Monday, October 31, 2011

Best Riding Advice

P1020130 by Jack Crossen
P1020130, a photo by Jack Crossen on Flickr.
A good goal when riding a motorcycle is to keep the word "smooth" in mind when you stop, start, accelerate, and turn.  It's not too hard to lock up the wheels when stopping or spin the tire when starting/accelerating - so the "smooth" mantra helps.

Turning is a little different. Smooth is still good but it's not enough. On dry/clean pavement it's harder to lean the bike over to the point where the tires lose traction than some riders assume. The result of this is that when a rider enters a turn too fast, some accidents happen that could be avoided.

Two things can happen that cause this - (a) the rider applies the brakes non-smoothly in the turn causing loss of traction or oscillation and subsequent low side or high side crash or (b) the rider "gives up" or panics in the turn and stands the bike up thinking if he/she leans the bike over anymore it will slide out from under them.

The goal when entering a turn is to slow before the turn and then accelerate after the apex. It's possible to brake in a turn but it must be done with care and it's not something you want to practice the first time you go into a turn hot. Try some front/rear braking in a turn at slower speeds and see what it feels like.

In some rare situations it may be possible, and your only option, to stand the bike up in a curve and apply the brakes in time to stop or at least reduce kinetic energy. Examples would be road debris, an animal or a stopped car is in your path and there is no option other than to slow as quickly as possible.

The point of this post is that I wanted to repeat what I thought was one of the best pieces of riding advice I've read/heard/practiced.

When you enter a curve too fast and aren't sure if you are going to make it - KEEP LEANING.

The first line of defense is to not enter curves too fast of course. If you happen to get into a curve where you think you are going too fast, rather than giving up and running off the road or into oncoming traffic, keep leaning.


If you can ride on a dirt or gravel road it helps to get a feel for how the bike handles and brakes work (or don't) on a surface with less friction. When considering how to use your brakes during a turn on dirt or a slippery road it's of some interest to note that dirt flat track motorcycles originally had no brakes, since 1977 and to this day - they have only a rear brake. Those riders slide the rear wheel out to bleed speed in the turns. You probably won't be doing that on the street (and your front brake is your friend a lot of the time), but if you can get some experience riding a light bike on a dirt/gravel road or track that's great.

Growing up in Montana there were quite a few dirt roads. I never thought it was anything special to ride on a dirt or gravel road - it was just something you learned to do and put up with. I'd much rather ride on a smooth paved road, but every so often I like to ride on a gravel or dirt road to see what it feels like. The only problem is the nearest gravel road of any length is about 50 miles from my house.

To this day I remember riding my Honda 350 on a dirt road fourty years ago and coming into a corner too fast. I locked up the wheels and made a perfectly straight exit from the road and into a field - turned around and continued on to work. The part that sticks in my mind is seeing my perfectly straight skid mark through the corner and out into the weeds, and thinking - that wasn't very smart but at least I was lucky.

Now that I'm older and have used up a lot of my luck I try to ride smart most of the time - not always though. I'll do a few stupid things now and then just to keep things interesting or because it's fun. I have pretty good risk assessment skills so nothing obviously life-threatening. One of the advantages of age is you can choose your stupidity - not like when I was younger and did stupid stuff  fairly regularly with no real idea why other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.

If I have to ride a motorcycle at a sedate pace all the time, I'm hoping it's when I'm 80 something, but not quite yet.