Everyone who rides has advice on how to do it. These five tips were chosen because they are the very best, most useful, and most universal I have learned. Mastery of these five areas can make anyone a good rider.
1: When in doubt—weight the pegs.
Nothing is as cool as leaning way the heck over. A motorcycle does not exactly turn by leaning, but close. You initiate the turn by counter steering, which makes the bike lean. Lean reluctance holds back a lot of riders. The big breakthrough for me was realizing that the motorcycle is like a leaning lever. If you get the weight to the bottom, there is far less force pushing you over. Try parking lot exercises with your weight on the pegs. Magically, your ability to turn increases and that feeling in your gut disappears.
2: At slow speeds use the clutch as the throttle.
We’ve all seen those impressive tight low-speed turns that competition police motorcyclists can do. One key to these techniques is the use of the clutch as if it were the throttle. This is described as using the “friction zone,” the area between clutch in and clutch out. Keep the rpm around 2000, then practice using the friction zone to go forward slowly in a straight line, then weave, then attempt tighter maneuvers. Move the clutch, but keep the throttle steady. Amazing what you can do at low speed.
3: Look big, and look where you are going.
How you look is something you learn, and it is worth spending time on. I can guarantee that the motorcycle goes where you look. At low speeds, the ability to look back over your shoulder is the key to a tight turn. At faster speeds, the ability to look deep into the turn helps you find the right line. In a potential accident situation, if you look at the object you are trying to avoid, it’s all over. You will hit it. If you can manage to look at your escape route, the bike will go there. At low speeds, try looking back behind you, and you can make a very tight turn. At faster speeds, look as far into the turn as you can, and see if you aren’t more comfortable. When you change lanes on the freeway, focus on the space between the Botts dots, and you can make the lane change without riding over them. Look up when braking, and you will balance the brakes better and stop more smoothly.
4: Gas your way out of trouble
When you gas the motorcycle, it settles down, and it feels better. If you start to lose it in a turn, often smooth throttle will get you through without a problem. In a normal turn, going in more slowly allows you to accelerate out of the turn, and the motorcycle simply feels good doing this. Rolling on the gas stabilizes the bike, and it also causes a slight shift in the load toward the back of the motorcycle. A great way to practice smooth throttle control is to do it in a straight line, where nothing else is going on. Don’t forget to practice smoothly rolling off the throttle, as opposed to slamming it shut. It is a good idea to work up to getting on and off the throttle smoothly and also getting on and off the brakes smoothly, which brings us to our last—and most important—tip.
5: Learn to use both brakes, smoothly and powerfully
Motorcycle safety experts claim that motorcycle deaths can be be reduced 37 percent by anti-lock braking systems, even without linked brakes. This is a huge controversy, because very experienced riders feel they do better without these systems. Whatever braking system your motorcycle has, you should make a habit of braking practice. Start whenever you get a new bike, and keep yourself tuned up. You never know when you will need emergency braking skill. Most police courses require stopping from 40 miles per hour in 50 feet without triggering the ABS system. Overuse of the rear brake will cause the rear end to slide out. Overuse of the front brake does not give you the best stop. You need to balance both to get a minimum stopping distance. You can squeeze the front brake pretty hard if you do it smoothly and don’t just grab. If done properly the front brakes kind of scream. When you hear this, you still have a decent margin before the brakes lock. Practice braking at whatever speed you ride. It doesn’t make sense to wait until a truck cuts you off to see if you can make an emergency stop.
Part of the fun of owning a motorcycle is knowing you are becoming a more skilled rider. Confidence that comes from regular practice will make your riding experience more fun and much more enjoyable.
Michael Padway | Motorcycle Lawyer