Video Lesson: How to Manage Downhill Turns

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

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

-Ken-

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

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Video Lesson: Cornering Finesse

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

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

-Ken-

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

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Video Lesson: Learn by Following an Average Rider

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

-Ken-

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

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

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Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?
Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

Note: This article pertains to all types of riders. So, please read on.

What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.

It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men. And this stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.

A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.

While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.

Ken-smile
I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 57 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

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

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.
Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some. Yes, this is the photo “borrowed” by whoever made that video that went viral.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.

Top photos © Ken Condon

Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.

It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.

The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.

Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a while ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.
Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.

Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.

And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

I’m grateful that I can share knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help people like you ride better and smarter. But, another benefit to writing and teaching is that it makes me a better rider. I constantly think about my riding, which keeps my skills sharp.

A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.

Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind the handlebars?
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How to Not Suck at Motorcycle Maintenance

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chain-copy
My daughter cleaning and lubing a chain.

Motorcycling is much more than simply owning a two-wheeler. It also means learning to ride well enough to be safe and having the ability to maintain your motorcycle so that the machine you straddle is in top-notch condition.

This is not a trivial requirement. Stories abound of hapless riders falling victim to incidents caused by ill-maintained motorcycles. Failure to lubricate, air-up, tighten or replace certain parts can lead to painful and expensive mishaps that could have been avoided with a bit of preventive maintenance.

New riders can easily become discouraged once they realize that it is time and cost-prohibitive to bring their motorcycle to their local repair shop or dealer to perform frequent chores. It just makes sense to learn how to lube and adjust your chain, change your oil and perform small adjustments that need attention from time to time. It also makes sense to have the ability to bolt on accessories.

The good news is that it’s not difficult to learn how to be self-sufficient. And once you start getting your hands dirty you’ll find a deeper connection with your motorcycle (and with riding).

Once you adopt these basic principals, the next step is to find your owner’s manual and buy a bike-specific repair manual so you can know what is involved with a particular project. Some jobs are better left to the pros, but a surprising number of tasks are very doable by an adventurous owner.

Below is a basic list of tips I put together that will help get you started.

Note: This article contains links from Bike Bandit. I usually turn down these sponsored post offers, but I said yes because I have been using them for years as my go-to source for OEM (original equipment) parts and other goodies. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own. Really.

1. Lefty Loosey

When my daughter was old enough to hold a wrench, I made sure to include her in some basic maintenance chores. She resisted at the time, but she now thanks me. She is not afraid to tackle maintenance chores partly because I exposed her to what it feels like to simply turn wrenches and screwdrivers on various fasteners and components. The first thing she needed to learn is the law of “lefty loosey, righty tighty”. If a nut or bolt won’t seem to budge, first confirm that you’re turning it the right way. Believe me, this happens all the time with newbies.

2. Use the Right Tools

There is a difference between a #2 and #3 Phillips screw driver. Asking a #2 to loosen a tight #3 screw may work out, but don’t be surprised if you then have to deal with a bunged screw head. Having a set of extractors, vice-grips and taps might save the day. Maybe. Get a comprehensive set of metric (or SAE for you American bike owners) sockets and wrenches so you avoid using adjustable wrenches and pliers, which often make your job downright miserable.

3. Stubborn Nuts

Speaking of tough nuts…Many people struggle because they don’t know how much force is needed to loosen a stubborn nut, screw or bolt. The right amount of oomph needed to get a fastener undone becomes a “sense”. I can usually feel when a bolt is about to strip (damage threads) or break (sh*t). This comes from experience. But, don’t be deterred. As long as you have the right sized tool (no adjustable wrenches, please) and follow the law of “lefty loosey, righty tighty”  then go for it. Just be sure to maintain pressure where the tool meets the fastener so it doesn’t slip on the screw, nut or bolt head.

If it still won’t budge, give it a squirt of Liquid Wrench and let it sit a bit, or apply heat for really stubborn fasteners. If it still won’t give, then clamp on a pair of vice-grips and give it a go. If you are still having trouble, you’re going to need help from someone who can extract the boogered fastener. Or keep at it yourself. Expect to use swear words not heard since your college days. @#%&@* It will eventually come out. Have faith.

4. Understand How Things Work

You will be a more daring and successful mechanic if you learn how a motorcycle’s brake, drive, electrical, and control systems work. It will make more sense why the manual says to remove the whatchamajigger if you know its relationship within the system. You will also be better able to diagnose problems if you know that the thingamajig drives the whatsahoozit.

There are lots of online articles to help with this, and to walk you through specific jobs. You can also take a look at the series of videos from the MC Garage that cover many of the basic maintenance tasks faced by us motorcycle riders. If you plan on doing more complex tasks like valve adjustments, you’d be smart to learn how the engine works, but it’s not necessary for most maintenance chores.

5. Have a Reliable Source for Motorcycle Parts

Let’s say you learned that you need to replace your chain and sprockets, air filter or clutch cable. You can go to your local dealer to buy parts, or you can choose to shop online without leaving your living room. I am a big supporter of my local dealers, but I sometimes feel like they are little more than middlemen between me and the parts distributor. However, if you’re new to this whole motorcycle fixing thing, a knowledgable dealer can offer advice and guidance not easily accessed from online retailers.

Also, delivery can be shorter if I ordered parts online myself and had them delivered directly to my door.

bikebandit-logo Bike Bandit has delivered prompt service time and again. Even if I end up buying from my dealer, I regularly use their online parts microfiche to learn about the project and make sure all the right parts are ordered. Their search function gets me to the correct page quickly. They also have a “My Garage” list to quickly find parts that fit the bikes I own.

Accessories

While I am ordering maintenance parts I usually end up shopping for other goodies like motorcycle accessories or motorcycle gear. Much of my accessory shopping is done at Twisted Throttle, but I always seem to have some “Bandit Bucks” to spend, so I end up adding something to my order. Besides, Bike Bandit has gear and accessories that Twisted doesn’t carry. I find Bike Bandit easy to work with and their selection is very good. Check them out at www.bikebandit.com.


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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.


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Tailgaters Suck

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Photo: Julia LaPalme
Photo: Julia LaPalme

Motorcyclist Online recently posted my article “6 Riding Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters“. This particular piece garnered a ton of comments from readers and Facebook followers of several riding groups. While most people agreed that it’s best to pull over if possible, an alarming number of people suggested flipping the bird or tossing pebbles, nuts, or ball bearings to get the driver to back off.

I know some people were trying to be funny, but I am afraid a lot of commenters were serious. That kind or reaction is what leads to deadly road rage.

Yes, some drivers are habitual tailgaters and total inconsiderate asses. But just as many offenders aren’t even aware they are driving dangerously. Hard to believe, I know.

I once was in the car of a good friend who was tailgating each and every car we followed, no matter the speed. When I asked him about it, he truly didn’t think what he was doing was bad…not because is is stupid or inconsiderate, he simply had a different perception of what was okay.

Listen, I get that tailgaters are infuriating and can rank near the top of most despised people. And it can seem as if their transgression is a personal affront, but trying to teach tailgaters a lesson is a bad idea. Tailgaters, be tailgatin’. They won’t change.

You may be able to wake up a driver by tapping your brake light, but be careful gesturing, even if it is a “friendly” one.

One thing is for sure; addressing aggression with aggression escalates the situation and is very risky. A flip of the bird only adds fuel to the fire. And if you get caught tossing hard objects at a tailgater, you will get into a heap of trouble.

Instead, take the high road. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Easier said than done, I know.

It’s better to disengage and separate yourself from the tailgater. If you can’t do that, then follow the other tips in the article so that you’re less likely to get creamed by a clueless tailgater.

Read the full article HERE.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.

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Truths About Riding Gear

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Crash4_02-smProtection is a good thing, right? Of course it is. After all, nobody wants to get hurt if they can help it. Besides that, the right riding gear makes being out on the open road more comfortable and enjoyable. The gear you choose also completes your “look” and style. What’s not to like?

Before you click away thinking this is another All-The-Gear-All-The-Time (ATGATT) article, think again. While I’m a big proponent of ATGATT, I also believe it doesn’t quite deliver as much as many people hope, so read on.

Freedom Lost

Most people ride motorcycles for fun…Nobody I ever met said they ride to be safe. The focus on fun over safety leads a lot of people to adopt a lackadaisical attitude toward the real risks of riding and a distaste for wearing protection.

I get that. Before I knew better I would hop on my CB160 in whatever I had on. Shorts? Sure. Sneakers? Absolutely. No Helmet? Why not?…It’s a short ride to the market, after all.

Well, that ill-informed and clueless kid turned into an adult who has seen what happens when skin contacts asphalt at speed and what a top-quality helmet looks like after an impact (see photo). You can say my innocence has been forever ruined. But, I’m okay with wearing protective gear if it means an increased chance of living a long life on two wheels.

Cost

That sense of security doesn’t come for free. First, there is the monetary cost of outfitting your body with decent-quality protective gear. You’ll want gear that works in hot, cold, and wet weather. It’s out there and is really not as costly as many people assume. Shop around.

Photo2_Readiness-nogear-smHassle

Then there is the inconvenience of putting on and taking off all that gear. Sometimes I just want to jump on the bike without taking 15 minutes to put on all the “proper” gear. But, if I don’t zip on my gear I feel a bit guilty for not managing the risk, imagining how much it would suck if I were to fall and slide wearing only my bluejeans instead of my armored MotoPort Kevlar pants.

A lot of you would think that’s a bit over the top as many of you have no problems wearing  jeans to protect your legs, with a few of you even choosing to ride lid-less, for Crys-sakes! For me, there’s never a question about wearing a riding jacket, boots, helmet and gloves…I always do.

As much as riding gear can be a PIA, once I’m on the road, I’m happier, more comfortable and less likely to need the services of Nurse Roadrash if something bad happens. I can live with that, and I hope you will too.

Think about this: Imagine how foolish and remorseful you’d be if you crashed in your t-shirt and jeans while all your best protective gear is hanging in the closet. Even if you don’t think you’d beat yourself up too bad about it, your mother, spouse or (smart) riding friends will probably raise an eyebrow about your lapse of judgment as you wince in pain with the slightest movement. Dumbass.

Photo3-Gear_Harley-smImage

Gear also completes your style, announcing to the public and your peers what “tribe” you belong to.

The type of gear your peeps wear (or not) is likely to be what you will wear. Showing up at a gathering looking “over protected” could mark you as less of a man or a Nervous Nellie. This matters because we’re all just kids living in overgrown bodies who want to fit in, after all.

The solution? I suggest you be brave and wear what makes the most sense to your values of risk management. You don’t have to diverge too far from the norm. Take a closer look at what’s available and you’ll discover that there are ways to protect yourself fairly well while still achieving the “Look” you’re aiming for.

Imagine this rider's skull if he wasn't wearing a helmet.
Imagine this rider’s skull if he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Does Protective Gear Make Us “Safer”?

Statistics and common sense suggest that wearing protective gear has had a positive affect on injury rates. However, the decrease in injury and fatality rates are not as dramatic as you might expect. In fact, the rate of injury has remained more-or-less constant even when more people are protected. Why?

One possible reason is when humans utilize risk-reducing “interventions”, such as safety belts, bicycle helmets or motorcycle safety gear, they tend to feel safer and therefore unconsciously increase their level of risk. This effect is called “Risk Compensation”.

The prevalence of this behavior varies from person to person, but we are all susceptible.

What this suggests is that the benefit of protective gear may not be fully realized until you understand the human tendency to compensate for a sense of protection. It’s smart to wear protective gear, but be sure to recalibrate your mind to avoid the trap of risk compensation.

J9_CrashRisk Homeostasis

The amount of risk a person takes is also determined by “risk homeostasis”. Gerald J.S. Wilde, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada wrote a controversial book titled “Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health” where he describes how each individual will compensate for changes in risk exposure. His hypothesis is that if risk is reduced in one area, the individual will increase risk in another area to maintain his or her level of acceptable risk.

Whether you believe this or not, it is an interesting theory that I think has at least a thread of truth and further points to the importance of self-awareness when it comes to risk perception and awareness.

Risk perception and acceptance varies from person to person and is based partly on personal beliefs and past experiences. Risk acceptance is determined by the individual’s need for a thrill. Some people thrive on adrenaline and living on the edge. Others, not so much.

No Panacea

Crashed helmet-sm

We’d all love to think we can prevent death or serious injury simply by zipping on a sturdy jacket and strapping on the most expensive helmet we can afford. But, the reality is that many deaths occur despite the rider wearing all the best gear. After all, elbow, knee, back and shoulder armor is no match for a truck or tree. And no helmet made can withstand the impact of more than 300 G, which is a problem when a direct impact at normal speeds can easily exceed 500 G.

BCordura-Damage02-smy all means, increase your protection. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that simply wearing protection will save you from poor decisions. You need to be careful not to adopt a false sense of confidence because you feel less vulnerable.

PLEASE do not think for one minute that wearing good riding gear doesn’t reduce or prevent injury and death…it does. Just remember that protective gear is intended to prevent injury, not give permission to ride recklessly.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.

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Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

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

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

The Next Level

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

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

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

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

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

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

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

Are track skills useful on the street?

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

Body Position Practice

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

Track2009labeled
Figure 1

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

HudsonLabeled
Figure 2

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

DragonLabeled
Figure 3

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

TrackCurrentLabeled
Figure 4

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

 

Safer and More Confident Cornering

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

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

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

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


Ed Conde
Ed Conde

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


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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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Guest Writer: Becoming “That Rider”

Track_Day_JMeyers-action1-sm
Jeff, being “That Rider”. photo: otmpix.com

It was a long and cold winter here in the Northeast, but at the first Tony’s Track Days event of the year at the beginning of May, we were given clear skies and ideal temperatures. Last year, I worked hard on my track day form which included letting speed come with practice. My effort was rewarded with an advancement from the novice to intermediate level. This year, I was amazed at how much I retained even with a seven month gap.

My Mantra: “You Are That Rider Now!”

As I rolled out onto the track for my first session and each one thereafter, I heard my track Guru Ken’s voice in my head, and what he told me at my one-one-one session last year: “You are that rider now! – when you go out for a session, ride that way right from the start.” I started saying that to myself – “You are that rider now.” I believe it was that confident mind-set that allowed me to tap into the foundation that I had built from my work last year.

Repetition Builds Muscle and Mind Memory

Last year, I met my goal of completing ten track days. This helped me, through repetition, build muscle and mind memory. The first few sessions of my first day this year went remarkably well. Of course, I was not as proficient as I was at the end of last season, but my body “knew” what it was supposed to do, and I was able to get into the proper body position quickly.  My eyes reached out and ratcheted far ahead through the turns and down the straights to reduce the sensation of speed.  And, as the day progressed, I was able to work up to speeds approaching my fastest last year.

photo: otmpix.com
photo: otmpix.com

Muscle and Mind Memory Lead to Confidence

The thing that really amazed me was how comfortable I was in my head. I no longer felt a flash of fear when another rider slowed dramatically, crossed my line in front of me, or passed me on the outside of a turn; I just managed the situation without much thought.

At one point, I was following behind a rider on a faster bike, and I was on his tail in the turns, but he would pull away in the straights. I decided that I could pass him going into the sharp right hand turn after the long straight by waiting to initiate my braking until after he did and trail brake into the turn as best as I could. I did this, and was just about to “tip-in” to the turn, when another rider came up on my right. I delayed my turn waiting for this rider to initiate his. He never did. Instead, he stayed upright, and locked his rear wheel, and went straight into the run-off area. Once he was out of my line, I went about my turn and kept riding. Last year, this incident would have scared me silly and shaken me the rest of the day. This year, my heart rate didn’t even go up…but maybe it should have!

So, I guess I really am “that rider now.” The lesson for me is that a mantra, conscious effort, repetition, and a great coach build confidence. Thanks Ken!


Jeff Meyers
Jeff Meyers

Jeff Meyers is a self-described middle-aged sport bike and track day dog. He has been riding for almost 30 years and, like many folks of his vintage, was taught by his friends. He is amazed to still be here given what he did at a young age on a motorcycle with such little skill and such a need for speed. He is a lawyer at his “real” job, but also is a part time Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach and has had the privilege of working for Suzuki assisting in running demo rides, mostly at the Americade rally in Lake George, New York. Jeff loves to learn, especially about riding motorcycles.

 


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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.

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4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Cornering Lines

Multiple corners require creativity.A “cornering line” is the path you follow around a corner. Riding a narrow, single-track vehicle means we are able to select the left, center or right positions within the lane. The “basic” cornering line starts by entering the turn at the outside edge of the lane and then continues to the inside or “apex” (near the middle of the corner), and ends with the motorcycle exiting toward the outside of the lane. This line is commonly known as the “outside-inside-outside” line.

Why Bother?

A lot of motorcycle riders don’t understand the benefits of cornering lines, believing that it’s good enough to simply keep their tires between the painted lines. This is fine when the road is predictable and speeds are low. But, as speeds increase and the road becomes more challenging, precise cornering lines become more important.

Cornering lines are a must when you ride on a racetrack, partly because the pavement is so wide that you would be silly to not use the available real estate. Riding from pavement edge to edge on the racetrack is the equivalent to using the whole width of the lane.

However, be smart! Don’t get too close to the oncoming lane or the outside edge of the road. Do not cross the painted lines (or lean into the opposite lane), but use the lane to your advantage.

Before we start, let’s define what an apex is. The apex is the “inside” point in the basic outside-inside-outside path of travel.

Here are the 4 primary benefits of riding cornering lines:

1. Straightens the Curve

Entering the curve from the outside, apexing near the inside and exiting toward the outside straightens the curve by increasing the corner radius, which requires less lean and preserves traction. It’s important to have traction in reserve in case you have to increase lean angle or execute a mid-corner maneuver.

By entering the turn wider and “apexing” around the curve, your bike will be pointed safely down the road at the exit. Apex too early and you’ll run wide.

2. Gives a Better Angle of View

This is the primary benefit for street riders. Entering a corner from the outside also allows a better angle of view into the corner so you can get an early look at the corner’s characteristics and identify any mid corner hazards so you can adjust your corner entry speed for safety.

3. Increases Cornering Confidence

Actively thinking about and choosing a deliberate path into a through curves makes you a Corner Master who rides with a plan. The result is a more preemptive attitude that puts your eyes, mind and body ahead of the corner.

4. Increases Cornering Enjoyment

Riding cornering lines increases the engagement you have with your bike–and every corner you encounter. Riders who unconsciously stay in the middle of the pavement are passive about their riding and miss out on the opportunity for deeper involvement.

 

DELAY your Turn-in

When you begin your turn (and how quickly you turn) has a significant impact on cornering precision and safety. New or nervous riders are anxious to get the turn over with, so they tend to turn in too soon. This places the bike at the apex too early, pointing the motorcycle toward the outside of the curve. To finish the turn and stay in the lane, the rider is forced to increase lean angle past the apex  at the time when they should be reducing lean angle. This is a common reason for corner crashes.

Not only does the delayed apex point the bike safely toward the corner exit and not at the outside edge of the road, but it also provides the best angle of view into the corner. Wait, wait, wait…now turn.

Quick Turn

To execute the delayed apex line requires a quick turn-in using firm countersteering. The harder you press on the inside handgrip, the quicker you will turn. Pull on the outside handgrip while pushing on the inside grip to turn in even quicker. Also, pre-position your body to the inside before the turn-in to help the motorcycle fall into the corner with even less effort.

Executing a precise cornering line requires coordination between the timing of your turn-in and the amount of countersteering intensity. Turning in too late and with not enough handlebar force can result in a “missed” apex, causing your motorcycle to stay in the middle or even outside portion of the lane, not near the inside as desired.

Sequential Corners

The basic outside-inside-outside cornering line is the obvious choice if the corner is isolated from other corners with a straight before and after the curve. But, multiple corners strung together can make the outside exit unusable and dangerous.

An outside exit that is appropriate for a single turn may prove too wide if the next corner bends in the opposite direction. In this situation, you have to ride an “outside-inside-INSIDE” line. This means you stay inside all the way to the exit where it becomes the entrance to the next corner. Depending on the relationship between corners, you may end up with an “outside-inside-MIDDLE” line.

Below is a video of Ken using cornering lines on a twisty road:

The trick to seamlessly stringing together a series of corners is to look well ahead  to identify each corner’s radius and determine what the proper entry is for the following corner. The best riders interact with their bike and the corners in a way that turns the road into a dance floor, making the mastery of cornering lines not only safer, but also very satisfying.

Do you use cornering lines?


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Advice For Would-be Motorcyclists

Not everyone is cut out to ride a motorcycle.
Not everyone is cut out to ride a motorcycle.

Welcome to the first in a series of articles specifically designed for New Riders, starting with this article that talks about considerations for would-be riders. Check out the whole list of articles in the New Rider Zone and subscribe to learn when new articles become available.

Not Everyone Belongs on a Motorcycle

Riding a motorcycle is wicked cool, but before you head down to the dealership with cash (or pen) in hand it’s important that you take a close look at what you’re getting yourself into.

Motorcycling is a fun and exciting thing to do and I recommend it highly; but ONLY to those who are willing to do the work to minimize the risk! That’s one reason why motorcycles aren’t for everyone.

You may be tempted to click away from this article, not wanting to hear the truth. I don’t mean to kill your “biker buzz”, but it’s super important that you get the inside scoop on certain decisions and attitudes that can negatively affect your experience. I promise not to be too much of a bummer, but I won’t hold any punches either.

Why should you listen to me? Because I’m a motorcycle rider who has made motorcycling and motorcycling instruction my profession. I know what you need to know and I am happy to share it with you through these articles.

The complete list of New Rider article topics can be found on the Main New Rider Zone Page. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to the mailing list to receive notifications about when new articles are completed.

This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.
This is what can happen if you’re not up to the task.

The Hard Truth!

You don’t need me or anyone else telling you the rather obvious fact that riding a motorcycle is risky. You’ve probably listened politely as concerned friends and loved ones attempted to discourage you from riding. They may have shared harrowing tales of people they know (or read about) who were hurt while riding a motorcycle.

It’s unfortunate, but there is truth in their concerns. About 5,000 people are killed and 80,000 injured on motorcycles every year, making a motorcyclist about 35 times more likely to be hurt compared to a car driver. Which begs the question, “why the heck do we do it?”

At least part of the answer lies in our perception that the risk is worth the reward. Is the feeling of freedom and being fully alive or savoring the satisfaction of mastering the unique challenges of riding a motorcycle really worth the risk? Motorcyclists aren’t the type to shy away from a reasonable amount of risk, but we don’t have a death wish either.

Are you ready?
Safe riding is mentally demanding.

Motorcycling is Demanding

Besides the risk factor, you’ve also got to consider the high level of coordination and mental focus that is required when riding a motorcycle. You’ve got to be able to balance a motorcycle (can you balance a bicycle?) while maneuvering at slow speeds and lean into corners at fast speeds. You also need to move the machine around when it’s in your garage.

Then there is the mental aspects of riding. You can’t daydream and allow distractions the way you might in a car. You also need to have eyes in the back of your head and be ever diligent about making sure other drivers see you. Not to mention the myriad of road surface hazards that most car drivers are oblivious to, because they do not have to worry about traction and stability the way a motorcyclist does. One slip up and you could be sliding on the pavement.

Apexing early requires a late increase in lean angle.
Motorcycling is challenging. Are you up to it?

There is also a convenience factor. Common sense says to always wear a helmet and protective gear, but putting this stuff on and taking it off is a pain. And then you have to stow it once you get to your destination. Are you willing to do this, even on a hot day?

Motorcycling is Manageable

Physical Ability

Before you write this whole thing off, let me tell you that it’s not all that hard to learn to operate a motorcycle. By “operate” I mean use the brakes, throttle and clutch in a parking lot. But, even basic operation takes coordination and a certain amount of strength. Advanced operation takes even more coordination. Are you up to it?

Mental Acuity and Judgment

Do you let your mind wander? Are you lazy about using your turn signals or do you forget to turn on your lights when visibility drops? Do you regularly drive faster than you should? Be truthful. If you answered yes then perhaps you’re not cut out for riding. But, if you’re willing to change your behavior, then perhaps there is hope for you yet.

Crashing can be avoided with good risk management skills.
Crashing can be avoided with good risk management skills.

Risk Management

Yes, riding is risky, however it is possible to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. But, it takes a commitment on your part. Motorcycling does not tolerate poor judgment or rookie skills. So, the first thing you must ask yourself is “Do I have the time/money/commitment to do this right?” If not, then take up golf, or some other safe activity; there is just too much at stake.

Inconveniences

If you select the right riding gear and get into a routine, dealing with this inconvenience just becomes part of the process. It means getting yourself ready earlier before work and having to put up with gawking bystanders as you walk into a grocery store carrying your helmet and riding jacket (even on a hot day). But, it’s worth it. Get creative and it becomes part of the challenge.

Stages of Becoming a Motorcyclist

To get an idea of where you stand and what is involved, I’ve listed the 6 stages of motorcyclist development. Each stage brings you closer to becoming a fully proficient rider who is least likely to become a statistic (provided you use good judgment, of course). This sequence of stages often goes unnoticed, but they are always present.

You may be asking whether all this effort is necessary. It’s true that a lot of riders survive with mediocre skills, but they are chancing an unfortunate future by not fully developing their proficiency. Will they survive? Maybe. But, isn’t it smart to spend a bit more of your resources to minimize the risk of pain and misery?

  1. Contemplation- You’ve fantasized about riding and have become “moto-curious”. You read articles like this to see whether it’s something you want to pursue. You learn that riding is a commitment and not just a fun pastime. You can easily back out if you think it’s not for you.
  2. Preparation/Determination- You decide you want to go to the next step, which is to find out how one goes about becoming a rider. You can still back out.
  3. Action- You contact a rider training facility and schedule your beginner rider course. Backing out becomes a bit harder, but you can decide not to continue even after completing the course.
  4. Learning to Survive- You apply the lessons from the beginner course to real-world riding. This can be a precarious time because there is a big gap between parking lot training and surviving on the roads. This is stressful and can be discouraging and scary, but riding eventually becomes less stressful and more fun as you continue to learn and purposefully practice.
  5. Advanced Training- You seek additional training because you understand that there is more to riding than being able to get around without falling down. Blog articles, advanced parking lot courses, on-street training, and track days are all available to help. Riding takes on a high level of satisfaction during this stage.
  6. Skills Maintenance- You continue reading about how to reduce risks and how to ride better and find more opportunities to become the best rider you can be. Remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. This never-ending stage keeps skills sharp and involvement high.

This guy was a student of mine some years back. His attitude for learning to be the best rider he could be was contagious.
Riding is a blast, but you’ve got to be ready to learn.

With these stages in mind, consider how much you’re willing to commit to this endeavor. It takes time, money and desire to do it right.

Are you willing and able to commit? If the answer is no, then I suggest you move on. I may not know you, but I still don’t want you to get hurt. There’s enough of that going around already.

There’s still time to back out. If this article didn’t scare you too bad and you still want to continue, click on the next article in the topic list and carry on. If, on the other hand, you don’t think you have the wherewithal to commit to going all the way, then it’s best if you walk away and save yourself and your loved ones a lot of grief.

BACK TO THE NEW RIDER ZONE MAIN PAGE

Credit must be given to the National Motorcycle Institute for the training philosophy that not all people should ride motorcycles. You can’t become a motorcycle fatality if you don’t ride a motorcycle.


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Ice Riding Basics: Winter Moto-Fun

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photo: Jeff Vader
Leaning like this on ice? Are you kidding me? photo: Jeff Vader

Okay, so I’m an idiot. Not for the multiple reasons that my wife might list, but because after 50-plus years living in the Frozen Northeast, I have just now discovered the awesomeness of riding a dirtbike on ice. Add to that the fact that I have lived on a perfectly good lake for the last 25 years and you can see the reason for my self-criticism.

Am I Crazy?

Okay, I can probably be forgiven for not riding a motorcycle on ice, after all, it does seem a little crazy. And I’ll admit to being super-intimidated the first time I rolled my 2010 Kawasaki KLX250s onto the previously liquid, but now molecularity-hardened surface in front of my house.

But, I’d seen the photos of others leaning at insane-degree angles on frozen bodies of water, so I figured that with my newly-mounted Fredette Canadian ice tires, I just might be okay.

My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.
My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.

And so I was. As a matter of fact, I was more that okay, I was absolutely beyond okay! After a few tentative laps around the rock-hard lake, I was giggling like a schoolgirl on Nitrous.

Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com
Ice riding will make rain riding even more fun. Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com

Pavement & Dirt Training

So, as much fun as ice riding is, it also offers big benefits to my off-road riding, as well as my street and racetrack pavement riding.

Here are some of the benefits that I found:

  • Becoming more comfortable with managing variable amounts of traction.
  • Learning to look through turns even when traction is breaking loose beneath you.
  • Seeing just how much throttle control affects traction.
  • Understanding the importance of proper body position for off-road riding.
  • Learning to relax even when you’re on the edge of control.
  • Feeling more and more comfortable “backing it in”.
Crash Dance
Crash Dance

Each of these things apply to general motorcycle riding, with some lessons being more applicable to dirt riding and ultra-fast racetrack riding. As a street rider, ice riding widens experiences and expands the margin of error for those times when the unexpected happens and survival means keeping your cool.

Backing it in! photo: Jeff Vader
Backing it in!
photo: Jeff Vader

What I Learned: Basic Technique

Ice riding is a lot like dirt riding especially, flat track, and is all about taking advantage of the grip the tires offer.

Lean the Bike Beneath You: Ride on top of the bike when cornering, sitting on the upper edge of the seat with the bike leaned sharply underneath you. Avoid leaning to the inside like you might do when street riding, track riding, or roadracing.

Arms: Extend your inside arm while keeping your upper elbow up high and bent. This is tiring and hard to remember, but really helps with front tire traction and control. This arm position means you will hold the throttle like a screwdriver when making left-hand turns (most ovals go counterclockwise, like flat track racing).

Sit forward: Sit on the very front of the seat so the bike’s pivot point is centralized.

Feet: Weight on the outside footpeg to maximuze traction. Drag your inside foot on the ice as a third contact point. Be careful not to put too much weight on the foot to avoid hooking it on rough ice and cause it to get trapped under the rear tire. Ouch!

Look: Keep looking through the turns even when it feels like all hell is breaking loose. Like all other motorcycle riding genres, this helps you relax and let the bike sort itself out.

Steer with the Rear: As you get faster, you learn to back the bike into the turns. This gets the bike turned with the rear, rather than “steering” with the front, which can increase the risk of the front sliding out. Steering with the rear can be done by using a bit of rear brake as you enter the turn, or by downshifting and dumping the clutch. If you are going real fast then a hard countersteer will break it loose. Whether you use the brake or not depends on the amount of grip the ice has.

Bike Setup

To ride on ice you need a dirtbike and off-road knobbie tires with screws in the tread blocks. You can do this a few different ways:

  • Buy a few bags of special screws from a motorcycle or ATV retailer and spend time with a cordless drill installing hundreds of those little buggers into your knobs. One popular brand is Kold Kutters.
Fredette Canadian style Ice Tires
  • Buy already prepared ice tires. The ones I have are from Fredette Racing Products. They sell tires with “AMA approved” screws, as well as the more aggressive Canadian type.
  • Buy tires pre-made by local ice riders. Ask around.

The Canadian tires I have mounted carved right down to the hard icy surface on powder snow and are pretty decent even after the ice becomes shredded into fine chips.

Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips.
Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips. photo: Colin Samuel

The AMA tires don’t have nearly as much grip on soft surfaces. I know this from riding a borrowed 125 motocrosser with AMA tires (see photo).

You’ll want to get some tire wraps  to keep the screw’s sharp when rolling the bike around the garage and loading in your truck or trailer… and prevent bloody hands.

My bike is a bone-stock KLX250s, which handles just fine for fun, but needs more power, especially for the larger lake ovals. I’m about to install a 351 big-bore kit to solve this problem.

More serious riders set up motocross bikes with ice fenders and lowered suspension.

Rider Preparation

What to wear? I saw all sorts of riding garb when I recently rode in New Hampshire with a group of friends. It was 10 degrees F, so naturally we were bundled up. Some riders wore dirt riding pants and regular winter jackets, some wore Carhartt jackets and pants or snowmobile gear.

Helmet: I wore both my spare street helmet (full-faced, of course) and dirt bike helmet with goggles. Shield fogging can be an issue, but cracking it open a bit solved the problem…mostly. Snowmobile shields are another option. A skull cap under the helmet helps keep the head warm.

photo: Jeff Vader
photo: Jeff Vader

Boots: Some people wear heavy winter boots and some wear off-road boots (including me). One thing to consider is that you need boots with soles that are durable enough to slide across rough ice all day long. Wear warm socks.

Gloves: My hands are susceptible to the cold. On days that are a bit warmer, I rode with insulated mechanics gloves. However, on the 10-degree days, I wore my insulated street gloves with glove liners. Note that wearing gloves that are too thick can lead to arm pump.

Layers: Wear layers! You will get warm enough to sweat and will want to shed a layer or two as the day goes on. I wear three or four layers of performance nylon shirts under a street riding jacket.

Pants: I wear an old pair of MotoPort overpants over jeans with motocross knee armor underneath.

Armor: Speaking of armor, I highly recommend you get armored-up. That ice is hard! In addition to knee armor, I have elbow guards, hip pads and my Impact Armor back and chest protector that I use for roadracing and track days.

Tracks

So, where does an ice rider ride? In New England, there are people who make the effort to drive their plow trucks to the lakes to clear ovals and road courses of various distances. And I’m sure there are plenty of places in other parts of the Northern U.S. with dedicated riders willing to clear lakes and ponds for others to ride.

Get online to find out where ice riding is available in your area. Please be considerate of those who do this fine work. Ask if it’s okay to ride before showing up and be sure to clean up after yourself.

Ice Racing

If you’re the competitive type, you can always step up your game and go racing. I’m not a resource for ice racing, so do a Google search and ask around at dealerships and on Facebook.

You experienced ice riders, please share any more tips below.

Good luck and Back it in!


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Visualization Can Save Your Life

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

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

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

Missing Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train for Reality

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

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

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

Are you ready?
Are you ready?

The Visualization Solution

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

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

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

Visualization Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it!

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


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The Lane Splitting Debate

Lane-Split-introA recent study by the California Office of Traffic Safety reports what many motorcyclists already know; that lane splitting is (or, can be) “safer” than sitting in stopped traffic. This means being less prone to serious injury.

To enjoy the safer status, riders must only splitting lanes when traffic is moving at 30mph or less and when the rider travels no faster than 10 mph more than surrounding traffic.

The study also confirms another suspicion that lane splitting benefits all road users by reducing the number of vehicles adding to traffic congestion. Yeah, us!

What is Lane Splitting?

For those of you who aren’t motorcycle riders or who live in one of the 49 states that don’t allow lane splitting, you may not know what lane splitting is. As the moniker suggests, lane splitting is when a motorcycle rider rides between two lines of cars heading in the same direction, like when riding on a multi-lane highway.

Riders split lanes on the highway when traffic slows. But, they are also known to split lanes as they filter to the front of stopped traffic at a stop light.

Lane splitting will more likely be tolerated if it is done with respect.
Lane splitting will more likely be tolerated if it is done with respect.

The Good

Filtering through traffic, whether on a multi-lane highway or local arterial means there are fewer vehicles clogging up the works and if done at low speed, is relatively safe for the motorcycle rider if done correctly.

The primary reason for motorcyclists to consider lane splitting is that it puts the rider in a less vulnerable position. Being rear-ended by a four-wheeler is a sure-fire way to end up in a hospital bed and that’s not even talking about the possibility of being sandwiched between two cars!

The Bad

However, lane splitting has a totally bad rap because some riders do it wrong. Proper lane splitting is done at a speed no faster than 10mph beyond the travel speed of surrounding traffic. Unfortunately, some riders zip between cars in a way that is dangerous and scares the hell of those they pass.

This unwelcome behavior can incite resentment from drivers and further reflect badly on all motorcycle riders, even those who split lanes safely. Some irate drivers have been known to close the gap as the rider attempts to squeeze past.

Patience.
Exercise patience.

Safe? Really?

Here is the rub. Even though the study confirms (through statistics) that lane splitting reduces instances of cars colliding with a motorcycle, it also says that there is an increase of motorcycle riders rear-ending other vehicles.

This is where the speed factor comes in. It doesn’t take a government study to know that ripping between slow moving cars is a bad idea.  The study clearly states that the safety benefit applies only to riders who lane split at 10mph or lower.

The study confirms another seemingly obvious assumption; that it’s not safe to split lanes when traffic is traveling above 30mph, so ride slowly as you filter, please!

Even with the study, a lot of riders I know still do not think it is a good idea. I suspect it’s because they have never done it and they can’t imagine drivers in their state tolerating a maneuver that has always been considered illegal and irresponsible. Just for reference, lane splitting in other parts of the world is not only tolerated, but expected.

Check out this PSA from Australia in favor of lane splitting.

Check out a video from Ride Apart about Lane Splitting:

 


Lane Splitting Tips

Make sure your luggage can fit between vehicles.
Make sure your luggage and mirrors can fit between vehicles.

What follows are tips from my perspective. I may be a reasonably intelligent motorcyclist, but I have little experience splitting lanes. Last year, the CHP put out a guideline for motorcyclists, but it was taken down after someone complained, so that resource is not available. Which means I could use some help from my Cali-friends. Use the comments section below to add your thoughts.

For those of you not riding in California, you may want to keep these tips filed away for the day when lane splitting is made legal in your state (don’t hold your breath, though). In the meantime, consider writing your lawmakers to encourage pro lane splitting legislation.

  1. Lane split only when traffic is moving at 30mph or less.
  2. Set your speed at or under 10mph faster than traffic.
  3. Be patient! Lane splitting should be thought of as a privilege and be respectful.
  4. Resist frightening drivers by keeping your speed down. You wouldn’t want to trigger road rage. You’ll lose.
  5. Know your bike’s limits. Those wide hard bags and mirrors you love so much will cause a serious problem if you try to squeeze into a too narrow gap between two vehicles. If in doubt, wait until there is enough room to proceed.
  6. Avoid blind spots. Lane splitting means you will be riding close to vehicles’ fenders and in drivers’ blind spots. By filtering forward at 10mph faster than surrounding cars, you will ride THROUGH blind spots, which is good, but be aware of the danger of lingering in a blind spots when you have to slow.
  7. Be extra careful when riding near large trucks and RVs.
  8. Keep an eye out for cars changing lanes. Seeing an opening in traffic should put you on full alert for cars moving across your path. Also, be aware of approaching exits where drivers may suddenly change lanes.
  9. Cover your brakes.
  10. Watch your mirrors for other lane splitting riders. Move over for riders splitting faster than you.
  11. Be courteous to slower lane splitting riders. Don’t tailgate your fellow riders.
  12. Move back into a lane once traffic begins to match your filtering speed. Remaining in between lanes with other vehicles moving at the same speed is asking for trouble. Rejoin traffic when possible.
  13. Keep your eyes scanning well ahead.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts on lane splitting.


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