How to Crash

J9_Crash
Faceplant owenstrackdayphotos.com

I sometimes get questions from students, readers and other fellow riders asking whether there are ways to minimize injury during a crash. I’ll give you the few tips I know, but realistically you don’t have too many options once you and your motorcycle part ways. In most cases you will not have any control of the situation to do much more than hang on for the ride.
Josh-crash-01
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground photo: Josh B.

What Are The Options?

It’s not all bad news. Some “easy” crashes (like a low side on smooth pavement with plenty of runoff area) may allow you to exercise a few options.

  • Try to relax to make your limbs less rigid to minimize the risk of torn ligaments and broken bones (think cooked spaghetti).
  • If you’re sliding, extend your arms and legs to help slow yourself down and to spread the load so you don’t burn through your riding gear.
  • If you start to roll and tumble, tuck your limbs against your body…kinda like when you rolled down a hill as a kid.
  • Try not to extend your arms to break the fall. It’s human nature to extend your arms as you are falling, but this can lead to a broken wrist or collarbone. Even if you don’t extend your arms like Superman, a good whack on the shoulder can still snap a clavicle in two.
  • Let go of the bike! Hanging onto the handlebars will only make things worse. You want to be as far away from the bike as possible when it starts tumbling.
  • Don’t stand up right away. More times than not, you are still sliding even though you think you’ve stopped. Next thing you know you are seeing sky, ground, sky ground.
  • Remain flat on the ground. It’s better to have another bike behind run you over than hit you as you sit or stand up. If you crash on the street and get run over by a car, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Assess the situation and crawl to safety. You’re pumped with adrenaline and may not make good decisions, so look first and then move.

Remember, these are “shot in the dark” suggestions that may help, but may not.

Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.
Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.

To The Moon, Alice!

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
A highside in progress.

If you’re particularly unlucky you’ll get to experience a highside. A highside is when your bike’s rear tire loses traction (usually while you are exiting a corner on the gas) and the rear of the bike swings sideways. Just then, the rear tire regains traction and immediately tries to realign with the front wheel. This turns your bike into a trebouche and you are the catapult’s fodder.
Your landing will be hard and what happens after that is anyone’s guess. I just hope you’re wearing good armor (and back protector) and have decent health insurance.

Crash Prevention

Instead of trying to control something that is not controllable, you’re much better off focusing on preventing the mishap from happening in the first place. Don’t drink and ride, don’t ride over your head, don’t ride faster than the environment can support, and become the smartest and most talented rider possible. Now, those are areas where you have some control.

Prepare For the Worst

Most crashes are preventable, but some aren’t, which is why it’s smart to be as protected as possible to minimize the damage. That means wearing a full-coverage helmet, sturdy jacket and pants with armor, gauntlet gloves, and boots that provide extra impact protection for your heel and ankles. Don’t leave home without it!

The Racetrack is Safer

Hopefully, any crashes you experience are on a racetrack where you aren’t likely to hit anything lethal (like unprotected guardrails and oncoming vehicles). If you end up hurdling over a car hood, I hope your affairs are in order because that rarely turns out well.
Have you crashed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
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The Real Value of Knee Dragging

Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera.
Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

The RITZ article on knee dragging is one of the most viewed posts on the website. I can understand why. Dragging a knee is a measure of sport riding accomplishment for many. Nothing says “sport bike hero” better than fully worn tires and scuffed knee pucks. Am I right?

Confidence

Those of us who drag knee certainly enjoy the sensation, but the real benefit comes from the added confidence it provides. Yes…confidence.
Touching your knee to the pavement is a definitive measure of your exact lean angle. Without this measure, you must rely on your eyes and inner gyro-system to help judge whether your lean angle is nearing your personal limit or the limits of your machine.
Knee dragging provides a way to tell you whether you are leaned a little or a lot. This information helps you determine whether you are pushing hard and nearing the limits, or riding at a conservative pace.
To most street riders, this may not seem all that important. But, it starts to make sense once you begin cornering very fast at lean angles that should only be attempted on a closed course. That’s when you really start to rely on the information that knee dragging provides.

Not going quite fast enough to touch down.
Not going quite fast enough to touch down. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Consistency

To make the most out of what knee dragging can offer, you must develop a body position that is consistent lap after lap. Otherwise, you’re changing the metric with which lean angle is measured. Riders who have not yet solidified their body position may be inconsistent in how their body is positioned so that their knee may touch the pavement erratically. These variations make the knee dragging an inaccurate measuring tool that can give the rider false confidence that he or she can push harder.
An expert track rider pays attention to exactly when and where his or her knee touches down, lap after lap. They know when to expect their knee to touch and for how long it will skim the surface. Their body position is well-established so they know that the measuring tool is calibrated and will not change. With this awareness, they have a baseline for experimenting and refining technique and to determine how hard they are pushing.


Measure What?

The obvious thing measured by knee dragging is lean angle. But, what else is measured with the knee?

  • Your general pace: the faster you corner, the more you’ll touch down
  • Extreme lean angles are measured by how much your leg is forced to fold underneath the fairing
  • Pavement texture and traction potential
  • Line precision. Your knee should be placed in the same spot lap after lap
  • How quickly you are turning
  • How long you are at maximum lean
  • How soon you are picking the bike up
  • Overall level of confidence and comfort

Read More on Knee Dragging Here

The knee tells whether I can lean more to corner faster.
My knee tells whether I dare to lean more.

Don’t Rush It

Too many riders make dragging a knee a priority at the expense of body dynamics and cornering control. The result is usually not good.
Remember that knee dragging is the product of excellent cornering skills, effective body positioning and yes, corner speed. Work on that and it’ll happen, eventually. Sign up for on-track Personal Training to help get your skills in shape.
Sometimes, you have the skills and the body position, so all that is missing is speed. But, that is the topic for another article.
Share your thoughts on knee dragging in the comments section.


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Top 16 Off-Road Riding Tips

Fun and challenging!
Gettin’ My Mud On!

I recently returned from an epic dirt riding trip. But, instead of boring you with details about where I went and what I ate, I’m going to share some tips about how I survived the slimy, rocky, ascents and descents of the Rock House section of the Hatfield McCoy trail system in West Virginia.
smallrockhouse copy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy

It all started when a group of us from Tony’s Track Days arrived at the small town of Gilbert, WV to ride up and down some of the slimiest and rockiest terrain I’ve encountered.

Check out the video:

You’ll hear me talking while I slip, slide and bounce along the trails, because I am using Interphone brand Bluetooth communicators with my friend, Tony. I can’t recommend using communicators enough…it makes off road riding even more enjoyable and allows the person in the lead to warn about particularly gnarly hazards. I’m on a Kawasaki KLX250s.


Some hills are just too tough.
Some hills are just too tough.

Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.
Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.

Why Do That?

To understand some reasons why I ride off-road (and why you should, too), you may want to read the blog article “10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt” . Sure, riding off-road makes anyone a better street rider, but I also do it because it is challenging and fun, fun, fun.
I talk about “riding in the zone” as it pertains to street riding and even track riding, but off-road riding brings the zone experience to a whole new level of alertness.  Any significant lapse in focus could mean careening down a steep slope with the only thing stopping me from a long descent are stands of trees.

Fun and challenging!
Fun and challenging!

Tips for Surviving Mud, Rocks, Hills and Other Off-road Encounters

I’m no off-road riding expert. But, I know enough to share some tips that can help you survive your next off-road riding experience. With no further ado, here they are:

  1. 1. Manage Your Speed: Nothing increases risk more than a too fast speed for your ability and/or the conditions. Keeping your throttle hand in check is fairly easy to do, but managing speed on a steep, muddy downhill trail is tough. The trick is to see the problem well before you get to it and slow down to a crawl so you aren’t trying to scrub off speed where gravity and almost zero traction create the equivalent of a slip and slide.
  2. 2. Keep Your Eyes Up: We look down when we are scared or tired. The problem is that as soon as you look down, you’re unable to deal with the terrain that is suddenly under your front wheel. This problem compounds until you are so far behind what’s going on underneath you that you get more scared, look down more and eventually crash. This pertains to most athletic activities, including street riding.
  3. 3. Use Momentum: When traction is limited, you must rely more on momentum. This means keeping your eyes up to see what’s coming and getting on the gas before you are on a surface that has little grip.
  4. 4. Believe You Can Do it: If you hesitate, you will likely not make it up that steep incline. So, go for it! That said, avoid terrain that is over your head.
  5. 5. Stand Up, Sit Down: It’s nearly impossible to ride an off-road bike well if you aren’t good at riding while standing. It’s also important to know when it’s best to stand and when to sit. In general, stand for any significant bumps so your legs absorb the impacts and sit for corners, especially corners with berms so you can load the rear tire for the drive out.
  6. 6. Find the Center: Whether sitting or standing, you must find the spot where your body’s mass is located for optimum maneuverability and fluid control. This means sitting forward on the seat and standing so your belly is over the steering stem.
  7. 7. Bent Arms: The bike is going to move up, down, left and right at great frequency. Yet, you must hold onto the handlebars and operate the controls while the bike is jerking around. Bent arms allow the bike to move as necessary and for your hands to still control the throttle and brake with precision.
  8. 8. Counter-lean: This is something street riders have a hard time with when they first start dirt-riding. If you lean with the bike (or low and inside) then the bike will slip out from under you. The bike must lean to turn, but if you stay on top of the bike, your weight keeps the load pressing vertically to allow the tires to grip the terrain.
  9. 9. Forget the Clutch: Forget using the clutch for upshifts. There is usually no time to go for the clutch lever when you’re accelerating out of one rocky, muddy mess into another one.
  10. 10. Use the Clutch: On the other hand, you want to use the clutch to control drive as much as possible. By slipping the clutch you can stay in a taller gear to avoid excessive shifting and control your speed with greater precision.
  11. 11. Use the Rear Brake: On muddy terrain, you’ll rely heavily on the rear brake. Skidding the rear tire is not usually a big deal, but skidding the front will quickly toss you on your head.
  12. 12. Use the Front Brake: Yeah, I know what I just said, but when there is traction, you can (and should) use both the front and rear brakes when descending hills. This may sound tricky, and it is. But, sometimes you need all the slowing power available, just learn to apply the front brake carefully.
  13. 13. Learn to Wheelie and Jump: Not so you can be a squid, but so you can get over fallen trees, big rocks and to jump whoops like Pastrana. If you can’t wheelie, then at least learn to loft or bunny-hop over obstacles.
  14. 14. Steer with the Rear: When you don’t have a lot of grip, trying to steer with the front tire is a bad idea. Instead, get the bike turned in the general direction, but get on the gas to prevent a front tire washout.
  15. 15. Make sure Your Bike is Ready: It sucks to be stranded in the woods.
  16. 16. Take Breaks: Off-road riding uses a lot of physical and mental energy. If you get tired, you will start looking down and your timing will become imprecise. Before you know it, you’re on the ground.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your favorite tips for riding rugged and muddy off-road terrain.


 

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The Horsepower Crutch

Kawasaki's 300hp H2R
Kawasaki’s 300hp H2R

The seduction of horsepower is tough to resist. After all, who doesn’t like the rush of torque and thrust pulling on their arms when they twist the throttle? And, if more power is good, then even more power must be great, right?
Most motorcycle riders find nothing wrong with an abundance of horsepower, and many strive to buy as much horsepower as they can afford. But, they often do not consider the real cost of maximum acceleration.

The Real Cost

When I mention cost, I’m not talking about the fact that you’ll drop exponentially more jingle on engines with more cubic centimeters (or cubic inches). The real cost I’m referring to is how an increase in power comes with an increase in certain risks.
Sure, more power can get you into trouble faster… and in the wrong hands, can lead to tragedy.  That’s the obvious risk. But, too much power can also conspire to erode confidence and enjoyment and stall or even reverse skill development. This risk is greatest with newbies and intermediate riders, but can pertain to so-called experienced riders as well.

These 1980s turbo charged bikes awarded the rider with a n addictive rush of power.
These 1980s turbo charged bikes awarded the rider with an addictive rush of power.

How Much is “Too Much”

You know you have “too much” horsepower if you rely on it to keep up with your faster riding buddies. This applies to both street and racetrack riding.
As a track day and on-street instructor, I have learned to recognize when a rider is doing this by how he or she enters turns slower than necessary and then piles on the gas.

A Hayabusa just may be more bike than you need...Just maybe.
A Hayabusa just may be more bike than you need…Just maybe.

The Horsepower Enabler

The problem is that horsepower can fool you into thinking you’re a better rider than you are. You can feel that your riding ability is adequate, if at the end of a set of twisties, you are within eye shot of riders you know are truly competent.
Without all that power available to make up for cornering shortcomings, a less competent rider would likely be left in the dust. And peer pressure doesn’t tolerate that.
“Keeping up” is a bad idea, but it is regrettably the most used measure of a rider’s ability when comparing their ability with others. This is especially true among the sportbike crowd, although I see it with all types of bikers.
A rider who uses power as a crutch may not even know it. They have unconsciously developed the habit of twisting the throttle to keep up.  Unfortunately, it often takes a cornering mishap to help them recognize that there is a serious weakness in their overall level of proficiency.

Break The Throttle Habit

A riding coach is the best way to find out whether you’re on the road to trouble, but you may be able to self-evaluate IF you pay attention to how you use the throttle.
While proper cornering technique includes acceleration out of corners, timid throttle application near the middle (apex) of the curve followed by a handful of acceleration at the very end often indicates weak cornering skills. Weak cornering skills lead to a lack of confidence and future crashes. If this is the case, then it may be time to bone up on your cornering technique.

Voluntary Tiered Licensing

So, perhaps you’re not as good at cornering as you think, and maybe the abundant power your bike creates just may be enabling you to remain a mediocre rider. But, power is indeed attractive and even addictive. Kawasaki’s newly released 300hp H2R is proof that the motorcycle industry has a goal of feeding the horsepower addiction.
In other parts of the world, tiered licensing is the norm. This includes a restriction on how much horsepower your motorcycle can have. The MSF understands the importance of low horsepower when learning to ride. They require any training motorcycle to be 500cc or less and weigh less than 440 pounds full of fuel.
But, in the United States, we are free to buy as much horsepower as our credit will allow even if you don’t have a motorcycle license. Knowing that power is often a crutch, I suggest you do the smart thing and impose a voluntary tiered licensing strategy.
The voluntary tiered strategy is good, but it doesn’t mean you will not rely on power to mask your cornering weaknesses. However, without the addiction of abundant horsepower, you are less likely to use it as a crutch.

So, Which Bike?

I suggest that new riders start off on a 500cc or smaller bike, such as Honda’s CB500 or 300, or the Ninja 500, 250 or 300. After a full season on that bike, (including a track day or two), you can consider moving up to a middleweight class bike, which includes 600cc sport bikes, or 800-1000cc cruisers. A couple seasons on the middleweight just may allow you to move up to whatever bike you want.
Before you think that the tiered strategy does not apply to track day and racing, think again. Whenever a track day rider wants advice about what bike to buy for racetrack riding I usually steer them toward an SV650 or Ninja 650R. Why? These bikes have modest power, so they force riders to develop expert cornering and passing skills. Smaller bikes help riders develop a strong foundation to build upon… and they are cheap and fun.
Check out this video of me riding a 32 hp 250 Ninja on the racetrack and tell me this doesn’t look like fun.
What are your thoughts on horsepower crutches?


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Knee dragging 101: Fundamentals You Need to Know

Me and my ZX6 Turn 11 NHMS.
Turn 11 NHMS
owenstrackdayphotos.com

Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner. Every motorcycle event photographer knows that the money shot that every track day rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement. It’s the shot that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess and impresses even the most uninformed co-worker or family member. Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.
Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool. Read this Article about the Real Value of Knee Dragging.

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?
So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.
To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.


Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com
MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  • How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  • As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  • Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  • How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  • As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  • As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.
Note that this article discusses the specific topic of dragging knee. It is assumed that you already know the purpose of hanging off the inside of the motorcycle. If not, please read this article before continuing.

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).
The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.
The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.
Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?


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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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The Problem with Rider Training

The MSF BRC is good at getting people on bikes. But, is that enough?
The MSF BRC is good at getting people on bikes. But, is that enough?

I recently wrote a blog post asking whether rider training is effective or not. In that post, I talk about the limits of basic rider training and discuss reasons why current training programs aren’t able to reduce fatalities.
In this post, I’ll talk about the problems with current MSF curriculum and how it can inadvertently give false confidence to new riders.

Case Study

This past weekend, I taught a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse (BRC). Within the group of 10,  two students in particular were of concern. One person could barely achieve enough speed for stability, which is not unusual for the first few exercises, but this went on for the entire weekend. The other student of concern was an older man who struggled with basic coordination that hindered his ability to use the brakes and throttle and to shift without virtually pulverizing the transmission into dust. He also did not improve as expected.
None of this is terribly unusual early in the curriculum. After all, the course is designed for absolute newbies.  As time goes on, most riders improve, but some do not. Unless a student is either posing a danger or is hindering the progress of the other students, the coaches are able to let them continue.
What is also not terribly unusual is for really weak riders to actually “pass” the course by wobbling through the final evaluation, performing just good enough to be within a minimum standard. In the case of these two students my fellow coach and I never imagined that either one would meet the standards of the evaluation, but they both did. What does that say about the course and the evaluation in particular?

The Basic Course is just that...Basic.
The Basic Course is just that…Basic.

Just the Beginning, No Really!

Overall, I think the MSF Basic RiderCourse does a good job at introducing people to motorcycling. The problem is that by issuing a completion card (that often leads to a motorcycle license endorsement), the students are at risk of thinking they have been given the blessing of certified instructors to go forth and ride like the wind. Hang on, there Bucco.

If you read the objectives of the MSF curriculum you’ll see a statement exclaiming that the Basic course is just the beginning and that it is important for students to practice on their own motorcycle after completion of the course. As long as Rider Coaches convey this information with conviction and the students actually listen to their Coaches, then perhaps the students will perceive their abilities as what they are: BASIC. Unless this concept is driven home, then the Basic Course will likely be the beginning and end of many riders’ training.

Most new riders need much more parking lot practice, preferably on a small bike.
Most new riders need much more parking lot practice, preferably on a small bike.

Next Steps

Telling new riders that they must practice in a parking lot is all fine and well. But, is it enough? The two students I encountered last weekend need more than seat time. They need professional help. Private lessons would do each of them a world of good. But, will they do it? And is it even available?

And what about the average rider who passes the course with a decent score? They need more than just a two day class to become proficient. Any exclamation to students that they must continue their education has no credibility unless there is actually an accessible and affordable “next step” in rider training.
The MSF offers the BRC 2 (the old Experienced Ridercourse) and the Advanced RiderCourse, as well as the Street RiderCourse. Unfortunately, many training sites don’t offer or promote these programs, because they aren’t popular and are often cancelled from the schedule due to lack of interest. Some private options are available, including the Riding in the Zone Personal training program for more experienced riders.
Even if training is available, when already-licensed riders are approached with the idea of taking an advanced riding course, reading a skills book or article, or attending a track school, many scoff and turn away. Why? It seems that there is a belief that once a person learns the fundamental control skills, then they are all set; thank you very much.
There are emotional reasons as well. Many adults dislike being in the role of student, because they risk feeling incompetent, which is a real possibility when learning new and potentially difficult skills.

Evaluation Standards

Emphasizing that the BRC is a baby step toward proficiency and providing enticing opportunities for continuing education is important, but there are other problems, especially the fact that the evaluation standards are too easy and not realistic. An easy evaluation is popular with students who want to pass the course, as well as dealerships and manufacturers who want new customers, and even instructors who dislike having to fail students. But, a too-easy evaluation does a serious disservice to all involved.

The fact is that many, if not most graduates of the Basic course are not yet ready to ride on the road. Sure, they have learned basic operations, but not to any level of proficiency that can be considered sufficient for managing a “real life-sized” motorcycle among distracted drivers.
In many other professional training environments, the trainer has the final word on whether a student meets standards for not, even if they “pass” a test. Many motorcycle safety courses are also used for meeting the state licensing requirements, so standardized testing is the most practical way to go. It would be risky to allow instructors with below average judgment to have the power to fail one person and not another based on subjective criteria.
Unfortunately, without this ability to overrule the evaluation score sheet, weak riders who manage to somehow meet standard will continue to receive completion cards. Because of this, most coaches I know routinely have a heart to heart talk with riders who fall under this category after the evaluation is complete.
I’ve done it many times before. In extreme cases, I may say something like: “You met standard and passed the course, Chuck. BUT, if it were up to me you would not be receiving this completion card. In my professional opinion, you have a long way to go before you should consider riding on the street. If you decide to continue as a motorcycle rider, promise me you that you will buy a small used bike and practice, practice, practice in a parking lot and please consider coming back for private lessons and the BRC2 when you have a few miles under your belt.” I may have pooped on his parade, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell him the truth.

Is it time to regulate continuing education to help reduce fatalities?
Is it time to regulate continuing education to help reduce fatalities?

Force Change?

So, what’s the answer? In the UK and Europe mandatory rider training is a multi-level process that takes many months and a rather high price tag to receive a full license. But, it would be nearly impossible at this time to pass a regulation that would force new riders into a multistage training process before they can obtain their full “I’ll take that new ‘Busa” license.
So in the meantime I’ll continue to tell it like it is…because not everyone is cut out to ride a motorcycle.
How about this license test used in Japan? How do you think you’d do?


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Track Day Tire Dilemma

Modern sporty street tires are quite capable of fast track riding.
Modern sporty street tires are quite capable of fast track riding. I have street compound Corsa 3s on the ZX6 in this photo.

Tires can be a source of anxiety to a motorcycle rider. And it’s no surprise, since our tires provide us with the traction we need to make it home in one piece. When it comes to track days, many people use their only street bike to also ride on the racetrack. This is great because they learn the limits of the machine with which they spend the most time.
But, having a bike that is used for both street and track means compromising on certain things, one of the most important being tires.
Below is  a letter I received from a subscriber named Kevin from the UK. I replied to his email and hit the “Send” button, only to have it bounce back. Since this is a FAQ subject, I decided to post it for everyone to read. I am also hoping Kevin reads this reply, so that he knows that I am not ignoring his question.

The Question

Name    Kevin
Subject    trackday tyres – please help!
Hi Ken,
I have been searching the internet in order to get some advice re tyres when I stumbled upon your web site which has some great advice – you are clearly very knowledgeable, I wonder if you can help please? I own a 2006 GSXR 1000 K6 and have just booked a four day track day to Almeria in Spain in September, I need to buy tyres for this trip and am torn between either Supercorsa SP (so road compound) or SC compound (SC2 rear, SC1 front), can you help me decide which is best for me?
Here’s some information related to my situation: – I have participated in UK track days (but not since 2011) , I am generally at the front of the novice group or in the slower half of the intermediate group – I’ve never participated in a European track day before and wonder if the heat is a consideration (it will be around 75-80 degrees) – I used to have a dedicated track bike (only used for 1 track day!) which I ran an SC2 rear and SC1 front on but the GSXR 1000 is now my only bike, from now on it will spend 90% of it’s time on track with a small number of outings on the road Based on the above, do you think the SP (road compound) version of the Pirelli Supercorsa will be ok or would you recommend the track compounds and if so would you recommend an SC2 rear and SC1 front or SC2 for both front and rear? I’m worried the road version will lose grip due a combination of high ambient temperature and constant track use – does this sound feasible?
Based on your suggestion, how many track days do you think I will get from the front and rear tyre, would one front and one rear be ok for all four days or would I need two rear tyres and maybe two front tyres (the trackday is running three groups, 20 minute sessions so is not open pitlane). Would the road version last longer than the track compounds on track or would it be the other way around? This question sounds silly, but how can I tell when the tyres need to be changed? I’m scared that if the answer is to wait until they start to slide then I might crash!
I’ve never used tyres solely on track before so have changed them when they squared off but I realise this won’t happen on track so I’m not sure when I should change them – I want to get as much use as possible from them as they are very expensive but I don’t want to crash! Finally, I have a set of tyre warmers which I used on the SC2/SC1 combination, if you think the SP (road) version of the tyre will be fine, can I use the tyre warmers with them?
Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this, it’s very much appreciated, esp since we have never met and I found your details on line, apologies for having troubled you but this is literally making me lose sleep and you seem to have the knowledge and ability to give good advice.

Tire warmers are necessary for racing, but not for track days.
Tire warmers are necessary for racing, but not for track days.

Regards, Kevin

My Reply

Kevin,
Tires are a big source of stress even for seasoned track day riders. I have not seen you ride, but in your particular case, with the pace that is typical of a novice/intermediate track day rider, you could go with either Supersport street-oriented tires (Supercorsa SPs), or race compound tires (SC1 Super Soft/SC2 Soft).
It’s way easier to have a track-only bike so you don’t have to spend energy worrying about street versus race compound. But, realistically, street rubber is so good these days that you can push them pretty hard on the track and they will perform very well. Besides, novices do not typically need race rubber. However, as your pace picks up and you graduate to the faster ranks, street rubber will not perform well enough for sustained fast laps. That said, I have run advanced group laps on Pirelli Corsa 3 (Corsa Rosso) street-oriented tires with no troubles.
If your bike is going to be on the track 90%, then go for the SC2/SC1 combo. Although you could also go with the SC2s as I’m sure that they will be more than sufficient for your pace and may last a bit longer. The question is whether you want to use them on the street. A lot of people do use race compound tires on the street (often as “take-offs” discarded from racers), however you will wear them out pretty fast. And, you must be aware that race-compound tires will not heat up as quickly as the street-oriented SPs and will never get up to full temperature at street speeds. They may even provide less grip than street tires in normal street riding conditions.
If you find yourself riding more than 50%  on the street, I would consider moving to street rubber. But, once you become a solid intermediate track day rider you will want race rubber. The SP street compound will work, but want your tires to be better than you are whenever possible.
When it comes to tire warmers, they are nice but aren’t necessary, especially for street tires. Two laps at a moderate pace is enough to get them up to temperature. Even race tires don’t require tire warmers, but they do allow you to go fast after only a few corners. I do not use tire warmers at track days. I’m too busy working with customers to mess with them.

Too worn? The tire on the left still looks good, but it was starting to slide, so new rubber was mounted.
Too worn? The street-oriented Pirelli Corsa 3 on the left performed very well and still looks good, but it was starting to slide, so new rubber was mounted. Street rubber has it’s limits when you start going fast.

Deciding when to change tires is a stressor for most people. I did crash once after asking a front Corsas 3 to go one track day too many. The tire had endured a lot of abuse it wasn’t really designed for, so the punishment from too many hard laps caused them to not grip on a cold out lap. If I had just taken it a bit easier until they warmed up I would have been fine.
I tend to change front tires every 6 days and 4 for a rear, or earlier if the tracks I have ridden are particular abrasive. (I don’t know about Almeria).  That is after riding at all group levels with several expert track day laps thrown in. So, in my opinion, you will likely get the requisite 4 days out of both rear and front. Is there going to be a tire vendor at the track who can sell and mount tires if the tires are wearing faster than expected? Often there is. Find out so you can be prepared with tools and stands to change your tires at the track between days.
Good luck,
Ken
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Other posts related to tires and traction:
How to Preserve Traction by Managing Load
How to Develop a Traction Sense
Traction Seminar: Motorcycle Tires
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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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Schooling the Public

This what people see that prompts them to ask "Aren't you hot?"
This is what people see that prompts them to ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I thought it might be fun to share a sampling of statements I hear often from Mr. and Mrs. Non-riding Public, along with my usual response. Perhaps these statements are familiar to you, too. And maybe your responses are similar to mine. Whatever.

#1: “Aren’t You Hot?”

This is directed toward the fact that I’m wearing a jacket, riding pants, gloves, etc. This question often makes me scratch my head, because I assume that people understand the concept of wind chill factor and can imagine that the gear I have on is perfect, not only for comfort, but also for protection.
Yeah, they don’t seem to understand that riding gear is a compromise. Even the best vented gear can be hot even at speed, but I won’t ride without protection. Grasping that concept seems a bit too difficult for Mr. and Ms. Public without some patient education.
My response: “Not once I’m rolling over 30mph.” “Besides, I need the protection, just in case”.

Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.
Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.

#2: “I Don’t Like Motorcycles…They’re too Loud”

This usually comes up in conversation at parties when I disclose that I am a motorcycle rider. I can fully understand the non-motorcyclists’ reaction to obnoxiously loud pipes. Even as a career rider, I am annoyed and barely tolerant of loud motorcycles. Imagine the lack of tolerance Mr. and Ms. Public has for riders who invade their peace and quiet.
My response: “I don’t like loud motorcycles either.” “Do you know that motorcycles aren’t loud when they are ridden out of the showroom?”
Stunned silence usually follows as they try to comprehend that someone would take a perfectly good (quiet) motorcycle and make it obnoxious…on purpose.
I get it. A motorcycle that makes no sound seems to lack a visceral depth that most riders value. But, personally, I’ve come to value not invading others’ auditory space with my exhaust, so I keep my street bike exhausts stock.
I recently rode an electric “Zero” motorcycle and I can tell you that the total lack of engine sound did not take away from the awesome performance and  unique experience of this torquey, fun machine. I contend that excessive noise detracts from riding enjoyment, rather than enhances it.
And then there is the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” theory. While I understand that loud pipes can get attention, making a bunch of racket is NOT a reliable way to get people to avoid you. Lane position and other strategies that allow you to be SEEN are much more effective ways to avoid a mishap.
Besides, sound is directional, so exhausts pointed rearward are of little benefit when the most likely collision scenario involves an approaching vehicle turning left across your lane at an intersection.

Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.
Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.

#3: “Aren’t Motorcycles Dangerous?”

This question needs no explanation, except that people who ask are implying that because it is risky to ride a motorcycle, that I must be a person who exercises poor judgment. These are often people who value safety and therefore distance themselves from risk…at least things they deem risky, which is most likely things they don’t understand.
Not everyone who asks this question is afraid of risk. Sometimes they are just responding to a preconceived notion of how dangerous motorcycles are. This deduction comes from horror stories heard from acquaintances and from sensational news reports. We all have prejudices based on indirect knowledge and assumptions. These people are simply reacting to what they think is the truth.
Unfortunately, it is true that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. So, how do I respond?
My response: “Yes, riding a motorcycle isn’t for everybody. If you’re not a person who is committed to being as skillful and conscientious as possible, then you probably don’t belong on a bike.”

I guess I'm not a real biker...I have no tattoos.
I guess I’m not a real biker…I have no tattoos.

#4: “Where are Your Tattoos?”

Really? Yep. This silly question usually comes from the mouths of people who make assumptions about what motorcycle riders “look like” and probably don’t personally know a motorcycle rider, or don’t know a motorcycle rider who does not have tattoos.
The “biker types” get the attention of the general public because they make a lot of noise and go out of their way to look tough with their ink and leather “costumes”. These bikers get Mr and Ms. Public’s attention so that their perception is that motorcycle riders dress the way the loud riders dress.
I challenge the ignorance of stereotypes by looking “normal”. Sure, I have my own costume, but it is that of a rider who embraces a motorcycling lifestyle as a sport, daily transportation, and a way to see faraway places.
My response: “Shut the Hell Up.” Just Kidding. I might joke about having ink in places I can’t show in public and say it in a way that makes them question their assumptions of what some riders look like. And then I walk away.

Three people, three motorcycles.
Yes, women ride their own motorcycles.

#5: “How Do You Get Three People on one Motorcycle or do you have a sidecar?”

This question was directed toward my wife when she, our then 10 year old daughter, and I walked into a restaurant on a family motorcycle trip several years ago with all of our riding gear in hand. Caroline hesitated for a moment in disbelief as she finally realized that the person assumed that women do not ride their own motorcycles, therefore the only explanation must be that we all somehow fit on one motorcycle or that a sidecar was the answer. A woman on her own bike never crossed their mind.
Her response: “I ride my own motorcycle, and have been for over ten years.”


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