In our last installment of Ride Safe with Motoroids, we took a look at what the beginner rider must keep in mind before embarking on a ride. We detailed the basic safety guidelines, and how to care about other road users while keeping ourselves safe out on the street.
After more than a month, it is now time to move up the game. By now, you must be reasonably fast and safe. You should be able to overtake most vehicles on the road while giving a wide berth to potential dangers on the road. In this installment, we will show you how to go faster, and take corners harder and safer. These are techniques mostly learnt and honed at the track, but they apply equally well to the road too.
Motorcycling isn’t the hardest of tasks. It is pretty easy to get a hang of the basics and learning to ride. But then most riders plateau out. Unless we make a conscious effort to improve our riding skills, we won’t develop the confidence that enables us to ride faster and be safer at the same time. Riding a bike is easy, but riding fast and safe is pretty hard.
Below, we have outlined some of the common mistakes that novice riders commit when they’re getting to grips with their first bikes. We have also given easy solutions to these problems. If you’re one of those who’s looking to augment their riding skills just a notch, keep these techniques in mind the next time you head out to the twisties and you will be a better rider in no time.
Before you read further, if you missed out on the earlier chapters, do follow the links below:
- Erratic throttle control
Throttle modulation is one of the most important things to master first if you want to be safe, and fast. While it is not usually of much concern on smaller bikes thanks to their limited power outputs, proper throttle control becomes increasingly trickier as you move up the cubic capacity chart.
Sudden throttle inputs upset the balance of the bike. Crack it open too hard and the centre of gravity shifts to the rear tyre, loading up the rear suspension and making the whole front end go light. Not something you’d want to experience on bad road surfaces.
So how do you go about it? In the words of the great Keith Code, author of the Twist of the Wrist books: “Once the throttle is cracked open, it is rolled on evenly, smoothly, and constantly throughout the remainder of the turn.” This rule applies not just to the track, but on the road as well. Be smooth with the throttle, and not only will you be safer, you will also be saving quite a bit on fuel costs. And your bike’s engine will thank you for it.
- Rigid riding posture
This is something we have all experienced as new riders. Fear and apprehension of getting onto a bike makes us naturally tense, and the whole body goes rigid. You grip the ‘bars too firmly, and your thighs grab the tank harder than jack and Rose grabbed that plank of wood in Titanic.
But, much like Jack, grabbing onto the bike (or anything in life, as a matter of fact) only tires you out so much faster. Instead, a relaxed grip on the ‘bars and a relaxed torso will ensure that you don’t get fatigued too soon. Keep your upper body as loose and limber as possible, and your lower body will naturally take care of the heavy work.
And another thing, never lock your elbows; keeping them slightly bent will ensure lesser fatigue in the long run.
- Target fixation
Target fixation happens mostly when you rush into corners too fast, and panic. It can also happen when you see an imminent crash, or something apparently unavoidable in your path. Instead of looking at ways you can safely escape the danger, your eyes lock onto the part of the corner where you think you are going to crash. Or the oil patch or the big, lumbering truck coming your way. And before you know it, you crash into that very object you’ve been looking at.
Target fixation is a big no-no. It can be dangerous unless you consciously learn how to channel it so easily that it becomes second nature. It ain’t that hard to master either. The golden rule is, “Look where you want to go, and you will end up there.”
Rushed into a corner too fast? Take your eyes off that ditch beside the road, don’t panic, and just look at the farthest point of the road ahead visible to you. You will inevitably end up there. Trust us, your bike is more than capable of getting you out of most tricky situations, unless you’ve messed up too bad.
This seems like too simple a tip, but it really works.
- Being unaware of countersteering
Countersteering is not one way to make a bike lean into corners; it is THE ONLY way to make a bike lean into corners. And yet, even seasoned riders somehow manage to get it all wrong. Many have been riding for decades without having been aware of it ever. But, much like the simple tip given above, understanding countersteering and consciously practicing it a few times will vastly improve your riding style and make you a better and safer rider.
It works like this: “Push right to turn right, push left to turn left.” So, to elaborate, push down the left handlebars to turn to the left, and the right ‘bars to turn right. It’s that simple. If this is the first time you’re reading about countersteering, this might very well seem like the opposite of everything you have learnt so far. But countersteering really does work. Push the inside bars harder to make the bike lean more and turn quicker, and pull up the outside ‘bars to pick up the bike and exit the turn.
Try countersteering the next time you are on your bike. It will make a world of difference. Mastering countersteering is what separates the fast and safe riders from the slow ones.
- Uneven braking
Braking is an aspect of riding that we rarely give any thought to, until it’s too late. In India we have this widespread misconception that the rear brake is the all-powerful savior of the masses and the front brake is its antithesis, the horned devil that’s lurking, waiting to drag us down to the tarmac should we dare to touch it. It is actually not so. Cars and bikes are equipped with powerful brakes at the front and comparatively less powerful ones at the rear for the simple reason that most of the braking is done at the front wheel(s). They’re much more effective in bringing the bike to a halt, and the rear brake is there just to help stabilize the bike while the front does the actual job of retardation.
So, on the road – and considering our torrential monsoons and less than perfect road surfaces – we recommend at least a 70/30 brake force distribution between the front and rear. As your skill levels increase and you grow more confident, you can take it up to 80/20, which is what most pro racers use on the track.
And another thing, never ride the brakes. It is a tendency that our innate sense of caution makes us do, especially in stop-go traffic. But keeping your fingers or toes on the brake levers to hard in preparation for sudden braking will only wear out the pads or rotors sooner.
Just like the throttle, be smooth with the brakes and you should be able to make do without the safety net of ABS in most cases.
- Changing gears mid-corner
This is a bit more advanced. Taking a corner fast, you will often feel the need to shift gears to stay in the powerband and exit the corner at the fastest speed possible. This is however, another big no no.
Changing gears mid-corner upsets the balance of the bike, a dangerous position to be in when all that is separating you from the tarmac is two small slivers of rubber the size of a one-rupee note. The bike is at its twitchiest when leaned over, and any change in the power delivery at that moment will unsettle its composure.
When you cut power by rolling off the throttle to change gears, the bike stands up. You either run wide or, worst case scenario, crash. Even if you’re in control of the handling, changing gears also changes the distribution of traction on both wheels, which is not something you’d want while riding fast.
Find the right gear for each corner, shift into it, and stick to it throughout the corner. If it is a turn you’re unfamiliar with, choose a gear that will give you plenty of drive at the exit, and stay in it until you have crossed the apex of the turn.
This is not so much a tip as it is a general guideline for riding. Every bike you ride is different, sometimes even bikes of the same make and model. Over years, motorcycles develop their own characters and quirks, and they rarely remain the same as the time they exited the showroom doors.
It takes time to learn the quirks of every motorcycle, and develop your riding habits around them. Resist the impulse to just hop on a motorcycle and gun the throttle, because that will invariably end up in misery. Learn at how much pressure the front and rear brake applies, and at what point the clutch engages. Study the age and wear of the tyres and see how hard you can push it safely.
So there you have it. Make sure that you follow these easy-to-remember tips and you will be a faster and safer rider in no time. By the time you have mastered these tips, we will be back with our advanced riding tutorial. Stay tuned.