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Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

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Book Learnin
Ain't Enuf!

By: James R. Davis

Cash and I took a relatively new rider out for some parking lot practice this morning in preparation for his joining us on a day ride next week some time.

He used to ride dirt bikes perhaps 10 or 15 years ago and totaled about 3,000 miles doing that. Recently he came back to riding and obtained a new Moto Guzzi. One sweet bike, and one that is obviously a bit more powerful than he is used to. In any event, he completed a BRC class and has amassed another 1,000 miles on his new bike, but admits that he does not, yet, feel like he is in complete control of that bike. So, Cash invited him to join us this morning for that PLP so we could help identify where any problems might be with his control of that bike.

Let me tell you a little bit about this man. His balance and his sense of self-competence (confidence, generally) are superb. He is a martial arts expert and I'm sure that's where those attributes came from. He was properly dressed with the exception that he did not wear gloves of any kind. His safety gear in all other respects was top notch.

Why I'm posting this here is that it took only two questions from me to learn, long before watching him handle his bike, that he had not the slightest idea of how to steer his bike or what the dynamics of that bike really are. And because it took exactly ONE PLP exercise to FIX the majority of his problems.

Question one: "How do you steer your bike into a left turn when moving at about 20 mph?"

Question two: "How much balance is required of you to steer your bike through a left turn at 20 mph?"

After he explained how he leans and then 'controls' the direction of the bike by turning the handlebars to the left, and that he feels that a great deal of balance is required to make that turn at 20 mph, we all knew (except him) that he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about.

When I then asking him what counter-steering means, he replied that he was not sure, but he imagined that it had something to do with SLIDING the front or rear tire during a turn, like when you are on ice.

This guy rides motorcycles? Is he dumb, or what?

Yes, he rides motorcycles. No, he is not dim in the slightest - he is actually a very bright guy. He is bright enough, for example, to admit without hesitation that he doesn't feel like he is really in control of his bike. THAT is why he was with us this morning!

Now let me restate something I said earlier, this man had VERY RECENTLY taken and passed the BRC. Yet he did not know what counter-steering was, had never heard of a 'righting force', believed - absolutely believed! - that steering was accomplished as a result of leaning, and that balance was fundamentally important in keeping his bike from falling over at 20 mph.

The single exercise that I had him perform (other than some fundamentals to assure us all that he had good control of his levers), was to ride a LARGE course at 20 mph and make LARGE GENTLE turns on it, while his fingers were pointed into the air and only the palms of his hands were touching the grips, AND while sitting straight up - no leans whatever! He was to see if 'push right in order to go right' actually worked. If for any reason he felt that the bike was not doing what he wanted it to do he was to abandon the effort and wrap his fingers around the grip and steer any way he felt would safely work, but that he had to at least 'try' to make a turn by merely pushing forward on the inside grip.

He did that for two laps of the lot and came back to where Cash and I were waiting. He stopped his bike and turned it off, then took off his helmet. There was an ENORMOUS grin on his face. "IT WORKS! I tried it and it did exactly what you said it would do. I pushed on the right grip and it turned effortlessly to the RIGHT. I would never have believed it without trying it. I'm Amazed!"

And now let me tell you what *I* learned today. No matter how smart your student is, no matter how carefully you draw word pictures and explain dynamics to them, until and unless they EXPERIENCE what you are trying to teach them, they PROBABLY DO NOT GET IT.

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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