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Teaching A Newbie To Lean
Actually, helpful hints for all

By: James R. Davis

There are two things that tend to cause new riders to want to keep their bikes vertical:

  • They are afraid, based on a previous dump caused by a combination of slow-speed turn and the application of brakes.

  • They are afraid, based on a concern that their engines will die in a slow speed turn and result in a dump.

(See the Tip titled 'Dumping A Bike Is No Sin'.)

Engine's die if they are cold and not properly choked or if setup with idle too slow. Thus, you do not practice slow speed turns with a cold bike. The rider must 'know' that their engines will continue to run without having to 'race' them. Otherwise, they focus on throttle action rather than balance during their turns.

One trick I have learned that tends to loosen up fears of leaving the vertical for newbies is to have them experience 'low center of gravity' - first with their imaginations, then in real life. That is, I have them imagine a broomstick with a bowling ball fastened on one end. I ask them to imagine holding that broomstick with one end on the ground and the end with the bowling ball on it straight into the air. I ask them to tell me how far they would allow the top of the broomstick to move away from vertical. They understand instantly that you need to keep that broomstick standing virtually straight up or it will fall. Then I ask them the same question with the only difference being that the bowling ball end is on the ground. Clearly the top of the stick can wander very far indeed from being straight up without fear of losing control of it. This is the 'power' of having a low center of gravity.

[This article represents parking lot practice exercises I put together for some friends before I became an MSF Instructor. I never 'taught' motorcycle riding to anyone except friends other than as an MSF Instructor.]

Then I have them drive their bikes while standing on their pegs rather than sitting in the saddle. I ask them to 'weave a little' but not to allow their heads to move at all. The bikes are moved left and right under them, but manage a relatively straight line. There is not the slightest possibility that they will fall. Clearly the center of gravity must be very low for this to be true and they see that. I ask them to make a few more laps, keeping their heads 'straight up', but this time sitting in their saddles.

While most of us enjoy leaning with our bikes when we make turns, I have found that a newbie can be encouraged to lean their bikes more easily if you show them that they can do so without they themselves having to lean. Thus, after I have them 'weave a little' while keeping their heads in the same place, I have them make a turn leaning only their bikes. Keeping their heads absolutely vertical so that they 'see the horizon the same way all the time'. This is almost nonsense, but it does seem to work for some. After a few laps they are amazed at how far they have managed to lean their bikes without moving their heads from vertical. I have them practice this until they are able to 'push the bike away from them until their arms are straight.' It gets easier over time.

Now, as to how to get them to lean their bikes and make sweet turns - In a parking lot I have them sit on their bikes (engine running) at a dead stop and then turn their handlebars all the way to their stops in both directions. I insist that from either extreme they can drive away from where they are. To begin with, they are to slip their clutches and walk the bikes out of their positions. This is most intimidating, but proves to be easy enough with effort. I have them practice this in both directions.

Then I challenge them: "OK, that is a simple exercise for you to do each time you come to this parking lot. Full stop, handlebars turned in either direction to their full stop position, then drive out of it. Oh, and for your personal score, see how fast you can get your feet onto the pegs." Before they know it they are leaning their bikes instantly, feet up on their pegs, from a dead stop and they can make any corner they ever come to.

Please! You must explain to them that they will drop their bikes if they ever hit the brakes doing this!!! That slow speed turning and brakes do not mix well. That is why I teach them that a slow speed dump is nothing to be afraid of first.

Finally, I show them some VCR footage of motorcycle racing. I point out how the rider keeps his head vertical and that if the bike is moving 20 MPH or more you can SAFELY lean it until the pegs touch the ground!! That you must get into your head that if you think it cannot lean any farther then THAT is the time that you should lean it a bit farther and to roll on a bit more gas (not less!!!!).

In all of the practice I misdirect their minds away from their brakes. I constantly tell them that slow speed control is a function of the left hand, not the right. I make them play with their friction-zones using the clutch to see how slowly they can drive in a straight line! I tell them, over and over, that if you are leaning a bike (meaning you are turning) you MUST NOT USE YOUR BRAKE or you will dump it. (I remind you that this is SLOW SPEED advice.) That to stop you must straighten the bike out FIRST! (This is ANY SPEED advice.) Anyway, these lessons all conspire to demonstrate that they are capable of controlling a bike at slow speeds better than they imagined. And they soon take corners like a pro. Leaning becomes 'fun' and 'normal'.

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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