arms perfectly to countersteer with your inside arm and shoulder pressuring on the inside handlebar and your outside arm slightly extended and relaxed.
Rock onto the inside butt cheek just before the corner so that your body is in position as you countersteer. This is a very simple and effective technique.
The “full” hang off position
The full hang off position allows the most aggressive riders to achieve faster corner speed without dragging hard parts. Hanging off has a lot of benefits, but can cause problems if not done correctly. Here is a basic tutorial:
Get your weight on the balls of your feet.
Use your legs (a little of your arms) to lift your body into position with your butt on the inside edge of the seat.
Position your shoulders and head inside and low (kiss the mirror).
Keep your hips perpendicular to the motorcycle.
Keep about 2-4 inches between your crotch and the fuel tank.
Rest the inner thigh of your outside leg against the tank.
Support a little more than half of your weight with the inside foot.
Hold the grip like a screwdriver with the forearm more or less in line with the handlebar.
Relax your arms by supporting your weight with your legs and torso.
Rest your outside arm on the top of the tank.
Avoid rotating your hips around the tank, which can result in a “crossed” body position where the upper body is positioned over the center of the bike. Instead, keep space between your crotch and the tank so you can move laterally across the bike.
Jack Your leg Into the Tank
For extra support, you can press your outer thigh into the gas tank. With the ball of your foot on the outside footpeg, straighten your ankle to make firm contact between the peg and the tank. Extending your leg in this way helps support your body with your legs, not your arms. The cutouts in sport bike gas tanks are ideal for positioning your inner knee. Adding Stomp Grip® or TecSpec® can help make the contact even more secure.
Try not to use your handlebars when moving from side to side. Doing so can upset the chassis and traction. Instead, use your legs and torso. Get your upper body over the tank, keeping your arms bent. I find that more rearward footrests help with this.
Also, be sure to get your body in position before you initiate lean (often while braking for the turn). Waiting too long can make the corner entry rather stressful and chaotic. Pre-positioning your body results in a quicker turn in (the benefits of quick turning is a topic for another day). It takes some practice to brake while in the hang off position, but it is a technique that must be learned (another future blog topic, I think).
Hang at Your Own Risk
You should be discrete when hanging off on the street. Not only is a full hang-off posture not often necessary, it also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Even when hanging off on the racetrack, it’s not always necessary to hang off like Marquez. Hang off just enough to match your corner speed. Hanging off more may make for better photos, but it’ll wear you out sooner and could actually decrease control.
Slow Speed Maneuvers
One exception to the “inside” body position is when making slow speed maneuvers. In this case, you want to keep your body upright, on top of the bike. This is because stability is almost non-existent and adding body weight to the inside of the bike will lever the bike to the ground. Read about slow speed maneuvers here.
Body Positioning is discussed in the RITZ book. Parking lot drills are also provided so you can learn to make proper, “active” body positioning an integral part of your riding.
To execute smooth downshifts, it is important to match the engine speed with the road speed. You can do this by slowly easing out the clutch (after you slow).
But sometimes a rapid downshift is necessary. The problem is that releasing the clutch at the wrong time and too abruptly can lead to lurching re-engagement and a rear tire skid or “chirp”. This is where throttle blipping comes in.
Throttle Blipping is the term used to describe the rev-matching technique where the rider momentarily “blips” the throttle to increase engine rpm to better match the revs to the road speed when downshifting.
You’ve probably heard riders blip their throttle as they downshift while rolling to a stoplight. But, throttle blipping is best heard when a sport bike is decelerating and downshifting (and usually braking) from high RPM and high speed.
Listen to my friend Aaron as he demonstrates some of the quickest and smoothest throttle blipping I’ve heard (or is it the magic of modern sport bike electronics?). Listen at the end of the straight starting at 0:15:
Here’s another video showing my throttle hand as I blip the throttle. See 2:20. For comparison, I enter the same corner, but without blipping at 4:08.
Here’s another video showing me smoothly execute three non-blipping downshifts at around 4:15:
The throttle blipping technique is done by quickly cracking the throttle open then closed (blip) while you simultaneously squeeze the clutch and click the gearshift lever. The point is to get engine RPM matched to the lower gear ratio before you release the clutch. The rapid blipping technique occurs within the span of about one-half second. The clutch is quickly squeezed and released as the transmission is shifted down and the right hand blips the throttle. This is repeated with every downshift, one gear at a time.
You can blip the throttle rapidly to reduce the time between gears, or you can be leisurely. High-performance riders blip the throttle very quickly when downshifting between gears as they set up for a corner. Street riders may choose to blip the throttle when downshifting. This is done more slowly when coming to a stop.
Brake and Blip
Oftentimes, you need to brake while downshifting, but trying to simultaneously brake while blipping is a difficult skill to master. The problem is that moving the right hand to blip also causes the braking fingers to move, which invariably changes brake pressure. Combining braking and throttle blipping can be done with less difficulty if you apply the front brake with your index and middle fingers while you close and open the throttle with your thumb and two outside fingers. Arching your brake fingers is also helpful in isolating throttle movements.
The point is to blip the throttle while keeping consistent brake lever pressure. This is most easily done when using very firm braking pressure , like when braking hard from high speeds where brake lever movements translate into relatively minor brake force changes.
Nowadays, you can get a motorcycle that will allow you to shift up and down without using the clutch. When downshifting, the bike’s electronics automatically blips the throttle perfectly as you downshift. Pretty slick.
Is Blipping Necessary?
Some motorcycles benefit from throttle blipping more than others. A big V-twin or single cylinder engine with a lot of engine braking can more easily lock the rear tire if the clutch isn’t released carefully, so blipping makes sense. But, for many bikes, especially ones with in-line 4 cylinder engines, it’s easy enough to quickly but gradually release the clutch between downshifts. It’s what I do when I ride my Triumph Street Triple on the street or track (see video below). With the introduction of slipper clutches on many sportbikes these days, it’s even less necessary to blip the throttle.
Still, a lot of riders swear by throttle blipping. That’s fine, if you do it skillfully. I find that it just adds another thing to do while I’m screaming into turn 1 at over 100mph. Listen to my downshifts at the end of the long straightaway in this video from a recent track day, starting at 2:06 and then throughout the video. You can hear how I simply downshift and then ease out the clutch. It’s done quickly, but smoothly:
One problem with throttle blipping is that it minimizes the stabilizing effect that comes from engine braking. Let me explain.
Engine braking (or rear brake force) causes the rear tire contact patch to drag behind the front tire’s contact patch. Think bungie cord. This pulls the rear of the bike in line with the front.
Blipping the throttle during downshifts minimizes engine braking compared to simply easing out the clutch. A little bit of engine braking still happens, it’s just not as much.
Throttle blipping can be a challenge to learn. But, here’s how.
Sit on your stationary bike with the engine idling and in neutral. Blip the throttle quickly (like a spasm) so the engine revs 600 to 1,000 RPM.
Next, simultaneously squeeze the clutch just as quickly as the throttle. Only squeeze the clutch in about half way. That’s enough to get the transmission smoothly into the next lowest gear.
The next part can’t be done while the bike is running, so shut it off and repeat what you just practiced, but this time press the shift lever down simultaneously with the throttle and clutch. All three controls are engaged at the same time, within the span of less than a half second.
Now go try it in a parking lot. I won’t be pretty at first, but stick with it. Good luck.
Do you blip your throttle? If so, or if not, tell us why?
This episode is on trailbraking. What is it, what are the benefits and how do you do it?
Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean.
Getting your motorcycle stopped in time to avoid a collision is one of the most important skills you can have. But, simply being able to apply maximum brake force isn’t enough (even if you have modern ABS). Here is an article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine a while back about braking and reaction time that I think deserves some more airtime. Enjoy!
You’re riding along minding your own business when suddenly you are facing the bumper of a left turning sedan. Every cell commands you to get the motorcycle stopped ASAP to prevent your early demise. But, will your response be quick enough?
It’s a good thing that we are hardwired to respond immediately to threats, but too often our synapses do not fire fast enough for a quick and effective respond. Thankfully, there are ways to help make sure you aren’t a victim of too little, too late.
There are actually two components of reaction time: “perception time” and “activation time”. Perception time is the time it takes to figure out what’s going on and decide what action to take. Response time is the time it takes to reach for the brakes. You also have to account for the amount of time it takes to actually get the bike stopped.
Let’s say you’re traveling at 40 mph, which is about 59 feet per second. Recent research indicates the average rider will use about 1.5 seconds to recognize the situation and reach max braking rate, also known as perception-response time. That number can increase to over 2 seconds if you’re daydreaming. That equates to between 88 and 117+ feet before any physical action is taken.
The actual time it takes to get the motorcycle stopped once the brakes are applied depends on speed, machine geometry/weight, available traction, and your ability to use your brakes fully without skidding (ABS helps in this regard). Recent research also shows that an average rider can only achieve a braking rate of 0.6 g’s. That means from 40 mph you’ll need 89 feet to complete the stop. The 1.5 seconds of perception-response time mentioned earlier adds another 88 feet for a total stopping distance of 177 feet.
With perception-response time adding nearly 50% to the total stopping distance, you can see why it’s so important to remain alert. You also want to develop your ability to predict when bad things are about to happen before they unfold. Get ahead of potentially hazardous situations by aggressively scanning for clues that indicate trouble. Be especially vigilant when approaching intersections where most collisions occur.
Stopping in a Corner
Hard braking when the bike is upright is tricky enough when facing an emergency. But, things get even more challenging when you have to stop quickly while leaned because of a hazard around a corner. Perception, response and braking times still apply, but now you also need more time to free up traction by reducing lean angle so you can brake hard with less chance of traction loss. This necessary action adds to total stopping distance. Machines with Cornering ABS offer a distinct advantage here where you can brake hard while maintaining lean angle.
You can reduce activation time by covering the front brake lever and rear brake pedal when approaching potential hot spots. Not only will this simple action reduce activation time, it also puts your whole system on alert.
Of course, the best way to reduce braking distances is to slow down. Trimming just 5 mph off your 40 mph travel speed requires about 32 less feet to stop. Add 5 mph and you’ll need about 35 more feet to stop. Speed up to 60 mph and you’re going to need an extra 155 feet to stop, for a total of 332 feet. Yikes.
Whether or not you avoid a crash is dependent on your ability to react quickly when an otherwise sublime day suddenly turns into a DEFCON 1 war zone. The best riders remain alert and ready for battle, wasting very little processing time before executing evasive action. They also cover the brakes to reduce activation time when approaching intersections. The final step is to regularly practice emergency braking techniques. Can you stop your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance while maintaining in control? Too many riders cannot.
Riding with a group of friends can be a blast. But, it can go all pear-shaped if certain precautions aren’t taken upfront. Some problems are merely inconvenient, like when the group has to wait around because someone didn’t arrive with a full tank of fuel or when someone goes AWOL during the ride.
Other problems are more serious, like when a guy runs into the back of another rider because he was riding too damn close, or when a knucklehead lowsides into a guardrail trying to keep up with the fast guys.
As a group leader, it is your responsibility to take some basic precautions. Let’s take a look at a few.
Before we start: These tips do not take the unique issues of very large groups into account. However, these tips can be used for groups of 2 to perhaps 30 riders. Trying to manage more riders than that and your into a whole other ball of wax. Breaking into smaller subgroups is a better solution.
We Gotta Talk
The root of most group riding mishaps can be traced to a few key factors. The first one is a failure to voice basic ground rules so that members know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Start by evaluating the group; are they aggressive and reckless, or law-abiding and considerate? Is there talk of drinking alcohol or stunting? If so, then nip it in the bud, or pay later.
Speed & Passing
The group is better off if all participants agree on general speed limits and passing. Some group rides I’ve attended come right out and say that I should expect illegal passing and speeds that exceed the legal limit. Knowing this ahead of time let’s me decide whether or not to participate.
One option is to break into sub groups with one sticking to more conservative speeds while following the rules of the road.
Another rule I want to know is whether there is passing within the group. I’m not a fan of inter-group overtaking because it encourages bravado and risky dicing. If passing within the group isn’t allowed, then faster riders should ride up front and everyone must maintain a safe following distance from each other. If a rider wants be in a different part of the group, he or she can wave someone past or change positions at the next stop.
When the leader decides to overtake slower traffic, he or she must be smart about whether it’s worth the risk. If you have a turn or stop coming fairly soon, just hang tight. But, if the opportunity presents itself to make a pass that is safe for all, do it. Your fellow riders then decide to pass or not and hopefully have the self-discipline to patiently wait if it’s unsafe to overtake.
Passing as a group is dangerous if riders blindly follow the person in front. It’s better to tell your group to wait until the rider ahead has almost completed the pass before committing. And when making the pass, maintain passing speed well beyond the slow vehicle so that the next person has room to return to the lane and file in behind you.
A staggered formation is often the norm when on long straight sections of road with at least a 2 second following distance from the bike directly ahead. This means that you will be only about one second behind the rider offset to your immediate left or right. Even though the staggered formation gives riders access to the width of the lane, this formation is pretty tight and can lead to collisions when attempting evasive maneuvers. By riding two abreast, you are limited to either the left or right portion of your lane. And that’s just not good enough for maximum safety.
That’s why the leader needs to abandon the staggered formation when the road is narrow or riddled with surface hazards and when the road turns twisty! When following single file, each rider has the full width of the lane to use cornering lines or avoid mid-corner hazards. .
There is a recent discussion about something called the “reverse formation”. It basically has the front rider in the right wheel track rather than the left. The idea is that it affords the second rider to see and be seen better. But, I have my reservations, because this puts the first rider in a spot that is hidden from view and prevents him or her from seeing ahead as well. See the video and add your thoughts in the comments below.
One time when riders should be side-by-side is when coming to a stop or entering traffic. When stopping, the leader should gradually slow and come to a complete stop. The rest of the riders should “box in” so the group is compact.
To keep the group together, the leader should stop and wait when possible, like at intersections and then wait for the last rider to arrive. Look for a thumbs-up before continuing. This is used in combination with each rider taking responsibility for the rider behind by waiting until the straggler is in sight before turning onto a new road.
One thing I see from time to time is a group leader who is too concerned with keeping the group together when it isn’t necessary (or safe). For example, if there are no turns or stops for people to get lost, then keep moving, make safe passes and let people have fun. And know when it is important to keep the group together, like in areas with many chances for wrong turns.
When it’s time to go, the leader should leave slowly. This helps prevent the bungie effect where riders in the back must go much faster to catch up with the leaders. Remember, the group is relying on the leader to lead the way.
Some groups use communicators between the group leader and a “sweep” rider to monitor things. This can really help manage group rides and is a way the leader can know if the pace is okay or if there is any potential trouble. An experienced volunteer should be put in charge of this sweep role.
Group riding often places safety in the back seat. It’s not unusual for safety-focused individuals to become reckless when exposed to pack mentality. One thing to emphasize that each person rides within their limits and to resist the temptation to keep up with the group. Far too many group rides end in tragedy because one or more participants exceed their riding ability.
Managing the group’s pace is the job of the leader. Many times the leader sets a moderate pace, only to increase the speed as the ride progresses. It’s okay to wick up the speed through a nice set of twisties, but you must then slow the pace to allow stragglers to catch up without much effort. This pattern balance fun with predictability that encourages slower riders from feeling a need to stay in touch.
When things do go wrong, you will want to be able to manage the situation. Ask if anyone is CPR or First Aid certified if you’re not. Know if you’ll be riding in areas with no cell service and have an idea of the nearest population if you need to send someone to make a call.
It’s smart to attend a class or seminar that discusses how to manage an accident scene and a motorcycle scene in particular.
Before this happens, you also need to consider if you could be held liable. Some groups require waivers, but most don’t. It’s implied that each participant is responsible for his or her actions, but that doesn’t stop family from coming after you anyway. Sucks, I know. But it’s the society we live in. It’s another reason to follow these tips to avoid problems. Also, encourage full protective gear so relatively minor mishaps remain minor.
Set the Tone
Yes, being a true group leader (as opposed to a reluctant leader) means you are willing to take on the responsibility. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. It can be stressful, but is also rewarding to show others a good time. Group leading isn’t too hard with just a bit of preparation.
This leadership begins before the ride by posting rules and expected behavior, encouraging full protective gear and explaining logistics. A bit of foresight reduces risk and increases enjoyment. And if things go well, you’ll look like a hero. If things go wrong…well, just follow these tips and you will hopefully be okay.
Well organized groups select a strong rider to take up the back to keep an eye on things. This person can identify any particularly weak or aggressive riders and can help keep the group together. Communication to the group leader is a huge plus.
More on Group Riding
Marc R. one of our guest instructors penned a piece on riding in groups that dovetails nicely with this article. Check it out.
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