We know we're constantly harping on this subject, but we've seen one too many accidents lately that were caused by a rider getting into a corner a little too hot, locking up the brakes and/or straightening the bike, then running off the road. We can't emphasize enough how important it is to not only look where you want to go, but also to scan far enough ahead of yourself; this is basically a recital of the racing mantra, "Don't ride the front wheel." Riding a sportbike well means being in control, and although it may not appear that way, it's vitally important for a racer to constantly be on top of his motorcycle's handling. Since racers are more often than not traveling at warp speed, they must anticipate what their racebike is going to do long before it happens-which means looking far ahead of their present location. This is why racers seem to be checking out spectators on the side of the track when entering hairpins. Instead, they're looking at where they'd like to be in a 10th of a second.
Try practicing your vision skills at a fairly tight corner, either on your favorite canyon road or racetrack. As you approach the apex (or a fixed, readily visible point on the pavement), note how close you are to that mark before you begin to scan ahead for your next reference point. If you are staring at that point until you are nearly on top of it, you're target fixating-if the corner ahead tightened up or if you found an obstacle in your path, it would be difficult to correct. In fact, if you're looking at that point even 25 to 35 feet before you get there, you're still not looking far enough ahead.
You need to get your steering and vision skills honed to the point where you can hit a certain spot on the pavement repeatedly without having to actually look at it. This involves using your peripheral vision to see the intended path of your tires, while still looking ahead at the next reference point (or as far ahead into the corner as possible). Try this: Find a tight, second-gear corner, have a buddy stand on the side of the road, and have him observe how close you can come to a fixed point on the pavement repeatedly while keeping your head turned as you scan far ahead into the bend.
Heading into a corner with a little too much speed or having a turn tighten up on the exit unexpectedly is terrifying for a novice rider. Modern sportbikes are highly capable machines, and as long as the suspension is even halfway close to being dialed-in and the tires are in decent shape, you are likely to be astounded at the lean angles/midcorner corrections they can achieve.
The most important point to remember when faced with having to tighten your cornering line is to look ahead into the corner-where you want to go. If you come into a turn a little too fast, roll off the throttle gently and force yourself to keep your vision fixed on the exit; don't panic and stare at the outside of the corner or the hazard you're trying to avoid. When you see racers making close passes, you'll note they're not looking at each other as they go by; they're looking past the object they need to avoid in order to get to their intended destination.
Another disturbing habit we see with some sportbike riders is a tendency to "hug" the center dividing line when entering left-handers. The problem with this practice is that while your tires are technically on your side of the road, your body and some bike components are in the oncoming lane. Should there be a car or truck (or even another bike) drifting toward the line as you're headed in the opposite direction, you'll be in for a nasty surprise if you don't change your line. Plus, you drastically cut down on your available options if you find them drifting into your lane.
Try to keep your tires far enough on your side of the center dividing line to allow your body and bike parts room while leaned over. You also should remember that if you're close to using all of the available ground clearance while riding on the street, you're "Riding on Reserve"; get thee to a racetrack, where you can practice riding at that level in a far safer environment.
Shifting gears smoothly is one of the hallmarks of a competent rider. Downshifting properly poses the greatest challenge for novices because miscues lead to an unsettled chassis at inopportune times-like entering a corner. What makes the task difficult is the right hand must manage to brake and blip the throttle to match the engine speed to the road speed. Having your hand in the proper position will make the process easier. When the throttle is completely closed, your wrist should still have a slight downward bend (right)-not choked-up drag-racer style (left). Now practice maintaining constant pressure on the brake lever, while quickly rolling the throttle on and off. This is how you'll match the engine speed to the lower gear, and prevent the front end from bobbing up and down due to uneven brake lever pressure.
While you're braking and blipping the throttle, the left side of your body is busy shifting gears and modulating the clutch. Almost simultaneously, slightly preload the shifter (to get slack out of the linkage) by lightly pressing down on it, pull in the clutch, make the downshift and release the clutch when you blip the throttle. You only need to pull in the lever far enough to disengage the clutch plates. Pulling the lever all the way in is wasted effort and makes it more difficult to shift smoothly. One way to make this slight movement easier is to only cover the lever with two fingers. Your other fingers will remind you when you pull it in too far as you become accustomed to the technique.
When combining braking and downshifting through multiple gears, follow the above steps for each gear. Let the clutch out fairly quickly between each shift. Never change more than one gear at a time. If the rpm drops and then rises as you let the clutch out, you need to give a little more throttle before each shift. If the bike surges forward, give less throttle. When downshifting while decelerating at partial throttle (instead of braking), you can use an alternate shifting method. Simply keep the throttle constant while you pull in the clutch, snick the downshift and ease the clutch out. Of course, use all four fingers to pull in the clutch at a stop.
Since mastering downshifting while braking is challenging enough, don't make it more difficult than it needs to be by having the clutch lever and shifter improperly adjusted. The clutch lever should be adjusted so that the point of full engagement is as far out from the bar as possible, while making sure that it has 2mm-3mm of free play at the end of the lever. This allows you to disengage the clutch with a minimum of finger movement. Similarly, you should not need to lift your foot off the peg to press down on the shifter. Once you have the shifter height tailored to your riding position, make sure that you haven't adversely affected your upshifts. Eliminating unnecessary movement from gear changes will help downshifts go much smoother.
. The “tankslapper” is a very frightening experience. Usually occuring when accelerating hard over bumpy pavement, a tankslapper ensues when the front tire becomes airborne, then regains traction outside the rear tire’s alignment. The resulting deflection bounces the tire off to one side, followed by another bounce in the opposite direction as it contacts the pavement again. Unless the bike’s steering geometry is able to damp out the deflections quickly, the resulting oscillations from the front tire as it bounces back and forth will swiftly gain in strength, causing the bars to swap from side to side with increasing ferocity. The oscillations can be violent enough to rip the bars out of your hands, and fling your feet off the pegs. You can guess what happens next.
2. The easy cure for this problem is a steering damper. Many sportbikes now come stock with one, as the radical steering geometry needed for quick handling can otherwise cause some instability in certain situations. While a steering damper is an easy fix, it shouldn’t be a cure-all; if you’re forced to adjust the steering damper’s stiffness (if available) until you can barely turn the bars in order to keep the bike’s handling stable, there is a problem somewhere in your chassis setup. A too-stiff steering damper can also cause handling problems by itself; if your steering damper is adjustable, and you find that your bike won’t hold a line (especially in slower corners), or gets into a small wobble or oscillation in high speed corners, try backing off the stiffness a little and see if it helps.
3. Not all sportbikes need a steering damper, however. Many have steering geometry setups that offer quick handling, while still providing the necessary stability to damp out any front-end oscillations. In most cases, one of the biggest contributors to a tankslapper is your body positioning and grip on the bars. Some people ride in a more upright position when carving corners, but when accelerating over bumpy pavement, that upright body position puts even more weight transfer to the rear, which causes the front end to get lighter. Also, the more upright torso means that your grip on the bars is tighter in order to stabilize your upper body. That firmer grip feeds more input into the front end, something it doesn’t need while it’s busy trying to damp out the inputs from the bouncing front tire. It actually forms a vicious circle: you grip the bars tighter because they’re starting to flap back and forth, but that only feeds more input into the front end, compounding the problem further.
4. The easiest way to avoid tankslappers while accelerating over bumpy pavement is to—believe it or not—keep a relaxed grip on the bars. Relaxing your grip on the bars means you must lean forward in order to assist in keeping your torso stabilized. This helps put more weight on the front end, which keeps the front tire on the pavement. Since you’re not using your arms to stabilize your upper body, get your weight onto the footpegs so that you can get your body as far forward as possible; this also allows you to grip the tank with your knees for more stability.
If you do get into a tankslapper, keep your weight forward and—as hard as this sounds—maintain a relaxed grip on the bars. Let the motorcycle’s chassis deal with damping out the oscillations. Don’t try to be a human steering damper; you’ll only make the problem worse. Tankslappers can definitely soil your undies; but if you’re able to deal with them correctly, you’ll usually ride through them before you know it.
1. Adjusting the controls to fit you brings greater comfort and allows you to optimize the body movements necessary to properly control your bike, which could be the difference between involvement in a mishap or safely avoiding it.
Adjusting the angle of the handlebar levers (especially the front brake) aids comfort, helps increase your braking “feel,” eases the task of blipping the throttle between downshifts, and also helps ward off possible wrist problems. The rider’s fingers in the first photo are bent upward at an awkward angle in order to reach the brake lever. This means he must readjust his grip to apply the brake, increasing reaction time significantly.
The second photo shows the angle adjusted so the rider can comfortably ap-ply the front brake without having to readjust his grip on the throttle. A tip: with the bike on its sidestand (or a buddy holding it), close your eyes, grasp the bars in your natural riding position, and reach for the levers. You should be able to reach them quickly and easily; the brake lever should be comfortably accessible with the throttle closed.
2. Rear-brake-pedal adjustment is a matter of personal preference depending on the pedal’s travel and how strong the rear brake is. The photo on the left shows the rider’s ankle bent pretty severely in an unnatural riding position; it’s not only uncomfortable but it could also lessen control feel during heavy braking. The photo on the right shows the pedal height adjusted to put the rider’s ankle in a more natural position.
Remember that pedal adjustments should be done carefully and in small increments. Adjusting it too far downward could negatively affect your ground clearance. Take some time to experiment with various heights and setups. Check your owner’s manual for the correct adjustment procedure.
3. Shift-lever adjustment is also dependent on the rider and the particular motorcycle. Finding that perfect setup will take some experimentation.
The transmissions on some motorcycles require more lever travel to actuate the shift than others. The rider in the left photo has to strain his ankle to upshift, which isn’t good. This can cause the rider to use excessive force on the shift lever, possibly bending the shift linkage rod (we’ve seen it happen), or open the door for missed shifts because of the movement required. The photo on the right shows the rider’s ankle in a more natural position, reducing both the effort and concentration necessary to make the shift.
Again, some experimentation is necessary to accommodate your particular bike’s transmission traits and any ground clearance problems you might encounter. Watch the shift lever and the brake pedal for any scrapage, and adjust accordingly. Adjustments are usually made on the shift linkage rod, or on the lever that fits over the splined shift shaft itself. Making the controls fit you is a small but important step in helping increase your riding skills.
You've seen the extreme race shots of riders hanging off their machines like monkeys, but while it helps out cornering on the racetrack, it's not necessarily the optimum body position for street riding. A more centered riding stance may not look all that cool, but it will give you increased confidence and control in a variety of situations. For most cornering, you should be centered on the seat, and leaning with your bike so that your head is either on or just to the inside of the centerline. Tilting your head to match the horizon stops your brain from getting confused by mixed visual and balance signals. If your controls don't fit correctly, adjust them to match; never adjust your style to fit.
Keeping your inside elbow locked, and using the weight of your upper body on that arm to countersteer is a common lazy habit. This prevents you from making small steering corrections, and limits your control of the motorcycle; in addition, any bump in the road will unsettle your upper body, and that movement will transmit directly down your locked arm and into the bar-unintentionally steering your bike. It's important to remember that the handlebar is more for steering your machine rather than for holding onto it. Experiment with holding your body in position using your stomach muscles and pressing your outside knee against the tank, while keeping your elbows bent with as much weight off the bars as possible.
Using the centered riding stance puts your outside knee in the correct position and will help to distribute your weight properly. If your bike has low clip-ons, it will require substantial knee pressure to unweight them; try variations until you find something comfortable. With as little weight on your arms as possible, you'll find it much easier to make small steering corrections, and bumps will unsettle your bike less as your weight has a reduced effect on steering. Also, experiment with foot position to find what works for you; it's usually best to keep your toes on the footpegs, especially the inner foot to avoid dragging. If you like to use the rear brake (RSS, April '00), keep your foot as far back and tucked in as possible.
There are instances where some hanging off helps with maneuverability or traction. For instance, on wet or slippery surfaces, moving your body to the inside of the turn will allow you to keep your bike more upright to take maximum advantage of the available traction. And during quick countersteering swerves, when you're avoiding an obstacle on the road, keeping your body upright during the entire sequence lessens the amount of mass you have to throw from side-to-side, and lets you push against your bike using your own inertia. Body position has a significant effect on your bike's handling, and it's well worth trying different techniques to find something that gives you more confidence as well as comfortableness
1. Concerning life and death, motorcycles are more like airplanes than automobiles. A mechanical failure with a plane or a bike could be life-shattering, whereas with a car it's usually just an annoyance. All pilots know this but, unfortunately, most motorcyclists don't. Because of the imperative need for a safe machine, pilots have a routine of things to check prior to each and every flight they make. Herein are a few things that all of us bikers should get into the habit of checking on our machines before we go for a ride. Check the tire pressure with a gauge and then squeeze the tire as shown above. We know it is unreasonable and unbelievable to think a rider is going to use a gauge every time before a ride, so getting used to how a properly inflated tire feels will ensure that a two-second squeeze will be close. At least the rider will know his tires are not on the verge of being flat.
2. After checking the front tire, give the rotors a shake to ensure they're not binding in the calipers because of warpage or a stuck piston. Next, check the brake lines around the tire and at the places where they flex due to suspension movement. Just running your hands along the line is good enough. You don't even have to look at your fingers for fluid, you'll notice the annoying, sticky feeling right away. After checking the brakes give a quick look and grab at the axle nuts and pinch bolts to make sure everythingis in place and nothing is loose. The important thing is to check all components that don't have a back-up--the components whose individual failure will cause a catastrophe. If your bike has a speedo cable, check that too. We know of a rider who crashed when his cable became entangled in the front wheel.
3. After checking the rear tire and rotor, take a quick look at the chain (if you have one, that is). It's best to use your hand but chains are dirty, so we know that many riders prefer to take a shortcut by using the toe of their boot. But use your hand initially so that you can establish the feel. The chain should lift fairly easily, about an inch, at the center point between the sprockets. Relaxed, the chain should show some sag and not look taut. Pushing on the chain also offers the added opportunity to see if it resists at any one point because of tight spots. If it's out of adjustment, you know what to do. If it has kinks, dump it. After you get used to how a properly adjusted chain feels, it's safe to resort to using your foot to see how far and smoothly it lifts. The point is, having a routine that takes merely seconds will get you to do the checks. If it's too much like work we know you won't bother. We wouldn't.
4. Lastly, as you're getting on the machine check the controls to make certain that they function properly and don't fall off in your hand. We know of a rider whose bike fell over on its right side while parked and when he later mounted the bike for a ride, the brake lever fell into his hand. It was fortunate that he first gave it a quick pull while parked, rather than when he approached his first stop. Twist the throttle, squeeze the levers, move the bars lock to lock and grab all of the control's mounting bolts to make sure they're there and not loose. Good racing mechanics know that part of their job is to "make love" to the machine before a race. When all the work is done and the bike is ready to race, novices take tea--pros give their bikes a rubdown, a quick polish, and cop a feel. The primary reason for this is not to make the bike look good, that's just the excuse. Touching the machine all over can reveal hidden problems, and ensure that it is ready for the track.
1. Many times we have stressed the importance of looking ahead into a corner so that you can formulate a riding plan well in advance. Another benefit of looking where you want to go is that it can help save you when things get a little out of control; like when you're caught unaware in a corner going a little too fast. Obviously, these steps won't do you much good if you totally screw up and blast into a 30-mph corner at well over 100 mph, but if you find yourself running into a turn that tightens up unexpectedly, these points can help keep you rubber-side-down during a situation that probably qualifies as the number one trap for novice riders.
2. Decreasing-radius corners (turns that tighten up toward the exit) can be very deceiving. Even if you're looking far enough ahead, the tighter section of the corner can catch you off guard. It begins innocently enough: You're already well into a turn when you notice it starting to tighten up. As you suddenly realize you might be running out of road, confusion can result as your self-preservation instincts start to cause a bit of panic. It's at this point where the big problems start; you're so worried about running off the corner that you "target fixate" on the outside, which results in...
3. ...your body tensing up, with an immediate urge to get on the brakes, resulting in a locked-up rear wheel. You instinctively start picking the bike upright since you're applying the brakes, and you're busy staring at the outside of the turn. You end up going where you look, which causes you to skid off into the dirt. The root cause of this mishap? You should have been focusing on the turn ahead, not on the outside of the turn.
It's hard to trust in your bike's capabilities in situations like this, but riding skill comes from the confidence of knowing your bike's proficieny as well as your own. Focusing your attention on the correct area allows you to better handle panic situations like this. If you don't have confidence in attaining max lean with your bike, too much of your attention will be spent on controlling the bike, rather than steering it in the direction you want to go.
4. When you realize the turn is tightening up, as difficult as it sounds, ignore the outside of the turn; continue to look ahead, roll off the throttle gently, and simply feed in more lean angle. Keep off the rear brake and stay focused on your intended path. Most of today's machines can carry more lean angle than you think, and if you keep your focus on where you want to go, as long as your tires and suspension are in good condition, the bike will get you there.
It's important to be smooth on the controls when you're getting toward maximum lean, since the tire's footprint is pretty small at that point. Dragging fixed hard parts is obviously not good; look at your bike from the rear to see which parts will touch down first when you get to max lean. If you lack the confidence to lean your bike over, practice-preferably at a track day or riding school.
1. Decreasing-radius corners can get tricky for the simple reason that if you approach the corner as if it were a constant radius, you won't have anything in reserve when the corner tightens up. The trickiness is compounded when the decreasing-radius corner is also blind, as they often are.
A good rule to go by to ensure your safety margin is this: Never go into a corner at a speed without a "reserve" that allows you to correct for something unexpected mid-corner, whether it be debris in the road, negative camber or a decreasing turn radius.
The rider in the first photo is approaching this decreasing-radius corner on the outside edge of his lane, since doing so provides a better look through the oncoming corner and a better angle of attack should it tighten up. Regardless of the corner, make sure you don't get in too hot.
2. We always say to look through the turn and down the road, and this case is no exception. If you're on an unfamiliar road, then looking well through the corner will alert you to the decreasing radius before it's too late to react. Avoid using an early apex since you'll then be drifting to the outside of the pavement just as the radius starts to decrease. Not an ideal situation. Release the brakes before you turn the motorcycle, then crack the throttle to unload the front end as soon as possible. You'd be amazed at what a difference early throttle application makes in the willingness of the bike to arc through the corner. In this photo, the rider is off the brakes and starting his throttle input, even though he is only a third of the way through the corner.
3. The rear brake can be used to slow the bike slightly and tighten the cornering radius of the motorcycle, but first get used to the sensitivity of the rear brake so as not to lock it up. Don't slam the throttle shut in the middle of a corner as overloading the front end could cause it to wash out. As the corner tightens, simply dial in more lean angle, which shouldn't be a problem since you left some in reserve, right?
4. A large number of crashes occur when riders panic and stand the bike up, when in fact a corner can usually be taken much quicker than most people think. At the late apex of a decreasing-radius corner, you'll be nearing the inside edge of your lane, so let the bike drift out naturally to the middle of your lane and drive it out of the corner, making sure to stay well clear of the center line of the road.
On a road you don't know, it's important to ride with reserve. If you enter a corner at full lean angle and then suddenly realize it's beginning to tighten up, it'll be too late to correct. Get into each corner knowing that no matter how tight it gets, you'll be able to compensate accordingly. And make it to the next corner to do it all again.
1. We always stress that the street is not a racetrack and you should hold a little in reserve while riding. Nowhere is this more important than when entering a blind turn. Good street riding practice recommends that you scan three to five seconds ahead while riding. Cornering, however, reduces your scanning distance. Rounding blind corners such as those with bushes or rock faces obscuring your view, reduces it dramatically. Although these situations are best handled by lowering your entry speed, entering a corner with a plan can help you overcome surprises that may lurk ahead. Most experienced riders have stories of strange things they have encountered in the middle of the road. It's probably only a matter of time until the same happens to you.
2. When you encounter an obstacle midcorner, you have little time to react. Immediately determine on which side of the object you plan to pass. Then, to prevent target fixation, focus your attention on your desired path of travel. If the obstruction is dirt or gravel, selecting a car's outside tire track will usually provide the cleanest line through the corner. Often your avoidance maneuver will require only a slight change of line either inside or outside of the obstacle. However, if your speed is high enough that adjusting your line in this manner will send you into the oncoming lane or off the road, you will need to brake, too. Since traction for braking is limited while cornering, you need to stand the bike up prior to applying the brakes.
3. To achieve maximum application of the brakes while swerving, steering inputs must be separated from braking or you risk losing traction. The swerving and braking maneuver happens so quickly that, while the bike may be upright when you apply the brakes, your body will still be off the center of the bike. Don't worry. Let the bike move underneath you. Don't grab the brakes; apply the brakes firmly while recognizing your bike is probably not completely upright and traction will still be limited. If your front brake locks and starts to skid, immediately release then reapply the brake. Keep your eyes focused on your intended path of travel. Looking at an obstacle or off the road will only help you become intimately acquainted with them.
4. As soon as you have slowed your bike enough to complete the turn, release the brakes and direct the bike back toward your original path of travel. Since this maneuver takes less than a second from beginning to end, practice is essential. Find a lightly traveled road with a right hand turn (to give yourself some runoff if you make a mistake) with good visibility throughout the entire turn. Using chalk or tape, mark the section of the road you want to swerve around. Starting at low speeds, swerve around an imaginary object while cornering. Once you are comfortable, gradually increase your speed until you reach the point where you need to insert braking into the swerve. You'll be glad you took the time should you ever encounter a child's stuffed animal in the middle of your line.
1 There's always a bit of trepidation when approaching a blind turn, but taking a slightly different line than usual will get you through with minimal fuss. The key is to enter the turn a bit slower and wider than normal for the radius it appears to be. This allows you the longest line of sight around the obstruction. The rider in this photo is entering a blind left-hander and is staying to the right side of the lane while looking as far ahead as possible. A general rule of thumb is to keep your speed slow enough that you can stop safely in the distance you can see ahead.
2 It's important to remember to keep your speed down on the entrance, as you may have to tighten your line if it turns out to be a decreasing-radius corner. Once you can see the exit of the turn, begin cutting into the apex. Because your entrance speed is a bit slow, it's possible to get on the gas almost right away, which will help settle the bike. It's doubtful a turn will arc more than 180 degrees. So once you've passed a point where you're able to see far enough ahead to ensure the turn isn't going to tighten up unexpectedly, it would be safe to start to apex without seeing the exit.
3 When a vehicle comes darting out from behind an obstacle, it can be startling and you'll be compelled to follow it with your eyes-especially if it's another bike. Avoid watching it, as you're sure to run wide. Pay attention to the road, looking as far ahead as possible. Similarly, if you suddenly come across something in the road, decide on an avoidance path and don't stare at the debris. It's easy to target fixate on something that appears suddenly, and it will require practice to train your eyes to stay focused on where you want to go.
4 The restraint shown on the entrance of the turn will pay off when you can straighten up, get on the gas and accelerate out, as opposed to running wide and backing off the throttle if you enter fast and apex early. Seeing more of the turn on the entrance will give you extra confidence in steering the bike, and decrease the chance of something surprising you in midturn. A slower entrance and late apex allows better control, in case the turn tightens up or there's debris in the road, and keeps you safely in your own lane at the exit of the turn.