Motorcycle Tips & Techniques

Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

Skip Repetitive Navigational Links
Safety TipsPractice and Education   Tip194   Print article Print

Parking Lot Practice
(Using Target Fixation)

By: James R. Davis

You do not use a parking lot to practice high speed maneuvers. You use parking lot practice to hone your low speed skills. Here are two exercises that I routinely do myself which require no 'props' or imaginary lines.

Following is a diagram of an exercise I have found to be extremely helpful in learning to get control of my bike during slow speed turns. In an empty parking lot find a row of parking lines and approach them (Green arrow in the lower left corner). At the end of a line make a HARD right turn and continue it until you are lined up with another line. Ride that line and at the end of it make a HARD left turn and continue this weaving back and forth (left/right) as often as you can until you can ride each SECOND line. The diagram shows riding each THIRD line which is what most people can do with a little practice. 

It is not so much that you learn how far your bike can lean doing this as it is that you learn to aggressively STEER (not counter-steer) at the beginning of each change of direction and what the bike feels like as you establish control of it during the resulting lean. 

And, for those of you that like little 'aids' like small orange cones or half tennis balls to mark your desired course - I recommend that you NOT use them at all. They encourage too much attention to themselves as 'targets' - you try entirely too hard NOT to hit them if you get close to them, or too hard to get close to them if you are not very close, and in the process your attention is distracted from the real purpose of the practice.

However, if you must use something like the cones to keep track of your objective course then I recommend that you NOT place them on the ends of the lines but rather in the middle of them (at the spots marked 'X') so that you are encouraged to target 'thru' the turn to where you actually want to end up - else you will find yourself always too wide (crossing the line.) [This is a secondary lesson. That is, using the cones at the start of the lines demonstrates target fixation problems. Using them in the middle of the lines demonstrates that you can USE target fixation to *your* advantage.]

When you first start doing this exercise don't be surprised that you can make the FOURTH line in one direction and not even that in the other direction. That is why you are practicing, right? To find out what your abilities are and improve them. 

Also, if you find yourself even modestly disoriented while doing this - STOP and recover your sense of equilibrium before continuing. 

Finally, if you NEVER manage to be able to make the second line - so what? The objective is not to teach yourself how to make the tightest turns, it is to teach yourself how to get (establish) and maintain control of your bike in slow turns. As you learn your limits you can be satisfied with progress made (because you can see it) and either come back for more practice at another time or not. The bigger your bike is, the harder it will be to wrestle it into a second line alignment - of course. Again, that is input for you to consider, not a mandate that you make your bike behave like it's 300 pounds lighter than it actually is.

Now, when you are comfortable and accomplished on this exercise, you can advance to its logical next step. That is, instead of using the line to get 'stable' (riding vertical) until the line ends, use the cross over points (red X's) as both your start and end points. Now you will be practicing major shifts in lean angle from one side to the other. Believe me, that will change how many lines you can handle for awhile but it will dramatically help your confidence as when you can do this exercise you will have MASTERED slow speed control!

The next practice I do and recommend is one designed to help you do rock solid turns from a dead stop. Put your bike at any cross point in the parking lines (green arrow) - dead stop - then turn your handlebars full stop to the right or the left. Your objective is to RIDE away from a dead stop with no more than ONE step and complete a 90 degree turn before crossing a parking line. I have shown what most new riders tend to do when they try this - that is, they tend to get to the parking line before they are fully vertical and then go wide as they pick up speed. That is what you are trying to learn NOT TO DO.

The next diagram shows you how to correct that problem. Imagine (or actually use) cones where the red X's are located and TRY to get as close to those cones as possible. This is target fixation working for you again. In very short order, because you are focused on the cones instead of the lines, you will find it to be an easy effort to ride out of any dead stop position and complete a 90 degree turn. In fact, you will find that you have, at least to start with, actually done a 110 degree turn rather than 90 degrees and you can, if you want, continue and make the turn into a slow speed circle because you have reached controlled balance and speed beyond the 'safe' vertical posture you were using as an indication that the turn was completed before you used the cones.

Once you are able to ALWAYS make the 90 degree turn without crossing the line then you can move those cones to the ends of the line you start on instead of midway between lines and again use them as targets. Before long you should be able to make a drive-away 140 degree turn using this practice exercise. (That, it turns out, is what motorcycle police officers must do during their motorcycle skill competition games.)

One last thing ... slow speed control is primarily a function of your LEFT HAND and anything but gentle and smooth braking when leaned over at slow speeds results in dumped bikes. So, keep your right hand OFF the brake lever, and use your left hand to manage the friction zone.

For those of you who wish to do panic stop practice then here is a diagram that should help you.

Mark a starting gate and measured distances of from 15 to 25 feet. The MSF requires that you be able to stop within 23 feet from a speed of 20 MPH. From the chart you can see that this means a deceleration rate of just under .6Gs and a little over 1.5 seconds to accomplish.

A competent rider should EASILY be able to stop within 19 feet (.7Gs) while a VERY SKILLED rider can, with practice, stop within 17 feet at .8Gs. Some racers can stop within 15 feet but that should NOT BE YOUR OBJECTIVE - it involves attaining a deceleration rate in excess of .9Gs and that, in turn, requires exceptionally good tires and roadway surface in addition to superb braking skill.

Note that this is a PANIC STOP exercise. Highway engineers in the United States design roadways and signals with the assumption that at least 90% of all drivers can EASILY stop their vehicles (without any loss of control) within THIRTY-NINE (39) FEET when traveling at 20 MPH. That's a deceleration rate of only .35Gs.

Your objective should be to stop as quickly as you can WITHOUT SKIDDING either tire.

Copyright © 1992 - 2018 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

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

A plea for your help