Anyone who’s ridden for more than a few weeks can tell you there are about a million little things you need to be thinking about and considering all while you’re riding, which can take a long time to master.
It’s getting toward the back half of the season. You probably got started this summer, and you’re looking to close out the season by stepping up your skills. That’s good. You should constantly improve.
But where to start?
You can practice these fundamental things every time you go on your bike.
7. Lean into the corner.
The least important thing for street riders to master, but it’s an excellent skill to have regardless, is body position. What I’m going to suggest is you take your bike out and get comfortable leaning it over in the corners. One of the strangest feelings when you first start riding a motorcycle is the sensation of it falling. Falling into a corner can often trigger a survival response if you’re trying to correct the bike and standing it up mid-corner, slowly getting more comfortable leaning the bike over on the left and right-hand side.
A lot of times, the rider will prefer leaning to the right because that’s where the throttle is, and they feel like they have more control, or it feels good leaning to the left because that’s not where their throttle hand is. Most people don’t feel awkward pitting throttle while you’re at it. Try leaning into the corner a little bit and see how changes and lean angles feel on the bike. Get used to changing directions and moving up the bike. It’ll feel a lot of fun to lean on the bike.
Don’t be one of those people on their favorite twisty road trying to drag me. That’s just kind of stupid, and getting a knee down does not mean you’re fast. If you need to get yourself one of those glamorous scraped knee puck shots for the gram, just go to the track. It’ll happen in like one or two drag days.
6.Watching out behind you.
This can be more broadly described as situational awareness, but it’s easy to see what’s going on in front of you, not so much what’s going on behind you. That’s why humans invented mirrors and put them on motorcycles so they could use the power of reflected light to see what was behind them. It’s true that when you’re on track on a twisty road, you need to be more concerned with the stuff happening in front of you than behind you. However, when you’re commuting, you’re cruising through the city, and being able to keep an eye on what’s happening behind you is super important. You can spot a car coming to a stop a little too quickly and get out of the way, or maybe you just catch a glimpse of the driver behind and you picking his nose. Either way, maintaining proper situational awareness is key to commuting safely on a motorcycle.
Check those mirrors when you go to change lanes, when you’re pulling to a stop, and if you’re bored. I’m not saying keep one eye glued to your mirrors. That’s just as bad as not checking them but making a regular habit of glancing down and getting a read on the stuff going on behind you. It’ll keep you more alert and focused on the ride.
3.Looking through a corner
Learning to look through a corner is one of the easiest ways to help you ride more confidently down if you’re unfamiliar with it and keep you safer simultaneously.
Now, when you’re fresh off the MSF course, you’re probably sick and tired of people telling you to keep your chin up and look forward, but let me explain why it matters if you’re looking at the road immediately in front of your front tire, It’s way too late to do anything about it and instead you need to be looking up ahead of you so you can see any surprise obstacles in the road and often overlooked obstacles, a decreasing radius turn.
You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve heard horror stories of people caught out mid-corner by a decreasing radius and the crash because they weren’t ready for it. The easiest way to fix that is to look at the vanishing point. That’s the point where the road of the track vanishes behind the corner.
Think about it like this. If you’re on a straight road, the vanishing point is straight ahead, which means, theoretically, you could go a million miles an hour and be safe. As you enter a corner, the vanishing point gets farther away from the center, meeting that the turn is getting tighter and you should be slowing down as you come out of the corner, it moves back in the center, and you can add speed. Always look ahead and follow the vanishing point with your eyes so you don’t get surprised by decreasing the radius.
4. Pre-loading your brake levers
This is a skill that I see vets and newbies alike not practicing, and it makes me sad. It’s such an easy way to improve your braking and yet no one does it. So what’s the skill? Simply put, when you’re coming into a braking zone, don’t just cover the brake lever, but pull it in a little bit if you’re riding around right at the point where the brakes are just about to bite. Then when you go to pull the lever, there’s no delay between your finger moving the lever and the brakes engaging. This can dramatically improve your stopping distance, and regular human action times by about a quarter of a second. Let’s say you’re traveling at 100 km an hour. If it takes you another quarter of a second to pull the lever in, you’ve already traveled 88 ft. If you’ve got the lever right at the bite point, you can save 44 ft across your braking distance while we’re talking about the front brake—another bad habit. I see riders doing is grabbing the level with all four fingers.
You only need to use your index and middle fingers on most modern motorcycles. That way, you can apply smooth and progressive braking rather than just jerking the crap out of the lever with the four-fingered ninja grip. This is especially important when cruising around the city, where you’ve got people who might walk out in front of you, cars following way too close behind you, and other rapidly changing conditions.
It’s best to have that lever covered in slightly engaged, just in case it’s worth pointing out that this might engage your rear brake light, but at worst it does nothing, and in the best case it keeps cars from following right behind you.
We’re talking about brakes. Here’s one to practice when you’ve added too much brake to most riders, sliding happens when they’ve got things super wrong, so they never practice it or never learn how to control a skid.
You’ll probably end up skidding into stops more often than you might think. Maybe you’re starting on an older bike that doesn’t have a brake sensor. Either way, you’ll want to learn how to skid your rear tire if you’re on a bike that doesn’t have a button remote to disable a brake sensor. Just pull the fuse box from underneath the seat and then go fire yourself a nice wide-open parking lot and start adding more and more rear brakes until you feel it slide at first. Keep light on the bars and ride the skid out until the bike comes to a halt.
Once you feel comfortable with that, start adding brake faster and harder as you lock up the wheel quickly. That’s what it’ll feel like in a panic, stop the scenario after a good few skids, start adding a little input to the bars, and feel the rear slide to one side or another.
It’s not that scary once you get used to it and I do it coming to an intersection for fun. Sometimes if you’re worried about bending your bike on the asphalt, find a but with the dirt bike and go play off-road. You’ll be able to experience sliding the wheel around and coming to a stop while accelerating, which is a ton of fun. Not to mention only the genuinely enlightened fast boys play off-road.
2. Rev-matching on downshifts.
This one’s super fun to do, making you look like an old pro. Also, properly rev-match will be smoother and safer than slapping down a gear and letting the clutch out. To understand this, you’ve got to understand what’s happening inside your bike.
When you’re riding with the clutch and the throttle open, your engine and rear wheel are spinning at the same speed. Your engine is moving away faster than the wheel. But for the sake of argument, we’ll call it the same speed, and when you go to downshift, you pull in the clutch, and your engine speed drops while your wheel speed stays the same, then you let out the clutch in a lower gear, and there’s a massive mismatch between the engine speed and the wheel speed the engine revs up to match. And sometimes, that can cause the rear wheel to lock up. So if you accidentally shifted down two gears instead of one instead of simply letting the bike do the work for you of matching the engine speed, you can do it by slip in the throttle, simply pulling on the clutch, clicking down a gear and then with that clutch still pulled in rev and release the clutch. At the same time, the engine speed is spun up to match the wheel speed. It takes some practice, and with the rise of auto clipping, quick shifters to skill that fewer and fewer people are learning. But it’s essential to have if you’re getting an older bike or you just want to look cool.
1. Pick your moments
Look, I’m about to say something that could be easily misconstrued. I just want to make that clear. I think that speeding, trying to drag me, or other behavior should be done in closed conditions on a racetrack, ideally, a drag strip, if you want a mall parking lot at midnight, wherever it makes sense. But here’s the thing: everyone who gets on a motorcycle is going to do something stupid at some point. Even the dad’s over at our motorcycles do it despite how much grief they give other riders.
Why? Because it’s fun. It’s fun lifting the front tire and trying to go faster around the turn. The key is to pick your moments in places where it’s more appropriate to go wide open throttle, like pulling onto a highway on-ramp. You’re familiar with where you’re trying to lean a little bit more. I would rather you do it in the right place at the right time. They get pulled over or tuck the front end on the road you’re unfamiliar with.
As always, it is my duty to inform me of the tracks that exist specifically for this you can go out to a meticulously maintained stretch of asphalt and rip around corners with no speed limits. If you have an incident, tracks are explicitly designed with tons of runoff room, so you don’t smack into a mailbox at 100 km/h. Trees don’t move very much. Please, remember that if all you want to do is go fast, go to a drag strip and learn how to launch your bike.