So you’ve gone over your bike with a fine-tooth comb, and topped off the tank with premium gas, now where do you ride? I suggest the nearest clean, vacant parking lot. Why? To hone up on those skills that perished over the winter. Yes, you do lose skills. Human beings are complacent animals, and we have to force ourselves not to be complacent. I recently saw evidence of this in my daughter’s Girl Scout cookie order form. Come on, how hard is it to fill out your full name and address on a simple form? (Thanks for the orders by the way.) Some of the skills we typically lose are: stopping quickly, stopping quickly in a curve, swerving, and limited-space maneuvers.
Let’s start with a basic skill such as stopping quickly. From a stop, accelerate to about 15 to 18 MPH, and up into second gear. Stabilize your speed and initiate a quick stop by first squeezing the clutch, squeezing the front brake, pressing down to downshift, pressing down on the rear brake, and then putting your left foot down first when the cycle comes to a stop. I always tell my students, “Squeeze 2, Press 2, and left foot down.” Remember it is “squeezing” and “pressing” not “grabbing” and “stomping.” For those of us with ABS, remember to stay on the brakes, don’t let off or “pump” the brakes. Trust the system. ABS activation may increase your stopping distance, but it is definitely a shorter distance than a skid. Now for those who don’t have ABS: if the front tire skids, immediately release the front brake to get the front tire rolling again, and then reapply properly. If the rear tire skids, keep it locked and ride out the skid until you stop.
Next let’s consider stopping quickly in a curve. An example of this is when you come around a blind corner, find your lane blocked and must stop. Of course you will initiate your stop as before, but there are some important things you must do first. You must have the bike straightened back upright and your handlebars squared when coming to a stop. If you don’t, you will drop the bike on the side that is leaning over. So let’s start from a stop again and get up to speed in 2nd gear. Start a curve to the left and get the bike leaning over to the left. Imagine an obstacle in your path. Keep your head and eyes up and straight ahead. Now press on the handlebars in the opposite direction of the lean, the right, to get the bike upright, squeeze 2, press 2, and put your left foot down while coming to a stop with the handlebars square to the bike. Now practice it to the right. According to BMW the ABS system is not effective while turning, so ABS-equipped owners need to practice this exercise just as much as non-ABS riders.
Now the difference between a swerve and a turn on a cycle is that in a swerve you keep your body upright, independent of the motorcycle lean. This is especially useful this time of year when that huge pothole springs up on you unexpectedly. A swerve can be thought of as two consecutive countersteers, one to avoid an obstacle followed immediately by another to regain the original direction. Again get your cycle up to speed in 2nd gear. Imagine your pothole, give a firm press left on the handlebars, let the bike recover going past the obstacle, give a firm press right on the handlebars, let the bike recover back into your original path of travel. Maintain your speed in the swerve, don’t brake, and keep your head and eyes up, and body upright, independent of motorcycle lean.
Limited-space maneuvers are those slow, tight turns like a U-turn in a parking lot, such as jockeying for an open gas pump or that parking spot you want to back into. With these tight turns you use the counterweight technique where you lean your body toward the outside of the turn and turn the handlebars in the direction you want to go. (Normal turning of a cycle at speed, you press on the side of the handlebar you want to go. To turn right, you press right and lean with the cycle.) You’ll also want to put pressure down on the outside footrest, and sometimes shifting your hips towards the outside part of the seat helps too. You MUST turn your head and look where you want to go, but keep your head and eyes up. If you look down, you go down. Cover the clutch lever but not the front brake. On BMW’s we have a dry clutch, so most of us can use idle throttle and regulate speed using the rear brake. On a wet clutch bike you use the friction zone of the clutch to regulate the speed, not the throttle. To practice pick a nice clean spot of about 3 and 3 parking stalls. Pull into the area in first gear, travel down the outer edge lengthwise. At the end, make a U-turn to the left, coming back towards the line you just traveled down, and then make an immediate U-turn to the right, and go straight out traveling down the opposite outer edge lengthwise. If you ever took the Basic Rider Course, you may have referred to this as the “box.” Now see if you can make your box smaller.
Hopefully these little practice sessions get you feeling like you are one with the bike again. A meld of man and machine, and prepared for what life throws at you. Next time, How to deal with “cagers” that think the road is made for only them, and no one else.
Chad “skid”Gillen (2008)