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Starting from a dead stop on a hill
It's not which brake to use, it's managing the friction zone
By: James R. Davis

Those of us who have been riding for awhile just assume that anybody who rides can start their bikes from a dead stop while they are on an incline - say at a traffic stop. It turns out that many riders have a great deal of trouble handling that situation, even very experienced riders.

Here is the apparent issue: Should you use your front brake or your rear brake to hold your bike in place as you ease out the clutch lever and roll on some throttle?

Now what difference would your choice of brakes make in that situation? Surely either one by itself would hold the bike in place until you got some power to the rear tire, right?

Well, yes, that's true. But take it from the newbies perspective. The MSF has drilled into their heads that they are to have their right foot on the brake and their left foot on the ground when they stop. So, for those people it would seem natural to continue to use the rear brake. But for people like myself, who have learned that a rider of a bike should put BOTH feet on the ground when they stop, the natural action would be to use their front brake.

Still, we have not seen a problem regardless of your choice of brakes, so what is the real issue here?

A new rider on my board recently confessed that he was paranoid that when starting from a dead stop while on an incline he might give the bike too much gas and end up shooting across that intersection much faster than he wants to go, or that traffic would allow.

Some members of the board focused their assistance (advice) on how to use the front brake and throttle at the same time. Others focused their advice on always easing the clutch lever out instead of 'popping' it. But the real problem was that this newbie apparently thought that when he eased the clutch lever out it was supposed to be ALL THE WAY OUT.

Indeed, several months ago I had occasion to spend a little parking lot practice time with a long time Harley Davidson rider who absolutely refused to agree that he should be riding WITHIN his 'friction zone' while doing slow speed maneuvers. His father had taught him to drive/ride and he remembered the advice he received from that man. "Son, your clutch belongs all the way in or all the way out, not in-between, so that you don't wear it out." So this 'idea' that when you ease out your clutch lever you should hesitate and maintain a position within the friction zone just simply failed to register for him as a reasonable way to behave on a bike.

But when you consider the problem of starting your bike from a dead stop while you are on an incline you immediately see why the friction zone is EXACTLY where you should start that ride. You ease the clutch lever out until you just feel power to the rear wheel and increase throttle modestly as you MAINTAIN that clutch lever position (within the friction zone) and ease off your brake(s). When you are certain that you are in control of your motorcycle and it is moving again with your feet up on the pegs, you THEN ease the clutch lever all the way out.

So though the issue at first looked like which brake to use, and how to coordinate the clutch lever and throttle at the same time, it turns out that it really didn't matter which brake you used and that the real issue was how to use the clutch lever. When our newbie heard this advice lights went off - a EUREKA! moment had occurred for him.

I've said it a thousand times before, but it's worth saying again. Low speed control is primarily a function of your left hand. It's called, managing your friction zone.

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

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