Category Archives: riding tips

Riding Skills: Keep Your Head Up

One of the joys of driving a nice car is looking out at the road over a cool fighter-pilot inspired dashboard. Of course your eyes are on the road, but you can see the speedometer in your lower field of vision – always ready for a quick glance at the speed or rpms or navigation system. The problem is, this perfectly good practice of having the instrument panel in your field of vision when driving a car encourages a really bad habit for motorcyclists… In a car, you can see the instrument panel while seated in the proper driving position looking out at the road; but in a motorcycle, the only way to see the instrument panel is if you’re head is down looking at the front wheel.

This is why full race bikes do not have speedometers and many racing schools tape over the speedos of their school bikes. Because when you’re riding properly there’s no time to look down at the gauges… In the same way when you’re looking into a corner while turning, if you’re looking in the right place, you won’t be able to see the front of the bike: you shouldn’t be able to see the front wheel, or the gauges, or the mirrors (check your mirrors before you begin a turn) because you’ll be looking in a different direction entirely.

One of the reason people have trouble with sharp turns is because they’re not used to looking away from the bike deep into the turns. And one of the main causes of crashes is a rider being unable to turn the bike sharply (even though the bike is more than capable of the turn). Because the only way you’ll be able to (really) lean a bike over on its side is if you turn your head and look in that direction.

So here’s the tip: Eyes up here buddy! If you can see your speedo by just looking down with your eyes, then your head is probably in the wrong position. Learn to judge your speed with your eyes rather than using your gauges (that’s what the pros do)… Cheers!


Riding Skills: An Exit Strategy

Riding in and around NY is probably not quite like riding in other motorcycle towns. You don’t have windy roads with scenic outlooks, you have windy cabs with aggressive drivers on cell phones. The apex of a canyon turn never changes, but the proper line between an SUV, a cab and a delivery truck is constantly in flux. All the traditional advice holds true here: “ride like no one sees you”, “ride like they’re trying to kill you.” To which we can add one more: Always have an exit strategy! A VIABLE exit strategy…

How do you define a viable exit strategy? If any of the cars or trucks near you decided to suddenly come into your path, a viable exit strategy = having someplace to go and the time to get there. So if there’s a car ahead of you in your right lane, a possible exit strategies might include: [a] brake hard (if there’s no one behind you and you’re going at a reasonable speed); [b] swerve left (if there’s no one to the left or rear of you); [c] swerve to the right (to where the offending car came from). The point is that you should ALWAYS have an exit strategy should a driver decide to become inadvertently homicidal toward bikers. And it should be a VIABLE exit strategy meaning: Can you actually brake in time if that car decided to swerve (or are you going too fast)? Can you actually turn in time (or are you too close)? Can you actually get into that space if this truck decided to swerve for a pothole? Continue reading

Mastering the Mental Game

Yogi Berra put it well when he said “Ninety percent of baseball is all mental (the other half is physical)!” You can apply this to motorcycling… The difference between a safe fast ride and a slow dangerous one is not just a matter of skill, but of mindset…

I linked the MCN video here – you don’t have to watch it if you’re not into this sort of thing – but what’s interesting is on the laps where the rider was able to go faster, he actually felt like he was going slower. And along with that he felt more relaxed and less on edge, but he was actually going faster! Now this doesn’t mean if you relax you will automatically go faster around a track – but what it does point out the mindset of effective motorcycling… Motorcycling is like poetry in motion. It forces you to be relaxed (tension in the arms works against you on a motorcycle), to think ahead, and be fluid (stop and go and sudden throttle movements don’t help you on a motorcycle).

So relax. Don’t rush into turns or poorly planned positions in traffic. Think ahead. Be aware of your surroundings. Feeling rushed just works against you. Instead focus on effective throttle control (rolling on smoothly whenever you crack the throttle open), body position(s), braking (smoothly yet quickly) and your position in the traffic around you. A good ride won’t feel fast – it’ll feel relaxed and fluid.

Riding Tips: Which Leg?

Here’s a quickie that applies to all types of street riding, but is especially effective on lighter motorcycles and scooters… When you’re making a turn the right way (figure B), where should you put your weight? In the inner foot (the right foot in the diagram) or the outer foot?

Most people put their weight on the inner leg… But the key to bike stability (for light bikes) and proper riding position is to put your weight on the outer leg.

How come?  Two reasons.  One, in terms of handling it puts more of the weight in a spot where the suspension can handle bumps and lack of traction…  I don’t know exactly why this is the case…but you can try it out on spots like where the Grand Central goes to the Triboro Bridge – the grooves in the ground make lighter bikes and scooters chatter at speed.  But if you shift your weight to the outside, viola!  You probably won’t notice the difference on heavier bikes with better suspensions.

And in terms of posture it allows you to find the correct position A or B (in the first diagram) and not C.  Most people do C (a little bit) without realizing it.  Even sport riders who are aggressively trying to hang off (figure A) are surprised to see pictures of themselves on the track “crossed-up” (doing figure C).  Because when you put your weight on the inside leg, you will naturally push up against the turn.  But if you look at professional motorcycle (and scooter) racers, their outside legs are clamped onto the tank, while the inside leg is free of weight (this might also be why it’s so hard to get your knee down at first – you don’t want to drag your knee when all your weight is on it…)

So how do you do this?  It feels funny at first.  But try doing your regular turns while just keeping your toes lightly on inner peg…  So make right turns with your right toe lightly on the peg, and your weight on the left.  Make left turns with your weight on the right foot and your left toe just lightly on the peg – making sure you are straight in line with your bike (and not doing figure C).  It helps to realize that the actual turn (no most turns in the street) only last for a second or two…  You won’t be able to do this as well with slow lazy turns – but that’s a discussion for another time…

So that’s the tip – take it for what it’s worth.  Cheers!

How To Use The Rear Brake

Royal Enfield

Most riders (who use the rear brake) use it as an extension of the front brake… MSF instructors teach beginners to always use both brakes together for maximum stopping power. But ask any experienced cruiser rider or professional racer and they’ll tell you that the real benefit of the rear brake is when it’s used in conjunction with the throttle. Rear brake + Throttle = Greater Control.

On the track the front brake is strong enough the pop the rear into the air, so the rear brake doesn’t really add to the bike’s stopping power (which is why it’s so darn easy to lock the rear during hard braking) – but by dragging the rear brake into a turn (trail braking) AND staying on the throttle a little bit…when you do hit the gas to accelerate out of the turn you don’t get that drive-lash (that bump of power you get when you first get on the gas from an throttle-off position). It also helps to control your speed at the trickiest part of the turn – the rear helps to offset the throttle, and staying on the throttle helps to keep from locking the rear wheels. Likewise in low speed maneuvers the rear brake helps you control the bike’s speed while staying on the throttle. This is how the motorcycle cops do those slow tight turns, they drag the rear brake and stay on the throttle the whole time!

Why can’t you stay off the brake and just control the bike with the clutch and throttle? You can… But if you need more control both in braking and throttle (and who doesn’t?), this is why the front and rear brakes aren’t simply linked together the way they are in cars. If you used the front brake and the throttle, that would just put more stress on your tires (probably at a moment in which it needs all the traction it can get) – but the rear brake + throttle combination leaves the bike perfectly stable.

So if you don’t want to use your rear brakes – I’m not trying to convince you to… But if you DO want to use your rear brakes and could use a little extra control in fast turns AND low speed maneuvers, then that’s the basic idea… So once you get the concept, get out there and practice practice practice…and ride safe! Cheers!

[About the photo: Just a bike I saw on the street on the way to DeMole in Woodside Queens…the BEST Mexican restaurant in the city…]

Body Positions: Hanging Off…

“Hanging off” is mainly a road race technique – but I think there is a place for it on public roads in situations where you need to turn but want to keep the bike as upright as possible. Now this isn’t for emergency maneuvers, and this isn’t something that most people need to think about – beginner riders should be much more concerned with getting locked into a good position, one that enables you to steer, accelerate and decelerate quickly. BUT….there is a place for hanging off, because hanging off is an effective way for you to lean the bike less while getting the same rate of turn. So take this, for what it’s worth – as a more advanced riding concept/technique.

How do you do it?

It’s a very simple idea (although difficult to do properly). The key is to first find a good upright riding position, then sliding over so that you’re sitting on one butt cheek with your shoulders lined up facing straight ahead. Your head should sit straight pretty much above your torso and at the same time be at or past the rear view mirror toward the inside of the turn. Here, Pedrosa’s head is all the way to his right (where the right mirror would be)and his torso is pretty much lined up straight with his chest facing forward. You are literally shifting over one butt cheek to one side, but everything else remains straight.

What NOT to do…
You don’t want to do what MOST people do when they try to hang off: which is, get your butt way off the seat but leave your head and torso pretty much in the center (behind the windscreen). That’s called being “crossed up” – the lower half is hanging off, but the upper half is in the same place. It’s actually the upper part of your torso that you want to be concerned with. As in most of life: It’s where you place your head that makes the biggest difference, not your butt.

To experiment with this concept, try this when cornering: First take a turn the normal way, locked in, sitting straight up on the bike. Then try it a second way… Stay seated as you normally would, but put your head as far as you can to the inside (try to ‘kiss the mirrors’). You should notice a huge (depending on how much you weigh v. your bike weighs) difference in how much you need to lean the bike for the same corner speed. The idea of hanging off is that it simply enables you to get your head even further to the inside of the corner…

What professional riders do on the track is, as they approach a turn they get into their full hang-off position as they are braking, and when they turn in they are already in position to minimize lean angle (or maximize speed). You need to get in position before the turn…which is why this isn’t all that useful on the street in emergency situations. It can however be useful on long turns (like entrances and exit ramps) when the ground is slick or questionable – you can get around safer by keeping the bike more upright through turn leaving you a greater safety margin in case you hit a slick spot or gravel.

How does it work?

The basic idea is that if you look at where the weight is placed on the tire during the turn, figure A is identical to figure B, but it can be accomplished with less lean. The heavier you are, and the lighter the bike is, the more impact your body position will have on the lean angle. *Good note for scooter riders!* If you’re tired of scraping the center stand, you can work on your body position during turns… The principle is the same. Cruiser riders will get less benefit off of this, but there is still a noticeable difference that may make it worth your while.

So that’s the idea, but of course you don’t get better reading a blog, so get out there and ride safe!

How-To: Tight Low Speed Turns

I’m the guy who puts his feet down and walks the bike around to make u-turns on narrow roads. So if you’re like me, you’re not comfortable with tight low-speed turns, maybe this video can help.