A couple of issues back, we focussed on the Roadcraft skills within the Ride Forever coaching programme. This time around, it’s the turn of the machine control skills that govern your riding technique. Even if you know a particular drill, try to practice it anyway: often, just isolating a technique and practicing it can realise a benefit, even if you think it’s something you’ve already mastered.
Roadcraft—the secret weapon in your skill set
1. Slow riding
A little while ago we rode with Avalon Biddle as she took a Ride Forever Bronze course. Although she's a full-time racer in World Supersport 300, Av didn't have much road riding experience and she wasn't too hot initially at low speed control. And while that's not a priority at Monza, it comes in darn useful pulling out of a junction or executing a U-turn. That's why it featured in the recent Ride Forever Be a Better Rider challenge competition:
Challenge yourself to be a better rider
Ride Forever helps Avalon Biddle get her Restricted licence
So here’s the technique to practice. The first thing to understand is that it’s much better to lean the bike down while you stay upright rather than the other way around (‘hanging off’). It improves stability and balance, while letting the machine turn tightly. Second, stay away from the front brake. Use the back brake, clutch and throttle to control your speed—having the revs up and the clutch slipping slightly, balanced against the back brake, allows finer control than with the clutch released. Finally, look where you want to go, not at the ground in front of you or whatever you're steering around.
2. Progressive braking
Tests have shown that many riders are only capable of using about half the braking performance of their machine. Even experienced riders get only around 0.7g on dry tarmac, while a modern bike is capable of being braked to about 1g.
The secret is progressive braking: building up the brake pressure quickly but smoothly to maximum effect. This transfers the load onto the front tyre in a way that ‘squashes’ it onto the tarmac, thereby increasing the contact patch, while giving the rider sufficient ‘feel’ to avoid locking the front or doing a massive stoppie and flipping the ‘bike.
You can best practice this in a car park or somewhere where you don't have to worry about other road users. Start using both brakes, the rear a tiny fraction before the front. Concentrate on squeezing the front brake lever progressively harder—as you transfer more weight on the front it will allow more pressure and provide more deceleration. Get it right, and the back tyre will effectively leave the ground, so you can release the rear as you transfer more weight to the front.
3. Using bodyweight
Forget hanging off, trying to get your knee down. It’s neither necessary or safe on road. But using your bodyweight and transferring it the correct way can improve your control, and your margin of safety. One technique taught by many Ride Forever instructors is to ‘kiss the mirror’ in a corner. This is similar in effect to the ‘hanging off’ used by racers, just less extreme.
When you’re in a corner you can tighten your line fractionally, and keep the 'bike more upright, by pushing your bodyweight down and to the inside of the ‘bike (as though to ‘kiss the inside mirror’). What’s most important is to NOT apply any weight to the handle bars as you do so—that will generate an unwanted steering input. Instead, ensure you are locked on to the 'bike with your knees and lower legs. All the movement and control of bodyweight is done with your core. The technique is especially useful in downhill corners where riders sometimes feel the bike has a tendency to run wide. And there are another couple of things to practice that will help…
4. Trail braking
Racers often trail both brakes right through to the apex, to get into a corner as fast as possible and frustrate any attempt to pass. On road, gentle trail braking of the rear can help in a number of circumstances. The downhill corner scenario just mentioned is one. Hanging onto a little bit of rear brake as you turn in will ensure the bike doesn't ‘run away from you’ by speeding up through the corner.
It doesn't have to be a downhill corner either. A gentle touch of rear brake can help tighten your line in any curve: just be delicate.
5. Switch off the engine
Here’s a practice technique we learned off our good friend Dave Moss. On a long, curvy, downhill stretch of road, Dave got everyone whose ‘bikes he was working on to hit the kill switch and coast, using only the brakes to adjust speed.
There were a couple of learnings from this. The first was what Dave primarily intended: it allows much closer appreciation of how your suspension is working because it is not disguised or altered by acceleration or engine braking. The second is an appreciation for just how much speed you can safely carry through a corner, when you don't have motive power to fall back on.
Modern tyres and suspension are amazingly capable. So, have the faith to lean and steer. After all, as we learned a while back, the most common serious accident for motorcyclists is failure to take a bend—and all too often one that actually could be taken.
That's it for now. We’ll be back next time with a broad look at the kinds of training and coaching now available. In the meantime, hopefully you’ll practice some of these tips. And if you want more, plus the benefit of expert instruction, check out:
Ride Forever coaching