Proficiency Pledge

Proficiency-Pledge

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

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

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

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

So, here we go.

Proficiency Pledge

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

Signed:___________________________

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

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

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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.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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How to Not Suck at Cornering

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

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

Cornering Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variations in Machine Design

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

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

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

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

User Error

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

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

Cornering Technique

Okay, so let’s break it down.

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

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

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

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The “No Countersteering” Myth

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A MCN reader recently wrote telling about his enthusiasm for Reg Pridmore’s “body steering” method of initiating lean for cornering. What follows is my response.


“I have 44 years experience riding and currently ride six days a week commuting and sport riding. Three years ago I read Smooth Riding the Pridmore Way by Reg Pridmore. This book completely changed my knowledge of corning a bike. For years I subscribed to countersteering as noted in this article. The Pridmore way is to body steer the bike and keep your upper body relaxed and smoothly controlling throttle, clutch, and brake. It took me a few months to re-learn corning, but now I am much more proficient and safe on the bike. His book goes into the details why this is better and how to master these skills.  It is my opinion that there is an alternative to countersteering and I feel it is much safer to use the geometry of the bike versus fighting the physics of corning with the handlebars. “


Countersteering is not negotiable.My response:

This discussion has been going on for over a decade and has even sparked an Internet rivalry between Pridmore and Keith Code, who advocates and emphasizes countersteering as part of the California Superbike School as the best way to initiate lean. Having ridden the CSS No BS bike (which has handlebars mounted rigidly to the frame with a working throttle), I can confidently tell you that body “steering” alone will not allow a rider to corner in any meaningful or effective way on a 400 to 800 pound machine. See the video of Code riding the No BS bike to see how little body position has on direction control.

Yes, body “english” can enhance many aspects of cornering process. I am a very big proponent of body positioning for both street and track riders to aid quicker turning, refine cornering lines, increase ground clearance, preserve traction, and allow the rider to interact more with the bike and the road. But, body positioning alone cannot cause the average street bike to initiate a corner efficiently or quickly enough. That is done by countersteering.

Countersteering uses the geometry of the bike to essentially unbalance the machine, causing it to drop into a lean. There are many other aspects of the process, but that’s all most riders need to know. You mention the other important aspect of masterful cornering, which is relaxing the arms as much as possible once the lean is initiated and using smooth control inputs to maintain control.

I have no doubt that your revelation and enthusiasm for Reg Pridmore’s fine book and teachings are genuine, but I can guarantee that you are using countersteering (in combination with body positioning) to lean your bike into a corner. What is happening is you have replaced some of the “handlebar only” countersteering inputs you have used routinely for many years with a body position technique that is “pre-loading” the bike for the corner.

This shift in the center of gravity causes the bike to fall into the turn easier, making it feel as if you are not putting any pressure on the handlebars. This is a technique taught by Lee Parks in his Total Control curriculum and which I teach to track day students. Next time you go for a ride, pay very close attention to the amount of pressure you are putting on the handlebars as you initiate lean. If you concentrate enough, you will surely notice that you are introducing handlebar pressure. Because there really is no alternative to countersteering, only reducing the amount of pressure needed.

Additionally, the act of moving your body in the direction of the turn causes handlebar inputs. You would have to consciously resist pulling the outside bar or pressing on the inside bar to eliminate any countersteering force, which would be very difficult to do.

I’m glad you feel more proficient. Keep doing what you’re doing, but you’ll be better off if you know what is really happening. Good luck.
Ken Condon

I received a reply from the reader. He is sticking with his belief that he is not countersteering.

Please share your thoughts below.

Listen to the Countersteering PODCAST

See the video segment about countersteering from the RITZ DVD:

 
 

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“Riding in the Zone” Personal Training

AMA Charter Certificate
AMA Charter Certificate

The Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training Program is kicking off it’s third season with the support of the American Motorcyclist Association and the Massachusetts Rider Education Program (MREP).

I’m excited to see the RITZ street riding program grow. Students are signing up now for the summer. If you’re interested in participating, please visit the Personal Training Tours Page.

Scholarship Possibilities

One of this year’s students was able to receive the Paul B. Memorial Scholarship from the BMW/MOA Foundation for rider education. Here is an article about another rider who received a BMW/MOA scholarship to attend Lee Park’s Total Control course.

I understand that the cost can be prohibitive for many, which is why I will be reaching out to other organizations and put together a list of available scholarships. If you know of such a program, please drop me a line. My goal is to make this program available to as many motorcycle riders as possible.

Available Dates

I am scheduling training tour dates during the week when possible, but a weekend day is not out of the question.

Ken teaching an MSF course.
Ken teaching an MSF course.

Group Training Tours

Personal Training Tours are designed for one or two riders, which allows individualized training.

However, group days can be arranged. Last season, we conducted a two-day tour with the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation Road to the Cures Program. If your group of friends or a club wants to talk about a training day (or weekend), Give me a shout.

Read more HERE.

Also, read the Personal Instruction web page to learn all about the Program. If you have any questions, Contact Me.

Please Read the Payment and Cancellation Policy Page.


 

Guest Writer: Track Day Rain Riding

Adam Butler is the first ever RITZ guest blog contributor. Adam is an expert level roadracer with the Loudon Roadracing Series and is one of my co-instructors for Tony’s Track Days. You can read Adam’s biography here

Let’s see what Adam has to say.


Do you like riding in the rain? I sure do!!

by Adam Butler

Adam Butler: "If you could see the smile inside my helmet".
Adam Butler: “If you could see the smile inside my helmet”.

If you ride track days on a regular basis chances are that you will find yourself presented with a rainy day. Some of us really find riding in the rain a fun and rewarding experience while others do not embrace the wet conditions as much. Some riders just don’t want to get wet. Others feel intimidated by the reduced traction available and don’t want to take a spill. I can understand the desire to keep your bike shiny and clean.  I prefer to take the chance to get out in the wet and work on my traction management. Riding in the rain presents a great opportunity to hone your smooth riding technique.

Ribbit!

There are some things that you can do to make your wet time on the track more enjoyable. The number one thing you need is a good frame of mind. If you go out with an open mind and a positive attitude you will have much more fun and success. It’s easy to have a fun, positive attitude in the dry…heck, we all love carving turns on a dry 70 degree day. Having this same outlook in the wet will make your experience much better.

Stay Dry and See

There are some gear related things that you can do to help. Some basic rain gear will help you stay dry. I have a basic Frogg Togg two piece outfit that goes over my leathers.

This will keep me from getting soggy. Some good no fog treatment for your face shield helps you see better. (Ken: FogCity shield inserts are one option)

Tires

The last thing is to make sure your tires are in good shape. Any time you are on the track you need to make sure you have good quality tires. Dedicated rain tires are great but you can have a good time on street tires too.

Traction management in the wet all revolves around being smooth. When the conditions are wet there is less traction available. So naturally you will be able to get away with fewer mistakes. I start out slow and easy. I start my ride nice and easy and get a feel for the conditions. Then gradually increase my pace as my comfort level increases. The key is to stay relaxed. For me, that involves keeping a light attitude. I often will chat to myself or sing a little.

So next time it rains at a track day head out and give it a whirl. Just remember to bring your smile with you…. 🙂

 

To read more about traction management check out these posts:

 

What are your thoughts about riding in the rain, either on the street or on the racetrack?

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Rider Behavior and Peer Pressure

Same, Same
There is comfort in conformity.

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

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

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

Positive Behavior Change

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

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

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

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

Style or Protection?

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

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

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

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

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

Fun at the Expense of Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, I ride Alone

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

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

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

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

Share your thoughts below.


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Traction Seminar: Motorcycle Tires

Ken and Tony from www.tonystrackdays.com speak about tires at the Traction Management Seminar at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

More video of the seminar to come. Thanks Eric R. for filming.

Share your thoughts about tires and ask any questions below.

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Valuing Motorcycling Skill Development

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Tell this guy that learning ain't fun.
Tell this guy that learning ain’t fun.

As a motorcycle skills and safety professional, I am often frustrated and even saddened by the seemingly complacent attitude toward real skill development. It pains me to see riders who ignore the importance and benefit of learning to ride their motorcycle with more skill. Not only do sharp, well-developed skills make motorcycle riding safer, it also makes riding more engaging and way more fun.

Shut Up and Ride

I get that motorcyclists don’t ride to be safe. We ride to have fun, which means that focusing on “learning” can risk turning an enjoyable pastime into something that starts to feel like work. I’ve seen many, many motorcycle riders run away when I mention “Training” or the dreaded “S” word…Dare I say it…SAFETY.

“I just want to enjoy the wind in my face and the feeling of freedom, dude. Besides, I ride just fine.” Maybe, but could it be that riding can be MORE FUN if you learn how to ride better? Hmmmm?

Skill development benefits all types of riders.
Skill development benefits all types of riders.

Don’t Kill My Buzz With the Truth, Man

The repulsion toward safety and skills development is one reason why it’s nearly impossible to get experienced riders to attend an advanced riding course. The other reason is that most riders don’t see the value in developing their skill. And it’s certainly not as fun as simply going for a ride. Why “waste” a Saturday or Sunday riding around a parking lot when there are open roads to explore…and for some people, bars to hop. Did I say that out loud?

I was at a motorcycle expo earlier this year, helping to man a booth for the Massachusetts Rider Education Program (MREP). They had a riding simulator set up for people to try their hand at dealing with challenging riding situations.

Jeannine on the Smart Trainer simulator.
Jeannine on the Smart Trainer simulator.

One guy (and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one) exclaimed proudly that he didn’t need to use the simulator because he’d been riding for 30 years. OK, said my colleague, show us what you know. The look on his face showed sudden anxiety. He kinda laughed as though we couldn’t be serious and then walked away. He was clearly afraid that he might be exposed as a mediocre rider.

This happens all the time. New track day riders are afraid that they won’t be as fast as they think they are (they’re not), and this scares them. Egos are sensitive, I get it. But, if they can man up (sorry ladies) and take the plunge, they soon discover that it doesn’t matter how fast they are, rather it’s how skilled they are at controlling their bike that counts.

What’s My Point?

You probably aren’t as good at riding a motorcycle as you think you are. “So what”, you say? Well, the last time I looked, riding a motorcycle is dangerous, even deadly. If that’s not enough to motivate you to spend a bit of cash and an afternoon brushing up on your skills, then maybe the fact that better skills means more fun will motivate you.

The vast majority of people I’ve trained over the last 20 years experience MORE ENJOYMENT after a training session. That’s because they are now more confident in their ability to manage their bike, corners and traffic. Seriously. It’s worth the effort.

Training Opportunities that are Fun

Track Days are fun and increase cornering and braking confidence.
Track Days are fun and increase cornering and braking confidence.

I can’t say that the MSF courses offered around the country are exactly fun. You ride around a parking lot at 25mph as you go through specific drills that are designed to efficiently deliver vital information. Although there is a lot of laughing when groups of friends attend these parking lot courses, it’s usually all business.

When it comes to combining “fun” and “training” together, there are two venues to consider. A track day and on-street training tours.

Sport bike riders are the likely people to take advantage of track day training, but some organizations cater to all types of bikes and riders. Tony’s Track Days regularly sees sport tourers and adventure bikes at their days. But, to encourage cruiser riders and tourers to attend, Tony is offering a “non-sport bike” track day for 2014. Now, even cruiser-types can ride around a curvy ribbon of pavement without the risk of hitting a car or sliding on sand, or getting a speeding ticket.

Another fun training opportunity is on-street training tours. Stayin’ Safe has been providing training tours and I am offering tours as well. This combines scenic rides with experienced people who can offer tips for learning how to be safer and in more control.

Start the Season with Training

The snow is finally melting and now is the time to plan your season. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and get your skills sharpened. You won’t regret it.

Share your thoughts below on your most valuable training experience.

 

 

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How to Preserve Traction by Managing Load

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The amount of traction depends on tires, pavement and load.
The amount of traction depends on tires, pavement and load.

Last weekend I conducted a seminar at the Thompson Speedway (in CT) and I thought I’d share a particular concept that came up during the presentation… the concept of “load management”.

When I first verbalized the term, I thought it sounded like the material for a crass poop joke. But, it is a concept I believe every motorcycle rider should adopt as a way to ensure that you have a sufficient amount of traction.

Traction Theory

Before I talk about specifics of load management, it makes sense to lay some theory on you. In its most basic form, traction is the friction between your tires and the road or track surface. This friction can vary greatly depending on several factors, including tire compound, condition and temperature, as well as the quality of the pavement surface (or dirt for you dualies out there).

Pavement texture affects the amount of traction available.
Pavement texture affects the amount of traction available.

But wait. The quality of your tires and the surface is only part of the traction equation. The other part is the amount of load that is placed on the tire’s contact patch. The more weight or load that each tire is supporting directly relates to the amount of grip each tire has.

Practical Application

When you brake, the front suspension compresses as the weight of rider and bike pitches forward. This increases front tire traction. But, at the same time, the rear suspension extends and the load (and traction) at the rear tire decreases. More traction on the front means you can use the front brakes harder. But, it also means that there is less load at the rear and therefore less rear tire grip for hard use of the rear brake. Load shifts constantly with every maneuver you make…braking, cornering, swerving, accelerating etc.

Loads also shift with the terrain. Riding uphill shifts weight rearward. Riding downhill moves the load to the front. Riding over bumps also causes momentary shifts in load and changes in traction. Road camber also affects load.

Managing Your Load

If you grab the front brake, you'll skid the front tire.
If you grab the front brake, you’ll skid the front tire.

So, managing traction requires you to manage the location and amount of load. This means making sure your front tire is sufficiently loaded before you introduce maximum front brake force. Squeeeeeze the front brake lever. It also means easing off the rear brake as load pitches forward when you brake. The key is to apply the brakes only as much as the tire can handle, which means paying attention to the amount of load there is on each tire.

Now, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. In this case, you can overwhelm the front tire while braking and skid. However, if you squeeze the front brake progressively then you should not have this problem. If you grab the brake, then you risk locking the front wheel.

Managing traction while cornering downhill requires balance between speed control and acceleration.
Managing traction while cornering downhill requires balance between speed control and acceleration.

You can also overwhelm and push the front tire into a lowside skid when cornering hard. To avoid this, you need to get on the throttle just after you initiate lean to balance load between the front and rear. If you coast through the turn, you’re asking the front tire to not only manage the cornering forces, but also the engine braking forces caused by not getting on the gas.

The amount of throttle used should be just enough to transfer load to the rear tire. Do this by gradually rolling on the throttle. DO NOT twist the throttle to the stop or you’ll overwhelm the rear tire and spin it out of control.

The best riders are keenly aware of the amount of traction they have available at any given time. They also use advanced techniques that minimize abrupt spikes in load and allow the tires to maintain grip.Some of these techniques include brake and throttle overlap, trailbraking, and advanced body positions that allow the suspension to work fluidly.

Start by paying attention to how load affects traction, then move on to developing these advanced techniques for load and traction management. I’ll write about these techniques in future blog posts, but you can read about them now by ordering your copy of Riding in the Zone.

In the meantime, click here to read more about traction and How to Develop a Traction Sense.

Share your thoughts below on how you manage traction and load.

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Sad, But True

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

It Happens

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Give Up, Get Smart

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

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

Read this post to learn how.
And this one.

Risk versus Reward

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

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

Is your risk to reward ratio acceptable to you?

Fight Complacency

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

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

Proficiency-PledgeProficiency Pledge

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

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

Signed:___________________________

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

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

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Tell Me Where it Hurts

Say no more.
Say no more.

The type of injuries sustained by motorcycle riders may not be what you think. We all know that a traumatic bonk on the head is the most likely way to become dead. The brain just cannot handle being bashed around inside your cranium without suffering some bleeding or bruising.

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

Legs and Feet

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

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

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

Really?
Really?

Leg Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foot Fetish

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

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

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

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

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


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5 Bad Habits You Must Fix, NOW!

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Crash-SignNo matter how “good” a rider you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits and attitudes. Poor habits and dangerous perceptions can develop over time without us even knowing it. That is, until we experience a close call or crash. Let’s take a look at a few bad habits that many riders possess.

1. Believing You’re a Better Rider than you Are

A lot of RITZ blog readers would be considered “experienced” riders. But, the truth is that experience alone does not make you a proficient rider. I can’t begin to count how many so-called experienced riders I’ve encountered who demonstrate a significant lack of proficiency. Unfortunately, unless the rider admits that he or she has a problem and asks for advice, their poor riding will continue indefinitely and ultimately lead to a mishap.

Unsolicited advice usually is not appreciated, so knowledgeable riders are reluctant to share their wisdom to the riders who need it most. Attempts to enlighten the problem rider often results in exclamations about how many years of riding experience they have and that they know all they need to know to get by…never really knowing the danger they are in.

The solution? First, take a good look in the mirror. What skills are you lacking? (I’m sure there are many, but let’s stick with motorcycle-related skills for now). Next, get the knowledge and training you need to bring all of your skills up to snuff. Thirdly, remind yourself that what skills you have are perishable and need to be kept fresh.

Promise yourself that you will purposefully practice braking, turning, and swerving. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to keep skills sharp. Learn about proper cornering technique and then practice it on your Sunday rides. And be sure to learn about all the ways to keep yourself safe in traffic and practice on your way to work every day. Over time, you just might become as good as you think you are.

Always remember that you are vulnerable...and hard to see.
Always remember that you are vulnerable…and hard to see.

2. Forgetting You Are Vulnerable

Experience can often lead to complacency. If you ride many miles without an incident, you are at risk of thinking that riding a motorcycle is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. This perception leads to many crashes and fatalities. Complacency and overconfidence can occur when you don’t recognize subtle signals that indicate just how close you are to catastrophe.

Get into the habit of recognizing clues that should alert you to threats. Make a concerted effort to scan the landscape and roadway for anything that can turn into a hazard, such as a reflection on the windshield of a car that is rolling toward you. Ask yourself whether the driver sees you and what are the chances that he will accelerate in front of you.

Evaluate each clue to determine whether you can reliably read what is being communicated. For instance, direct eye contact with the driver may indicate that the he sees you, but don’t count on it!

What's around that corner?
What’s around that corner?

3. Assuming the Coast is Clear

You know what they say about making assumptions, right? “They make an ASS out of U and ME”.

One of the most problematic situations is when a motorcycle is approaching an intersection with other drivers waiting to turn left across the rider’s lane. Part of the problem is that the approach speed of a narrow vehicle is much harder to judge compared to a wide vehicle. This is why motorcyclists experience drivers “cutting them off”.

The drivers aren’t necessarily out to get you; they more likely misjudged your approach speed and thought that they had plenty of time to make the turn. The message is to never assume that a driver who appears to see you will not cut in front of you. See “The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life” for more on this topic.

A lot of riders also assume the coast is clear around corners. Depending on the region you ride in, many, or even most corners you encounter do not provide a clear view of the corner exit. Hillsides, vegetation and roadside structures all conspire to block your vision.

Too many riders approach corners at a speed that does not allow the time and space to stop or maneuver if a mid-corner hazard were present. It’s a good idea to enter blind turns slow enough so you can confidently avoid a hidden hazard. If no hazard exists, then you can roll on the throttle and accelerate safely though the turn with no drama.

Caroline
Caroline wears ATGATT
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury

4. Not Wearing ATGATT

ATGATT is an acronym that stands for “All The Gear, All The Time”.  MY definition of “All the gear” means helmet, appropriate eye protection, jacket and pants with protective armor, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots. The obvious reason for buying and wearing all this gear is for protection in the event of a crash. Since motorcycle riders don’t have bumpers, airbags, crumple zones and safety glass surrounding us, we must wear our protection.

Unfortunately, way too many motorcyclists choose not to wear full protective gear. In states where helmet laws are enforced, riders are compelled to wear this most important piece of protective gear, but helmet choice states leave the option of helmet use to the rider. Whether you agree with helmet laws or not, it’s hard to dispute the benefits of having a helmet strapped to your head when you and your bike separate at speed.

Currently, no states require any other protective gear to be worn, with the exception of eye protection. This means that you can ride legally in a tank top, shorts and sandals. Good luck with that.

The reasons why riders do not wear protective gear often include image, peer pressure (you gotta look cool), and cost. But, there is plenty of inexpensive protective gear that meet most rider’s fashion sensibilities while providing decent protection (at least for a single crash).

Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.

5. Being an Idiot

This topic can cover a lot of ground, but let’s focus on your attitude when you ride. This pretty much means riding with your head securely screwed onto your neck. Letting destructive influences like ego, peer pressure, intoxication, and distraction make decisions for you will eventually lead to a hospital visit. So, just say no to stupidity. ’nuff said.

What would you add to this list of bad habits?

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“Why We Ride” Movie Review

My wife hates it when I dissect a movie after seeing it. She would say, “Can’t you just enjoy what it has to offer?”. Well, at the risk of alienating my RITZ blog readers who really want to like the “Why We Ride” movie, I will now poop on your parade.

Speaking of poop, please take my opinion as what it is. You know what they say about opinions? No? They say, “Opinions are like ***holes: everyone has one, and most stink”. Well, hold your nose because here is my opinion.

Before I give you my review, take a look at the trailer:


Pretty good, huh? Let’s see what it’s really like…

Beautiful Videography
Beautiful Videography

Video Craftsmanship: A-

The trailer gives a good impression of the visual quality of the film, which is very, very good. The videography is beautiful and inspirational. But, what is up with all the slow-mo?

I love super-slow motion footage, especially the shots of Moto GP racers dragging elbow. And the footage of the rubber-mounted Harley Davidson XR1200 race bike engines rocking in their frames at idle made me LOL.

But, there is a thing called “too much of a good thing”. The slow motion stuff was cool for about half the film, but unfortunately, it went on and on and on and on.

And why on earth would you show only slow motion footage of race bikes on the high banks of Daytona and never show how it really feels at over 170 mph? I know plenty of friends who could have provided some awesome on-bike video that would have driven home the craziness of the Daytona banking at speed. All they needed was one or two trackside shots of a bike flying by to paint a better picture.

I’ll admit that the super-slow stuff is fun to watch, but it kinda distanced me from what riding is really like. I get that the director was wanting to set a tone of romance and wonder, but for an enthusiast, I was a bit bored toward the middle of the film, partly because the action wasn’t really engaging at slow motion. It comes off more as a parlor trick.

Music: C-

The sappy music department worked overtime on this film. Again, I get what they were trying to do, and I’m sure the violin music hit a sentimental chord (ha, ha) with a lot of viewers, but it tried too hard. Mix it up with some raunchy head smacking tunes now and again to represent the vigor that many of us experience when riding. I can understand why they might not want to represent motorcyclists as people who relate to AC/DC (or whatever floats your boat), but everyone knows that motorcycle riders aren’t typical people who gaze with soft-focus at our bikes with violin virtuosos playing quietly in the background. My iPod tends to stream tunes that are a bit less somniatic (It means “puts me to sleep”… and I know it’s not a real word, I looked it up).

The message is all about family, fun and adventure.
The message is all about family, fun and adventure.

Overall Message: B+

The message this film delivers is “riding a motorcycle is fun”. Duh! I am reminded of the introductory video shown to new MSF students at the beginning of their first classroom session. It’s a lovely little diddy about the joy of riding a motorcycle. It includes many of the same things “Why We Ride” has, including fun action shots (at full speed) and interviews with interesting people. But, the message is delivered in about 5 minutes. “Why We Ride” took one point five hours to deliver the same basic message.
Granted, the film is intended to deliver more than a message, it is also about entertainment (maybe more so). So, in that regard it is worth the extra hour and 25 minutes.

Here is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation “Welcome to the Ride” video:

Is “Why We Ride” worth Seeing?: A

Yes. The fun shots of the families and kids are priceless, as are the interviews with some of my motorcycling heros, which makes the film well worth seeing.

I was totally loving the film during the first third and then they unmercifully started beating the poor dead horse. I get it, I get it. Riding is awesome and people who DO NOT ride are missing out on life. I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a movie that you will want your family and friends to see as an attempt to convey just why you ride a motorcycle. They still might think you’re nuts, but it’s worth a shot.

Both enthusiasts and regular people will like this film, as long as you don’t expect a groundbreaking classic here. For that, rent “On Any Sunday” , or if you love roadracing try “Faster” and the sequel “Fastest” (see trailers below).

But,  that’s just my opinion…what is that smell?

My Movie Picks:

On any Sunday:

Faster:

Fastest:

How about buying a book?

How about buying a t-shirt for yourself or a loved one, or maybe a coffee mug?

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Ask Me How I Know- Epoisode 1: Tire Terror

I can imagine that a lot of fellow riders who know me may have a hard time imagining me screwing up. This is because unless you’ve actually seen me screw up, you’re left with a somewhat unreal impression of me as a competent, knowledgeable motorcycle rider who does no wrong. After all, I can talk about advanced riding concepts with a tone of confidence and I ride well enough to back up the impression that I know what I’m talking about.

Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant (am I too late?), I do think I have earned a place at the table with some accomplished motorcycle riding pros. I’m not the fastest guy or the most eloquent, but I have a knack for communicating practical knowledge, both in print and in person.

But, the fact is that a lot of my knowledge has come from some epic screw ups. Let’s step into the way-back machine and re-experience a near-death experience when I was 16 years old.

Don't let this happen to you.
Don’t let this happen to you.

Tire Terror

It was 1976 and I was riding my 1973 Yamaha TX650 behind some friends in their car. Being a teen whose awesomeness was never fully recognized, I took the opportunity to show my four-wheeled friends what coolness looks like, so I accelerated past them to an indicated 100mph. Just before I reached the end of the straight, the Yamaha started wobbling and weaving so violently that I couldn’t make the right-hand turn that was inconveniently placed at the end the straightaway.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I somehow stayed upright in a drainage ditch, threaded between a row of telephone poles and trees, and landing upright on someone’s driveway with my heart pounding out from under my Sears windbreaker. My friends drove up and stopped with mouths wide open. With a “I meant to do that” swagger, I rode home at under the speed limit. Later, I asked my brother what could have caused the problem. After a little investigation we determined that  my bald no-name rear tire was likely to blame.

The Lesson: When you ride on a bald rear tire, keep it under 100 mph. Naw, just kidding. How about, always have new tires so you can go 100 mph anytime you want. Wait, that’s not quite right either. I know! Replace your tires before they reach the tread wear indicators so they don’t cause you to have a near death experience. We’ll go with that.


Stay Tuned for Part 2 for more fun when I reveal how being a good Samaritan exposed me to another near death experience.

Learn from my experiences by ordering the book.


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Check out these posts:


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