Motorcycle Tips & Techniques

Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

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You got your endorsement.
Now what?

By: James R. Davis

First, welcome to the 'family'!

You have taken the first rational step and gotten yourself trained and licenced, but now you wonder what you should do next to advance your skills to the point of being able to ride in traffic and on the highways.

First bit of advice from me - start practicing in an open parking lot.

You see, the problem you have now is that you are riding with insufficient experience and insufficient CONFIDENCE borne of practice (that experience I first mentioned). You need to spend a good deal of time EARNING that confidence and developing skills on a parking lot.

I know ... what you really want to do is go out there and learn to handle that traffic and highway speeds - neither of which are accomplished in a parking lot - so you are about to stop reading and look for more 'advanced' advice. That could cost you your life.

Let's talk about what kind of skills you really need to focus on now, and before we do that, let's talk turkey.

It takes ZERO skill and ZERO balance to ride a motorcycle at speed. Once you have attained a speed of, say, 30 MPH, all you as the rider can do to affect your motorcycle is to change its path of travel (steering) and to change its speed. Lean angles, for example, are dialed in automatically for you by the bike - NOT YOU!

Where balance and skill comes into to play is at slow speeds. And THAT is why you practice - to gain experience at the HARD PART of riding a motorcycle.

No matter how big or heavy a motorcycle is, while it is moving on its wheels instead of on its side, ALL of that weight is on its tires - not you or your feet or ankles, etc. YOUR JOB IS MERELY TO INSURE THAT IT REMAINS TOTALLY ON ITS TIRES. That means that you need to practice keeping the bike VERTICAL when it is stopped! (Which involves GETTING IT TO BE VERTICAL as it gets close to being stopped!!!)

The 'feel' you need to experience and develop is that of CENTRIFUGAL FORCE. You need to experience making turns and feeling how your body remains sitting in the saddle with 'weight' directly in-line with the bike - that is, that in a turn you do NOT, unlike in a car, feel like you are being forced to slide off your saddle. That 'feel' is the secret of balance. Once you become convinced that no matter what lean angle your bike has dialed in for you, that the weight of that bike, including yourself, is still being carried by the tires and that, THEREFORE, the bike CANNOT FALL DOWN SO LONG AS THOSE TIRES DON"T LOSE TRACTION. Then you will be able to focus on developing the more subtle skills such as picking your line through a turn or selecting proper following distances or deciding to avoid behaviors that you should avoid, for whatever reason, despite the rest of the biker community inviting you to follow them. That is called riding your own ride.

To go back to the earlier point about slow speed control. Because your job is to keep the weight of the bike on its tires, which means that you must manage the lean angle at slow speeds, parking lot practice, for you, should consist of starting, stopping, turning and speed adjustments while in turns! Keep your fingers OFF the front brake lever at slow speeds! Practice getting the bike vertical before you stop. Practice 'playing with' the friction zone so that the clutch lever is not viewed by you as simply a switch that is either engaged or disengaged - it is a vernier adjustment device and you should practice using it to manage your speed (at slow speeds) instead of your brakes.

And sooner rather than later you will suddenly wake up to the fact that *YOU* are controlling your bike and are not simply reacting to what it does *TO* you because CONTROL is just that - making the bike do what you want it to do and KNOWING with absolute certainty that it can do what you ask of it, and what its limits are.

The traffic and highways will be there when you are ready for them.

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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