Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Good, Solid Motorcycle Riding starts with low speed handling proficiency. A large percentage of today’s riders struggle with this. You know who you are. You’ve seen them “duck walking” the bike through a u-turn. You’ve seen them dragging their feet on the ground while riding slow of starting off. You’ve seen them make a 100 foot u-turn or have to stop and back up several times while trying to turn around. Parking lot maneuvers are an absolute nightmare for these riders. At higher speeds, the twisty roads and mountain riding is a white knuckle experience, cornering is harder than lifting a car, riding in a group is a high risk activity.
It doesn’t have to be this way. ANYBODY who has average physical capabilities can ride like a master, be more confident, and have a lot more fun. I personally have known people who quit riding because it was just too high anxiety for them.
Do you ever wonder how those motorcycle cops go out there and just “Kill” those incredibly tight cone patterns ? How do they make it look so easy ? I will share with you the training techniques that have been used to teach these motor cops (average people) how to ride so well.
THE THREE TECHNIQUES
Head and Eyes
What the Friction Zone is, and how to use it.
Using the Rear Brake for control.
These three techniques are counter-intuitive. They don’t come naturally and must be learned and developed into a skill. This means practice, practice, practice. At the start of each riding season I go to an open parking lot and use these techniques to re-familiarize myself with them. I practice U-turns, figure eights, and, 90 degree turns. Then I use them every time I ride.
1. HEAD AND EYES
This refers to eye placement. In other words, LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. The motorcycle will follow your gaze. So if you want to make a U-turn, you must turn your head and LOOK where you want to go. The more you turn your head the tighter your motorcycle will turn. AT the same time it is important to keep your eyes fixed on the horizon line and not at the ground. This provides balance.
DO NOT LOOK DOWN - In a low speed maneuver looking down causes the motorcycle to lean. The feeling of gravity coupled with a downward gaze creates the sensation that the bike is falling. The rider then pulls in the clutch and puts a foot down and/or drops the bike. This is a result of the weight of the bike plus gravity overcoming the forward momentum of the bike causing the ride to lose control. Looking down only increases the sensation of falling. Keeping your head and eyes up and looking where you want to go eliminates the falling sensation and gives you more control over where the bike goes while in motion.
DO NOT fix your gaze on the object or place you are trying to avoid. This is a common mistake for inexperienced riders. If you detect a hazard, don’t look directly at it, instead look where you want to motorcycle to go to avoid it. When you hear of a rider running wide out of a turn (Failure to negotiate) and gong into an oncoming lane or off the road, it is usually due to a head and eye failure. The startled driver fixes his gaze in the one place he doesn’t want to be and goes there. Target Fixation is BAD, looking where you want the motorcycle to go is GOOD.
2. THE FRICTION ZONE
The Friction Zone is a result of just enough throttle applied simultaneously with the release of the clutch to the point where the motorcycle just starts to move. To find the friction zone on your bike:
Sit astride the motorcycle with the engine running, clutch all the way in ( disengaged), and your foot on the rear brake.
While holding the brake down with your foot roll on a little throttle and begin the release the clutch.
When the motorcycle begins to strain against the brake and tries to move, you are in the Friction Zone.
Use of the Friction Zone to control how much power goes to the rear wheel is the secret to control of the movement of the motorcycle at low speeds, such as in a parking lot or in heavy slow moving traffic.
There is concern over how using the Friction Zone, also known as “slipping” the clutch. Most motorcycles are equipped with a “wet” clutch meaning the clutch is bathed in oil to help keep it cool during heavy use. Even “dry” clutches can be slipped safely without damaging the clutch mechanisms. It only requires that the rider not overdo slipping and remember to “Cool” off the clutch frequently during low speed maneuvers. The clutch is best cooled off by riding in 2nd or 3rd gear at approximately 15 - 20 MPH with the clutch all the way out for one minute+/- for each five minutes of slipping. Cooling time must be higher in hot weather.
3. USE OF THE REAR BRAKE FOR LOW SPEED CONTROL.
During low speed maneuvers you will keep power to the rear wheel using the Friction Zone. At the same time, you can use the rear brake lightly applied to help control the momentum of the motorcycle. The rider is actually “dragging” the rear brake. The brake is applied but the motorcycle can still move.
Use of the rear brake is NOT always essential to low speed maneuvering but it is helpful for a rider who is just learning these low speed techniques.
Use of the rear brake during a low speed maneuver does help to stabilize the motorcycle and keep it somewhat upright, relieving the rider of that falling sensation when the motorcycle starts to lean over.
Use of the front brake during a low speed maneuver, especially turning, is dangerous and should not be tried unless you want to end up on the ground. On those motorcycles with integrated brakes the rear brake control technique can still be used as the front brake won’t activate at low speeds.
The basic skills of the best riders are based upon these three techniques. The simultaneous use of Head and Eyes, Friction Zone, and Rear Brake during low speed maneuvers, especially turning maneuvers, is a combination of skills that must be learned as they are not basic instinct but are actually counter-intuitive. Any rider of average physical capability can learn and master these skills. A more skilled rider is a more confident and safe rider.
I recommend, for any rider, who wants to improve their riding skills to take a look at the following videos for more information on these riding techniques:
Ride Like A Pro
- Jerry Paladino: Former Motorcycle officer who markets videos, books and seminars (Riding classes) on these techniques. www.ridelikeapro.com
Top Gun Rider Training 101
- Wells Cornette: Former Motorcycle Officer and Instructor. www.ridertraining101.com