5 Bad Habits You Must Fix, NOW!

Crash-SignNo matter how “good” a rider you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits and attitudes. Poor habits and dangerous perceptions can develop over time without us even knowing it. That is, until we experience a close call or crash. Let’s take a look at a few bad habits that many riders possess.

1. Believing You’re a Better Rider than you Are

A lot of RITZ blog readers would be considered “experienced” riders. But, the truth is that experience alone does not make you a proficient rider. I can’t begin to count how many so-called experienced riders I’ve encountered who demonstrate a significant lack of proficiency. Unfortunately, unless the rider admits that he or she has a problem and asks for advice, their poor riding will continue indefinitely and ultimately lead to a mishap.
Unsolicited advice usually is not appreciated, so knowledgeable riders are reluctant to share their wisdom to the riders who need it most. Attempts to enlighten the problem rider often results in exclamations about how many years of riding experience they have and that they know all they need to know to get by…never really knowing the danger they are in.
The solution? First, take a good look in the mirror. What skills are you lacking? (I’m sure there are many, but let’s stick with motorcycle-related skills for now). Next, get the knowledge and training you need to bring all of your skills up to snuff. Thirdly, remind yourself that what skills you have are perishable and need to be kept fresh.
Promise yourself that you will purposefully practice braking, turning, and swerving. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to keep skills sharp. Learn about proper cornering technique and then practice it on your Sunday rides. And be sure to learn about all the ways to keep yourself safe in traffic and practice on your way to work every day. Over time, you just might become as good as you think you are.

Always remember that you are vulnerable...and hard to see.
Always remember that you are vulnerable…and hard to see.

2. Forgetting You Are Vulnerable

Experience can often lead to complacency. If you ride many miles without an incident, you are at risk of thinking that riding a motorcycle is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. This perception leads to many crashes and fatalities. Complacency and overconfidence can occur when you don’t recognize subtle signals that indicate just how close you are to catastrophe.
Get into the habit of recognizing clues that should alert you to threats. Make a concerted effort to scan the landscape and roadway for anything that can turn into a hazard, such as a reflection on the windshield of a car that is rolling toward you. Ask yourself whether the driver sees you and what are the chances that he will accelerate in front of you.
Evaluate each clue to determine whether you can reliably read what is being communicated. For instance, direct eye contact with the driver may indicate that the he sees you, but don’t count on it!

What's around that corner?
What’s around that corner?

3. Assuming the Coast is Clear

You know what they say about making assumptions, right? “They make an ASS out of U and ME”.
One of the most problematic situations is when a motorcycle is approaching an intersection with other drivers waiting to turn left across the rider’s lane. Part of the problem is that the approach speed of a narrow vehicle is much harder to judge compared to a wide vehicle. This is why motorcyclists experience drivers “cutting them off”.
The drivers aren’t necessarily out to get you; they more likely misjudged your approach speed and thought that they had plenty of time to make the turn. The message is to never assume that a driver who appears to see you will not cut in front of you. See “The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life” for more on this topic.
A lot of riders also assume the coast is clear around corners. Depending on the region you ride in, many, or even most corners you encounter do not provide a clear view of the corner exit. Hillsides, vegetation and roadside structures all conspire to block your vision.
Too many riders approach corners at a speed that does not allow the time and space to stop or maneuver if a mid-corner hazard were present. It’s a good idea to enter blind turns slow enough so you can confidently avoid a hidden hazard. If no hazard exists, then you can roll on the throttle and accelerate safely though the turn with no drama.

Caroline
Caroline wears ATGATT

No Gear=Greater Risk of injury
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury

4. Not Wearing ATGATT

ATGATT is an acronym that stands for “All The Gear, All The Time”.  MY definition of “All the gear” means helmet, appropriate eye protection, jacket and pants with protective armor, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots. The obvious reason for buying and wearing all this gear is for protection in the event of a crash. Since motorcycle riders don’t have bumpers, airbags, crumple zones and safety glass surrounding us, we must wear our protection.
Unfortunately, way too many motorcyclists choose not to wear full protective gear. In states where helmet laws are enforced, riders are compelled to wear this most important piece of protective gear, but helmet choice states leave the option of helmet use to the rider. Whether you agree with helmet laws or not, it’s hard to dispute the benefits of having a helmet strapped to your head when you and your bike separate at speed.
Currently, no states require any other protective gear to be worn, with the exception of eye protection. This means that you can ride legally in a tank top, shorts and sandals. Good luck with that.
The reasons why riders do not wear protective gear often include image, peer pressure (you gotta look cool), and cost. But, there is plenty of inexpensive protective gear that meet most rider’s fashion sensibilities while providing decent protection (at least for a single crash).

Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.

5. Being an Idiot

This topic can cover a lot of ground, but let’s focus on your attitude when you ride. This pretty much means riding with your head securely screwed onto your neck. Letting destructive influences like ego, peer pressure, intoxication, and distraction make decisions for you will eventually lead to a hospital visit. So, just say no to stupidity. ’nuff said.
What would you add to this list of bad habits?
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Why Automatic Transmissions are the Future of Motorcycling

Will tachometers become obsolete?
Will tachometers become obsolete?

Little attention is paid to shifting. I suppose it’s understandable, since shifting quickly becomes an unconscious, mechanical procedure.
Skillful shifting increases the likelihood of tapping into the illusive Zone. Think about how satisfying it is to smoothly click through the gears with a barely detectable interruption in forward drive. Your hands and foot perform flawlessly with perfect timing and minimal effort. Nirvana!
It’s not only motorcycle riders who experience the joys of manual shifting. People who drive cars with manual transmissions know how shifting gears “involves” the driver.

Shifting Impairment

However, with only a small percentage of autos in the US available  with a stick shift, manual shifting has become a lost art. This means that some younger people thinking about becoming motorcyclists can be anxious about learning manual shifting. Manufacturers need to provide machines with automatic transmissions because manual transmissions intimidate potential new riders who see the clutch and shifter as a barrier to learning to ride.
And with shockingly few new riders entering motorcycling, it is important to entice them any way possible. Which is why it makes sense to offer full-sized automatic models (not a scooter, thank you very much) to a potential new rider who is inexperienced in manual shifting. It just might encourage them to make the decision to enter the world of motorcycling.

Shifting is not that hard to learn...really.
Shifting is not that hard to learn…really.

Auto-shifters

Motorcyclists have not needed to choose whether to purchase a manual or automatic transmission, because all motorcycles came with a clutch and gearshift lever. However, manufacturers are now offering models with automatic transmissions, such as the Honda VFR 1200.
Past examples of automatic motorcycles never sold well, but that was a long time ago, so why would manufacturers do this?  To help motorcycling grow (or even maintain) its numbers, but also because the technology has improved enough to make DCT auto transmissions viable for not both experienced and new riders alike.

Shifting is Fun...if done well.
Shifting is Fun…if done well.

Learning to Shift is not Hard

The fact is that of all the skills a new rider must learn, learning to shift gears is one of the least problematic. The newbie student in a MSF Basic RiderCourse learns to shift during the first couple of hours of their introductory day of riding. Sure, some people struggle with the coordination of clutching and shifting, but most get past the difficulties and go on to pass the course. The reasons students fail the course is because of more critical issues, such as braking or cornering problems, but not shifting.

Shifting is your least worry when riding a motorcycle.
Shifting is your least worry when riding a motorcycle.

Shifting is Your Least Worry

There are a ton more important aspects of riding that should deter borderline new riders from riding, such as surviving riding in traffic, being able to make a corner at speed, stopping before colliding with a Buick, or losing traction on a sandy road. But, shifting really shouldn’t be one of them.

Long live the Clutch

However, the fact that shifting can be a barrier that stops potential new riders from taking the plunge means that manual transmissions could become more and more rare. On one hand, the sport desperately needs a new generation of riders to replenish the ranks. On the other hand, I would be very sad to see the manual transmission go the way of the kick-starter. Do you think this is possible?
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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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Ask Me How I Know- Episode 2: Exposed

In our last episode, I told the tale of a young lad who needed to show off to his friends and just about pulverized himself against a line of trees. If you recall, that lad was me when I was 16 years old.
Well, there are more examples of the trials and tribulations that I experienced as I went through the arduous task of learning how to survive at motorcycling. Today, I’ll tell you of the time I tried to be a good guy and was rewarded with a tough guy with a bad attitude.

My 1971 Bonnie. I owned it until 1989.
My 1971 Bonnie. I owned it until 1989.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

Unlike other anecdotes I will be sharing in this series, this story does not involve any failure on my part, except to assume I would not be threatened for trying to be helpful.
It was 1981 and I was riding home at night on my 1971 Triumph Bonneville on Commonwealth Ave. in front of Boston University. I was minding my own business when I noticed a car in my rear view mirror without its headlights on. At the next stoplight, I kindly signaled to the driver that his lights weren’t on.
Well, the passenger must have been looking for a reason to pick a fight, or perhaps my well-meaning comment triggered a childhood trauma. Either way, the next thing I know, the passenger door swings open and an angry guy brandishing a baseball bat comes toward me.
Not wanting to see how well my full-faced Shoei helmet would withstand the impact of a Louisville slugger, I promptly got myself outta there. This meant running through the red light and accelerating as fast as the 650 twin would go. I figured that getting out of there was all I needed to do to shake my would-be assailant, until I looked in my mirror to see that he too had run through the red light and was in hot pursuit.
As it turned out, I was able to shuck and jive through enough side streets to encourage the angry young men to give up the chase.
I made it home in one piece. Although my perception of the kindness of man was left tattered on Comm Ave. that night. Wow, there really are people among us who would choose violence over reason.  Alcohol likely fueled their hair trigger response to my attempt at being helpful. Which just goes to show the kind of people we share the roads with…drunk and angry.

Here is a photo of a bagpiper. It has nothing to do with this article, but it does show the weird things you come across when on a motorcycle. Jeannine and Caroline look on.
Here is a photo of a bagpiper. It has nothing to do with this article, but it does show the weird things you come across when on a motorcycle. Jeannine and Caroline look on.

I Feel So Vulnerable

The bat-wielding jerk made my life flash in front of my eyes because I was vulnerable. Sitting exposed on a motorcycle in the middle of Boston at night made me vulnerable to whatever these crazies had to deliver.
The good news is that a motorcycle is pretty quick and maneuverable (even a 1971 Triumph), so I was able to  evade my pursuers.
What would I do now? I would not risk the consequences of engagement and instead distance myself from anyone driving without their headlights on at night. This indicates a possible drunk driver who has the potential to hurt me. Syonara, sucker.
Have any of you had a similar situation happen to you?


Stay Tuned for Epoisode 3 when I learn that a too-fast entry speed can be very dangerous.
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Ask Me How I Know- Epoisode 1: Tire Terror

I can imagine that a lot of fellow riders who know me may have a hard time imagining me screwing up. This is because unless you’ve actually seen me screw up, you’re left with a somewhat unreal impression of me as a competent, knowledgeable motorcycle rider who does no wrong. After all, I can talk about advanced riding concepts with a tone of confidence and I ride well enough to back up the impression that I know what I’m talking about.
Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant (am I too late?), I do think I have earned a place at the table with some accomplished motorcycle riding pros. I’m not the fastest guy or the most eloquent, but I have a knack for communicating practical knowledge, both in print and in person.
But, the fact is that a lot of my knowledge has come from some epic screw ups. Let’s step into the way-back machine and re-experience a near-death experience when I was 16 years old.

Don't let this happen to you.
Don’t let this happen to you.

Tire Terror

It was 1976 and I was riding my 1973 Yamaha TX650 behind some friends in their car. Being a teen whose awesomeness was never fully recognized, I took the opportunity to show my four-wheeled friends what coolness looks like, so I accelerated past them to an indicated 100mph. Just before I reached the end of the straight, the Yamaha started wobbling and weaving so violently that I couldn’t make the right-hand turn that was inconveniently placed at the end the straightaway.
What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I somehow stayed upright in a drainage ditch, threaded between a row of telephone poles and trees, and landing upright on someone’s driveway with my heart pounding out from under my Sears windbreaker. My friends drove up and stopped with mouths wide open. With a “I meant to do that” swagger, I rode home at under the speed limit. Later, I asked my brother what could have caused the problem. After a little investigation we determined that  my bald no-name rear tire was likely to blame.
The Lesson: When you ride on a bald rear tire, keep it under 100 mph. Naw, just kidding. How about, always have new tires so you can go 100 mph anytime you want. Wait, that’s not quite right either. I know! Replace your tires before they reach the tread wear indicators so they don’t cause you to have a near death experience. We’ll go with that.


Stay Tuned for Part 2 for more fun when I reveal how being a good Samaritan exposed me to another near death experience.
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The Key to Motorcycle Safety (and Fun)

What kind of attitude about safety does this suggest?
What kind of attitude about safety does this suggest?

It’s probably not what you think.
You wouldn’t be alone if you thought that the most important part of riding a motorcycle is to learn the physical skills, such as braking, cornering, slow speed maneuvers, and perhaps swerving. While those are very important skills to master, it is the mental skills that are the most critical skills to develop when it comes to reducing injuries and death. And the most important mental skill of all is attitude.

Wait, what?

Yes, in my opinion attitude is the most critical thing to get right; before cornering, or braking, or strategies for managing traffic. Attitude colors the relationship a rider has with motorcycling. A positive and committed attitude toward safety needs to be established from the start and maintained throughout a rider’s two-wheeled career. That’s right, I said career, how’s that for a committed attitude?

Shut Up and Ride

I know that this kind of talk can be a buzz kill. I would rather ride without the need to consider the limits of the riding environment. Sometimes I just want to ride like the twisty public roads are my own personal racetrack, and there are times I just don’t want to play well with other drivers. Unfortunately, I know too many motorcycling friends who died too young to not take the limits seriously.
It’s not enough to be very skilled at controlling a motorcycle. If your attitude stinks and you can’t seem to keep a healthy balance between fun and safety, then your days on two wheels are likely numbered. So, I say Shut Up and Ride WELL!

This guy was a student of mine some years back. His attitude for learning to be the best rider he could be was contagious.
This guy was a student of mine some years back. His attitude for learning to be the best rider he could be was contagious.

The good news is that a positive, committed attitude also leads to more enjoyment and fosters the often-illusive “Zone” that most of us covet.
All photos © Ken Condon

You Have to Want It

How badly do you want to survive? Perhaps I’m being melodramatic, but it’s a serious question. When it comes to participating in a sport where people die, you owe it to your loved ones and yourself to ask that question. If the answer is “I really, really want to survive”, then do something about it.
It’s important to have excellent physical skills, such as cornering, braking and the ability to perform evasive maneuvers. However, superior mental skills prevent the vast majority of close calls and crashes. Learn to play the mental game and you’ll be a winner. Refuse to learn the tricks of motorcycle control and survival and you’ll lose.
But, it all starts with a committed attitude. Without an attitude that prioritizes risk management, then it’s unlikely that really proficient mental and physical skills will ever develop. It takes a commitment to be really good at anything, including motorcycling. Without a certain level of commitment, you can count on mediocrity. Can motorcycle riders afford to be mediocre?

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Adjusting to a New Bike- Part 3 – Power Delivery

This is number 3 in a series on adapting to a new motorcycle, whether that means borrowing a friend’s bike, swapping bikes on a ride, or adapting to a new bike. Please share your experiences in the comments section. If you’d like, read Part 1 and Part 2 to see what other challenges we often face when adapting to a new motorcycle.

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

You Can’t Handle all that Power

Testing the brakes is probably the first thing you should do when swinging a leg over a new bike. Many people think that power delivery is the most important thing to calibrate to, because acceleration is a more obvious and intimidating force…fewer people seem intimidated by brakes. Even though more people seem to get into trouble with unfamiliar brakes, plenty of people fail to consider what they’re in for when twisting the throttle.

Throttle Transitions

One of the most common issues I have when riding different bikes is how smooth or abrupt the power delivery is when transitioning from off-to-on throttle. This can be a serious control issue if I am at full lean. When I crack the throttle, I am looking for a smooth delivery of power. But, some bikes are not mapped (FI bikes) or jetted (carbureted bikes) correctly for a gradual, controlled transition. What I get instead is a lurch that upsets the tires and sends the bike off line. One of the worst bikes I’ve ridden was an early model Honda RC51. It took all my tricks to control that bike’s fueling (see below).
I had my mind set on buying a new Yamaha FZ-09, but after hearing about the abrupt throttle delivery, I decided on the Street Triple, which is know for decent throttle control and response. Although it could be better, IMO.
Manufacturers try to find the balance between meeting emissions requirements and acceptable performance, which means that the fueling is often too lean for good throttle control. This is where Power Commanders and other aftermarket products come in. With a little time and a laptop, you can adjust the fueling the way it should be for performance, at the expense of emissions…something the manufacturers aren’t allowed to do.

Getting on the throttle
Getting on the throttle
photo: www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Throttle Response

Throttle response is another factor that varies from bike to bike. Throttle response is how quickly the engine responds to rider throttle inputs. A snappy response is good for sportbike riders that want immediate results to get the bike launched as hard as possible. This is especially desirable when riding on the racetrack. Many racers install quick-turn throttle housings to get to full throttle with as little wrist movement as possible.
Street riders usually want a less aggressive throttle response so that inadvertent throttle movements don’t result in unwanted acceleration. But, slow throttle response can make a bike feel sluggish, unexciting and lazy.

Managing All That Power

To get a feel for throttle response and power delivery, find a straight section of road and roll on the throttle gradually. Grabbing a handful of throttle grip could land you on your ass if the rear tire spins or if you loop it in a mondo wheelie. In either case, you now own a bike that some idiot crashed (you).
If you are testing a bike with multiple power delivery modes, you may want to set it to the “rain” mode to soften power delivery. After some time, you can try the full power modes. Apparently, the FZ-09 has acceptable throttle transitions using the least aggressive power mode, but what fun is that?

Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.
Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.

Throttle Tricks to Try

Here are some simple things to do to help manage throttle control:

  • Ratchet Throttle- Instead of rolling the throttle like a rheostat, move your wrist as though you are rotating through a series of “clicks”. This measures your throttle position better to help resist introducing too much throttle at one time.
  • Keep your wrist down- A comfortable wrist-down position “locks” your throttle in position and helps control throttle movements.
  • Relax- Arm tension transfers to the handlebars and handgrips.
  • Anchor your thumb- Stick your thumb out a bit to make contact with the handlebar control pod to lock your hand in place. This is especially useful when riding at slow speeds.

What experiences have you had with throttle characteristics on different bikes?
Part 1 can be found Here.
Part 2 can be found Here.

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Adjusting to a New Bike- Part 2 – Unfamiliar Brakes

Brake control
Brake control

In Part 1 of the “Adjusting to a New Bike” series, I told about the challenges I faced transitioning from my trusty 2005 Kawasaki ZX6R track bike that I had for 5 years to my new-to-me 2012 Triumph Street Triple R.
You may wonder why I think “Adjusting to a New Bike” is a topic worth spending time on. The fact is that I’ve seen and heard too many stories of people getting into trouble while trying a friend’s bike or when riding a new bike.
In this post I will talk about an issue that can lead to a crash if you’re not careful – Unfamiliar brakes.
One story I want to share involves a well-known safety journalist who took a well know safety instructor’s sportbike out and promptly totaled it. By all accounts, the reason for the crash was not a lack of skill, per say, rather it was a lack of familiarity with the power of sportbike brakes.
All photos © Ken Condon

Yikes! These aren’t my Brakes!

The journalist’s brake hand (and mind) were calibrated to a large adventure bike, not the top-spec, radial mount, four piston anchors that the sportbike was styling. All it took was a driver pulling out in front of the journalist to cause the over-braking to happen. A skid ensued, followed immediately by the sound of plastic and aluminum grinding itself mercifully into the pavement. Luckily, the rider came out of it in better shape than the bike.Photo-3-Braking_Skid
I ride a lot of different motorcycles on the street and the racetrack, one of the first things I do is test the power and sensitivity of the brakes. I squeeze the front brake a few times with varying intensity.
I don’t ignore the rear brake as I press the pedal to see if it bites too abruptly and is prone to locking (many are), or is very weak, requiring significant pressure to get any useful brake force at all.
The Street Triple is a hybrid in that the rear brake seems to be weak initially, but then grabs. This is something I discovered the first time I descended my gravel and dirt driveway. Oh, and yes, I do use the rear brake. That’s a topic for another post.

Better Braking

Two fingers or Four? I say two on most sportbikes.
Two fingers or Four? I say two on most sportbikes.

practice makes perfect
Perfect practice makes perfect habits. And habits are what you’ll fall back on in an emergency.

Besides familiarizing yourself with the brake’s feel, you should also use good brake technique (always). Determine whether you should use four fingers on the front brake or if two fingers might give you better control.
No matter how many fingers you use, be sure to always SQUEEZE the front brake lever progressively. Grabbing a handful of brake lever will lead to nothing good. It will likely skid the front tire and you will be pile-driven into an unforgiving bit of very hard tarmac or dirt.
In most cases, this happens because you didn’t give enough time for the load to transfer onto the front tire contact patch. With little load on the front tire, the powerful front brakes can easily overwhelm the available traction.
Instead of a skidding front tire, it is possible to find yourself staring at your front wheel as you get flung forward. Or you may end up doing a stoppie. However, more times than not, the front tire skids before either of these occurrences happen. To prevent a skid, always squeeze and then squeeze harder if necessary.
Part 1 – New Bike
Part 3 – Power Delivery

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Adjusting to a New Bike – Part 1

Turn 9 Loudon
Trying to figure out the Street Triple. Turn 9 Loudon
www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Me and my ZX6 Monticello, NY.
My trusty and familiar ZX6R. Monticello, NY.
www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

I recently sold my trusty ZX6R for a more upright Triumph Street Triple R as my track day bike. I needed the more upright position as a way to help a chronic neck problem. The Street triple allows me to sit up when I’m working with track day customers at a slower pace. But, the upright and exposed ergonomics means I  have to hunker down to get out of the wind blast when I’m going flat out.
I’ve ridden all types of bikes on various racetracks  and usually acclimate myself pretty quickly to them. While some adjustment was not entirely unexpected, it did take a couple of sessions for me to start to get along with the ST-R.
The first track session on the Triumph was my first time riding the bike (I picked it up on my way to the track). The track was cold and a bit damp, so I took it easy. I came in at the end of that session not knowing whether or not I made a mistake buying the Triple.
The night before, fellow TTD instructor, Joel Allen helped me adjust the suspension to accommodate the bumpy Loudon circuit and then Peter Kates from Computrack Boston rechecked Joel’s work (spot on) the next day. Thankfully, I knew that suspension that is set up for going fast simply does not feel right when you’re not going fast. Riding at 60% made the bike seem like it wouldn’t hold a line. I kept hope and went out for another session. The track was warmer and so I got up to speed. Ah, that’s better. A smile was on my face at the end of that faster session.
The increased pace helped make the handling make sense, I then had to adjust to the upright riding position, which is not nearly as intuitive as a sportbike posture when riding fast. Sitting on top of a bike instead of low behind a fairing makes 120 mph a tiring experience. Transitioning my body from left to right at turn 7 and 8 at Loudon required me to use too much handlebar support while accelerating up the hill.
More rearward footpegs would be needed (I traded the stock rearsets for Daytona rearsets, which should help). Midway into the second track day of the 2-day event, I mounted Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires so I could see what the bike was capable of. I was pleasantly surprised how well I got along with the Striple, with my lap times edging very close to my typical times on the ZX6R. Next stop, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

READ PART 2- Adjusting to a New Bike – Unfamiliar Brakes
Read all bout the track day preparation I have done to the Street triple R.

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The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life

Both speed was and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed was and Lack of Visibility caused this crash.

I know what you’re saying. “You’re telling me that there are only 2 things I need to do to survive riding on the street?” You betcha. So, here is the caveat to this sensational statement; there are more like 1 Gazillion things you need to know to be the safest rider you can be. But, I don’t have that much time and you’d be bored by the time I got to number 15,000. So, I’m going with my top 2.
And with no further ado, here they are. The envelope. please.

#1 Being “Speed Smart”

#2 Being Visible

Of all the things you can and should know about riding a motorcycle, these two strategies will allow you to avoid 80 to 90% of the most common situations that lead to motorcycle crashes. I hear you yelling at your laptop or smartphone saying “What about [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE STRATEGY HERE]”. I understand… really. There is way more to know to avoid becoming roadkill than just these two strategies. But, I contend that most close calls and crashes can be avoided if you follow my suggestions and focus first on these two strategies. Let me elaborate.
All photos © Ken Condon


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #1: Be Speed Smart

Jeannine being Speed Smart
Jeannine being Speed Smart

Being “Speed Smart” doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the posted speed limit. I’m no angel when it comes to ignoring ridiculous speed limit signs, especially when the payoff is worth the risk of a ticket ( a great section of twisty tarmac with little traffic). No, I’m talking about being smart about when and where you wick it up. You can avoid a majority of close calls if you just keep the throttle under control. Here’s how.

Ride at “Expected” Speeds

It’s important to ride close to the marked speed limit when riding through town centers, and whenever you are near other drivers, especially when riding through intersections. Riding at a speed that is greater than is expected will likely result in the driver pulling in front of you, thinking he or she has time to go. This is largely because a motorcycle has a narrow frontal area, which makes it more difficult for drivers to judge your approach speed and distance.

Ride Slow in a Slow Environment

One of the most common reasons motorcycle riders crash is because they ride faster than the environment will safely allow. Riding at the speed limit makes total sense when there is a lot of traffic, but what about when the road opens up? It may be tempting to go WFO, but no matter how much you wish the road were a racetrack, it is not! You can get away with excessive speed for a while, but some day it will bite you. I can almost guarantee it. Really fast sport riding belongs on a racetrack, dummy.
Even if you are a racetrack hero, you must understand that the unpredictable nature of the street does not allow you to exercise your full cornering prowess. With hazards such as road surface hazards, unexpected changes in radius and camber, or other vehicles crossing into your lane you can easily exceed the limits of the environment even though you may be nowhere near your personal limits.

Cornering Correctly: Slow in, Fast out

The vast majority of single-vehicle crashes are the result of riders failing to negotiate a curve and a common reason for this is a rider entering a corner at a speed that is too fast for the conditions or for the rider’s ability. The best strategy is to slow to a conservative speed and then gradually accelerate when you are sure it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that you can always get on the gas, but you can’t go back in time to enter the turn at a slower speed.

Respect Time and Space

Still not convinced just how significant speed is to keeping you safe? Then consider the timing and circumstances of a typical 30 mph crash. At that speed you are traveling at 44 feet per second (1 mph = 1.47 ft/sec). Getting a motorcycle stopped at 30 mph takes just over two seconds and requires about 35 feet of space. But, braking distances include more than just the time and space to physically stop your motorcycle. It also includes “thinking time” and “reaction time”. At 30 mph you can count on using about .7 seconds or 31 feet to realize that there is a problem. It then takes you another .3 seconds or 13 feet to react by rolling off the throttle and reaching for the brakes. That means you traveled 44 feet before even touching the brakes. Finally, it takes you about 2.2 seconds or 35 feet (with a typical deceleration rate achieved by the average rider) to bring the motorcycle to a halt. Add this “braking time” to the “thinking time” and “reaction time” and you’ll need a total of 3.2 seconds and 79 feet with which to stop.


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #2: Be Visible

"SMIDSY"= "Sorry Mate, I Didn't See Ya"
“SMIDSY”= “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See Ya”

The most common phrase uttered by drivers who are involved in a motorcycle crash is; “I didn’t see him”. It’s easy to blame the driver for being inattentive. After all, texting, NAV systems, and other distractions are vying for drivers’ attention…you know who you are. While this is a reality on today’s roads, too many riders fail to recognize their role in being visible, choosing to wear dark colors and riding in a way that hides them from other drivers.
Even being seen is not as reliable as we would like. Most motorcyclists have stories of drivers pulling out in front of them even though the driver was looking directly at them. What would cause a driver to proceed if the rider was in plain sight? It’s common for a driver’s brain to dismiss the appearance of a relatively insignificant (small) vehicle (motorcycle) on the roadway and pull out without ever “seeing” the motorbike.

Use Effective Lane Positioning

In traffic, it’s important to constantly evaluate your ability to see and for others to see you. Poor lane position is a factor that can prevent you from being seen and seeing hazards. This includes not having sufficient following distance. Ample following distance provides a wider angle of view to see past the vehicle and allow other drivers to see you.
Proper lane positioning also includes your location within the width of your lane. Motorcycle riders have the option of riding in the left, center or right portion of the lane. This gives you the ability to place your bike where you can see farther ahead and where other drivers can see you. Exactly what is the best lane position? In many situations, riding in the left/center of your lane makes the most sense. This position allows you to see past the vehicle ahead and gives you a good angle of view of the oncoming lane.  Certain situations require you to alter this position, such as an oncoming vehicle threatening to cross the centerline.
Lane position changes continually depending on the road surface, other drivers, and your angle of view.

Loud Pipes

Basic science says that sound is not a reliable source of information. Sure, loud pipes increase the likelihood that drivers will know you are in the vicinity, but don’t be fooled into thinking that sound will help a driver locate where you are in traffic. This is why installing loud pipes is not a great strategy for increasing safety.
A much more reliable strategy is to be more visible. A driver who sees you and is able to accurately judge your speed and distance is much less likely to pull out in front of you. The importance of using strategies for being seen cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, too many riders don’t seem to understand this.


There are lots of other tips that are important for surviving on a motorcycle like don’t ride drunk or stoned, be attentive, etc. But. if you can follow these two strategies I outlined, you are well on your way to making it home at the end of a great day of riding.

OK. Now it’s your turn.

I know you’ve been chompin’ at the bit to tell the world what you think is the most important tip for surviving. So, let’s hear your comments.
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