Full Lock? Do You Have Complete Control of Your Motorcycle?

Can anyone out there ride full lock? I can’t! I hate that I can’t! If you can, do you think it has to do with the model of motorcycle you ride? Is it all mental? Does it just take practice? 

Diana and I will be taking the Ride Like A Pro course offered in Mechanicsville, MD soon. There is also a class available in Mountainside, NJ. I saw this on the FAQ page of the Ride Like A Pro New Jersey website:

If you can take your motorcycle, turn the handlebars full-lock and scrape a perfect circle in the ground with your pegs or floorboards without dropping your bike or putting a foot down, you’re in complete control of your motorcycle.

Two Fingers on the Front Brake?

I grew up on dirtbikes and BMX bikes. Us dirtbike kids always covered the brake levers with two fingers while riding. Most of us had special little “dog leg” levers that only allowed room for two fingers. As a motorcross, trail and enduro rider I constantly worked the front brake lever with just two fingers. The remaining fingers allow you to hang on for dear life over bumpy terrain and control the throttle at the same time. Later in life I returned to motorcycling and bought a Harley-Davidson. I took the beginner and experienced MSF courses where I was instructed over and over to use all four fingers! I was even shouted at by instructors! Anything less than four fingers is frowned upon!

During the first cold weather ride of the 2010 season with my HOG Chapter I wore bulky winter gloves. Not being used to winter gloves the slight weight of my two fingers on the brake lever was just enough to engage the brake light (but not the brakes). The brake light stayed on and caught the attention of the other riders. They thought I might have a blown fuse or something and became concerned. When I explained to some of the other Road Captains that I often cover the front brake with two fingers I was told that what I was doing was contrary to all the instruction they heard. I argued briefly that covering the brake and being ready to stop at anytime allows me to stop quicker than someone who is waiting for the full four finger method taught in the MSF classes. I dropped the topic because I felt dumb. But the debate continued in my head. Did I have a bad habit that I needed to break? Or was I right and covering the front brake at all times while still controlling the throttle with my other fingers was an advantage? I often thought I should write a blog post about this skill set… but then I decided that it is probably just something that works for me and I should keep it to myself.

Then I read the chapters called Braking Techniques and Still Bringing Up the Rear in Ridin’ Safe by Larrry Grodsky and was relieved to find out I was right all along. Hopefully you already know a motorcycles stopping power is in the front brake. According to Larry the rear brake is not neccasary for stopping the motorcycle however it is a valuable aid in controlling the bike. Regarding my two finger braking here is what Larry says: “Two fingers are enough-if yours are long and strong enough, and if the lever hasn’t so much travel that it’s trapping your unused fingers against the grip.” I have been vindicated!

Click the below picture for more information on this book.

Stayin’ Safe

Natural Riding Ability?

I have always felt that those who grew up on dirtbikes as kids have a far greater ability to ride motorcycles than those who started as adults on the street. I thought this was because we got to play in the dirt without the worry of damaging a $30,000 Harley-Davidson with fancy paint and chrome. I also thought it was the lessons of traction learned by pushing a dirtbike until one knew the breaking point of traction. Not to mention one tends to bounce back up pretty quickly while in their teens. Not now though! I don’t even think I can bounce back after some light yardwork, never mind a spill on a dirtbike.

However I didn’t think of this: Larry Grodsky says in his book Stayin’ Safe that “even limited experience during the formative years rapidly establishes neuro-motor connections which the brain stores almost indefinitely. So an older novice might have more total miles, yet have to think about actions that the re-entry rider does instinctively.” In other words those who learn to ride motorcycles at a young age have a strong advantage because the brain is younger and still forming. The ability to learn comes more naturally at a young age. Instincts are wired into the brain and never forgotten. That explains why some people have that natural duck to water ability to ride and others have to work a little harder at it. Some riders whip their bikes around on a dime and some need a good fifteen minutes to get into a parking position. Some instinctively know how to roll on and off the throttle, feather the clutch and apply the brakes without thinking. Those are the ones who are always explaining the methods to the other ones who have to think about it. The same ones who have to learn it and practice to get on par with those who learned it in the formative years.

I wish I had spent time learning about something valuable back then when my brain was formative. Instead I was riding (and crashing) my dirtbike every chance I got. If the MSF could develop a time machine we could all go back in time and all learn to Ride Like A Pro.

Street Strategies by David Hough

Street Strategies

Sorry, no Aril Fools Day jokes here. I do have a book review for you. I recently read Street Stragies – A Survival Guide For Motorcyclists by David Hough the Author of Proficient Motorcycling and More Proficient Motorcycling. David Hough is a columnist for several motorcycle magazines who writes safety tips. He is also an illustrator and photographer.

This book is written and manufactured to be something a rider keeps in his saddlebag and takes along for the ride. It is compact in size at 6″ x 9.25″ and made to withstand the rigors of travel. It is not a hard cover book but it is not the typical paperback either. It has a special doublethick cover that extends beyond the edges of the text pages to protect them from getting bent or damaged during travel. At least that’s my oppinion of the cover. The cover also has entended endflaps to hold your place in the book. The text pages themselves are printed in sharp black ink on high quality matte coated stock which compliments David’s illustrations and B&W photography.

This book is a collection of 73 safety articles that have been collected and published. Each is written in a unique story format that is short, reader friendly and to the point. First it will tell a story staring with something like: “You are out for a Sunday cruise on your favorite road when…” Then it will provide a short paragraph or two about what could be done to avoid an accident in the illustrated example. This is perfect to take along and read a paragraph or two when you need to rest or kill time.

You are on a long distance trip and it starts to pour cats and dogs. You pull over to a friendly roadside diner and get a cup of coffee. You pull out your copy of Street Strategies and read a few safety tips while you wait for the initial slippery oils to wash off the road top. When things are a little less slippery, you put the book away for another time. As you leave the parking lot you notice the road is less slippery now and congratulate yourself for reading the book reviews on Road Captain USA and purchasing this great little book. You also pat yourself on the back for being smart enough to get off the roadway during the first thirty minutes of rain when the road is most slippery.

At $19.95 it is a small price to pay for something that could save your life. It is an easy reader and not technical which might appeal to many riders. This is a collection of short artcles and sometimes the same themes start to repeat but with a slightly different angle. You can pick it up and read any safety tip in any order. It will put you in the right mind set to get out and ride safely.

If you’re looking for more in depth technical information and have the patience to read more material and are not looking for a quick read, maybe this book is not for you. I have not read David Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling and More Proficient Motorcycling but they may be the more in depth companions to this book.

Remember, any time and money invested in improving your riding skills and knowledge is well spent. Forget the chrome, invest in yourself first. Then buy the chrome… or matte black. Whichever you prefer.

Click here for more information about this book or here for Proficient Motorcycling.

Ride Your Own Ride?!

A phrase that motorcyclists hear quite often in reference to group riding: “Ride Your Own Ride”. What does it mean? How do you do it when you are riding in a group?

Obviously the group dynamic prohibits a rider from completely riding his own ride.  If each member of a group were to ride his own pace in his chosen lane position and for that matter to his own destination, there wouldn’t be much of a group involved in the ride at all!  They’d be scattered all over, some on back roads and some on highways, some cruising merrily along while others attempt to break salt flat records, and they’d probably never even come into contact at all over the course of the day.

OK, let’s suppose that a group has decided on a common route and destination… we still have a disorganized, inconsistent, and I daresay dangerous combination of riding styles, all attempting to share the same roads at the same time.  Riders pass each other haphazardly, ride up next to each other in the same lane (whether the person ahead is comfortable with that or not), leave giant gaps in the formation, and even perform stunts (a la “Look ma, no hands!”) in close proximity to other riders.  This is the exact scenario I have found at many “open” events.  That is not to say that the typical rider lacks riding skills or has reckless disregard for others, but more likely that they’re not experienced in safe group riding practices.

As a new rider I was reminded to ride my own ride during the safety instructions at the beginning of practically every chapter ride. I often wondered what exactly it was supposed to mean.  After all, each rider must hold his own position in the pack, follow the pace and directions of the road captain and all other riders in front of him, and pass back signals as directed.  While riding sweep and near the back of the group, I have witnessed the beauty of a group of twenty plus bikes cruising along the asphalt in a perfectly harmonious formation… like a symphony of rolling thunder.  However, holding the good of the group in high priority certainly does not seem to facilitate any of the individual riders doing their own thing.  And yet the near constant reminder to “ride your own ride”.

After nearly 25,000 miles in the saddle, the vast majority of it ridden in groups ranging from four to thirty and more motorcycles, I have deduced my own meaning for this seemingly incomprehensible phrase.  Even when following strictly regimented practices of group riding, motorcyclists must remember that they are not sheep obliviously following a shepherd; they are ultimately responsible for their own individual bikes.  Do not run a red light for fear that the forward part of the group will leave you behind.  Stop at intersections and check traffic for yourself instead of just rolling blindly right on through.  Watch for pot holes, road kill, and other hazards for yourself instead of relying on a signal to be passed back.  If you need more space or perceive it appropriate to go single-file when it has not been designated by the group leader, feel free to signal your intentions to the other riders in the pack and then do it.  Do not out-ride your skill level just to keep up with the rest of the group.  Trust that the ride leaders and road captains will do their job and make sure that your needs are met by pulling over at a safe location to allow you to catch up, adjusting the group pace to compensate for lesser skill level of newer riders, and so on.  Do not assign responsibility to them for your carelessness and naive indifference to your own riding safety.

So does ride your own ride mean you are free to do whatever you feel like? Definitely not!  Does it mean to take responsibility for yourself as well as deferring to the safety of the rest of the group? Absolutely!  When each rider pays diligent attention to the latter you have the makings of a successful group ride!  On the contrary, the former creates nothing but a bunch of individuals riding in a cluster.

Shaving Seconds

When riding a motorcycle, every second counts.  Motorcycle safety courses and departments of motor vehicles tell riders to keep a minimum two-second following distance behind the vehicle in front of you.  But motorcyclists should constantly scan and anticipate what is coming at them much farther down the road.  Cagers often don’t see us, so we need to take the responsibility to see them…the sooner the better.

Besides being aware of approaching vehicles, intersections, obstacles in the roadway, and poor road conditions as you approach them, a good rider will also take actions so as to prepare for these things should they suddenly become hazards.  Cruising down the highway with your legs stretched out on the cruise pegs is a welcome relief for stiff or cramping legs, and it’s super cool…but needing to relocate your feet back to the controls to be able to break or shift in an emergency situation adds valuable seconds to your response time.

Whenever approaching an intersection, blind curve, or any other situation where there is an increased likelihood of encountering trouble, it is a good idea to take your feet back off those highway pegs and put them in position where they are ready to brake or shift.  Feet are not the only thing that needs to prepare.  Cover both brake and clutch levers with your hands so as to eliminate the time needed to reach and grab them, leaving only the time it takes for the actual squeeze. 

Besides preparing yourself physically, you can also shave seconds through mental preparation.  Having an “escape” pre-planned can cut down on your reaction time because there is no hesitation while you evaluate the situation and decide what to do…you already have!  Practice emergency braking and swerve techniques in an empty parking lot on a regular basis, or take rider safety course.  These skills keep you in tip-top shape for when you need to use them. 

Keeping your motorcycle in good shape will help too.  Properly inflated tires and maintained brakes allow your bike to come to a stop more quickly.  All of these little things add up.  Shaving a few tenths of a second by covering your brakes & clutch, a few more by having your feet in ready position, even more for proper brakes and tires, and more still for mental & skill preparation all combined together can literally shave up to three seconds off of your response time.

Three seconds?  Big deal, right?  Well actually, yeah it is a big deal!  Many of us tend to overlook the obvious.  Riding at 30 mph actually means that you are moving a distance of approximately 50 feet in a second.  A typical intersection is only 50 feet wide.  That means that if you even saved just one second off your response time, it could make the difference between your bike stopping before you reach that car suddenly pulling out in front of you or not stopping until you’ve actually slammed into, skidded under, or flown over it…and that’s only one second at 30 mph!  Just think of the distance you could save over 3 seconds at 60 mph!

Those 3 seconds very well might save you – and your Harley – from a bad scrape!

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