Thinking in Vs-Dissecting Cornerspeed

Paul Duval thinking in Vs – otmpix.com

Guest writer Paul Duval shares his thoughtful observations about performance cornering based on electronic data gathering.
Corner speed. It is the holy grail of motorcycle road racing and track day riding alike. Knee down and railing, carving the corners like a snowboarder or giant slalom skier. It looks and feels awesome! Smooth technique pays big dividends and you can carry a lot of speed as your skills progress.
But how is it that you can be cranked way over thinking you have maxed your speed for a given corner and yet, some other dude comes by on the inside (or outside at a Tony’s Track Day!) and walks away from you before the bikes are even upright on the next straight bit?
And by the way, He’s not even leaned over as far as you are! There must be more to corner speed than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look at the middle of a corner.

Corner Speed Perception

If we draw the arc of your path on paper it looks like a smooth outside-inside-outside line and it is easy to visualize maintaining a somewhat constant speed, decreasing and increasing in a smooth fashion, but overall steady. One could imagine their speed data trace looking similar or the same as the arc of their line through the corner. This is, in fact, how most riders perceive cornerspeed. They feel they can put a number on it.
For example, that’s a 70 mph sweeper, or a 50 mph hairpin. But something is wrong. How did that fast guy in the example above pass while you were dragging knee, elbow, boot, etc. with 57 degrees of lean angle? If he’s going faster, wouldn’t he need MORE lean, not less?

V is for Variable Corner Speed

If we look at GPS speed data from a corner, we can see the first flaw in our perception of corner speed. It is not constant. It is not even close. From the start of the arc that we drew with our bike, speed drops precipitously until it reaches a low point much slower than expected somewhere near the middle of the arc. If you perceive a 70 MPH corner, the chances are your slowest point of that turn is 50MPH. This rapidly dropping speed line doesn’t rest at the bottom for long rather it reverses course and quickly climbs out of the hole. The trace of your speed data doesn’t look like a U. Instead it looks decidedly like a V.   Our minds fill in the slow spot, and we perceive a 70 MPH corner.

In this image we see speed over distance data (kph) for Thompson Speedway turns 1-4.

The Pivot Point

The bottom of the V, or the slowest point of the corner is the important spot to recognize.   From here on out I will call this the pivot point. The pivot point should actually be part of your cornering plan. In other words, you need a reference point (or a few) for this spot on track. It is the spot at which your bike can change direction the most easily.
This critical moment in riding is often ignored, but it is where the real direction change happens. As you trail off the brakes, your hands get lighter on the controls until you have no weight on the bars and you allow the wheel fall INTO the turn. THIS is the spot where your grip needs to be as light as possible.
To be clear, you still need to countersteer to initiate lean. Countersteering is an important technique, but in this article, we are focused on the middle of the turn, the pivot point.

photo: otmpix.com

When and Where to Pivot?

Most of you are thinking, “we are talking about the apex, right”? I am avoiding the word apex on purpose. Many people refer to the apex as the point where you are closest to the inside of the pavement. This is often not the same place as the pivot point.
For example, double apex corners and increasing radius corners tend to have the pivot point in a different location than the “apex”. This concept applies to all bikes, big and small, and all lines, point and shoot, or fast and flowing. Different bikes may choose different pivot points to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform.
Examples:

  • In a “fast exit” corner, the pivot point would be located earlier and you would get on the gas sooner to take advantage of that fast exit.
  • In a “slow exit” corner, the pivot point is located later to take advantage off all the possible entry speed.
  • In a “balanced corner” (equally fast entry/exit) you have a little wiggle room. If you need entry speed to pass a rider you can pivot a little later, if you want to out drive them on the exit then pivot a little earlier.
photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

Similar Mid-Corner Speed

Interestingly, if you compare a fast lap and a slow one, you will often see that the mid corner speed (slowest point) of the faster rider is not a lot different from that of intermediate riders. Maybe just a few MPH, or maybe no different at all!
What you will see is that the slopes of the V in the speed data trace are steeper, usually on both sides. The faster rider is faster into and out of the corner. Understanding where your pivot point is allows you to plan the fastest way the get to it, and the fastest way to get away from it.
So here comes that fast(er) guy blowing by you on the outside into a fast corner. You already feel you are mid corner and cranked over good, but he knows that he has some yards to go before reaching the pivot point, and is taking advantage by carrying more entry speed, tipping in slower and braking later or longer.
You both reach the same minimum speed in this corner, and you feel like he’s in touch for a moment. You might even feel like your “corner speed” is the same as his, but he quickly pivots the bike and walks away on the exit because he can accelerate sooner than you. Sigh.
Time to start thinking in Vs.


otmpix.com

About Paul Duval

Paul Duval is the latest RITZ guest writer. Paul is a fellow track day instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, and professional educator. You can see Paul in action at most Tony’s Track Days events.


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Guest Writer: Taking Control- Hope is not a plan

Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com
Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Jamie Renna shares his thoughts on sport touring and the benefits of advanced knowledge and training:
There is a genuine adrenaline rush that comes after carving a corner with a smooth approach; throttle roll off/brake, lean and a spirited throttle roll on.
I’m new to motorcycling. I’ve got less than 3 years of riding under my 52-year-old belt. They have been fun years. I’ve crammed two Non-Sport Bike Track Days and two trips down the famous Blue Ridge Parkway in my early years of this new challenging hobby. My bookshelf is populated with several well-read reference books including Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist II, Lee Park’s Total Control and Ken’s Motorcycling the Right Way. Reading, and re-reading these books have provided me with a much better understanding of how motorcycles work and why they behave the way they do.
Motorcycling is a learning activity and that really appeals to me. I get great satisfaction from beating a challenge by utilizing my small but growing collection of riding skills. The instantaneous feedback of successfully carving a corner can result in a grin that extends from ear to ear.

Getting it Right

My quest for a smoothly carved corner has too often been thwarted by factors that seemed to be out of my control. Something was happening that kept causing me to:

  • correct my lane position in mid-corner
  • swerve to avoid an obstacle I should have noticed
  • scrub off speed in a descending and/or decreasing radius turn
  • and other unplanned “Wow, that was close!” maneuvers.

The Big Question

I wondered: Were all these grin-defeating events out of my control and simply the price of admission for spirited riding in a non-track environment? I think not.

My Training Tour Experience

I’m now confident that I can take control of my riding in a way that will minimize the risk and make close calls a thing of the past, partly because I spent two fun (and rain) filled days touring southern VT and western MA with Ken as part of a 1 on 1 personal Training Tour.
I don’t want this to sound like an infomercial, but I wanted to share all of my thoughts beyond a brief testimonial.
I chose to invest in Ken’s training to augment the Track Days and copious reading I had previously completed. I concluded I needed on-street training to learn how to better manage the factors that prevented me from exiting EVERY corner EVERY time with a grin.
Ken tailored a 2-day curriculum that matched my skills and comfort level. We rode for ~250 miles over 2 days with frequent roadside stops to review Go-Pro video of my less-than-perfect technique. Ken provided crisp, objective, real-time commentary on my riding performance via Bluetooth communicators. You get to do a lot of neat things at a track day, but you can only get this type of personal observation and critique in a small group Training Tour.
The on-street coaching included a disciplined approach to observe and act upon all the leading indicators that are present before you even approach a curve. Ken provides the decoder ring so you can proactively read the leading indicators including:

  • curve radius
  • rate of change for the curve radius (increasing, decreasing or constant)
  • guardrail position
  • telephone poles
  • camber direction changes
  • and pedestrians

He will narrate to you via the Bluetooth communicator all of these indicators to better prepare you to ultimately exit a curve with a big grin.
Once comfortable, the roles will be reversed and you will get a chance to narrate to him all the indicators that each curve presents to you. It’s a bit intense. If you are like me, you will feel a fun change as you morph from a reactive (“I really hope there are no surprises on the other side of this corner.”) rider to a proactive curve-carver. Your confidence level will rise faster than your tachometer as you get comfortable reading the road and being in position to get every drop of fun out of every curve.
The on-road sessions are periodically interrupted with parking lot drills to sharpen skills that might have atrophied. These include slow speed U-turns and emergency swerving left or right. Other fun drills involved hard front or rear braking on a sandy surface to experience the shudder of your ABS system.
One last memorable drill was to rapidly stop from a speed of 55+ mph. This type of stopping might be needed to avoid hitting a deer if swerving is not an option. Ken had me do this drill in a remote area where we were sure no other vehicles were present. Doing it on a dry road was fun…doing it later in the day while it was raining was…rewarding.

Final Thoughts

  • Remember: Hope is not a plan.
  • Take full advantage of all your opportunities for qualified training.
  • Read.
  • Ask questions.
  • Read again.
  • Go to a Track Day.
  • Read some more.
  • Take a Training Tour.

There are lots of grins waiting for all of us in those curves. Go get your share.


Jamie_Renna-portraitJamie Renna is an aeronautical engineer who started motorcycling after his 50th birthday. He has aggressively pursued numerous forms of training to ride safely while seeking the next big grin. His newly found motorcycle peeps have been a great source of riding technique tips, motorcycle maintenance skills and most of all laughs.


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Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com
Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Ed Conde shares his experiences about how track days have helped his street riding.

The Next Level

I came to riding late. I did not begin riding until I was pushing 50. I tried to make up for lost time by training and reading everything that I could find. I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Course and the MSF Experienced Riding Course multiple times. The books and the courses definitely helped my street awareness and slow speed skills. However, I felt that these tools did not adequately prepare me for riding at speed on the street.
I tried improving my street riding by working on a skill or two each time I rode. I regularly practiced threshold braking, swerving, and weaving in parking lots. All of this helped a lot, but I felt that something was missing. I found that something when I began to do track days.

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

  1. Observation and feedback from track professionals.
  2. Action photographs that captured my riding and body position.
  3. The ability to repeat the same corners at speed without cars or other distractions.

Observation and Feedback from track professionals – There simply is no substitute for having an expert follow and observe you riding at speed. The difference between my perception of my riding and what experts saw was pretty sobering. I suspect that most of us are not as good as we think we are. Track instructors and control riders noticed that that my body position needed improvement, that I needed to relax, that my lines needed improvement, that my shifting needed work, and that my throttle/brake transitions needed to be smoother. This was a bit shocking considering how much time I had devoted to riding technique.
Action photographs – Photos do not lie! I have hated some of my track photographs because they captured all of the things that I was doing wrong. Track photographers often take photos at different curves and from different vantage points. My track photos gave me great feedback on my riding, although I did not always like what I saw.
The ability to repeat corners at speed – Being able to repeat the same corners at speed allowed me to see how changes affected my riding. It is impossible for me to duplicate this on the street where corners vary and hazards abound. While I practiced skills like trail braking, countersteering, downshifting, cornering lines, and body position in parking lots, everything changed at street speeds. Braking and downshifting from 30mph in a parking lot was a lot different than braking and downshifting from 65mph into a hairpin at the track. In addition, following an actual road was more realistic, for me, than following a cone course in a parking lot.

Are track skills useful on the street?

Folks often ask if the skills I learned at track days are transferable to the street. My answer is absolutely! Where else can you work on your riding skills safely at actual road speeds? While many skills learned at a Basic MSF Course or a “Ride Like a Pro” Course are extremely valuable, slow speed skills are often opposite to those I need at speed. While favoring the rear brake and counter weighting may improve my slow speed riding, it hinders my riding at speed.

Body Position Practice

Perhaps the best example of personal improvement from track riding is in my body position. (click on photos for larger image)

Track2009labeled
Figure 1

Figure 1 is a video screen shot of my first track day with Tony’s Track Days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009. At the time, I felt like I was riding well and actually passed most riders on the track. Looking at the photo now, I can see that I am almost scraping hard parts even though I am not riding fast. My upper body is leaning away from the turn and my eyes are not looking through the turn. I am pushing the bike beneath me dirt bike style which made me feel like I was really leaning.
HudsonLabeled
Figure 2

Figure 2 is a photo from 2011 taken near Bear Mountain, NY. I am trying to work on lessons learned at the track. I am no longer pushing the bike beneath me and my head is turned somewhat. The centerline of my jacket is now in line with the center of the bike. Despite some improvement, the footpeg is almost scraping at a modest lean angle.
DragonLabeled
Figure 3

Figure 3 is a photo from 2013 at the Tail of the Dragon. I had actually been working hard on skills learned at the track before this trip. The centerline of my jacket was now inside the centerline of the bike. My head turn was much better and I was beginning to weight the inside half of the seat. This photo is a big improvement, but I was still almost scraping my left footpeg at a modest lean angle.
TrackCurrentLabeled
Figure 4

Figure 4 is after multiple track days in 2014 and 2015. My head and shoulders are now lower and well inside the centerline of the bike. The head turn is better and almost all of my weight is on the inside half of the seat. I am not scraping despite a more pronounced lean angle. While I will not usually hang off this much on the street, I will use the better head & shoulder position and the weighting of the inside half of the seat on all my street rides.
 

Safer and More Confident Cornering

I will definitely use the skills that I have been learning at the track to ride better while conserving lean angle on the street. By keeping lean angle in reserve, I will have a safety margin if I need to tighten up my line during a curve. I will continue to attend parking lot courses because many fundamentals are learned best there. I will continue to practice slow speed skills with counter weighting, head turn, and dragging the rear brake. I will continue honing my street awareness skills and ability to anticipate trouble. However, I will not neglect training at speed with the help of professionals. I still have a lot to learn, but look forward to the challenge.

Track_Day_TTD_2015_Thompson_6-3-15c1-338
Anyone can do a track day. photo: otmpix.com

Editor Ken: Even if you ride a cruiser, tourer, ADV bike, or whatever, there is a track day for you. Non-Sportbike Track Days are available, as well as “traditional”sportbike track days . Either type of track day allows street riders to advance their skills in a safer environment than the street.
Share your comments below. Note that comments from those who have not commented before need approval before they are posted, so be patient, they will be published.


Ed Conde
Ed Conde

Ed Conde is an administrator and webmaster for the group New England Riders (NER). He enjoys finding the best motorcycle roads, views, and restaurants and posting them to the NER Best of the Northeast website.
His real job is running the federal government’s alcohol countermeasures laboratory and testifying at impaired driving cases. Ed enjoys learning about riding and marvels at the skills of top racers, motocrossers, and trials riders. He and his wife Debra ride all over the Northeast on their motorcycles.


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Guest Writer: Becoming "That Rider”

Track_Day_JMeyers-action1-sm
Jeff, being “That Rider”. photo: otmpix.com

It was a long and cold winter here in the Northeast, but at the first Tony’s Track Days event of the year at the beginning of May, we were given clear skies and ideal temperatures. Last year, I worked hard on my track day form which included letting speed come with practice. My effort was rewarded with an advancement from the novice to intermediate level. This year, I was amazed at how much I retained even with a seven month gap.

My Mantra: “You Are That Rider Now!”

As I rolled out onto the track for my first session and each one thereafter, I heard my track Guru Ken’s voice in my head, and what he told me at my one-one-one session last year: “You are that rider now! – when you go out for a session, ride that way right from the start.” I started saying that to myself – “You are that rider now.” I believe it was that confident mind-set that allowed me to tap into the foundation that I had built from my work last year.

Repetition Builds Muscle and Mind Memory

Last year, I met my goal of completing ten track days. This helped me, through repetition, build muscle and mind memory. The first few sessions of my first day this year went remarkably well. Of course, I was not as proficient as I was at the end of last season, but my body “knew” what it was supposed to do, and I was able to get into the proper body position quickly.  My eyes reached out and ratcheted far ahead through the turns and down the straights to reduce the sensation of speed.  And, as the day progressed, I was able to work up to speeds approaching my fastest last year.

photo: otmpix.com
photo: otmpix.com

Muscle and Mind Memory Lead to Confidence

The thing that really amazed me was how comfortable I was in my head. I no longer felt a flash of fear when another rider slowed dramatically, crossed my line in front of me, or passed me on the outside of a turn; I just managed the situation without much thought.
At one point, I was following behind a rider on a faster bike, and I was on his tail in the turns, but he would pull away in the straights. I decided that I could pass him going into the sharp right hand turn after the long straight by waiting to initiate my braking until after he did and trail brake into the turn as best as I could. I did this, and was just about to “tip-in” to the turn, when another rider came up on my right. I delayed my turn waiting for this rider to initiate his. He never did. Instead, he stayed upright, and locked his rear wheel, and went straight into the run-off area. Once he was out of my line, I went about my turn and kept riding. Last year, this incident would have scared me silly and shaken me the rest of the day. This year, my heart rate didn’t even go up…but maybe it should have!
So, I guess I really am “that rider now.” The lesson for me is that a mantra, conscious effort, repetition, and a great coach build confidence. Thanks Ken!


Jeff Meyers
Jeff Meyers

Jeff Meyers is a self-described middle-aged sport bike and track day dog. He has been riding for almost 30 years and, like many folks of his vintage, was taught by his friends. He is amazed to still be here given what he did at a young age on a motorcycle with such little skill and such a need for speed. He is a lawyer at his “real” job, but also is a part time Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach and has had the privilege of working for Suzuki assisting in running demo rides, mostly at the Americade rally in Lake George, New York. Jeff loves to learn, especially about riding motorcycles.
 


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Guest Writer: When Do You Lean?

The ability to lean a motorcycle with confidence is a fundamental part of riding. Unfortunately, humans do not come hardwired to lean much more than about 20 degrees, which is the lean angle where we start to lose traction  when we run in a circle on grass or dirt. Motorcycle riders must get beyond this lean angle limit for even basic maneuvers. This requires a leap of faith that the tires will grip. Practice is important to train your mind and muscles to lean beyond your comfort zone so you will be able to lean more if necessary. Once greater lean angles become more comfortable, the next skill to refine is timing so you reach maximum lean angle at the right point in the corner.


 
Paul Duval at full lean.www.otmpix.com
Paul Duval at full lean. www.otmpix.com

Meet Paul Duval

Paul Duval is the latest RITZ guest writer. Paul is a fellow track day and MSF instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, and professional educator. Let’s listen to Paul’s take on the importance of accurately timing maximum lean angle.


Timing Maximum Lean Angle

After many years of racing and instructing on the racetrack, there is one persistent mistake I see riders make when trying to ride faster: Using too much lean, too late in the corner.

Who is making this mistake?

Everyone is susceptible to this problem. Novice and intermediate track day riders often make the mistake of  increasing lean angle late in the corner in an attempt to get their knee down. Especially vulnerable riders are those with a lot of “natural talent” who got fast so much more quickly than everyone else. They end up riding fast, but without the knowledge and precision necessary to manage that corner speed.

What’s the Problem?

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.

You may say, “What’s the big deal, I’m knee down and cranking?!” Yes, you may be fast, but this mistake WILL eventually lead to a crash, and probably a BIG one.
The problem with reaching max lean angle well after the apex of a turn is that this is precisely where you want to be on the gas.  Other riders will be already picking the bike up and driving hard.  This will encourage you to match their drive, but you are still adding lean angle.
Remember this:  Adding lean angle AND throttle at the same time is how high sides happen. The opposing forces of changing direction and accelerating can easily exceed available traction and will cause the rear tire to slide.   When this happens, slides are extremely quick, unpredictable, and hard to recover from.  All of your momentum is going exactly the wrong way.

Why do I keep doing this?

There are a few reasons people make this mistake.
Weak countersteering skills:  Newer riders haven’t yet mastered the “quick turn” technique of using counter steering to get the bike leaned over.  They bend their motorcycle into the turns gradually and often pass the apex entirely before the bike has changed direction.  Now they are running out of real estate and HAVE to lean it over to finish the turn.
Lack of reference points:Beginner and Intermediate track riders often use other riders as their reference points. This leads to a lot of crazy entry lines, none of which help the rider get the bike to change direction before the apex.  They commonly ride around the entry point as well as the apex, then crank the bike over to finish the turn.
Charging the corners:  Faster riders who make this mistake are at the most risk.  They rush into the corner at a pace that does not allow them to consistently hit their marks.  They will blow by a tip in point, drift wide past the apex, and then attempt to recover to get back on the “fast” exit line by adding a little more lean and a little more throttle.
Even with all this effort, they wonder why the faster guys are still pulling away.  They aren’t even cranked over like I am!!!  Hmmmm???  You may get away with late lean angles for a while, but eventually, you will push this mistake too far. Highside city.

The Solution?

The correction for all these riders is pretty similar.  And it’s not what they want to hear:  SLOW DOWN your corner entry to a speed that you can actually handle.  I mean a speed at which you can identify reference points, and ride an accurate line from tip in to apex that allows you to OPEN the corner after the apex, rather than tighten it up.  You need to learn to time your throttle inputs and your lean angle so that as you drive out of the corner and standing the bike up progressively as you roll on the gas.  BRAAAAP!  Wheee!


A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside. copyright Riding in the Zone.

Ken:
Thanks Paul. Paul mentioned the importance of being able to turn quickly. By being able to countersteer with authority, you are able to get your motorcycle from upright to leaned so that the majority of the direction change is complete BEFORE the apex. With the change in direction mostly complete, you can reduce lean angle as you roll on the gas. Traction is managed and all is well. Post your comments below.


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Guest Writer: Just Go Faster

Jeff Meyers on his '05 ZX6R
Jeff Meyers on his ’05 ZX6R www.otmpix.com

“Just go faster, Jeff,” my track riding guru Ken Condon says after asking him what I need to do next as a track day rider.  I am flattered, because Ken says that my track form is very good. He says that I am on “the line,” I am riding predictably and smoothly, and my body position, while I am sure it can be tweaked, is getting much better.
However, I am also befuddled because I wish it were that simple to “just go faster.” The problem is that each time I enter a turn faster than before, alarm bells shriek in my head, and adrenaline courses through my system. A voice screams “You are going waaaaay too fast for this corner!!” I am terrified.

Speed is the Result of Good Technique

Ken tells me that a faster pace is the result of good technique and consistency. So, I discipline myself to look farther down the track, keep maintenance throttle, relax my hands and upper body, and make my bike lean a little farther, all while being mindful not to move too much so that I don’t upset the suspension or cause tire slip. It’s a balancing act, a tightrope on two wheels. I am terrified, and yet I am so happy at the same time.

Take the Time You Need

I’m not exactly a rookie to track riding. I have done fifteen track days total, all with Tony’s Track Days.  Up until now, I have spent my time in the novice (Red) group, often debating whether I was ready to bump up to the intermediate (Yellow) group. I decided to stay in the novice group longer than I needed to so I could cement the basics and eliminate bad habits at relatively slower speeds. I also wanted to learn how to pass safely and courteously.

The lucky new owner of the ZX6R. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Jeff Meyers

My ego didn’t like it, but I kept telling my ego to shut the hell up because my body didn’t want to pay the price of crashing. It worked. I am now a solid “Yellow Rider” and feel confident that I am there with the appropriate skill set. Ironically, “yellow” is an appropriate description for my current level since fear is now the main factor holding me back from going faster.
Over the next several track days, I plan to fine-tune my form, push myself against that fear barrier, and (hopefully) build confidence each time so that I become consistently faster. My goal is to bump up to the Advanced (Blue) group, and who knows, maybe to the Super-advanced (Black) group someday.


Jeff Meyers is the newest guest blogger to the RITZ team. Jeff is a self-described middle-aged sport bike and track day dog. He has been riding for almost 30 years and, like many folks of his vintage, was taught by his friends. He is amazed to still be here given what he did at a young age on a motorcycle with such little skill and such a need for speed. He is a lawyer at his “real” job, but also is a part time Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach and has had the privilege of working for Suzuki assisting in running demo rides, mostly at the Americade rally in Lake George, New York. Jeff loves to learn, especially about riding motorcycles.


Thanks, Jeff. I’m sure you will meet your goal of moving into the faster groups. Just continue to take the time you need to get there.
What are your riding goals? What holds you back from accomplishing them?


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Guest Writer: If in doubt, UPshift

Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.
Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.

Chuck Boucher is the latest RITZ guest blog contributor. Chuck is an expert level roadracer with the Loudon Roadracing Series and is an instructor for Tony’s Track Days.
You can read Chuck’s biography here.
Chuck recently had a racing mishap that landed him in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and a few other less serious, yet painful injuries. Chuck knows exactly what he did wrong and wanted to share his cautionary tale with you to hopefully prevent you from experiencing the same agony.  Let’s see what Chuck has to say.


If in doubt, UPshift!

by Chuck Boucher
As I sit here, recovering from a recent racing incident, I reflect on the reason I’m in need of crutches and pain killers. My little mishap occurred on the first lap of the first practice session during a Loudon Road Race Series (LRRS) event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The lap was typical of any other I had run during the past six years as an LRRS roadracer. Unfortunately, this time around, I found a false neutral and the absence of any engine braking.

This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.
This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.

A False What?

In case you don’t know, a false neutral is when the motorcycle fails to completely engage a gear. This results in zero engine braking and an unexpected sense of coasting that actually feels more like acceleration, just when you want to be slowing down. Yikes!
Downshifting at this time is usually a bad idea, because you risk momentarily skidding the rear tire if the gear is too low for the bike’s speed when the gears finally do engage. Instead, the best way to handle this situation is to shift UP into the next higher gear so you don’t end up in too low a gear for the speed you are traveling. A too low gear can easily cause the rear tire to lose traction. Do this while leaned and you have a bad result.

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.
Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.

My Downfall

Unfortunately, with the turn one apex fast approaching, my mind said click the shifter up (my race bike is GP shift, which means clicking the lever upward causes a downshift). I knew my mistake the moment I let the clutch lever out. The rear wheel skipped a few times then locked, sliding the rear end of the bike sideways. Then the tires regained grip and catapulted me over the high-side.
Understand that there are times on the street or track when you have fractions of a second to make decisions that could cost you dearly. These decisions can go well, or not, based on previous experience. My false neutral took me completely by surprise and I acted wrong. You can be sure it won’t happen again.
If you’ve never experienced a missed downshift and a false neutral, count yourself lucky. However, if it does happen to you, take my advise and always shift UP! You may not have the engine braking you desire and you’ll be in too high of a gear, but at least you won’t likely high side.

More Good Advise

Stuff can happen to anyone, at any time. Whether it is a car at an intersection, a missed downshift or a too fast corner entry. How you react and what you do in that brief moment can be the difference between a close call and taking a ride in an ambulance strapped to a back board. My message to you is to always keep your skills sharp to avoid a worst-case scenario.
Consider taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced Rider Course (BRC 2) and participating in a track day to acquire advanced braking and cornering skills.


Thanks for sharing what you learned, Chuck. Heal up fast!
Editor: Someone asked about whether a slipper clutch would have saved the day. I do believe a slipper would have re-engaged the power gradually enough to perhaps prevent the severe loss of grip. While a slipper clutch can do wonders, the actual clutch design and how sensitive it’s adjusted will affect whether or not the slipper re-engages the power slowly enough. This will still cause the rear to slide, just not nearly as much.
Do you have a similar experience to share? Make a comment below.


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Guest Writer: Rider As Passenger

Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.
Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.

Finally! My daughter, Jeannine has submitted her first post. She has so much to contribute, being a longtime rider, recent MSF RiderCoach, track day control rider, industry professional, and of course my daughter.
Let’s see what Jeannine has to say about those times when she finds herself on the back of a bike, instead of in control behind the handlebars.


Being on the back stirs thoughts and feelings when you're a rider yourself.
Being on the back stirs unique thoughts and feelings when you’re a rider yourself.

Ever since I became a licensed motorcyclist, riding on the back has been a challenge because I’m not in control, eek! I also wonder what being on the back says about me as a rider to the general public. Although these are generally taken as negatives, I’ve learned that there are benefits to spending time as a passenger.

Control

Riding on the back of a motorcycle, especially as an educated rider, means giving up a lot of control. For starters every motorcyclist knows the risk of swinging a leg over, so what about accepting the risks when someone else is controlling the handlebars?
When you get on the back,  you better be willing to trust them to make decisions that will protect both of you. When you look at the helmet (hopefully) in front of you, can you say you trust them with your life? If not then get off.
Especially as a rider, giving the control to someone else is the ultimate display of trust, something many people aren’t willing to do. It seems the more educated about riding you are, the more trust is required to get on the back. Ever see a girl jump on the back with some guy she just met? She probably has no real understanding of the consequences. There are only a handful of people I am willing to ride with and each has thoroughly proven their abilities, both through raw skill and the risk-evading decisions they consistently make.

Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.
Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.

What does it say about me as a rider?

The stereotype is that women and kids ride on the back. As a female rider, something tells me I don’t want to succumb to those expectations. If we pull up to a gas station and people see me on the back what will they think? It doesn’t likely cross their mind that I too am a competent rider. Imagine the look we get when passenger and rider switch!
Even as a rider I am often mistaken for a guy and I DO enjoy proving them wrong. Just the other day someone told Dad “That’s a really nice bike your buddy has”, imagine his surprise when the response was “That’s actually my daughter”. Although I have learned to care less about the opinions of the public, it’s always an itch in the back of my mind.

Is the passenger missing out?

My short answer is no, you are simply experiencing the ride differently. Imagine all those phenomenal views that you can’t fully absorb while you’re also paying attention to the road. On the back you can actually look around without having to worry about the oncoming car or the upcoming hairpin turn.

Being a passenger can be a terrific learning experience. photo: OnTrackMedia. http://otmpix.com

Learning

While sitting behind another rider, pay attention to how they handle traffic, negotiate curves and anticipate hazards. Use your time on the back to improve your own riding. It doesn’t mean you have to, or even should, handle a situation in the same way, but take advantage of the learning opportunity. Ask yourself if you would do something differently and then analyze why and how your strategy might turn out better.
Have you been a passenger lately? How does it feel?


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Guest Writer: Get Back on the Horse

The latest guest post is from long-time track day rider and club racer, Ian Vivero from Smelly Dog Racing who has an interesting point of view about post-crash psychology. So, listen up. The floor is yours’ Ian.


Ian #604. Photo by Arcy www.otmpix.com
Ian #604.
Photo by Arcy. www.otmpix.com

Getting Back on the Horse

In 14 years of riding I have, thankfully, only had a handful of crashes, and most were more embarrassing than anything else. Tip over’s at a stop or low speeds due to a patch of sand, a misplaced foot, etc. are common and happen to (almost) everyone in their early years. Even as a seasoned rider I recently tipped over my brand new Victory thanks to an unfortunate combination of factors. These things can hurt one’s pride, but for most we can walk away with minimal damage to self and bike, learn from our mistakes, and move on. These events are not what this post is about.
What I do want to talk about are two crashes, both of which occurred on the racetrack. The first one occurred during a track day on my 919, which was the result of a bad line that pushed me into an off-camber part of the track and left me with less than zero ground clearance, picking up my tires and putting me on the ground. The second occurred during a race in the rain when I crossed a paint line while trail braking into a corner and the front tire ran out of grip resulting in another low side.
Despite the obvious differences, there were many similarities between the two crashes. In both cases I was relatively unhurt and the damage to the bike was minimal enough to allow me to ride back to the pits. In both cases I knew exactly what I had done wrong (bad line, trail braking over wet painted markings) and how I could have avoided it.

The Aftermath

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I was left with a lasting reduction in confidence that I didn’t experience from my other get-offs. Why? Both occurred on a race track so perhaps it was the venue, though I’ve gone down on the track before and not had the same issue. And while the damage to the bike and my injuries were worse than a simple tip over, I’ve had worse mishaps that I was able to shake off. So what caused me to be so shaken up?
I believe the “when” mattered more than the “where” or “how”. You see, both crashes happened at the end of the day, which gave me no chance to get back out. Instead, I was left to wait until the next track day or race weekend to correct my mistake. This allowed my mind to endlessly replay the incidents over and over for days or even weeks.
Replaying the incident made a relatively minor crash grow into something much bigger and far scarier. When I finally did get back on track, it suddenly seemed like a dangerous place for me to be.
All of this was purely mental of course. By then I had largely recovered physically and the bike was mechanically sound. But because my mind was so clouded, my riding suffered horribly. Without realizing it, I began to fight myself in every corner, which caused me to keep running wide. To compensate I started braking earlier and crawling through the turns.
My muscles grew tired and sore within a couple laps from constantly working to keep the bike under control. My death grip on the bars left the front end feeling vague, leading to even less confidence. Each session left me more frustrated and exhausted than the last. Eventually I noticed what I was doing and began to relax and by the end of the day things seemed to be working properly again… And yet I was riding at a level far below where I had previously been. It took a great deal of time and effort to regain my lost mojo. Time and effort that could have netted some real gains were spent simply getting my confidence back.

The Takeaway

Which leaves me with this piece of advice for whoever cares to take it: The next time you drop your bike in a parking lot, lose your footing at a red light, or carry a bit too much speed at a track day and end up in the weeds, get up, get back on the bike and do whatever you just tried to do again, only this time do it right. Not only will you learn something in the process that can make you a better rider, but you will also retain your confidence before it has a chance to run off without you.


Thanks, Ian. The aftermath of a crash can be both physically and mentally scarring. I’ve seen countless riders lose confidence after a scare and either give up riding or not enjoy riding the way they had previously. While we cannot expect to avoid all mishaps, we can minimize them by riding within our limits (even when racing). Some say you have to crash to learn how to ride fast and win, but I don’t think it is a prerequisite. Yes, crashing comes with the territory of racing hard, but it usually sets you back and is generally a bad idea. You can learn to win without crashing, IMO.
You do this by learning all you can about traction and how a motorcycle stays on two wheels. This knowledge comes from many sources, including quality blogs, books, instructors and other skilled riders. But in the end, the secret to minimizing crashes is for you to apply this knowledge on every ride or race and develop sensitivity to the physics of riding well, at any speed.
Share your thoughts below.


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Guest Writer: The Art of Group Riding

Marc Robidas is the newest RITZ guest blog contributor. Marc is an experienced road and track day rider who pilots a Ducati 798 on the track and a Hypermotard SP on the street.
Let’s see what Marc has to say about group riding.


Group rides can be a great way to meet like-minded riders.
Group rides can be a great way to meet like-minded riders.

The Art of Group Riding

I enjoy group rides. Each ride brings an opportunity to meet like-minded people and to discover new roads. Any group of people will vary in their range of skills. You know you’ve found a good group to ride with when no one feels they need to pick up the pace, and any reckless display of awesomeness is discouraged.

Ride My Own Ride

Not long into the ride, I have a sense of the other riders’ skills. It might be easy to keep up. Or maybe the rider ahead is slightly more skilled; they become my carrot.
Sometimes, I notice the gap growing between myself and the rider in front of me. There is mild guilt about creating a gap in the group of riders and the temptation to twist the throttle is strong. So off I go to close the gap.
Wait, wait, wait! What’s going on here? Am I really “riding my own ride”?
On twisty roads in particular, I savor the relationship between myself and the road with little or no influence from the other riders. When the road gets challenging, I let the gap grow sufficiently so the next rider is not an influence on my choice of corner speed.

Don't let pack mentality ruin your ride.
Don’t let pack mentality ruin your ride.

Sometimes this means the next motorcycle is out of sight. Allowing the group to stretched out allows each person to ride in a way that feels comfortable.

Comfort

Speaking of comfort, an all day group ride can add 300+ miles on the odometer. From a cold morning start, hot afternoon and wet finish to the day, bringing the right riding gear will make every minute a treat, and minimizes dangerous distraction.
The ride will undoubtedly be a mix of smooth twisties with pavement that has seen its better days. Although my bike’s suspension is on the firm side, it is adjustable. Softening the settings allows me to ride a full day in relative comfort.

A pre-ride meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page.
A pre-ride meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page.

Group Etiquette

Communication among each group member is essential. A pre-ride meeting is important to describe the route and the expectations of the group leaders. Any use of hand signals during the ride need to be explained.
Arrive at least 15 minutes early with a full tank of gas and an empty bladder. And, don’t be that guy (or girl) who is late for the rider’s meeting and is then clueless about the day’s plan. Group riding essentials are covered in the MSF’s guide: click here for the group ride PDF, and below is a video from the MSF about group riding. Take a look.


From Ken:

Group riding can be a blast, but it can also be quite dangerous if riders do not understand the idiosyncrasies of riding in a group. It’s also risky to ride with people who are not skilled. Be discerning about who you ride with and don’t be afraid to bow out if a particular group does not share your values of risk management.
Here is an article that talks about the dangers of Peer Pressure.


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