8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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

Scenario

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

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

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

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

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

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

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

Anything to add?



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5 Tips for Surviving Intersections

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Intersections are very dangerous places to be. The reason drivers collide with motorcycles is because they either don’t see us or they misjudge our approach speed or distance. Here are some tips to help you become more visible at intersections.

  1. Don’t Hide. Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you.
  2. Move within your lane. Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. People see what they expect to see and a motorcycle may not register in their consciousness, even if they are looking at you. Another reason drivers can look at you but not “see” you is because of “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Realize that you appear stationary if you approach a driver straight on. Even if drivers do see you they may not be able to accurately judge closing speed and approach distance because of your bikes relatively narrow frontal area.One trick is to move across your lane as you approach drivers at intersections to visually “present” the broader side area of your bike. For a more dramatic display, weave back and forth in your lane to “sweep” your headlight across drivers’ field of view. You don’t need to go crazy; swerving a few feet left and right a couple of times should do the trick. And weave only if it’s safe to do so.
  3. Be Bright. It’s smart to wear brightly colored riding gear that gets attention and separates you from the busy background. This includes wearing a light-colored helmet and jacket or vest, as well as putting reflective material on your bike and riding gear for being seen in low light situations.
  4. Don’t rely on noise. While loud pipes get attention, sound is not reliable for telling drivers exactly where you are. Not only that, but loud pipes direct most of the exhaust noise rearward rather than forward where the majority of dangers materialize. Selective use of an aftermarket horn is as effective and a lot less annoying to others.
  5. Be ready. Even after using these measures you will likely encounter drivers who invade your right or way. Being mentally ready makes you more likely to approach cautiously and respond skillfully when someone cuts you off. Being ready means actively looking for trouble, slowing down and covering your brakes before approaching intersections even when everything looks to be in order.
But, don’t be a victim. Instead, reflect on your part in any close calls. You may find that (if you’re truly honest and willing) most times you can identify at least one thing you did or didn’t do to prevent the incident.
 
The best riders predict that a driver might cut them off (or whatever) and are already prepared by covering their brakes and positioning themselves to give maximum time and space to respond.
 
All the best practices in the world sometimes cannot prevent some crashes. We can’t change the behavior of careless drivers. All we can do is minimize the risk. And wear good protection in case the unavoidable happens.
 
 
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Are Loud Pipes an Effective Survival Strategy?

copyright Ken Condon 2018

Like politics and religion, it’s usually a very bad idea to bring up the Loud Pipes debate in mixed company. But, this website is here to discuss such topics, because your well being is at stake.

Before you assume this is an anti- or pro-loud pipes opinion piece, rest assured that I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument. I’ve had bikes with loud exhaust and stock exhaust.

My intent for writing this article is to shed light on the effectiveness of certain strategies for surviving the streets on a motorcycle, including loud pipes.

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

Sirens, and Horns

First, let’s discuss whether noise is effective at getting drivers’ attention. Before that can be answered fully, we must first define “attention”. A loud noise intended as an alert, such as a siren (EMS or law enforcement), a fire alarm, or a horn is perceived as something that requires attention and triggers immediate response.

The appropriate response depends on the noise. A siren heard while driving means you need to pull over. A blaring horn means you may be about to collide with another car (or the other driver is just being a dick). Either way, you snap out of any stupor you may be in and frantically look for the problem.

A siren blasting from a municipal building means a risk to the public, like an approaching weather or seismic event. Even this depends on where you live. In Kansas it’s likely to be a tornado. In California, think earthquake. It also depends on where you are. In a movie theater this may mean fire. You get it.

An Example

Did you know that drivers colliding with stationary construction crews is a big problem? Hard to believe, but I guess it’s a thing.

Several methods have been tried to mitigate this all-too-common problem with the latest being sound. An article from the Iowa DOT talks about their trial using audible attenuators to alert drivers of construction crews in the roadway. Read the article here.

Below is an accompanying video demonstrating the attenuator. Take a look. I’ll wait.

Loud Exhaust

Many of you will take this attenuator solution as justification to run loud pipes.

But, hold on. There are differences between this system and loud motorcycle exhausts.

Noise Direction
Considering that exhaust noise is directed rearward, is a loud exhaust more effective in this situation than being seen?

One big difference between the attenuator and loud bike exhaust noise is that the attenuator is directed toward the driver and is accompanied by bright flashing lights. The sound from a motorcycle exhaust is mostly directed rearward.

Sirens and horns are pointed forward for a reason. And when you consider that most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes come from in front, not behind, you can see the argument against loud pipes being responsible for saving lives.

Also, sound bounces off buildings, etc and is absorbed by vegetation, etc. This means that locating the source of the sound is tough. And the time it takes for a driver to identify your location could be way too late.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Modern cars are well-insulated from sound.

Another argument against loud pipes is that even the loudest exhaust may not be heard and then responded to in time. This is because cars are sound-insulated to the degree that moderately loud music or an AC fan on high can mask, mute or muffle the sound until it is just part of the background noise.

An open window certainly helps in this regard, but almost every vehicle on the road today has efficient air conditioning, which means fewer and fewer people drive with windows open.

Loud pipes are seen (and heard) on sport bikes, as well as cruisers.

OK. Let’s assume that your loud pipes alert a driver that you and your bike is in the vicinity. But, to avoid a collision requires the driver to know exactly where you are. Knowing you’re in the vicinity isn’t enough.

An example is a driver traveling in the same direction (you’re not riding in a drivers blind spot, right?) not being able to see you and then cutting you off. Unfortunately, your loud exhaust noise won’t tell him or her whether they can change lanes or not. They may look first, but maybe not.

One scenario that was pointed out to me that may justify loud(er) pipes is when in very slow traffic (think L.A.) and you are lane splitting. At these slow speeds it’s possible that a driver could hear a bike approaching from behind and will think twice about changing lanes. But, thankfully most riders don’t have to endure (or at least avoid) that extreme traffic situation, which brings us back to questioning th validity of the loud pipes strategy.

Mixed Meaning

Let’s assume that loud exhaust systems can get attention. But what exactly is the noise conveying? It’s not telling drivers’ to pull over or run for cover, so what do we expect drivers to do exactly?

A Reliable Solution: Be More Visible

If your real goal for having loud pipes is to get drivers’ attention so they don’t cut you off or crash into you, then the arguments made in this article suggest you’d be wise to consider other (or additional) strategies. Here are some suggestions that are likely to be effective.

Bright Clothing

Now, I know that hi-viz jackets, vests and helmets may not be your thing. But, you don’t have to go all HAZMAT to become more visible. Harley-Davidson predictably sells mostly black jackets to satisfy their traditional customer base, however look beyond the badass blackness and you can find a few more visible options.

Those of you not as encumbered by traditional style requirements have many options available to you, including the aforementioned hi-viz, but also white or bright colored gear that looks both sporty and stylish…and helps you be seen better in traffic. Check out this Scorpion jacket at Twisted Throttle.

Lane Positioning
Lane position strategies are effective for helping drivers see you.

One of the MOST effective tools for being seen and avoiding crashes is effective lane positioning.

Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you. It’s up to you to select lane positions that put you in plain view.

Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. There’s this thing called “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Get drivers’ attention my moving within your lane. You can simply change lane positions, or do a slight weave as you approach.

Horn

Perhaps a train horn will do the job. Notice the motor mounted behind the backrest that powers the horn.

You can rightly argue that a horn is in the same category as loud pipes. But, there is a difference. Unlike loud exhaust, a piercing horn has a more commanding meaning than the noise from loud pipes (yes, even from a “barking” throttle blip). Remember earlier when I talked about how the types of sounds communicate different meaning? Yeah, That.

The horn on most motorcycles is anemic at best and unless you fit an aftermarket blaster on your bike, you can only rely on this being effective at low speeds. Check out aftermarket horns at Twisted Throttle.

Your Choice

Before you get all cranky thinking I’m not on your side. I believe that any added tool for being seen is worthwhile.

However, (you knew this was coming, right?) loud pipes can’t be relied on for adding the kind of conspicuity necessary to avoid collisions…visibility. People have to see you!

I’m no scientist, and this is not based on empirical evidence, but experience and logic suggest that relying primarily on loud pipes for visibility is a weak strategy. Does it help? To a degree. But, in my opinion, the effectiveness is trumped by the risk of discrimination from authorities, the disdain from your neighbors and the perpetuation of the outlaw image puts us in risk of heavy handed regulation.

Of course I know that this won’t convince anyone already enamored with the badass sound of their bike to dig up the stock exhaust from the basement. However, I hope this article gives you pause before you repeat the old saw “Loud Pipes Save Lives” without at least considering that this strategy may have a relatively minor effect on preventing crashes.

Admit it…loud pipes make your bike sound better and is a way to experience the raw, visceral power of your awesome machine. But, ask yourself if perhaps they aren’t as effective as most people think at saving lives.

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Proficiency Pledge

Proficiency-Pledge

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

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

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

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

So, here we go.

Proficiency Pledge

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

Signed:___________________________

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

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

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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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Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.

This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.

First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.

I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.

It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).

Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:

1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?

2. why did he fall over?

Here is my explanation:

1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.

Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.

2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.

Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.

1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.

Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.

2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.

Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.

This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.

Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.

Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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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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How To Survive Mid-Corner Hazards

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Corner Maneuvers

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

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

Maneuver outside

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

Maneuver inside

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

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

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

Braking in a Curve

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

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

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

Straighten, then Brake

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

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

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

Brake while Straightening

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

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

Trailbraking

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

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

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

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

ABS?

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

Practice

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

Add your comments, below.

 

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Harley Goes Electric! Will it Fly?

Project LiveWire
Project LiveWire

Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival back in 1964 and his diehard fans nearly fell out of their Birkenstocks. Well, history is repeating itself with the release of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle. We haven’t heard too much from the Harley Faithful about this apparent departure from what has made the Motor Company famous, but from past experience with the V-Rod and Buell machines, I can only guess that some American made folks will not be happy.

Bob held his ground even as his most devoted fans booed when he sang “Like a Rolling Stone” with a Fender Stratocaster in place of his usual acoustic guitar. It is said that Dylan “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other.”

Is this what Harley can expect? Boos from the Faithful? I hope not, because I believe that electric motorcycles just may be a big part of motorcycling’s future.

I recently rode a Zero electric motorcycle and was really impressed with almost everything about it. The power was smooth and instantaneous, the sound was soothing in contrast to the invigorating thrust from the radial flux permanent magnet, brushless motor. Sure, the range needs to be improved, but that’s coming.

Update: I also spent time riding an Energica e-sportbike on the racetrack and on the street. The full review is here.

Not Your Biker’s Harley

The LiveWire bike differentiates itself by more than just its motor. It also looks different than the traditional V-Twin cruiser that we’ve all come to know. It’s styling is more power cruiser, like a V-Rod or Ducati Diavel. From a marketing perspective this is smart, because there is no sense in trying to convert the already captured audience that Harley-Davidson counts on to pay its bills. Instead, aim for a wider audience who has an open mind to new technology, engineering and modern styling.

The risk is whether H-D will alienate the traditional rough and tumble segment of the riding community enough so that they harm their established image. Let’s hope we can all just get along and Harley can succeed at catering to both segments: young and old, modern and traditional.

Rolling Thunder

Harley’s are not known for their performance. Sure, they do fine for what they are designed to do, which is to cruise the boulevard or tour the countryside at a leisurely pace. The H-D technology doesn’t exude performance that more modern designs from Victory or the Japanese companies can deliver. But, that’s not the point. What Harley does deliver is a visceral experience of a rumbling V-Twin that means business, even if the performance numbers don’t exactly impress.

Part of the visceral experience of the Harley (and almost any other motorcycle that burns dino-juice) is the sound it makes. I like relatively quiet bikes, but I also enjoy the auditory satisfaction of an accelerating machine with a throaty exhaust note. The number one difference that people need to get used to when introduced to an electric motorcycle is the lack of exhaust noise. Now, for many of us socially responsible motorcycle riders, we see this as a good thing.

But, What about Loud Pipes and Safety?

For those who believe that loud pipes save lives, you will likely exclaim that e-bikes are more dangerous. But, I’ve never been a believer that loud pipes save lives. Sure, noise can add additional conspicuity. But, it’s more important to be seen.

Anecdotal evidence alert: My own experiences suggest that being loud is not a reliable safety measure. For one thing the physics of the way sound travels and my attempts to hear loud bikes as they approach from the opposite direction both convince me that a loud exhaust does nothing to make you safer. I have witnessed loud bikes coming my way and I could not hear them as they approached. That’s why I believe that noise is not a reliable strategy. Your perceptions may vary.

The proven way to avoid being involved in a crash is to be seen.  If a driver can see you, he or she can avoid you. Yes, loud pipes will let them know you are in the vicinity, but they won’t know where you are.

Electric motorcycles will polarize a lot of riders because of the lack of noise and the challenge to the status quo. But before you judge…ride. I found that the combination of seamless power and silent operation are just as satisfying as the rumble and roar of an internal combustion gas burner. Maybe you will feel the same way.

LISTEN to Ken being interviewed in this National Public Radio (NPR) report on the Harley LiveWire project

Thanks to the LA Times for this video:

Would you buy an electric bike?


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Guest Writer: The Art of Group Riding

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

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


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

The Art of Group Riding

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

Ride My Own Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort

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

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

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

Group Etiquette

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

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


From Ken:

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

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


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Top 5 Ways That Motorcycle Riders Screw Up

Being average isn't good enough.
Being average isn’t good enough.

1.Thinking You Are Better Than You Are

Overconfidence and an inaccurate, overinflated self-image is responsible for a lot of motorcycle crashes. This is certainly true with young men (the majority of crashes in MA involve young sportbike riders). But, you old guys (and gals) aren’t immune. So, listen up.

Most motorcycle riders are average, at best. On the surface, they look competent enough, but when the going gets rough, their weaknesses become apparent. Everyone should occasionally look in the mirror to try and identify their weaknesses and then act to turn those weaknesses into strengths.

Group riding can bring out the worst behavior.
Group riding can bring out the worst behavior.

2. Succumbing to Pack Mentality

Group Riding can make the most level-headed rider do really stupid things. It’s something about the energy of a group, in combination with the need to prove that you’re a good rider that often fuels bad behavior. I’m not immune. Knowing that I can get sucked into riding too fast (for the street environment) causes me to be very selective about who I ride with.

Busted!
Busted!

3. Speeding in All the Wrong Places

Riding too fast for the street environment is one of the stupidest things you can do on a motorcycle. Yes, it sucks to get pulled over, but it sucks more to crash because you simply didn’t respect the reality of street riding. Errant cars, animals and pedestrians can jump out from anywhere and sand, gravel and fallen branches often lurk around corners undetected. I like riding fast, but not too fast. I reserve the really fast stuff for the racetrack.

An all too common sight.
An all too common sight.

4. Mixing Alcohol with Riding

Are you kidding me? As if being an average rider isn’t dangerous enough,  are you willing to add impairment to the equation? Talk about stacking the deck against you. Listen, I like  drinking a beer or two just like the next guy (or gal), and there was a time long ago when I would even jump on the bike after having a few. Thankfully, I survived those days.

You may think you’re fine to ride with one or two cold ones having passed your gullet, but combining drinking or other impairments with riding is totally counter to managing risk. I’m not your father, so do what you want. But, I ask you to please refrain.

See it coming before it happens.
See it coming before it happens.

5. Failing to Predict Danger

Close calls are a warning. Crashes are the result of you not heeding those warnings. The best riders develop a sixth sense about their surroundings. They scan the roadway looking for anomalies and evaluate if anything is “wrong with the picture”. They are actively searching for problems and are way ahead of the situation, because they are prepared. By “preloading” hazard scenarios into their mind, they are already halfway toward managing any hazard. Try it. Not only does it make riding safer, it’s also fun, like a video game. Don’t let them get you!

Add to the list in the comment section, below.


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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.


 

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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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 Develop a Traction Sense

Most people don’t think how much traction management is a part of almost every moment of our lives. Walking, driving, and even showering all require a certain level of traction management. We don’t always think of these mundane things as tasks that require “traction”. But, our brains are constantly calculating whether our footing is secure enough to prevent us from slipping in the shower, or sliding down stairs, or careening off the road.

Traction Senses

Having enough available traction is critical for safely riding a motorcycle. But, are you as sensitive about your tire’s traction level as you are the traction level of your footing when you step into a shower? Most people would have to answer “no”.

That’s partly because when you are riding a motorcycle, the interface between your nerves and the ground is insulated by tires, suspension, a frame and a seat. When you’re standing in the shower the nerves in your feet are almost directly connected to the tub so that it is easy to tell whether the surface has enough grip to not slip. If you’re not sure, you simply move your foot along the surface to determine whether you must take extra care.

Once you’re out of the shower and dressed, your shoes separate the bottom of your feet from direct contact with the floor, which adds a level of complexity when determining traction. In this case, we rely more on the whole nervous system to tell whether our shoes have enough grip or not.

Your proprioceptive senses are the senses that communicate with your brain and muscles to keep you safe. Proprioceptors tell you about the relative position of body parts and strength of effort being used as you move. They are located in your muscles and joints and help you perceive your body in space. A slight slip will trigger your proprioceptive senses to tell your brain and muscles to react to regain balance.

Riding stiff in low traction situations is a bad idea.

Get a Grip

On a motorcycle, you must develop the ability to sense whether your tires have enough grip on the road for you to remain upright. But, how is this possible?

First, you must learn to “read” the information being delivered by your motorcycle’s tires and chassis. Your bike’s components are speaking to you through the language of slip angles and aspects of balance that include roll, pitch, and yaw. As your bike leans, dives and squats, your nerves are calculating whether your bike is in balance and on the intended path or at the beginning of a loss of control.

A relaxed posture allows clear communication between you and your tires.

You feel this through the footpegs, handgrips, and seat. Keeping firm, but relaxed contact with the grips and pegs and riding with a relaxed posture will allow the best transference of information between your tires, the suspension and your nervous system.

Everyone who rides has a traction sense, otherwise we would never be able to trust that we would make it out of our driveway, let alone negotiate corners at speed. A rider who is able to manage less-than-ideal traction situations is highly proficient at sensing what the tires are doing. The information is there, you just have to listen.

Share your thoughts on developing a traction sense.



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Is it Spring Yet? Get Ready!

Damn you, Polar Vortex!

Polar Vortex Express
Polar Vortex Express photo by Jeannine Condon

Nobody can deny that this winter has been a doozy! Even as March has arrived, it’s well below freezing and the snow cover is still measured in feet where I live. Thankfully, the sun is noticeably higher in the sky and the days are longer, which points to the inevitable spring thaw.

This means that it’s almost time to ride!

But, wait. Before you thumb the starter there are a few things you need to take a look at before your first ride of the season.

The first step is to make sure your bike is ready to roll. Next up is the importance of getting your mental and physical skills in shape for the new season.

Adjust and lube your chain
Adjust and lube your chain

Bike Prep

Here’s a quick list of pre-season maintenance tasks. I’m not going to go into detail about how to perform these duties, because that would be a very long post. Most of these things are covered in your owner’s manual. If you do not feel comfortable tackling these projects, find an experienced friend to help you with any of these jobs that you can’t do yourself.

Put a gauge on those stems before you ride!
Put a gauge on those stems before you ride!

Do these things:

  1. Charge your battery
  2. Check your air filter
  3. Check your tire pressures and condition
  4. Check your drive system
  5. Change your oil and filter
  6. Check your brake pads and fluid
  7. Check your lights
  8. Put a wrench to all fasteners
  9. Lube cables
  10. Wipe her down, Start her up!

Mental Maintenance

After you’ve taken care of the motorcycle, then the next thing to give some attention to is your mental and physical skills.

With all the anxious anticipation of the first ride of the season, it’s easy to forget that motorcycling is a challenging endeavor that requires you to be on top of your game. Starting your riding season without considering the consequences of rusty skills could end your season prematurely.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been spending the winter months getting around town behind the wheel of a car. This can cause you to forget that your survival instincts and riding “edge” are dulled. It’s easy to become oblivious to motorcycle issues like visibility or road surface hazards when you’ve been off the bike for a while.

It’s likely that you haven’t been too concerned about being seen by others the way you are when riding your bike, because it’s easier for others to see you when you’re driving a 3-ton vehicle. Now is the time to get that mental radar fired up so you can deal with all the distracted and complacent drivers. Remember that drivers haven’t seen bikes on the road for several months or weeks and won’t be looking for you.

Also, you probably haven’t been too concerned about road surface hazards, because most surface conditions are of little concern when you have four wheels beneath you. Get your road surface sensors sharpened before you roll out of your driveway.

Thawing Your Skills

Formal training courses are a great way to sharpen your skills.
Formal training courses are a great way to sharpen your skills.

Some riders begin their season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program, which usually offer the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) suite of courses. Others take some time on their own to brush up on their emergency skills in a parking lot, but most simply take it easy until the cobwebs blow away.

Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, I recommend that every rider practice critical skills by performing some cornering and braking drills.

Skills are perishable, which means you have to keep practicing whenever you can. Not just at the beginning of the season! That’s why I include drills in my Riding in the Zone book and DVD.

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Sad, But True

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

It Happens

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Give Up, Get Smart

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

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

Read this post to learn how.
And this one.

Risk versus Reward

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

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

Is your risk to reward ratio acceptable to you?

Fight Complacency

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

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

Proficiency-PledgeProficiency Pledge

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

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

Signed:___________________________

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

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

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How to Survive Hairpin Turns

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

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

Slow Approach

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

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

Throttle On

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

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

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

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

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

Try not to decelerate. Be sure to look well into the turn, at the corner exit.

Uphill Hairpins

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

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

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

Enough Speed

Whether going up or down hill, you need to keep your speed above about 10 mph to maintain balance and stability. Sometimes, people simply fall over because they are going too slow. At very low speeds, slight deceleration or shift in body weight (tell passengers to remain relaxed, but still) is enough to upset balance and cause a tip over. Aim for smooth, steady drive.

Look Toward the Exit

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

What’s My Line?

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

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

Obligatory Crash Video

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

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

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


 

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