Definition: Tank slapping is when you lose control of the front wheel and the handle bars slam left to right violently to the point where you can lose control. At its worst it shakes the bike left to right.
Definition: Lowsiding occurs when a motorcycle falls over and drops the rider to the ground. Some riders have been known to deliberately drop their bikes to avoid an accident. This is usually a bad idea since falling off the bike will most likely cause greater injury than staying with the bike and attempting a controlled stop or purposeful maneuver to avoid an accident
Definition: Highsiding occurs when the rider of a motorcycle is flipped over the handlebars of the bike. This most often occurs when the rider locks the rear brakes during a panic stop and then releases the brake. This causes the rear wheel to kick the bike upwards throwing the rider off.
1. At a recent open track-riding day we attended, we were stunned to see the amount of riders who were wasting a lot of time and physical effort using the clutch to upshift. The continuous rise and gradual fall of the engine’s rpm between each shift as bikes roared by us in the pits had us wondering if there was an epidemic of slipping clutch plates that we didn’t know about. While it may be an important ritual for beginner or novice riders, using the clutch for upshifts during aggressive canyon or track riding is totally unnecessary (unless, of course, your bike has some shifting/transmission issues that prevent using this technique). In fact, there are many riding situations where it can be a nuisance and even a hindrance to quicker and smoother riding.
2. A motorcycle’s gearbox differs from your typical automobile transmission in that it can actually change gears under a small load, and only needs a slight interruption in the flow of power to accomplish an upshift. Its constant-mesh, sequential dog-engagement design means it can change gears much more readily than a typical automobile synchromesh transmission that requires an almost total stop in power flow, which is why using the clutch is necessary for upshifts in manual-transmission cars. This is why "power shifters" are so popular with motorcycle racers; by using a device that cuts ignition power momentarily while upshifting, the rider is able to keep the throttle pinned wide open, saving time and effort.
3. Basically, the technique is simple: Instead of shutting off the throttle completely and pulling in the clutch while you shift, just let off the throttle a small amount and perform the upshift in a quick, near-simultaneous movement; ignore the clutch. Don’t shut the throttle off completely, just let off enough to get the shift done. Upshifting without the clutch also gets you in the habit of performing the shift quickly and smoothly, as otherwise the weight transfer from letting off the throttle can upset the bike’s handling. Once you become accustomed to using this technique, you’ll be amazed at the time and energy saved (and you’ll probably reduce wear and tear on your clutch plates, too, judging by the clutch slip we could hear as riders at that track day tried to squeeze and release the clutch lever quick enough during each shift).
4. There are many riding situations where the physical exertion saved from not having to constantly squeeze the clutch lever during upshifts can be a huge benefit. For instance, when accelerating through a set of tight switchback turns or chicanes, your arms and hands are busy with the effort of steering the bike, and your body positioning may also prohibit being able to release your grip on the left bar to work the clutch lever. In scenarios like this, there simply isn’t the time or the wherewithal to deal with the clutch, and at the end of a long ride or track session every little bit of your energy level conserved can help you avoid making a crucial mistake. Also, the smooth riding that results from learning to shift properly will pay major dividends in added speed on the road or track.-
1. In last issue’s RSS, we showed how smooth downshifting helps foster improved bike control. In fact, smoothness in all aspects of riding, whether it’s braking, accelerating, or even body movements/weight shifts, can play a huge role in whether you’re able to tackle your favorite road or track with confidence—or apprehension. You’d be amazed how much easier it is to go faster when your riding is relaxed, yet alert—not rushed and frantic. Pro racers refer to this as "trying too hard," and they often find that their lap times are slower because of it. When your physical actions on the controls are too "tight" and somewhat impulsive, you end up concentrating too much on those riding tasks, and trying to fix the mistakes that often occur because of that rough riding style.
2. Using the brakes properly is probably one of the most difficult riding skills to learn, and it requires much more skill than twisting the throttle. Many riders only use the brake like a light switch: all on or all off. What they don’t realize is that not only are they unnecessarily upsetting the chassis by simply grabbing a handful of front brake lever, but they also aren’t utilizing the numerous advantages that applying the brakes smoothly offers. One of the biggest benefits of smooth braking is weight transfer. By squeezing—not grabbing—the front brake smoothly (and quickly—remember, you’re still trying to slow in a minimum distance), you’re allowing the bike’s weight to move to the front end, where it helps the tire gain more traction. If you go for maximum braking too quickly, you will easily overpower the tire’s available traction because there is hardly any weight on it (and hence, a smaller contact patch) at that time.
3. Another advantage related to smooth brake application is the weight transfer’s effect on the front suspension. Abruptly applying too much front brake suddenly slams all the bike’s weight forward, usually overpowering the fork springs and damping to the point of fully bottoming the fork. With no available fork travel to absorb any bumps, the chassis often becomes very unstable, as the rear of the bike tends to pivot around the steering head. This results in the "tail wagging" you often see from racebikes at the limit of braking (Ben Bostrom’s braking style is a perfect example), and this usually causes bike control problems for most riders entering a corner.By smoothly applying the front brake, you’re allowing the chassis weight to "set" on the front end and assist the front tire’s traction level before you suddenly demand maximum performance from both the tire and front fork.
4. Another benefit of learning to smoothly apply the front brake is that the technique helps teach brake modulation. A brake is just like the throttle; it is a speed control. And just as you learn to use the throttle judiciously on corner exits as you balance power with available traction, the same can be said for the brakes on the entrance to the corner. Learning how to gauge and control your speed as you approach the end of the braking zone can help add mph to your corner entrance and midcorner speed, which will usually pay dividends off the corner and down the next straight. More importantly, however, learning brake modulation will also help save your bacon on the street. Gaining maximum braking by balancing on the fine line of tire traction as you slow to avoid that errant four-wheeler is much easier with this acquired and very valuable skill, and with continual practice, the act of using the brakes properly will become natural to you.
1. It’s often been said that there are probably more crashes from riders losing the front end in a corner than from overstepping rear tire traction and highsiding on the exit. The reason is that a motorcycle is made to function at its best under power; the inherent design of its chassis and suspension means that the machine is much more stable when power is applied. Anyone who has hit a false neutral in midcorner will tell you how difficult it is to control the bike when it’s not under its own propulsion.
This is why it's good practice to cut down your "coasting" time, such as during the transition between braking and getting back on the gas. A motorcycle isn’t as stable when you’re braking hard, which is why it takes up so much of your concentration when you're entering a corner. Especially in tighter sections, like hairpins; some riders often end up not opening the throttle until they reach the apex because they’re so concerned with the bike’s stability up to that point.
2. As you approach a corner and have accomplished the majority of your hardest braking (usually while as upright as possible), you begin to ease off the brakes in preparation for your corner entry. Because you must balance the front tire traction between braking and cornering forces (obviously you can't use 100 percent of the front brakes' power while leaned over), you begin to gradually let off the brake as you increase your lean angle.
It’s at that point, where you completely let off the brakes, that you should "crack" the throttle open as soon as possible. You don’t need a handful of throttle; just a small enough opening to get the engine off idle and transmitting power to the rear wheel. It needs to be done carefully because you’re often at a pretty severe lean angle by this time, and opening the throttle too much (or if your bike has an abrupt off/on throttle response) can upset the chassis at a critical area in the corner.
3. Once you get some power applied to the rear tire, you’ll be amazed at how much more control you have over the motorcycle. Because you’ve now transferred the bike’s weight to the rear, the steering suddenly becomes lighter, and you can choose a corner entry line (and stick to it) with far less effort. The suspension and handling also become much more settled, since the front fork and tire aren’t being asked to support the weight of the whole motorcycle/rider combination.
But the biggest benefit of getting on the throttle as early as possible? You can begin your drive out of the corner earlier, which obviously pays dividends in added speed down the next straight. The additional corner speed is more momentum you can use to the next bend. There’s a saying among racers that you want to "use the brakes as little as possible"—use the brakes hard and quick, then get off them as quickly as possible so that you can get on with the business of accelerating, which is where time is made.
4. It’s important to note that any time you are not on the throttle, your bike’s weight is biased toward the front. And if you are at a very extreme lean angle (with a correspondingly small and tenuous contact patch), overloading the front tire will obviously have dire consequences. Any racer will tell you that it’s a lot easier to save a rear-end slide than a front-end slide. Even cracking the throttle open just a bit is enough to take that weight off the front tire, giving you an added margin of traction and safety when you need it most. A good example would be if you were recovering from overshooting a corner; as you use up every bit of lean angle to keep the bike on the pavement, your chances of not losing the front are better if you just crack the throttle open a bit to get some weight off the heavily loaded front tire.
1. Downshifting smoothly on a sportbike, especially while braking hard from high speed, requires a definite measure of skill and dexterity. In order to avoid upsetting the bike, the engine rpm must be matched to road speed when the clutch is fully disengaged, otherwise the rear tire will momentarily "chatter" and upset the bike as the engine is forced to match road speed involuntarily. This means that the rider must "blip" the throttle to raise the engine rpm during downshifts-but he must do this while simultaneously pulling on the front brake lever to slow down. While this riding skill is obviously necessary on the racetrack, it can also pay big dividends in street-riding situations where riding smoothly is a must; for instance, any situation where you are cornering and braking at the same time.
2. The idea of blipping the throttle between downshifts can be intimidating for the uninitiated, but with a little practice, the technique can soon become second nature. First, make sure that your levers are adjusted so that they are comfortably in reach of your fingers when sitting in a normal riding position, and that your throttle is adjusted for minimal play in the cable. The front brake lever should be angled downward enough to be easily gripped with your hand in the closed throttle position. With the engine running in neutral, try blipping the throttle slightly while pulling firmly on the brake lever-note that it doesn't take much throttle movement to get the revs up. Then practice simultaneously pulling and releasing the clutch quickly when you blip the throttle (remembering to continue pulling on the brake lever as if you were slowing for a corner).
3. The next step is to practice this technique while riding in a safe area with no traffic. As you brake and begin your downshift, simply perform the same practice drill as before, but add the act of downshifting. The action of blipping the throttle and the downshift should be simultaneous and quick, and it doesn't take a whole lot of revs to match the engine to road speed; unless you're riding at racetrack aggression levels, all it will require is a slight throttle blip. With practice, you'll know just how much is necessary at various speeds. Note that mostly the palm of your hand handles the act of moving the throttle because your upper body weight is centered on your palms under braking anyway, and your fingers are busy actuating the brake and holding the bar. All it takes is a slight wrist movement to blip the throttle. You'll find this will help avoid affecting your braking action due to influencing your fingers' grip on the brake lever.
4. If you find that you still have problems with this technique, try adjusting your brake lever in so that it's easier to reach (without hindering your ability to pull the lever in for maximum braking, of course). If you still have trouble, you will have to employ the "non-blip" method many racers (such as AMA perennial front-runner Eric Bostrom) still use. This simply means the clutch is released gradually after the downshift so that the engine rpms can progressively match road speed without the rear wheel chattering. The downside is that the rider loses the added engine braking while the clutch is disengaged and the bike "freewheels," and he must compensate with the additional use of the brakes during this time. Also, it requires even more skill at manipulating and controlling the bike while simultaneously releasing the clutch lever slowly and gradually.
1. We've often discussed braking techniques in a street environment, where the important aspects to consider are road surface, traffic and your surroundings rather than outright stopping power. Still, there are times where maximum braking is called for, and it's best to be prepared for that eventuality. On the street, you should use both front and rear brakes for maximum effect, balancing each based on your bike's load and the pavement characteristics. Learn to gradually but aggressively apply both brakes, and practice various combinations in a parking lot so that you become familiar with how your bike reacts.
2. Since street riding does not lend itself well to reference points, and a vast amount of information other than braking must be processed at the same time, you must rely on your judgment and experience to know when and how much you are able to brake entering a given corner. Pay close attention to the condition of the pavement, and modulate your braking force accordingly over rough, dirty or cambered surfaces. Experiment on your favorite road with different combinations of both brakes, trail braking and smoothness rather than all-out braking. Canyons are not the best places to practice late, aggressive braking, as the consequences of overshooting a corner are severe. And while it's an easy trap to fall into, avoid using your riding buddies as brake markers.
3. The track presents a different set of parameters for braking, as you can concentrate more on how hard you are braking as opposed to worrying about stray dogs and traffic. Always use braking markers, but instead of using the marker as a place to begin braking, try finding a spot up until which you keep the throttle open this will force a quick transition from throttle to brake. While braking, your arms should be slightly bent, and try gripping the fuel-tank area with your legs to absorb some of the braking forces. Devote a set distance in the braking zone almost entirely to concentrating on your braking. Is the rear wheel coming off the ground? Is the front wheel hopping or close to locking up? Pick a spot to mark when to gradually shift your attention away from braking and more to turn-in and cornering.
4. If you have trouble with the rear end hopping under deceleration, leave your downshifts until later in the process, and be sure to match the engine rpm with the road speed. Use two fingers, or even one, on the brake to keep your braking smooth as you blip the throttle for each downshift. Use the rear brake sparingly, as the rear wheel will have very little contact with the ground and can easily lock up. You can also adjust your suspension to better control the rear wheel under braking, as well as front-end dive. And most importantly, avoid getting comfortable with a set braking marker that you've used for ages you should constantly strive to push that reference point deeper.
1 As motorcycles get lighter and lighter, your body mass and its position plays a more important role in the handling of your sportbike. We've discussed the proper riding position for the street previously ("Strategic Positioning," June '00), but it's worth a refresher. While it's not the coolest-looking arrangement, on the street your body should be centered on the seat, with your torso in line with the bike. Always keep your head tilted to match the horizon, and use your knees and abdominal muscles to put as little weight as possible on the clip-ons. Keeping your elbows bent and using your trunk muscles to support your torso will reduce your body's effect on the front suspension and steering.
2 When it comes to the racetrack, an exaggerated body position is necessary to keep the motorcycle more upright. This keeps hard parts off the ground, and puts more rubber on the road. Many street and track riders, especially those with a long dirtriding background, tend to keep their bodies upright, and push down on their bikes in the corners. For a given corner speed, a bike ridden in this manner needs to be leaned over further, and cornering clearance and traction will suffer. While this may be comfortable, and some racers (Larry Pegram, for instance) seem to make it work, you'll most likely hear grinding noises and run out of tire without going very fast.
3 While hanging off is good, taken to extremes it too can cause problems. It does keep the motorcycle more upright with more rubber on the road, but there are other variables to consider. Hanging off too far lessens your control of the clip-ons, as your arms will be at an awkward angle; they must support your upper body in addition to steering the bike. Your outside foot will also barely rest on the footpeg, meaning you can't put any weight on it if needed. There is also the possibility of simply falling off if you hit a bump-don't laugh, it's happened. Racers who are truly on the edge and experienced enough to lessen those risks (for example, Eric Bostrom) can make these contortionist riding positions work, and take advantage of that last little bit of traction available.
4 The rest of us mere mortals are probably better off treading some middle ground between those two extremes. However far you get your butt off the side of the seat, make sure the rest of your body stays in line with the bike. This will allow you to take full advantage of the resultant decreased lean angle, but still keep you in control of the bike through the footpegs and handlebars. Try to assume the position well before the corner so that you aren't turning and moving your body around at the same time. Remember to keep your head level with the horizon, your elbows bent and as little weight as possible on the handlebars. Be sure that you can easily make small inputs to the clip-ons and footpegs as needed. If you feel uncomfortable, experiment with a more or less extreme position, or try adjusting your clip-ons (or even the seat and footpegs, if possible) to a different position.
The lane-divider line on a road-whether a double yellow, broken single yellow or white line-is usually (and actually, should be) the demarcation zone for street riders. It marks the limit of usable pavement for that particular direction of traffic, and is basically there to facilitate the flow of traffic and prevent head-on collisions. Staying on your side of the yellow/white line through corners usually means you're safe from oncoming traffic. But we see far too many riders dangerously stepping over that boundary, even though they're technically on their side of the road.
2 Since a motorcycle uses lean angle to turn, its tire tracks are not in line with the rest of the vehicle, unlike a car. This means that though the tires may be at one point, the rest of the bike-and probably even more critical, the rider-will actually be far inside that point. While this poses no problem with right-hand turns, turns to the left create a hazard that many riders unwittingly step into, especially in blind curves. They may be "hitting their apex" just right, but what they don't realize is that much of their bike-and most of their body-is actually over the lane divider, putting themselves at great risk for a head-on collision.
3 Many two-lane roads are narrow enough that a car or truck can fill up nearly a whole lane. Should they encounter an oncoming hazard, there's not much room to maneuver in order to evade that danger. And that's not even taking into account those drivers who slightly wander over the line into the wrong lane due to distractions or just plain poor driving skills. Or what about a rider approaching in the opposite lane staying wide before turning in so that he won't have to use much lean angle?
4 Think about it: All it takes is one vehicle traveling at 30 mph, and the other moving at the same speed, to equal a closing speed of 60 mph. Around a tight, blind left-hander, that doesn't mean much time or room to recognize the oncoming hazard and take evasive action. Why expose yourself (and perhaps another rider) to this risk? Be cognizant of your body's location when you carve that next left-hand turn, and keep your wheel tracks far enough in your lane to prevent having to lean your body (and bike) over the lane-dividing line. Learn to regulate your speed in those corners also, so that you won't be tempted to use that pavement in order to make the corner.
Under most riding conditions it's safest to avoid using the front brake when your bike is leaned over. But there are times when trail braking-staying on the brakes while entering a corner-can help you get out of a tricky situation. Ordinarily, in a street scenario, you would brake while the bike is vertical, let off the brakes, and only then arc into a bend. This avoids forcing you to balance braking and turning traction with the front tire, as the two are kept separate and independent. By far the most common situaton where you would be forced to trail brake into a turn occurs when you enter it with too much speed, or the corner tightens up unexpectedly. In either situation, to avoid running out of road you have to scrub off speed in a hurry, while still leaned over.
2 On a clean, dry road that you are familiar with (or better yet, the racetrack), experiment with leaving the brakes lightly applied as you turn into a corner, and gradually releasing them as you arc in. For a start, use only light braking at moderate lean angles until you have a good feel for how your bike reacts to turning while braking. Be wary of the front end wanting to tuck, which means a lowside is imminent. Maintaining conservative speeds and lean angles, experiment with using more braking force at moderate lean angles, and then more lean angle with light braking force.
3 As you get comfortable with a variety of combinations of lean angle and braking force, you will find the inverse relationship between the two-in other words, with more lean angle you must use less front brake and vice versa. Ideally, you want to know exactly how much front brake you can apply for a given lean angle, and how far you can lean your bike for a given brake pressure. Once you are familiar with this relationship, concentrate on smoothly releasing the brakes as you lean into a turn, balancing the braking and turning forces so that your bike's front end doesn't dive or lift noticeably during that transition.
4 For racers, using maximum braking at maximum lean angle is paramount to outbraking your rivals and cutting a good lap time. For street riders, knowing the limits is just as important, but for different reasons. If you know exactly what you and your bike are capable of, you will be better prepared to make that blind turn, or miss that rock in the middle of the road. Another advantage of trail braking is that, because using the front brake steepens a bike's geometry (on bikes with telescopic forks, that is) and puts more weight on the front tire, your bike will steer quicker with a bit of brake applied. Once this skill becomes second nature, you may find that you can alter your bike's setup to take this into account, and benefit in other areas accordingly.
The biggest trap inexperienced motorcyclists fall into is not practicing good visual skills. This is probably the single largest cause of accidents for novice riders, yet it is also the most basic skill that forms the foundation for every control action you perform while riding. If you aren't looking where you want to go, how do you expect to get there? We see way too many riders caught up in two major traps involving visual skills: "riding the front wheel" (not looking far enough ahead of the motorcycle), and target fixation. These two traps are often interrelated; when the rider doesn't look far enough ahead and becomes surprised by an obstacle, he panics, which leads to target fixation.
We can't emphasize enough how important it is to look far ahead of your bike while riding. This applies not only to riding in the canyons or on the racetrack, but to city/urban riding as well. Scanning far ahead allows you ample time to formulate a plan for navigating that particular piece of road, whether it be carving the perfect line through a curve, or preparing for and avoiding a hazardous traffic situation. This is especially crucial for novice riders, who usually require a lot more concentration and time to devise riding strategies that experienced riders can perform with little or no effort. If your riding plan is rushed, the chances are good that it will have mistakes. We have also found that looking far ahead helps novice riders overcome their initial fear of using lots of lean angle.
Looking far enough ahead of your motorcycle also helps your ability to scan your peripheral vision for visual clues, whether they are hazards or turn reference points. You don't have to stare at something in order to "see" it; honing this visual skill will allow you to "hit" your turn apexes while already focusing on the next one up ahead. We see a lot of novice riders concentrating so much on trying to hit their apexes "just right," that they end up staring at them nearly to the point where they are upon them; by then, it's too late. If you're still staring at the apex 20 feet before you reach it, by the time you start looking for your next apex, you'll be upon it, and your riding plan will be rushed. Learn to hit your points without actually looking at them.
A rushed riding plan can result in a common problem for novice (and expert) riders: target fixation. When riders go into panic mode, they often end up staring at the most threatening object or area up ahead. This is often either a wayward car entering your path, or the outside of a turn when you enter it a little too hot. The oft-used phrase "you go where you look" is never truer in this situation. We can practically guarantee that if you continue to stare at something you are trying to avoid, you will hit it. Although easier said than done, this is why you need to build your visual scanning techniques so that you will instinctively look beyond an approaching hazard. If a car turns into your path, immediately look for an escape route while getting on the brakes; if you exceed your comfort speed entering a corner, look at where you want to go. Staring at a hazard won't help you avoid it-look where you want to go, and you'll get there.