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Learning to ride

Green RT

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Someone who knows me might think that learning to ride a motorcycle would be an unlikely topic or maybe a visit to the past some 60 years and 800,00 km (500,000 miles) ago when I started riding two-wheeled powered vehicles. Over those 60 years I have owned and ridden 6 motorcycles from a 50 cc Moped sold by Sears when I was 13 years old to my current 1200 cc BMW. I probably should have mastered the art of riding years ago, but I am not exaggerating when I say that it is only in the last few years, maybe the past year, that I have really started to master one skill. And I am not talking about the gradual and continual refinement of skills that comes to anyone who persists at something over time. I am talking about mastering a fundamental skill.


Most of my riding has been commuting or running errands. In the process I racked up an impressive number of miles on city streets and freeways. Occasional cross country trips have involved a few winding roads but precious little of my time has been spent on them. I have never taken a riding class, but somewhere I picked the technique of counter-weighting* a bike to make tight turns in parking lots and slow speed situations. A few years ago I realized I was applying the same body position to cornering at higher speeds where it doesn't work so well, that is to say, where it is exactly the wrong thing to do. Counter weighting provides the maximum amount of lean for a given speed, whereas what is needed at speed is to lean the body into the turn and minimize the amount of lean for a given speed. All of this is probably obvious to most riders and it is to me now, but I have to confess I was slow to come to that understanding.


Well, understanding is one thing, practice another. Although I developed this better understanding a few years ago, it was not until starting to ride in Mexico that I really got any substantial experience in application. Living in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, most of my riding now is on winding mountain roads with little or no traffic, quite a change from my riding experience in the US. The more time I spend on winding roads the more comfortable I have become with them. I have no interest in trying to push any limits on speed on sinuous mountain roads, but I do enjoy them a lot more with some better skills.


One of the downsides of improper cornering technique is that it is uncomfortable in corners and doesn't lend itself readily to making adjustments mid corner. In the past when I found myself in a corner at a speed that felt uncomfortably fast, my instinctive reaction was to apply brakes. This usually worked okay but failed spectacularly once on a frosty morning some years ago. I probably had plenty of traction if I had just leaned into the corner a little more, but touching the front brake on that surface on that morning resulted in a slide across the pavement that trashed all of the plastic on the right side of the bike. Then hitting a curb on the far side of the road flipped the bike on its left side and trashed that as well. Fortunately the damage to the bike was all cosmetic and I was able to ride it to a shop for some expensive repairs. Even more fortunately there was not even a scratch on me, I just sat on bike until it stopped sliding. I wasn't going all that fast when it broke loose on the slippery surface.


More recently, I have been training myself to instinctively lean into corners more to tighten turns when necessary. A test happened a few weeks ago. I passed a slow moving truck only to discover a corner a short ways ahead. Going into the corner, I was carrying more speed than I liked, left over from the passing maneuver. In olden times my instinct would have been to apply brakes to slow down, but I this time I just leaned into the corner and tightened up the radius of the turn. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks.


*Counter-weighting is used in slow speed turns to tighten the turning radius. The idea is to lean the bike into the turn while keeping the rider's body mostly vertical.


Reprinted from Cronologia with permission of the author (me). :)

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I take a safety class every year - just a refresher and it will always push me to get comfortable again with leaning etc. I mention this because your statements reminded me of a friend years ago that always road to work (26 mile round trip). I knew he never leaned in corners so I talked him into taking the first MSF course. They teach the basics of leaning in corners. Well, my friend got so freaked out he stopped riding entirely.


Good to see you have the opposite and better reaction.

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