Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
MotoNews

How To Ride Motorcycles Safely At Speed

Recommended Posts

MotoNews

The author aboard a 2019 Yamaha YZF-R6.
The author aboard a 2019 Yamaha YZF-R6. (Ray Bradlau/)

I always thought I was a decently fast rider. Then I started riding with real professionals and realized I was way out of my depth in their company. Most recently, I spent three days on the track with Nick Ienatsch, Kyle Wyman, Chris Peris, and other pro-level racers. As instructors at the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS), they aim to elevate the average rider to their level—or at least to train them to use the same techniques on the street that win championships on the track. After a couple of days with the YCRS crew, my objective to become a fast rider became more compulsory as I realized that speed is only the beginning of proficiency.

My colleagues here at Cycle World and Motorcyclist are definitely professional motorcyclists. They've spent their lives riding bikes at their limits on track while I was still puttering around my backyard on my dirt bike reenacting Suzuka 2001, in which I played Rossi and my mailbox the indignant Biaggi on the other side of my middle finger. No wonder my neighbors thought I was a weird kid. They just weren't GP fans.

A YCRS instructor pointing out the correct line and stressing the importance of looking through corners.
A YCRS instructor pointing out the correct line and stressing the importance of looking through corners. (Ray Bradlau/)

These days, I'm probably more of a "professional stay-at-home dad" than professional motorcyclist. Don't get me wrong, I get paid to ride bikes for a living (pinch me!), and I'm as obsessed with motorcycles as much as anyone: My idea of a perfect evening is nursing a glass of bourbon and talking with Kevin Cameron about the technical development of Isle of Man TT racing motorcycles between the wars (1919–1939). But, unlike many of my colleagues who honed their skills in the heat of competition, my path to motojournalism didn't start at the racetrack. It started from behind the dog-eared pages of Cycle World. As a kid, if I couldn't ride during the long, dark months of an Upstate New York winter, at least I could read Kevin Cameron. And Peter Egan; lots of Peter Egan.

Chris Peris demonstrating body position during ChampSchool.
Chris Peris demonstrating body position during ChampSchool. (Ray Bradlau/)

While I’ve got decades of riding experience, there’s a big difference between being experienced and being a pro.

On my final day of ChampSchool, I was getting off the bike after the first track session of the morning, when Ienatsch came up to ask me how I thought it was going.

I confessed that I wasn’t feeling as good as I did the previous afternoon. I was too tense on the bike. “I’m sure I’ll be more comfortable after lunch,” I told him.

Ienatsch said that “not feeling it” is an emotional response to stress and nerves. “We shouldn’t ride emotionally,” he said. A large part of the act of motorcycling happens between the ears, and the goal of increasing our abilities on the bike is to make skills overpower the factors that make us lose our heads.

Ienatsch talking with riders during ChampStreet, a one-day class focused on getting street riders comfortable with correct riding techniques.
Ienatsch talking with riders during ChampStreet, a one-day class focused on getting street riders comfortable with correct riding techniques. (Ray Bradlau/)

The nature of my job means I can't always control the circumstances in which I ride. There are times when I find myself in a foreign country riding an unfamiliar bike through intense rainstorms and nursing a head cold and jet lag. In adverse circumstances, my riding ability has to be greater than any excuse for having nerves—even a legitimate excuse.

My conversations with Ienatsch and the lessons I learned at ChampSchool made it clear that speed isn’t the only product of proficiency—and maybe not even the most important one. Being safe is the other side of speed’s coin. That sounds obvious, I know. But I’d venture to say there are a lot of folks for whom safety doesn’t figure among their goals for becoming a better rider. They just want to be faster around on-ramps than their buddy.

Another right turn at NJMP. Anyone else prefer left-handers?
Another right turn at NJMP. Anyone else prefer left-handers? (Ray Bradlau/)

A professional rider isn't merely fast for fast's sake. Having the right skills makes them faster, sure, but it also means they have a greater margin for error. The bigger the skill set, the bigger the safety net.

If I can up my skills, stressful circumstances and imperfect riding conditions will have less of an impact on the way I control the motorcycle. My command of the machine should be the constant in the midst of variability. Skills should supercede conditions, mood, ego, and unfamiliarity with the motorcycle. Low-grip conditions? Doesn’t matter, there’s simply a smaller zone that prescribes how much I can trail-brake, lean, and open the throttle.

Students gather around as Ienatsch and other instructors introduce techniques during the first morning of ChampSchool.
Students gather around as Ienatsch and other instructors introduce techniques during the first morning of ChampSchool. (Ray Bradlau/)

The same techniques that pro-level racers use to get around the track fastest translate to the street rider who's trying to navigate the roads safest—doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home dad/motojournalist, a daily commuter, an Iron Butt rider, or a Marine Corps sergeant.

Ienatsch points out, “We’ve attracted the Marine Corps’ attention because it recognizes that we chase safety by honing skills—not talking, or preaching, or nannying speed/gears/etc.… It’s the same way they learn in pilot training. Riding becomes safer the closer we emulate the approaches and inputs of expert riders, no matter what our experience.”

For me, when I prioritized "safer" over "faster," I was more able to focus on practicing the skills they were teaching. And I started going faster as a by-product. Really, being faster means being better. Being better means being safer.

I’ve always wanted to be a professional motorcyclist. After track time with ChampSchool, maybe I’m getting closer to really being one. Now I have a broader definition of what that really means. Still, don’t expect any photos of me with my elbow on the deck any time soon.

On track during one of the first sessions.
On track during one of the first sessions. (Ray Bradlau/)The Yamaha YZF-R6 is a great bike to learn on, though it’s pretty cramped. Taller riders will likely struggle to move around on it.
The Yamaha YZF-R6 is a great bike to learn on, though it’s pretty cramped. Taller riders will likely struggle to move around on it. (Ray Bradlau/)Ienatsch and instructor Mark Schellinger in pit lane.
Ienatsch and instructor Mark Schellinger in pit lane. (Ray Bradlau/)

View the full article

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...