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Learning To Ride
(Squeezing both levers gets you out of trouble)

By: James R. Davis

You will never forget that first ride. After hours of anticipation, much preparation, familiarization with what seemed like hundreds of controls and some 'uncertainty' (read: self-doubt), you suddenly found yourself straddling a motorcycle with its engine running, about to shift into first gear for the first time.

No matter how big or small the engine is, and no matter how well prepared you are from a theory of operation and the wearing of protective apparel points of view, you KNOW something could go wrong and you wonder if you are making the biggest mistake of your life.

It is probable that someone has given you a lot of advice about what kinds of things to expect today and what you should do to stay out of trouble. But a ton of advice can be confusing and right now you are concentrating as hard as you can on what immediately concerns you: holding both the clutch and front brake levers (probably too tightly), balancing the bike on its wheels, the sound of the engine, and (your) breathing.

It's time. You, once again, insure that both the front brake and clutch levers are being held firmly, and probably even confirm (for the fifth time) that the green neutral light is still on. A little more timidly than you expect, you press the gear shift lever down into first gear.

CLUNK! Your heart misses a beat and your adrenaline level climbs. 'Something' was anticipated by you, but the 'clunk' is not 'exactly' what you expected. Once again you check that your hands are holding those levers securely.

WAIT! I want you to REALLY understand the importance of that last check of the levers. Your engine is running, your bike is in first gear, but because both levers are being utilized YOU ARE NOT IN TROUBLE! The front brake lever is insuring that you are stopped, no matter what the condition of the clutch and engine, and your clutch is insuring that you are not applying power to the rear wheel, no matter what the speed of your engine is or the status of your brakes. You have intellectualized these facts up until this point, but now it is absolutely necessary that you BELIEVE them. That final check proved it to you.
  • No matter what, if you get into trouble you can get out of it by simply squeezing both levers!

I have seen far too many students in various MSF classes pop their clutches and struggle with getting their bikes back under control. Similarly, I have seen too many of them freeze at their controls following a jumpy accelerator roll-on. In both cases, if they totally believed that no matter what, squeezing both levers would get them out of trouble, they would have recovered from their control problems quickly and safely.

Sure, if all they do is squeeze both levers they may end up falling down. If they happened to be in a curve when they got into trouble, they should have straightened the bike up before using the brake. So? These are total newbies I'm talking about. They lack experience that would smooth out their use of the clutch and brake levers. They are probably moving at about 10 MPH when they get into trouble. They are probably moving in a straight line.

All I'm trying to say here is that they must know that THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO GET OUT OF TROUBLE by simply squeezing both levers. With more experience there are lots more things they can do, but as newbies, they could do far worse than squeezing the levers, but not much better.

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

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