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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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: 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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#1 Reason Why Motorcycles Crash in Corners

Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com
Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com

Motorcycles crash for many different reasons, including in no particular order:

  1. They are not very stable when ridden slow, so tip overs are common
  2. They are hard to see in traffic, so collisions with cars is far too frequent
  3. They only have two small tire contact patches, so seemingly small things can cause traction loss
  4. They require fairly precise rider decisions and inputs when traction is near its limit
  5. Most single-vehicle crashes are the result of a too-fast corner entry speed.

Case Study

My friend and track day student, Joshua had a problem with numbers 3, 4 and especially 5.
Josh had a great day at the awesome New York Safety Track until he didn’t. Check out his VIDEOS BELOW to see how his day ended. He walked away unscathed, thanks in no small part to his quality riding gear. ATGATT, baby. The same can’t be said for his beautiful GSXR1000. It slid off the track without much fanfare until it hit some protruding piece of Earth and flipped a few times. Oh well. It’s just a machine, remember.

Below, you can read Josh’s account of the situation and what he learned.

Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. :(
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. 🙁

The Fundamental Reason Why He Crashed

Riding a motorcycle is more of a mental exercise than physical. Yes, it takes physical coordination and a certain amount of strength to operate a motorcycle. But, riding a motorcycle well is much more than simply operating the machine. It also includes using excellent judgement and having deep knowledge about how to manage all sorts of situations.
Mark Brown from MotoMark1 uses the term “driving” to emphasize that you must not passively “ride” a motorcycle, but rather “drive” it with purposefulness, authority and competence.
Josh was doing great all day and, as was the case with another rider at the track that day, got over confident and pushed just a little bit harder than he should have. This mental lapse is essentially THE reason Josh crashed. A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Josh and I had worked together during a Personal Instruction Day last week at the NH track on strengthening his “skill foundation” to allow him to safely “drive” his bike at the pace he is eager to achieve.
We made good progress, but the eagerness and drive Josh has for rapid improvement seems to cause him to push harder than he should. This is common with highly motivated people. I can name two other very good riders who are motivated to ride at a top level, but have not yet learned and applied all the information necessary to be able to ride at that level…yet.

All motorcyclists who are eagerly developing their physical skills must also develop their ability to monitor their attitude, self-evaluate their real progress, and use judgement that is in line with their true capabilities.

It coulda been worse.
It coulda been worse.

The Physical Solution

Now that we understand that the crash could have been avoided with a bit of “judgment double-check”, let’s talk about what went wrong and the mechanics of how the crash could have been avoided. Remember: A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Because Josh had decided to “let it rip” down the straight (probably faster than he had done before), he entered the turn 1 braking zone at a higher speed than he had previously. That’s fine, BUT he did not adjust his braking behavior to match the increased approach speed. With an increase in speed comes the need to:

  1. brake earlier using the same or similar amount of brake force as when approaching at a slower speed, or
  2. use the same brake marker as when approaching the turn at the slower speed, but brake harder, or
  3. a combination of #1 and #2

Either method will work to achieve the goal of slowing to a comfortable entry speed. Braking earlier is generally the best solution where you have more time and space to modulate your brake force to slow without anxiety.


Josh did not alter his “begin braking” mark, so he found himself flying past his usual brake marker and therefore reached his turn-in point at a higher speed than he was familiar (or comfortable). You can clearly see in the forward-facing camera angle that he was missing the apex and then used greater handlebar pressure (countersteering) as he attempted to stay on the track, which overtaxed the front tire and it tucked.

An Expert’s Solution

Could the crash have been avoided in the hands of a seasoned expert? With the bike at that speed and in that position in the corner, I would say maybe, but probably not. HOWEVER,  the expert would have identified that he or she was traveling faster than before and because of this, would have adjusted the “begin braking” location to be earlier and increased the amount of brake force as needed to slow down sufficiently. Expert-level track day riders are comfortable braking very hard, because they have practiced this skill.
He or she would have also used trailbraking to further scrub off speed if necessary as the bike was eased into the corner. However, I want to emphasize that trailbraking is not really “meant” to be a technique used to salvage a blown corner. Done correctly, trailbraking is a planned method for stabilizing the motorcycle when entering corners. That said, if you have trained yourself to trailbrake as it is meant to be used, then it is at your disposal when you need a longer duration of braking force if you inadvertently enter a turn too fast. Read all about trailbraking HERE.

The Lesson

Remember that if you change one thing (faster straightaway speed), you must adjust other things (brake marker and/or brake pressure) to reach the entry speed you are able to handle. Please learn from Josh’s unfortunate mistake and keep your enthusiasm and eagerness in check and resist introducing significantly faster speeds until you understand the concept of cause and effect as it pertains to adjusting entry speed.

Crash Videos

Front view:

Rider Face View:

A message from Josh himself about what he learned:

Staying within limits is a lesson I strive to drive home to my students every weekend as an MSF RiderCoach. The motorcycle, the rider, and the time & space limits around them. My hope is that every rider I come in contact with has takeaway points and thinks about actions and decisions made while riding.
My overall goal as a rider is to learn, fine-tune, and practice as many new and advanced skills as I can. I feel the biggest joy of riding is that there is always something new to work on or perfect. Each year I try and take on something new I can use as a rider and coach. A few years ago I had an opportunity to take a course on dirt bike techniques and later on I was able to become a certified MSF Dirt bike Coach. Last year my new goal was to learn to become proficient in riding on the racetrack at speed.
I went out and bought every book and DVD I could find on the subject, and also a shiny GSXR 1000 that I thought at the time would be a perfect bike to go out and lay down some hot laps. Books and video’s are great tools, however to really be able to learn and apply the skills takes tons of coaching, practice and fine tuning.
My biggest obstacle is always trying to rush and accelerate my learning. I want so bad to be the best and smoothest that I do not take the advice I give to my students. I try and go from step A all the way to step Z in one day. Learning should be in stages and is a building block process. Learn the gross skill 1st and stay within your limits. Ken gave me the best advice of all when he said “Slow down and get smooth 1st”.
I was doing pretty good and learning the New Track. Taking my time and finding reference points and determining where I should look, brake, tip, and accelerate. It was near the end of the day with only 2 sessions left. I was a little tired and sore from working hard on my body position and riding. I started the 2nd to last session and started letting my mind drift away a little bit. I was thinking about the ride home and my fatigue level and on the video footage I had been recording all day; what I would be showing my friends and family and how cool I would look.
I decided to try one more lap and call it a day. I said to myself. “You can push a little harder and get one awesome lap to end the day.” I got to the start of the straight. I did a head check to see if I was holding up any riders. The coast was clear and I gave it all I got. I pinned the gas and tucked my head. Glancing at the speedometer I saw the numbers climbing 130,140,150. I looked up and saw the end of the straight fast approaching. I got on the brakes with a force that seemed very heavy. I was squeezing in on the tank with all my might to hold myself from pushing forward. I saw the turning point approaching fast and thought “Oh No I just blew it” I had lots of speed and not much track left.
I thought in the back of my head. You can do this, usually riders have less skills than the machine they are on. I tried as hard as I could to get into a hang off position and turn the bike. I gave it a flick into the corner and felt the front dropping out. I saw the ground rushing up to my shoulder and I lifted my head up and away from the turn. Boom, I was on the ground and tumbling, I could see the bike flipping as I was tumbling and sliding into the grass. Every second was in slow motion as I could hear the plastic cracking and breaking off the bike.
It seemed like I was going to slide forever and I was saying to myself. OK, please stop now. Once stopped I stayed still, counted to 10 and started to assess if anything was hurt or broken. Not even a scratch. All the gear I had invested in paid off big-time! I looked at the bike and wanted to cry. I knew as I started to scream down the straight I was pushing too hard. I had not taken the advice I want to instill in every single student. I got up and started looking the bike over. Seeing everything all smashed is a feeling I could do without. The session still had 15 minuets to go and all I could do was stand there and wave as my friends and fellow riders went by making smooth turns and having a blast. Sometimes we do not take our own advice and need a hard lesson to set us straight.
Josh


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Vintage Motorcycle Road Racing

A rare Vincent racer
A rare Vincent racer

Yesterday was the the first round of the United Stated Classic Racing Association (USCRA) roadracing season. I got a firsthand look at vintage roadracing in the U.S. by participating in the 2014 United States Vintage Grand Prix at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (aka, “Loudon”).

Vintage Motorcycle Racing, Defined

Vintage racing is fairly self-explanatory. “Vintage” is defined as “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality.” This means that the machinery at vintage road races will be of another era that feature now-obsolete glimpses into how motorcycles used to be.  When it comes to vintage motorcycle road racing, “old” not only applies to the machines, but also to many (but not all) of the riders.
As you might expect, yesterday’s event had more bald and gray heads than full, dark haired-types. Many participants are ex-racers from an earlier era who are keeping their love of racing alive. One such person is famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale who wrote a landmark book called Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design.
There are also many young men and women who have embraced vintage racing. Kerry Smith is a young 30-something who has devoted her career to racing a Giannini Racing Honda 350, not only all over the United States, but also in Australia as a recent AMA National and USCRA champion.
People who choose vintage motorcycle racing have a different set of goals and a more relaxed attitude toward competition than the typical modern-bike “club” racer. The vintage racing atmosphere is light, airy and friendly with clusters of young and old racers comparing notes about such obsolete mechanisms as Zenor Diodes, points and condensers, and drum brake adjusters well into the night before the event.

It's not only old folks who embrace vintage racing.
It’s not only old folks who embrace vintage racing. Here, Kerry Smith talks with Kevin Nixon about his CB160 racer project.

Much of what you’ll see in the paddock of a vintage motorcycle race involves master mechanics performing rituals of tuning that are in threat of being forgotten like a long-lost native language used by an ancient culture that has been diluted by modern life and technology.
Vintage racing is about riding and racing motorcycles, but it is equally about keeping the history of racing motorcycles alive. While many rare bikes spend their retirement sitting in museums, the bikes you see at vintage race events are kept alive and continue to live on, ridden hard…the way they were designed to be ridden.

Once Modern, Now Vintage

I’ve been road racing on and off since 1986.  My racer at the time was a 1976 Yamaha RD400. Even though it was already 10 years old, the venerable RD was still a competitive machine in the lightweight classes.
Today, the RD is a popular choice among the vintage racing crowd. You’ll see, hear and smell a dozen or more of these two-stroke beauties as they fire up in preparation for their time on the track.
Other machines you’ll see are Vincents, Montesas, Guzzis, BSAs and Indians, as well as notable BMWs, Ducatis and Japanese classics. A rolling museum.

Famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale with his borrowed SRX600.
Famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale with his borrowed SRX600.

It’s Not All Vintage

As with the participants, not all bikes are necessarily vintage. While the most interesting bikes are from a distant era in motorcycle racing history, USCRA also allows the opportunity for certain modern machines to compete in limited classes. There is a 125 GP class and a couple of classes that allow bikes that I don’t consider vintage, but are well on their way to becoming so in their design and performance.
My 1976 RD400 would certainly qualify as vintage today, but it was sold long ago, so I needed to borrow a bike that would qualify to compete. I was originally going to borrow my former MZ Scorpion racer from its current owner, but it would have to be converted from its current state as a street bike back to a racer…something I didn’t have time for. So, instead I borrowed a Kawasaki EX500 Ninja racer from a track day colleague and set off to join in the fun.
The Ninja is not really a vintage bike in any meaningful way, but its obsolescence in the club racing scene is now complete with the deletion of the Production Twins class from club racing and its performance is on par with a wide variety of semi-modern machines, including Honda Hawk 650s. Having a race class for small, inexpensive bikes helps bring newer racers into the sport and helps fill the grids.

Ken_Vintage EXRolling Dumpster Fire

The EX500 Ninja I borrowed was not the prettiest machine in the garage. Far from it. Steve, its owner describes it as a “rolling dumpster fire”. The photo of the bike doesn’t show the depth of its “patina”. Although my patina shows nicely. The EX has led a long and hard life in the hands of several rookie and expert-level racers over the years, and now it was my turn.
Life had gotten even harder for the Dumpster Fire, as it had been crashed the day before during a club race. It’s deeply scared bodywork wasn’t any worse for wear, but the exhaust had detached itself and the handlebars needed replacing…all in a day’s work for a race bike.
A quick pre-tech inspection revealed slightly misaligned bars and a chain that was so loose it skipped across the sprocket teeth at hard throttle. Thankfully, I discovered this before race day began. I put a wrench on all the critical bolts and screws to confirm that everything else was in order.
In the end, the Dumpster Fire performed like a champ. It took both practice sessions for me to figure out shift points, but the bike ran strong and I had my knees down right away. The bike was ugly, but plenty fast.

Wood!
Wood!

Race Day

These USCRA folks are racers and many are able to hustle their machines around the track quite well. They get out there and push hard. But, I had a distinct advantage over most of the riders in my two classes. You see, I put about 2,000 racetrack miles on every season and am used to racing at a pretty high level of competition. Most of my competitors on this day did not have the same amount of track time nor competitive edge.
Because of this advantage, I won two really nice first place plaques to add to my trophy wall. But, more valuable was that I made a bunch of new friends, saw some incredible machines and learned more about just why vintage motorcycle road racing is popular among both old and young motorcycle racing enthusiasts. Thanks for letting me ride with you, USCRA.
I wonder what bike I will borrow for next month’s event. Hmmmm.
Tell us about your vintage racing experiences in the comment section, below.
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Guest Writer: Track Day Rain Riding

Adam Butler is the first ever RITZ guest blog contributor. Adam is an expert level roadracer with the Loudon Roadracing Series and is one of my co-instructors for Tony’s Track Days. You can read Adam’s biography here
Let’s see what Adam has to say.


Do you like riding in the rain? I sure do!!

by Adam Butler

Adam Butler: "If you could see the smile inside my helmet".
Adam Butler: “If you could see the smile inside my helmet”.

If you ride track days on a regular basis chances are that you will find yourself presented with a rainy day. Some of us really find riding in the rain a fun and rewarding experience while others do not embrace the wet conditions as much. Some riders just don’t want to get wet. Others feel intimidated by the reduced traction available and don’t want to take a spill. I can understand the desire to keep your bike shiny and clean.  I prefer to take the chance to get out in the wet and work on my traction management. Riding in the rain presents a great opportunity to hone your smooth riding technique.

Ribbit!

There are some things that you can do to make your wet time on the track more enjoyable. The number one thing you need is a good frame of mind. If you go out with an open mind and a positive attitude you will have much more fun and success. It’s easy to have a fun, positive attitude in the dry…heck, we all love carving turns on a dry 70 degree day. Having this same outlook in the wet will make your experience much better.

Stay Dry and See

There are some gear related things that you can do to help. Some basic rain gear will help you stay dry. I have a basic Frogg Togg two piece outfit that goes over my leathers.
This will keep me from getting soggy. Some good no fog treatment for your face shield helps you see better. (Ken: FogCity shield inserts are one option)

Tires

The last thing is to make sure your tires are in good shape. Any time you are on the track you need to make sure you have good quality tires. Dedicated rain tires are great but you can have a good time on street tires too.
Traction management in the wet all revolves around being smooth. When the conditions are wet there is less traction available. So naturally you will be able to get away with fewer mistakes. I start out slow and easy. I start my ride nice and easy and get a feel for the conditions. Then gradually increase my pace as my comfort level increases. The key is to stay relaxed. For me, that involves keeping a light attitude. I often will chat to myself or sing a little.
So next time it rains at a track day head out and give it a whirl. Just remember to bring your smile with you…. 🙂
 
To read more about traction management check out these posts:

 
What are your thoughts about riding in the rain, either on the street or on the racetrack?
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How to Save a Front Tire Slide

Sometimes it's not possible to save it.
Sometimes it’s not possible to save it. www.motorcyclistonline.com

Is it possible to not crash when you experience a front tire slide? Maybe.
Both of my recent track crashes were the result of a sliding front tire (both were caused by me asking too much of a cold front tire). Sometimes it happens too quickly for you to respond. But, sometimes there is enough time to perform a maneuver that just may save you from a fall.

Survival Instincts Are a Bitch

Let’s say you are rounding a curve and the handlebar starts to feel vague in your hands. At the same time, your proprioceptors (aka kinesthetic sense) tell your brain that balance is being compromised.
Your brain is alerted to the threat and triggers your muscles to tense. The rush of panic and muscle tension happens in an instant. Many riders end up on the ground because their survival instincts cause them to overreact and make matters worse.

Saving the Front in a Corner

I’ve got bad news for you, that vagueness you feel at the handlebars is your front tire losing traction. This is bad, because a front tire slide is one of the most difficult situations to recover from. When cornering, the front tire is responsible for both lateral grip and direction control (steering). More times than not, front tire traction loss is the result of asking too much of the tire. Side forces from cornering, in combination with cold rubber and perhaps contaminated pavement is an easy recipe for tire slip.
When the front tire loses grip, it “tucks” underneath the bike and throws the bike and rider violently to the ground. But, is it possible to save yourself from falling?
To help the front tire regain traction (or at least not lose any more grip) you must first not add to the problem. This means staying relaxed (Good luck with that). With light handlebar pressure, the tire and suspension can work fluidly to manage surface irregularities.
If you tense on the bars, you will put stress on the front tire and risk pushing the tire over the limit of grip. Whatever you do, avoid trying to countersteer the bike into a deeper lean.
Assuming you can remain somewhat relaxed and neutral, the next thing to do is to relieve the work the front tire is doing. To do this, get on the throttle! I know, it’s counter-intuitive, which is why it’s not easy to do. But gassing it transfers load from the overworked front tire to the rear tire.This allows the front rubber to halt its lateral slide and keep rolling.
Yes, you will probably run wide, but hopefully you have enough road/track to let this happen. You can minimize this drift by using moderate throttle application to save the front tire slide. Just don’t goose the throttle so hard that you careen off the road or track or spin the rear tire.

Uphill Unload

A fellow instructor pointed out a caveat  to the common cornering situation. Dan mentioned what can happen to traction when you are going uphill. He witnessed a fellow rider (with a passenger) lose the front and crash in front of him just as the crashing rider was getting on the gas. Why would this happen if what I say about relieving stress on the front tire is true?
The likely explanation is that the uphill slope, in combination with the weight of a passenger and the application of a bit too much throttle, unloaded the front tire too much. He probably also added a bit of steering input that tucked the front tire beneath him. The lesson is that load management and traction management go hand in hand and you need to develop a keen sense of how various factors can affect tire load and grip.

The Knee Save

For those who are accustomed to dragging knee, it is possible to relieve front tire stress by levering the bike with your knee. Anything you can do to take pressure off the front tire will help the tire regain grip.

Saving the Front While Braking

The other way to experience a front tire induced crash is to overbrake so you skid the front tire. This can happen whether you are upright or leaned. If this happens, get off the brake, NOW! This will let the front wheel roll again so you can regain control. Then get back on the brakes (you were braking for a reason, right?). But, this time squeeze the front brake progressively. You can still brake really hard (less so if you are leaned), but it must be done gradually to allow time to put load on the front tire, which increases traction.

Practice? Really?

It takes a good amount of skill and presence to control front tire skids. Like all other tricky situations, practice and experience increases the chance that you can act correctly and save a crash. Practice? How? Ride in the dirt, my friend! Pushing the front tire is a regular occurrence when riding on loose surfaces. Learning to control slides in the dirt is less risky than suddenly needing to manage a slide on your street bike. With this experience, you can train and condition your mind and muscles to react properly when a slide happens.
The other way to train yourself to react properly is to push your bike hard enough to get it to happen. I don’t recommend this, because front tire slides can easily go wrong. But, if you eventually go fast enough at track days or when racing, you will inevitably experience the vague feeling of your front tire on the edge of traction loss.
DO NOT go fast enough to slide the front on the street!! You will die. On the street, it’s not likely that you will have enough time or space to pull off this hero maneuver.
What? You don’t ride on the track or in the dirt? Well, the next best way to practice is to visualize successfully performing the maneuver. Imagine yourself cornering hard, feeling handlebar vagueness and then gradually rolling on the throttle as needed to drift the front. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best way to prepare for saving a front tire slide.

 Me and the ZX6R Monticello, NY.
When you corner hard, you have to expect slides.

Expect It

Another way to prepare for front tire slides (and many others) is to expect them to happen. This pertains to all times when you are in traction-reduced situations, including when cornering or braking hard.
Have you experienced a front tire skid or slide? If so, how did that work out for you?


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Is Crashing Really that Bad?

This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.
This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.

Crashing a motorcycle sucks. No doubt about that. I’ve had my share of run-ins with gravity and it’s not fun. But, does crashing a motorcycle always mean carnage and a hospital visit? It depends.

My crashes

I’ve had only one “real” street crash and one minor one. The minor one involved a car who rolled into the back of my Triumph Bonneville. I didn’t fall, so it was very minor.  I also had a minor parking lot tipover (note to self: remove the disc lock before attempting to ride away). But tipovers aren’t exactly what I call “crashes”.
The “real” crash happened in 1978 when a car driver turned left in front of me…classic.
Thankfully, most of my crashes were racing incidents. I say “thankfully” because even though racing crashes suck, they don’t suck nearly as much as street crashes where the chances of injury after sliding into a tree, guardrail or oncoming car is quite high.
I’m truly grateful that the extent of my injuries from both track and street crashes were cracked ribs and a broken foot from the tipover.  These injuries were painful, but all healed without any complications.
Unfortunately, the “real” street crash resulted in a totaled 1973 Yamaha TX650 and the rear-end incident resulted in the Triumph’s taillight being smashed, but that’s what happens when you make impact with cars.
In all of the track crashes, bike damage was limited to easily replaceable parts, allowing me to get back on the track later that day. Sure, the cosmetic damage was a bummer, but I got over it–most people do.

Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer
Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer

Safer Crashing

There was a time when crashing on the racetrack was just as likely to get you killed as crashing on the street. This was because racetrack safety was abysmal with concrete walls lining the course and pavement not any better than a potholed rural road.
Thankfully, track safety is much improved. Even though a lot of people complain about the safety issues at my local track (Loudon, NH), the current track is much better than the old Bryar track that had all sorts of safety problems. We didn’t complain much, since all of the tracks were that way.
Another reason there are fewer deaths and injuries today is because of better protective gear. Pudding bowl helmets lined in cork were the racers’ choice at one time. Now, we have helmets that are pretty darn effective at preventing the majority of head injuries. Add to that the improvements in material and armor incorporated into jackets, pants, boots and gloves and it is possible to crash without suffering too badly.
Of course, where you crash is the biggest factor in whether you will end up in a hospital or hearse. Collide with a car and even the best riding gear is not likely to save you from some kind of injury. Crash on a modern racetrack, and you’ll likely get up, brush yourself off and walk back to the pits under your own power.
Unfortunately, road safety has not improved for motorcycle riders. More tar snakes and guardrails seem to appear every year and drivers are more and more careless about paying attention. And road conditions are often allowed to get pretty bad before they are fixed.

Crashing on the street is a
Crashing on the street usually results in injury.

Perception of Risk

It’s been proven that people take greater risks when they feel protected. This is why drivers of large SUVs tend to feel less threatened than drivers of small cars. Most motorcycle riders understand that they are vulnerable to injury and ride accordingly.
This is why Risk Ignorance and complacency is so dangerous. The risks don’t change, but the inaccurate perception of the danger can make a rider think he or she can ride more aggressively or with less attentiveness.
Believe it or not, there were fewer racing crashes back in the day when races were held on road courses lined with stone walls, hedgerows, fences and houses lining the circuit. Racers knew that a fall would very likely result in death. So, most rode in a way that balanced risk and reward.
Today, there are many more crashes, but many fewer deaths and serious injuries because, with the exception of the Isle of Man and a few other “real” roadrace circuits, racing is conducted on closed courses with safety features such as runoff, gravel traps and airfence. Also, today’s protective gear is so much better. This means that racers can push harder, knowing that a crash will probably not be the end of the world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, racetrack crashes can be lethal. It’s just that the risk to reward ratio has shifted so that it’s not unreasonable to expect to get up unscathed after a racetrack crash.

The Perception of Crashing

Another advantage racers have when it comes to crashing is that racers expect to crash. After all, they are pushing the limits of grip and skill and are sharing the track with a bunch of crazies all set on going as fast as they can, determined to take your spot on the podium.
So, when you do crash in a race situation, it’s not unexpected. And if you do go down, it’s unlikely that you are seriously injured, so you get over it rather quickly. This makes the mishap psychologically easier to deal with.
It’s different when you don’t expect to crash. For instance, crashing during a track day will likely be more upsetting, because it is not assumed that crashes are inevitable. But, track day crashes still fall under the category of “not likely to get injured”, so most track day crashers get over the mishap fairly easily.
Crashing on the street is a whole other matter. Street crashes are often particularly traumatic, not only physically, but also mentally. Most street riders assume that they will not crash, even though the risks are actually much greater when riding on the street. It’s understandable, because most street riders go many miles and years without a crash, which makes it easy to think that it won’t happen to them. So when it does, their world is shattered, even if they don’t suffer a significant injury.

Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.
Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.

Thankful, But Skillful

I’m able to write about my crashes today, because most happened on the racetrack in a controlled environment. I’m thankful that I have experienced very few street crashes.
Perhaps some of the reason why I’m still in one piece is luck, but I contend that the reason I have had few street crashes is because of my commitment to riding smart and never becoming complacent about risk. This includes learning all I can about riding and implementing effective strategies when riding in traffic or in the twisties.
Risk is always there and always will be. Learn to manage risk and perhaps you can join me as one who is mostly unscathed after many decades of riding a motorcycle…if we stay sharp and are blessed with a bit of luck.
What have you learned from your crashes?


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It's Easy to Ride a Motorcycle Really, Really Fast

KenMOtard-Rain
giddyup

Whenever I tell people I ride a motorcycle on a racetrack, the first question they usually ask is “How fast do you go?”
I invariably begin my answer with “Depends”. No, not the product found in your grocer’s personal hygiene aisle (although there have been times when I coulda used one under my leathers). I tell people that it depends on which racetrack I am riding and how long the straightaways are.
Since my partners in conversation are looking for a wildly high number that satiates their need for sensationalism, I tell them the highest speed I have ridden on a racetrack…155 mph. That was the indicated speed on my 05 ZX6R with stock gearing while going FLAT OUT on a very long straight at the Monticello, NY racetrack.
“You ride at 155 mph?!” Their judgement of my lack of sanity is usually pretty transparent. But, not all people judge me negatively. Many seem to revel in the fact that they can now tell their friends that they met someone who defies all reason by going really, really fast on a motorcycle. I ego-maniacally imagine myself being the topic at many a dinner conversation.

Fast is Cake

The fact is that reaching top speed in a straight line is a piece of cake. The way a motorcycle works, the faster you go the more stable it becomes. You’ve probably seen video of racers who get ejected from their bikes, but the motorcycle stays upright even without the rider in the saddle. The reason the bike stays upright on its own is because of the many factors associated with motorcycle dynamics…gyroscopic precession, inertia, trail, etc.
This is why riding a bike fast in a straight line is easy.

Going Fast and Surviving

Going really, really fast is not as simple as twisting the throttle all the way (actually, it is, but you just might not get the chance to do it a second time if you don’t know what you’re doing).
Even bone-headed people with no business riding a motorcycle can do it. Unfortunately, many end up on the next morning’s obituary page.
The first thing to do to avoid calamity is to choose where you ride fast. Smart people figure out that the street is NOT that place. Those riders know that the place to ride fast is on the racetrack. No, you don’t have to race to ride on a racetrack. Yes, it costs money to do a track day or to race. Riding on the street is mostly free, but fast riding on the street is a false economy. Just one wrong move and you could find yourself wrapped around a sign post or wedged underneath a guardrail. And the future of your bank account and license are in grave jeopardy if you get caught going really, really fast on the street.

Being able to brake before a corner makes going fast possible.
Being able to brake before a corner makes going fast possible.

It’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.

No matter where you ride fast, you need to know how to do it without scaring the pee or poo out of yourself (see comment on the personal hygiene in the earlier paragraph). This requires you to be confident that you can control all that speed before you careen off the track (or road) in a flaming ball of glory. Braking skill is deliberately developed over time. Brake control, visual acuity, speed perception and timing all need to be at their best to manage really, really fast speeds.

Cornering is what takes skill.
Cornering is what takes skill.

Cornering is Funner

Going fast is indeed easy, but I’ll tell you what is hard…cornering. What interested people should be asking is, “How fast are you going in the corners?” Cornering at 45 degrees of lean angle with your knee skimming along the pavement at anywhere from 40 mph up to 100 mph (or more, depending on the corner) is something to be impressed about.
Fast is fun, but cornering fast is funner.
Until next time…Go FLAT OUT.
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