How to Survive Downhill Curves

Cornering errors are responsible for at least half of all fatalities. And of those corners, downhill curves are the most challenging. But, with some knowledge and practice you can master these tricky turns.

Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.
Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.

Before I describe how to deal with downhill turns, let’s revisit the basic cornering process.

  1. Look Well Ahead: This is obvious, but not instinctual for many. Riders who are nervous tend to look in the near distance. Discipline yourself to look well ahead so you can get a handle on what’s coming up.
  2. Slow: This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use your brakes and/or downshift to reduce speed, but you MUST consciously evaluate whether you need to adjust speed so you can negotiate the corner with plenty of traction and skill to spare. If in doubt, slow down! You can always get on the gas if you slow too much.
  3. Lean: You initiate lean by countersteering. The amount you must lean is determined by your speed and the radius of the turn (your body position also affects the amount of necessary lean). If you enter a turn at a speed that requires you to lean to the limit of your comfort level, then you’re risking a crash. The solution is to learn to lean, dammit. If you’ve never explored near-maximum lean on your bike (in a safe place, please) then you are poised to be a victim.
  4. Accelerate: Once leaned, you need to crack the throttle and continue to accelerate gradually through to the corner exit. The basic explanation for why you need to do this is that it stabilizes the suspension and chassis. Gradual acceleration also loads both tires for maximum grip.

The line (path) you choose around the turn is also important. The “outside-inside-outside” path is the gold standard, but should not be cast in stone. The delayed apex line is one that every rider should know about and use in many cases. This is when you allow the bike to orbit around the corner before bringing it in tight to the apex. An article explaining cornering lines is in the works.

Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate.
Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate. Notice how the centerline and edge of the road visually converge to indicate a tightening curve and downhill slope.

Downhill Curve How-To

Okay, with the basic cornering technique in mind, let’s discuss how it applies to downhill curves.

  1. Look Ahead: No difference here, except that what you should see are the telltale signs of a downhill curve: pavement sloping away from you, indicated by how the centerline and edge of the pavement visually converge in the distance. If these visual clues come together in the near distance, then the hill is steeper than if they converge farther away. Also, look for roadside objects to help you determine how tight the curve is and how steep the hill is (read more here).
  2. Slow: The main difference between a flat curve and a descending curve is how gravity pulls you and your bike’s mass down the hill. This means that you need to scrub more speed before the curve, otherwise you will find yourself going too fast mid-corner.You also need to begin braking earlier so you have more time and space to slow. Waiting too long will cause the bike to pitch forward, causing the rear tire to get light which can lead to instability. Trailbraking is useful for downhill turns as a way to smoothly slow the bike as you tip into the curve.

    Trailbraking not only gives you more time and distance to get the bike slowed, it also helps direct the bike around the curve. That’s becasue the bike will turn more easily when the brakes are lightly applied (too much brake force can have the opposite effect). The chassis geometry shortens as the suspension compresses and the front tire contact patch gains more of the available traction.

    Also, consider that gravity is pushing the bike downhill and releasing the brakes fully will cause the bike to accelerate in the direction the front wheel is pointed. Waiting to release the brakes until the bike is pointing around the corner helps the bike get pointed toward the corner exit. Usually trailbraking is done with the front or both brakes, but in this situation, dragging the rear brake only is another way to scrub off speed without overstressing the front tire to prevent the front tire from washing out.

  3. Lean: Initiate lean using contersteering, so no real difference here. However, a quicker turn-in is often needed to avoid running wide. I often coach riders to “let the bike drop” into the curve when entering a downhill curve.
    Will your ability and experience with lean angles allow you to do this? Or will you ride off the road?
  4. Accelerate: Accelerate? You want me to accelerate, even when gravity is already pulling the bike down the hill? Yep. Even though gravity is going to cause your bike to speed up, you still need to stabilize the bike and manage traction. The trick is to slow down enough before the curve so you can crack the throttle ever so slightly and hold that throttle setting or accelerate as you round the bend. This will get some of the weight off the front tire so the bike will track easily around the corner.Note that the steeper the curve, the later you will brake and the less you will accelerate, but you still need to accelerate. If you enter the curve very slowly, then you may need to keep the clutch in and then ease it out as you tip into the curve. But, get the clutch out immediately after tipping in to avoid freewheeling down the hill, which causes most bikes to feel unstable and track unpredictably. It’s better to introduce some measure of drive force ASAP.

The line you choose around a downhill curve should have you entering wide to the outside. As you tip in, you let the bike drop inside to a delayed apex (farther around the curve), then let the bike exit toward the outside of the corner.  This straightens the radius for better traction and the need for less lean angle.

Remember to continue to look where you WANT to go, not where you are afraid to go!

Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.
Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.

What about body position? When cornering at normal speeds, you want to drop your inside shoulder to engage with the bike. This helps you lean with confidence, but also allows the bike to remain a bit more upright.

 Practice!

Do not hesitate in acquiring these skills, because one day you too may find yourself facing a curve that you cannot handle. The best place to begin is in a parking lot where you will learn to lean your motorcycle with authority (parking lot drills are a feature of the RITZ Book). This means mastering countersteering and learning to turn quickly.  Once you feel pretty good about your progress, I suggest you attend a track day where you will explore the limits of cornering and braking in a safer environment. Many racetracks I’ve ridden have at least one downhill corner where you can practice all day long. Sign up for personal instruction if you want to fine-tune your cornering skills, including downhill curves.

What tips can you offer for downhill curves?


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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 Power of the Quick Turn

Most motorcycle riders initiate lean in a somewhat lazy manner. In most cornering situations and at normal street speeds it is perfectly fine to gradually ease into a corner with light pressure on the handlebars.

But, when the pace picks up and the corners become less predictable, a sluggish, indecisive turn-in will cause you to run wide at corner exits. The ability to turn quickly gives you a survival tool for managing misjudged corners while also increasing an overall sense of control and confidence. Booya!

Cornering 101

Before we get into quick turning technique, you must understand the basics of how a motorcycle changes direction. Motorcycles must lean to turn. Leaning is done primarily by introducing countersteering pressure on the handlebar: press forward/down on the handlebar on the side in which you want to turn.

Not sure you understand countersteering? Read This Article NOW. FYI, you can quicken steering by pushing on the inside handlebar while also pulling on the opposite bar.

How Quicker Turns Help

Turning the motorcycle within a shorter distance and period of time gets the bike to change direction early.

The quicker the bike is leaned, the earlier the direction change is completed, which affords you a greater margin of error to handle a misjudged turn radius or a slightly overspeed entry. Look at the diagram and you’ll also see that a quicker turn-in means you are not leaned over as long.

Another benefit of a quick turn is that it allows the bike to reach maximum necessary lean angle before or at the turn apex (the innermost part of the corner), which means that you can get on the gas sooner for both greater corner stability (bikes like being under drive when cornering) and greater exit speed (for you performance riders): Tip-in and then crack the throttle.

A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk time at full lean angle.

A delayed apex requires a delayed, quick turn-in.
A delayed apex requires a delayed, quick turn-in.

Quick Turns and Cornering Lines

The quick turn technique can be used for most, but not all corners. Some corners are laid out so that a gentle, sweeping entry is best. But, most other corners benefit from a quick turn, especially turns we call “exit” turns that require a slower entry and an early drive out of the corner.

A quick turn is also useful as a way to achieve a delayed apex cornering line. Delaying turn-in by a half-second or so keeps you outside a bit longer at the turn entry for a wider angle of view and points the motorcycle toward the turn exit, rather than toward the outside edge of the lane. Novice riders often dive for the inside of a corner as they react to anxiety about not being able to make the turn. This can easily result in an early apex and a blown exit. Ouch!

Instead, wait for it, wait for it…okay, turn, NOW.

Quick Turning and Traction

As you might imagine, giving the handlebar a good shove introduces an abrupt force to the front tire. That’s why you want to limit using the quick turning technique when traction is limited, such as on wet or contaminated pavement. A quick turn uses more traction at the beginning of the turn, but uses less at the apex and exit. Even though more traction is used when turning quickly, good tires in dry conditions have more than enough grip to handle the extra force.

To minimize the risk of tucking the front tire, you must get most of your braking done and start easing off the brakes before you introduce forceful handlebar inputs. However, it is beneficial to maintain some front brake force as you countersteer, which compresses the front suspension and loads the front tire for more rapid turning response. Ideally, you would release the brakes a split-moment after you press on the handlebars.

I’m talking about releasing the brakes almost immediately after initiating lean. If you want to maintain braking pressure longer (trailbraking), then you’re better off not turning in quickly. To manage traction while trailbraking your turn-in must be gradual, because you’re combining both turning forces and brake forces.

Timing & Intensity

A well-timed quick turn should result in a single handlebar input that establishes necessary lean angle and allows immediate throttle application (very gradual at first).

Turning in too hard and/or too early could result in the motorcycle hitting the inside of the curve. To prevent this, you will need to delay turn-in from where you would begin to turn for a slow turn-in. To fine-tune how rapidly the bike turns in, you can also reduce how hard you press on the handlebars. The harder you press, the more rapidly the bike will fall into the lean.

Practice the quick turn technique in a parking lot. And then apply it on your next ride.
Practice the quick turn technique in a parking lot. And then apply it on your next ride.

NOW is the Time!

I don’t care if you ride a GSXR on the racetrack or a Harley on the street, you must master the quick turn technique NOW. Being able to use immediate, authoritative handlebar pressure gives you a MUCH better chance of surviving a too fast corner entry. Learning the quick turning technique will allow you to get the bike turned early and efficiently and minimize the chance that you will panic and grab the brakes or run wide into the oncoming lane or off the pavement. Don’t delay! This just might happen on your very next ride!

Learning to turn quickly isn’t difficult, but it does require excellent countersteering skills and precise timing. Turning quicker also requires more forceful handlebar pressure and the trust that the tires will stick under the stress of more forceful handlebar inputs. Practice is what will convince your mind and muscles of the power of the quick turn. Do it!


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Cornering 101

Guest Writer: Just Go Faster

Jeff Meyers on his '05 ZX6R
Jeff Meyers on his ’05 ZX6R www.otmpix.com

“Just go faster, Jeff,” my track riding guru Ken Condon says after asking him what I need to do next as a track day rider.  I am flattered, because Ken says that my track form is very good. He says that I am on “the line,” I am riding predictably and smoothly, and my body position, while I am sure it can be tweaked, is getting much better.

However, I am also befuddled because I wish it were that simple to “just go faster.” The problem is that each time I enter a turn faster than before, alarm bells shriek in my head, and adrenaline courses through my system. A voice screams “You are going waaaaay too fast for this corner!!” I am terrified.

Speed is the Result of Good Technique

Ken tells me that a faster pace is the result of good technique and consistency. So, I discipline myself to look farther down the track, keep maintenance throttle, relax my hands and upper body, and make my bike lean a little farther, all while being mindful not to move too much so that I don’t upset the suspension or cause tire slip. It’s a balancing act, a tightrope on two wheels. I am terrified, and yet I am so happy at the same time.

Take the Time You Need

I’m not exactly a rookie to track riding. I have done fifteen track days total, all with Tony’s Track Days.  Up until now, I have spent my time in the novice (Red) group, often debating whether I was ready to bump up to the intermediate (Yellow) group. I decided to stay in the novice group longer than I needed to so I could cement the basics and eliminate bad habits at relatively slower speeds. I also wanted to learn how to pass safely and courteously.

The lucky new owner of the ZX6R. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Jeff Meyers

My ego didn’t like it, but I kept telling my ego to shut the hell up because my body didn’t want to pay the price of crashing. It worked. I am now a solid “Yellow Rider” and feel confident that I am there with the appropriate skill set. Ironically, “yellow” is an appropriate description for my current level since fear is now the main factor holding me back from going faster.

Over the next several track days, I plan to fine-tune my form, push myself against that fear barrier, and (hopefully) build confidence each time so that I become consistently faster. My goal is to bump up to the Advanced (Blue) group, and who knows, maybe to the Super-advanced (Black) group someday.


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


Thanks, Jeff. I’m sure you will meet your goal of moving into the faster groups. Just continue to take the time you need to get there.

What are your riding goals? What holds you back from accomplishing them?


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Get your Shift Together

Shifting is a significant part of the riding experience. It is satisfying to smoothly click through the gears with a barely detectable interruption in forward drive as your hands and foot perform seamlessly with perfect timing and minimal effort.

Shifting gears is a skill that, once learned, becomes part of a rider’s muscle memory and is then pretty much forgotten about.

But, there is much more to shifting than simply selecting the next higher or lower gear. A truly proficient rider understands the benefits of perfectly timed shifts and knows how to use the clutch as a tool for refining control.

New riders often struggle to coordinate the clutch and shift lever, but most get past the difficulties fairly quickly. MSF Basic RideCourse students often fail because of more critical issues, such as braking or cornering problems.

Still, poor shifting skill can be a problem. Lousy coordination and timing leads to abrupt gear transitions and lurching that can compromise control and traction. Not only does this cause control problems, but it also really pisses off passengers. To become proficient, you must pay attention to refining shifting skill.Quick

Upshifting

Quick shifting allows the revs to drop only slightly between the time you squeeze the clutch, shift and then release the clutch. These rapid upshifts provide seamless power delivery.

Precise timing of the clutch and throttle allows smooth clutchless upshifts and throttle-blipping downshifts.To upshift quickly, roll off the throttle only slightly and squeeze the lever only enough to disengage the clutch while shifting the transmission into the higher gear with a quick flick. Preload the shift lever for speedy lever action. As soon as the transmission is in the higher gear, immediately release the clutch and roll on the throttle. Done correctly, the quick shift technique should take about one second and forward drive should remain steady.

Clutchless Upshifts

For the most rapid upshifts (not counting electronic shifters) you can eliminate the clutch from the upshifting process altogether. Yes, you can upshift without using the clutch! A well-timed, rapid throttle closing, in combination with a ready left foot can upshift most modern transmissions with buttery smoothness that maintains forward drive with virtually no chassis pitch.

Clutchless upshifting is done by closing the throttle as you instantaneously shift to the next higher gear and then immediately open the throttle. Each step is done simultaneously, with the entire technique taking less than a second. Done correctly, the machine will experience no added wear and tear. Try it.

Shifting Down

This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.
This is what can happen if you release the clutch too quickly after a downshift.

Good downshifting is arguably more important than upshifting for maintaining control, because poor timing and abrupt clutch release can cause excessive engine braking that may lead to a dangerous rear tire skid. Read this post warning what can happen if you select a gear that is too low.

The trick is to eeeeaaaaase out the clutch after you downshift to allow the engine to “catch up” to the road speed.

Just be sure to time your downshifts. Clicking into the next lowest gear too early, before the bike has slowed can result in a skid. To prevent this, reduce speed before downshifting.

Manufacturers understand that miscued downshifts are a hazard and install slipper clutches on many high performance motorcycles to reduce the danger of locking the rear wheel during a high rpm downshift.

Blipping the Throttle

Those of us who don’t have slipper clutches just need to learn to ease the clutch out gradually…or blip the throttle. Throttle blipping helps you to match the engine RPM with the road speed during the downshift.

I already wrote a whole blog post on throttle blipping. Please read it so I don’t have to repeat myself.

What tricks or techniques do you use to become a proficient shifter?


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Read about strategies and techniques that increase safety, confidence and enjoyment.

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How to Not Suck at Braking

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If this is what happens when you brake hard, you need practice.
If this is what happens when you brake hard, you need practice.

This is the first installment of the “How Not to Suck” Series. I wanted to start the series with braking, because people seem to really suck at this important skill.

The Scenario:

You are riding along “minding your own business” when a car suddenly pulls out in front of you. You grab a handful of front brake and stomp on the rear brake. What results is a fishtailing motorcycle followed by a cacophony of squealing rubber and grinding metal and plastic on asphalt.

The typical response from the rider after such a mishap is:

  1. “There was nothing I could do! He came out of no where”
  2. “I slammed on the brakes and laid ‘er down”
Ruh, Roh. This rider crashed because he did not use good strategies for predicting hazards and then couldn't brake properly when he needed to.
This rider crashed because he did not predict that a car might turn left in front of him and then couldn’t brake properly when he needed to.

Where You Went Wrong

You applied too much brake pressure for the conditions. This caused you to skid out of control. The best riders know how much brake force they can apply without skidding. They do this by recognizing the quality of the road surface and determine the quantity of available traction. They still stop quickly, but they do so without skidding and losing control.

Prevention is Key

The trick to minimizing the likelihood of a crash caused by poor braking skills is to not put yourself in an emergency position in the first place. I know crap happens and some things just cannot be avoided. But, guess what? MOST close calls and crashes can be avoided. How do you do this, you ask?

First, you must have really strong strategies for anticipating hazards before they become a close call or crash. This takes developing a sixth sense about your surroundings and having excellent situational awareness.

Next is to recognize when traction is limited and know how much brake pressure you can introduce without skidding. To do this, you must develop a keen traction sense that tells you how much brake (or turning) force is available. This comes from experience and practice (Like riding in dirt, for instance).

Now is the best time to mention ABS. None of my current bikes have ABS, but I’m a big fan. Why not have a backup system in place to kick in if you don’t evaluate the conditions perfectly? Seems like a good idea to me.

Even with great strategies and skills things still happen even to the best riders. So what if you do panic and  overbrake?

OK, I Screwed Up, Now What?

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has taught students for years to “keep a rear skid locked” to prevent a possible high side crash.This can occur if you release the rear brake while the rear tire is out of line with the front tire. When the rear tire regains grip, it can snap immediately in line with the front tire. If this happens abruptly, you could get launched into the weeds over the high side of the bike. Ouch!

I just learned that the newest MSF curriculum mentions being able to release the rear brake “if the rear wheel is nearly in line with the front”. I’m glad they include this in the Student Workbook because it is more practical advice, but requires good judgment and timing (or luck).

Squeeze the front brake progressively, but fully while at the same time easing off the rear brake to prevent a rear tire skid.
Squeeze the front brake progressively, but fully while at the same time easing off the rear brake to prevent a rear tire skid.

How to Stop Correctly

The basics of braking are to use both brakes (for street riders) and to do so with the correct amount of pressure for your immediate needs. Track day riders and road racers usually do not use the rear brake, because of the extreme transfer of load onto the front tire that renders the rear brake almost useless. But, if you’re a street rider, use both brakes. Yes, modulating the rear brake can be tricky, but learn to do it. That way you can benefit from all the brake power available.

When you are faced with a hazard and must brake hard, you are at the greatest risk of doing it wrong. Not only will you be using maximum brake force and all available traction (which can be difficult to modulate), but your muscles will be supercharged by panic, which can easily lead to overbraking.

The key to emergency braking while staying in control is to manage available traction and to anticipate the change in available traction between front and rear tires as load shifts forward when brake force is introduced…Squeeeeeze the front brake while Easing off the rear brake. This takes practice.

Practice, dammit! You'll thank me someday for insisting that you do.
Practice, dammit! You’ll thank me someday for insisting that you do.

How to Stop Sucking at Stopping

You will be remiss if you do not practice maximum braking techniques. Too many riders I’ve worked with have never braked hard enough to experience threshold braking. When asked to brake as hard as they can most recoil with anxiety, afraid to apply the brakes that hard (even if they have the safety of ABS).

But, what do you think you must do to avoid a deer or a Buick’s bumper? Training yourself to use your bike’s brakes fully BEFORE you need to will increase your chances of surviving.

Practice maximum emergency braking on your next ride…before you need to use it in the heat of battle. Practice in a clean parking lot (with ATGATT, please).

Brake practice is an important and responsible thing to do to make sure you’re ready for the next time you need it (which could be today).  I always start the day during Personal Instruction with parking lot maneuvers that include both normal and threshold emergency braking practice. I have several braking drills described in the Riding in the Zone Book and demonstrated in the DVD.

What are your experiences with braking? Any scary moments you’d like to share? Comment below.


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10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt

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A fun way to become a better rider.
A fun way to become a better rider.

You’ve probably heard people say that dirt riding can help improve a road rider’s skill, but can it really make you a safer and more competent street rider? The answer is yes.

1. Improved Traction Sense

One thing you'll learn is traction management.
One thing you’ll learn is traction management.

Managing traction is one of the highest priorities for any motorcycle rider, whether on street or off-road. Dirt riding provides ample opportunities to learn about traction management as the tires hunt for grip on unpredictable surfaces.

Having your motorcycle move around beneath you is disconcerting for street riders who are new to this sensation, but it helps you learn about traction management, including which inputs help and which hurt traction.

And this experience translates to street riding. Imagine yourself suddenly feeling your tires sliding as you roll over a wet surface or a bit of sand in a corner. Imagine your bike feeling like it is falling out from underneath you. Most street riders will panic, flinch and tense on the handlebars. This often makes matters worse.

With dirt riding experience, you are more likely to recover from a relatively minor slip instead of panicking and gripping the bars in fear. Previous experience can allow you to stay composed and relaxed so your inputs remain fluid, allowing the tires a chance to regain grip.

2. Clutch and Throttle Control

You're going to get dirty.
You’re going to get dirty.

Throttle, clutch and brake control become very important when your tires are skipping over tree roots and wet rocks or through deep sand and gravel. But, you may not realize just how important fine clutch and throttle control affects a street rider’s confidence.

By perfectly timing clutch release and throttle application, you manage lean angle, traction and direction control. This is especially noticeable when downshifting as you enter a slow turn. If you downshift as you begin to tip into a turn, you must feed the clutch out smoothly to avoid abrupt driveline lash that can disrupt traction and direction control.

3. Slow Speed Skills

Off-road riding typically includes a lot of slow speed maneuvering, which means that your sense of balance at slow speeds will increase greatly. Maneuvering slowly over rough or loose terrain requires steady, smooth power delivery. This often means slipping the clutch to control the power and prevent instability and unwanted direction changes. Yet another reason why masterful use of the clutch is so important for precise control of forward drive, both on and off road.

You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.
You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.

4. Balance and Body Position

Because a lot of off-road riding is done at slow speeds over uneven surfaces, maintaining balance is a constant issue. The technique for maneuvering any motorcycle at slow speeds is to counterweight so that the motorcycle leans independently of your upper body. Counterweighting keeps the center of gravity over the tire contact area to maintain grip when traction is low.

Riding a lightweight dirt bike means that much more of the steering is done with the footpegs and body. By positioning your body forward, rearward and side to side, you influence direction control.

You’ll need to learn to ride while standing on the footpegs to allow your legs to act as shock absorbers. This can be tiring at first, until you learn the proper “neutral” position that keeps your bodyweight over the balance point of the bike, usually over the front of the fuel tank, knees slightly bent and elbows out.

On the street, you use many of these techniques as you cross speed bumps, railroad tracks or when ascending or descending steep hills at slow speeds.

5. Throttle and Brake Steering

Another important thing to learn when dirt riding is how to use the throttle and rear brake to change direction by breaking the rear tire loose under acceleration or when braking. It’s scary at first, but once you learn these techniques, your confidence will grow quickly.

On the street, you will have a better sense of how the throttle can help “finish” a turn or how deceleration and brake force can alter your cornering line. Motorcycle dynamics are similar enough between lightweight, off-road bikes and heavy street bikes for this skill to transfer.

6. Improved Brake Control

The front brake offers the most braking power whether riding on or off road, however the rear brake becomes more important when riding in the dirt. When traction is low, the amount of brake force is minimized and load transfer that pitches the bike forward is reduced, which means that the rear of the bike remains more planted for more effective rear brake power.

Another reason to favor the rear brake is to avoid a front tire skid, which must be avoided if you want to remain on two wheels. Loose surfaces are unpredictable, so it’s best to apply more rear brake pressure and modulate the front brake to avoid a skid.

On the street, you learn that there are times when you favor the rear brake a bit more. Riding with a passenger and descending a gravel road are two instances that come to mind.

7. Improved Visual Skills

Off-road riding requires keen vision. One of the keys to a successful off-road outing is the ability to identify the best line through a rocky or sandy trail or fire road so that you find the best available traction. A common problem that new riders have is their inability to keep their eyes well ahead, scanning for the ideal line.

This translates directly to street riding. Nervous riders look down, which leads to higher perceived speeds, and more panic as hazards seem to appear “out of nowhere”. Eyes Up!

Fitness is a must.
Fitness is a must.

8. Better Fitness

Riding on the street can be tiring and can make you sore. But, that doesn’t mean you’re getting into shape. If you want to increase muscle tone and strength, get yourself off-road. The act of balancing a motorcycle over rough terrain is one of the best workouts you’ll experience. Bring a hydration system…you’ll need it.

9. Learn to Fall Down

You won’t likely become a texting teenager’s hood ornament when riding off-road, but there is still significant risk.

Even though crashes are usually less serious, the frequency of tip overs tends to be higher when off-road riding. Typical injuries usually consist of bumps, bruises and perhaps a torn ligament or broken bone if you’re unlucky. Because of these challenges, you should not ride alone without the help of someone to come to the rescue if necessary.

Learning to fall is not usually something I emphasize. Instead, I prefer to teach people how NOT to fall. But, there is something beneficial about being familiar with hitting the deck that can potentially help you if you were to crash on the street, such as trying to relax (yeah, right) or keeping arms tucked in if you tumble. Think of sports players who learn to fall without injury; that’s the theory.

10. Gain a New Respect for Riding Gear

Whether riding on the street or off-road, it’s important to reduce the likelihood of injury and this means wearing protection. No sane person I know would hit the trails without full protection. I’ve seen too many riders fall down and get a rock in the ribs or a stick in the chest to not wear full gear. Not to mention bruised ankles and nasty rash. And that is falling at under 20 mph. You know what happens if you were to hit pavement at 40 mph with inadequate clothing…not pretty. ATGATT, people.

There's nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.
There’s nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.

Get Dirty, Skillfully

With good skills, falling can be minimized. But for many, tipovers are a reality when riding off-road, which means you must manage the risks. Don’t take your safety for granted. Learn to ride well! Prepare your mind with an attitude toward reducing risk and protect your body with proper riding gear.

There is a lot more to learn about off road riding. Understand that just because you can ride a street bike does not mean that you can swing a leg over a dual-purpose bike and safely hit the trails. But, it is well worth the effort.

What are your experiences with how off-road riding helps your street riding?


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Ground Clearance & Grip

Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.
Cornering on a big cruiser requires a respect for clearance limits.

I just received another letter from a Motorcycle Consumer News reader, this time about a situation he encountered when riding on a twisty back road in Cali on his Street Glide. Here’s his story, followed by my response.


“Ken, your recent article (in Motorcycle Consumer News) on cornering traction was excellent.  I just returned to Las Vegas after traveling up the coastal hwy to Oregon then back down to Las Vegas. While on that trip I had an incident involving cornering that left me very puzzled.

While heading to the coast from the 101 on hwy 128 north of San Francisco I was enjoying the curves of the coastal range. I ride a Harley Street Glide and ride fairly aggressively but not what I consider unsafe. As I was entering one turn (posted at 20mph) I leaned the bike into the turn and suddenly heard metal screeching on asphalt and almost simultaneously was aware that I had lost traction and was heading for the outside of the corner and a steep drop off.

Automatically I jammed my left foot down to the asphalt, but with my speed around 30-40mph sprained my ankle pretty badly. Much to my surprise I regained traction on the outside of the corner and was able to hold it there through the last 1/2 of the corner. My conundrum is that I’m not sure what happened! I felt comfortable with the speed I had entered the corner and I had entered from wide to just inside the center lane when the incident occurred. Normally, if I’m leaning the bike too much I’ll be aware of the foot board dragging. In this case there was no warning, just metal screeching and loss of traction simultaneously. Also, the road was great, with fairly new asphalt and no noticeable debris. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated as this incident has made me extremely apprehensive whenever entering a corner with thoughts of this incident constantly in the back of my mind.”


Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike's limits.
Fairly aggressive cornering on a cruiser can be done, if you respect the bike’s limits.

My Response

Without having seen or experienced the actual incident, I can only speculate on the cause based on knowledge of typical scenarios like yours. The fact is that ground clearance just doesn’t go from sufficient to nonexistent without a reason. It could be that you were leaning far enough that you were about to touch your floorboard when the mysterious factor occurred and your bike was suddenly grinding hard parts. This levered your tires off the ground and reduced traction.

Most times, when a bike suddenly goes from adequate ground clearance to zero ground clearance, it is a sign of traction loss caused by undetected surface contamination or debris, or abrupt throttle, brake or handlebar inputs, all of which are rider error. Sudden traction loss while the bike is leaned will cause the bike to drop quickly. This usually results in the rider tensing on the handlebars and chopping off the throttle, which exacerbates the problem.

If neither surface debris nor rider error existed, then you have to look at the possibility of a sudden and undetected change in surface camber that reduces ground clearance, or perhaps a depression in the road that would cause the suspension to compress.

Predicting that conditions can change quickly is a key survival strategy and applies to seemingly perfect pavement. New pavement can actually make ground clearance-robbing features such as undulations and dips difficult to see.

Knowing that your bike is a low slung machine means that you must be particularly sensitive and aware of these clearance hazards so that they don’t cause problems. One way to help manage limited ground clearance is to slow down.

Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.
Hanging off the inside of the bike helps increase clearance.

You can also learn to use body positioning to help increase ground clearance. By simply dropping your head and shoulder to the inside, you shift the combined center of gravity of bike and rider so that your machine doesn’t have to lean quite as much. Practice this in a parking lot and notice that your floorboards don’t drag as readily. My book has drills that can help.

If you are riding briskly on your Street Glide and continue to have clearance problems, perhaps you are exceeding the limits of the bike and need to consider trading in for a model that is more suited to your cornering exuberance.

Now that we’ve discussed the possible cause, let’s look at your reaction. The sudden loss of ground clearance, for whatever reason, triggered a panic response that not only had no significant effect on allowing your big Harley to recover traction, but also caused you to injure your ankle. This panic response is part human nature and is how most riders react when faced with a potentially life threatening situation.

Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.
Off-road riding helps train for minor traction loss events.

To minimize these survival instincts from causing more harm, you would need to re-train your mind and body to feel okay with minor traction loss. This is not easy to do when you ride a road-going cruiser, but is easily achieved with some off-road riding experience. Off-road riders routinely experience wide variations in traction and become accustomed to traction loss so that they do not overreact and make matters worse.

But, please understand that training yourself to react correctly is not a substitute for being aware of hazards and preventing them from causing an incident from happening in the first place.

The results of overriding a bike's capabilities can be disastrous.
The results of overriding a bike’s capabilities can be disastrous.

I hope this helps.
Ken


Do you have anything to add? Have you encountered a similar situation? How did it turn out? Please comment below.

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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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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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Countersteering Will Save Your Life!

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Getting a big (or small) motorcycle to turn requires more than just body weight.
Getting a big (or small) motorcycle to turn requires more than just body weight.

It’s hard to imagine that so many so called “experienced” riders either fail to understand the importance of countersteering or fail to recognize that countersteering is how motorcycle really turns.

Let’s Get This Straight

A motorcycle turns by leaning. Once the bike is banked over, the geometry of the chassis, as well as the rounded profile of the tires and hard-to-describe forces cause the machine to arc around the curve. So, to turn a bike you must get the motorcycle to go from upright to leaned…precisely and efficiently.

I Don’t Need No Stinking Countersteering

A lot of riders believe that they are able to maneuver their motorcycle by simply leaning their body or by looking into the turn. While these are helpful techniques for assisting the bike to turn, they alone cannot effectively cause a 500+ pound machine to change direction.

“Yeah, but I can turn my bike without countersteering.” Um, not really.  Sure, you can cause the bike to drift into a turn, but that’s not what can be called “turning”. Also, consider that most people who don’t think they are countersteering really are, they just don’t know it. Pay close attention the next time you are making any sort of turn and notice how you put a slight amount of pressure on the inside handlebar.

Read The “No Countersteering ” Myth

What Really Happens

In case you don’t already know, THE most effective way to get a motorcycle to go from upright to leaned is to introduce handlebar inputs. By pressing forward (and to a lesser degree, down) on the handlebar on the side that you want to turn, you essentially unbalance the bike so that it “falls” into a lean. Press on the right handlebar to initiate a lean to the right and press on the left handlebar to turn left. Got it?

You can enhance this effect by also simultaneously pulling on the other handlebar. This is how racers achieve quick changes in direction in chicanes on the racetrack.

Once the bike is leaned, then the front tire will steer slightly into the direction of the turn. You must relax your arms to let this natural balancing effect occur otherwise it will feel as if the motorcycle is not able to maintain the cornering path. Press, and then relax.

Why You NEED to Know How to Countersteer

Countersteering is used whenever you need to change direction. This applies to basic cornering maneuvers, as well as evasive maneuvers, such as swerving. It’s also important to be able to countersteer with authority when a corner suddenly tightens more than you expected, or when you approach a tight corner at a too-fast speed.

Not being able to get your motorcycle turned quickly will eventually result in an off-road excursion or collision with an oncoming car or a guardrail. Seriously!

Prove It To Yourself

If this makes no sense to you, then it’s time to practice. Take a look at the video clip below from the RITZ DVD for more information on countersteering and to see some drills that will help you master countersteering.

Read this article that Ken wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine about countersteering.

Listen to the Countersteering PODCAST

Add to the list in the comment section below.

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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!

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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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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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How to Develop a Traction Sense

Tony-leanI’ve been thinking a lot about traction lately, partly because it is kinda scarce around my house with ice covering my driveway and walkways, making every step a leap of faith. The other reason I’ve been thinking about traction is because I’m putting the final touches on a presentation on Traction Management at the new Thompson Speedway next week.

Writing the presentation outline made me 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.
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.
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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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

When making slow turns, it is important that you maintain slight, steady forward drive for stability. If you chop off the throttle, you’ll probably fall.

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 to manage gravity, but also to allow you to crack the throttle slightly for maximum stability. From a slow entry speed, give the bike enough throttle (as soon as you begin to lean) to maintain steady drive through the whole curve. 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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