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Wide Open Throttle Prevention
Reduce training deaths!

By: James R. Davis

In reviewing the many deaths and near fatalities that have occurred during student training over the past seven years I cannot help but recognize that common to virtually all of them is the phenomenon where the student has cranked his throttle 'wide open' then freezes at the controls as the motorcycle accelerates out of control until it runs into something.

The MSF and others seem to think this is the result of those students having positioned their right hands on the throttle in a 'wrist up' posture such that when they reach for the brake they actually increase their acceleration because the wrist is brought down as their fingers reach for the brake lever.

I am of the opinion that the real problem precedes all of that and would like to explain what I think can be done to dramatically reduce such tragic incidents during student training.

In a totally unfamiliar venue including a training facility, motorcycles, instructors and students, all of which are 'unknowns', students are familiarized with the controls on a motorcycle in a classroom and then on (or near) the range. As to the throttle, they are told to 'make a quarter turn' of it and, later, told to 'turn it all the way' - this, apparently to provide them the experience of the full range of travel available. That is all well and good but it fails to follow through and educate those students about reality and practical limits.

Not having any other frame of reference, these students have just been 'taught' that the normal range of throttle usage is between a 1/4 turn and full turn of that control. Nonsense!

In more than 40 years of riding I cannot remember a single time when I cranked the throttle 'all the way' from a dead stop, and very, very few times when I did so other than gradually - as in when I needed to pass a vehicle with minimum time riding in an oncoming lane.

Furthermore, a 1/4 turn of the throttle has always been a substantial event for me. The VAST MAJORITY of time when I change the throttle in order to change speed it is by using the smallest amount of movement possible. 99+% of the time when riding I am attempting to maintain my speed, regardless of road grade, and the smallest amount of throttle turn possible is more than adequate to do just that.

Surely you have noticed that relatively new riders are the only ones who race their engines as they start out from a dead stop - that is, who crank their throttles far more than necessary in order to increase engine speed as they ease out the clutch. What you noticed is that these people have failed, at least so far, to learn proper friction zone management technique and they rely on a racing engine to give them the confidence they need that their bike won't stall on them during launch. Embarrassment usually tones down their right wrist behavior over time and forces them to learn how to manage their friction zones better if they tend to ride with other bikers.

So, during control familiarization indoctrination it seems entirely reasonable that instructors should point out that 'normal' throttle usage involves making the smallest possible change in throttle position AND TO HAVE THE STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE TO THEMSELVES THAT BEHAVIOR. Indeed, while out on the range on their motorcycles the students should have an exercise which does nothing more than have the students take ONE LAP of the range and purposely change their speeds ONLY ONE MPH UP AND DOWN throughout that lap. (If they have a tachometer on their bike it would be even better to have them change their engine speed, both up and down, by no more than 500 RPM and note that as 'normal' throttle behavior.) They MUST be exposed to NORMAL behavior on the range, in my opinion.

Now when in that class and on the range we have all heard an instructor say, often with nauseating repetition "wrist down"! The students and instructors know that with a wrist up position, if they reach for the brake lever they will automatically INCREASE engine speed. Yet I wonder why it is that nobody has explained to the instructors and those students why they find themselves having to deal with a wrist up position more than once?

Riding with your wrist down is AWKWARD. The proper riding posture is to have the hand level with the forearm - wrist 'neutral'. But the instructors insist that the students are to ride 'wrist down'. So, human beings are fast studies and quickly learn that if they start out wrist down and anticipate that they are going to have to accelerate (bring their wrists even farther 'down'), they preemptively adjust their grip to accommodate that movement. That is, they creep their grips into a more wrist up position in order to be comfortable when they accelerate. Again, the problem is that they have been 'taught' that to accelerate they will 'normally' use between a 1/4 and full throttle crank. If instruction can be modified to accentuate the least possible throttle movement model I propose, then these fast learning students will have far less of a tendency to creep up into wrist high position prior to performing their range exercises.

And that means that when something goes wrong on the range (usually something no more dangerous than a student winding up his engine more than he really wanted to), that mistake will likely be a smaller problem than it would have been had the student been 'wired' from the get-go to use large throttle movements, and in the event that he simply freezes at his controls, his rate of acceleration will be modest instead of 'wide open throttle' aimed at the building next to the range.

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

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