Tips for Leading a Motorcycle Group Ride

Riding with a group of friends can be a blast. But, it can go all pear-shaped if certain precautions aren’t taken upfront. Some problems are merely inconvenient, like when the group has to wait around because someone didn’t arrive with a full tank of fuel or when someone goes AWOL during the ride.
Other problems are more serious, like when a guy runs into the back of another rider because he was riding too damn close, or when a knucklehead lowsides into a guardrail trying to keep up with the fast guys.

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

As a group leader, it is your responsibility to take some basic precautions. Let’s take a look at a few.
Before we start: These tips do not take the unique issues of very large groups into account. However, these tips can be used for groups of 2 to perhaps 30 riders.  Trying to manage more riders than that and your into a whole other ball of wax. Breaking into smaller subgroups is a better solution.

We Gotta Talk

The root of most group riding mishaps can be traced to a few key factors. The first one is a failure to voice basic ground rules so that members know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Start by evaluating the group; are they aggressive and reckless, or law-abiding and considerate? Is there talk of drinking alcohol or stunting? If so, then nip it in the bud, or pay later.
Speed & Passing

The group is better off if all participants agree on general speed limits and passing. Some group rides I’ve attended come right out and say that I should expect illegal passing and speeds that exceed the legal limit. Knowing this ahead of time let’s me decide whether or not to participate.
One option is to break into sub groups with one sticking to more conservative speeds while following the rules of the road.
Another rule I want to know is whether there is passing within the group. I’m not a fan of inter-group overtaking because it encourages bravado and risky dicing. If passing within the group isn’t allowed, then faster riders should ride up front and everyone must maintain a safe following distance from each other. If a rider wants be in a different part of the group, he or she can wave someone past or change positions at the next stop.
When the leader decides to overtake slower traffic, he or she must be smart about whether it’s worth the risk. If you have a turn or stop coming fairly soon, just hang tight. But, if the opportunity presents itself to make a pass that is safe for all, do it. Your fellow riders then decide to pass or not and hopefully have the self-discipline to patiently wait if it’s unsafe to overtake.
Passing as a group is dangerous if riders blindly follow the person in front. It’s better to tell your group to wait until the rider ahead has almost completed the pass before committing. And when making the pass, maintain passing speed well beyond the slow vehicle so that the next person has room to return to the lane and file in behind you.

Formation


A staggered formation is often the norm when on long straight sections of road with at least a 2 second following distance from the bike directly ahead. This means that you will be only about one second behind the rider offset to your immediate left or right. Even though the staggered formation gives riders access to the width of the lane, this formation is pretty tight and can lead to collisions when attempting evasive maneuvers. By riding two abreast, you are limited to either the left or right portion of your lane. And that’s just not good enough for maximum safety
That’s why the leader needs to abandon the staggered formation when the road is narrow or riddled with surface hazards and when the road turns twisty! When following single file, each rider has the full width of the lane to use cornering lines or avoid mid-corner hazards. .
There is a recent discussion about something called the “reverse formation”. It basically has the front rider in the right wheel track rather tahn the left. The idea is that it affords the second rider to see and be seen better. But, I have my reservations, because this puts the first rider in a spot that is hidden from view and prevents him or her from seeing ahead as well. See the video and add your thoughts in the comments below.

Hand signals are useful for alerting the group of a hazard or a change in plan.

Staying Together

One time when riders should be side-by-side is when coming to a stop or entering traffic. When stopping, the leader should gradually slow and come to a complete stop. The rest of the riders should “box in” so the group is compact.
To keep the group together, the leader should stop and wait  when possible, like at intersections and then wait for the last rider to arrive. Look for a thumbs-up before continuing. This is used in combination with each rider taking responsibility for the rider behind by waiting until the straggler is in sight before turning onto a new road.
One thing I see from time to time is a group leader who is too concerned with keeping the group together when it isn’t necessary (or safe). For example, if there are no turns or stops for people to get lost, then keep moving, make safe passes and let people have fun. And know when it is important to keep the group together, like in areas with many chances for wrong turns.
When it’s time to go, the leader should leave slowly. This helps prevent the bungie effect where riders in the back must go much faster to catch up with the leaders. Remember, the group is relying on the leader to lead the way.
Some groups use communicators between the group leader and a “sweep” rider to monitor things. This can really help manage group rides and is a way the leader can know if the pace is okay or if there is any potential trouble. An experienced volunteer should be put in charge of this sweep role.

The Pace

Group riding often places safety in the back seat. It’s not unusual for safety-focused individuals to become reckless when exposed to pack mentality. One thing to emphasize that each person rides within their limits and to resist the temptation to keep up with the group. Far too many group rides end in tragedy because one or more participants exceed their riding ability.
Managing the group’s pace is the job of the leader. Many times the leader sets a moderate pace, only to increase the speed as the ride progresses. It’s okay to wick up the speed through a nice set of twisties, but you must then slow the pace to allow stragglers to catch up without much effort. This pattern balance fun with predictability that encourages slower riders from feeling a need to stay in touch.
Yamaha Champions School guru, Nick Ienatsch penned The Pace article that has been referenced by many riders over the years. Check it out.

Poo, Meet Fan

When things do go wrong, you will want to be able to manage the situation. Ask if anyone is CPR or First Aid certified if you’re not. Know if you’ll be riding in areas with no cell service and have an idea of the nearest population if you need to send someone to make a call.
It’s smart to attend a class or seminar that discusses how to manage an accident scene and a motorcycle scene in particular.
Before this happens, you also need to consider if you could be held liable. Some groups require waivers, but most don’t. It’s implied that each participant is responsible for his or her actions, but that doesn’t stop family from coming after you anyway. Sucks, I know. But it’s the society we live in. It’s another reason to follow these tips to avoid problems. Also, encourage full protective gear so relatively minor mishaps remain minor.

Set the Tone

Yes, being a true group leader (as opposed to a reluctant leader) means you are willing to take on the responsibility. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. It can be stressful, but is also rewarding to show others a good time. Group leading isn’t too hard with just a bit of preparation.
This leadership begins before the ride by posting rules and expected behavior, encouraging full protective gear and explaining logistics. A bit of foresight reduces risk and increases enjoyment. And if things go well, you’ll look like a hero. If things go wrong…well, just follow these tips and you will hopefully be okay.

Sweep Riders

Well organized groups select a strong rider to take up the back to keep an eye on things. This person can identify any particularly weak or aggressive riders and can help keep the group together. Communication to the group leader is a huge plus.

More on Group Riding

Marc R. one of our guest instructors penned a piece on riding in groups that dovetails nicely with this article. Check it out.


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Video: Cornering Seminar with Ken Condon

At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.
My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.

And finally, I bring a stack of books for people to buy.
OK. On with the show. It’s over an hour long, so find a comfy chair.


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Thinking in Vs-Dissecting Cornerspeed

Paul Duval thinking in Vs – otmpix.com

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

Corner Speed Perception

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

V is for Variable Corner Speed

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

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

The Pivot Point

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

photo: otmpix.com

When and Where to Pivot?

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

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

Similar Mid-Corner Speed

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


otmpix.com

About Paul Duval

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


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Video Lesson: Intersection Crash

Here is another video posted by the rider who was involved in a crash at an intersection. See more video Lessons here.
One thing different about this rider is that he is taking the time to self-analyze his role in the crash and explore how he could have done better. Kudos Hans Solo!
I want to stress that in the real world, under battle conditions, we humans will make flawed decisions. It’s what we do. The takeaway is to have effective strategies so we can do all we can to avoid needing to use superhero skills…assuming we have them at our disposal. Hans should be commended. He is doing the hard work of looking in the mirror to evaluate what he could have done differently.
That said, I have a different take on what could have helped, so I’ll add my .02 about how things could possibly have turned out differently.
Monday morning quarterbacking can come off as smug, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity for my readers to learn from others’ mishaps if we can.
Take a look at the vid. I’ll wait.
If you can’t see the video:
Imagine a rider approaching a cross-street intersection with a white car waiting to turn left across his lane in a dedicated left turning lane. There is a gray car located at 10:00 from the rider who is also approaching the intersection. The rider accelerates to pass the gray car on the right before the intersection when the white, waiting car cuts across both the gray Nissan and the bike. The white car zips in front of the  gray car and the bike hits the white car broadside.  Sorry the video isn’t available.

 


OK, so here are my thoughts:

Lane Position & Conspicuity

Using the Dark Blue-Gray Nissan as a “pick” or blocker is often a good plan, but it’s a mistake to do it at the expense of being seen. In this case, Hans moved into the right lane to put the Nissan between him and the left turning cars. The problem is that the white car couldn’t see him as well (not that the driver was even looking) and Hans couldn’t see the white car as well. We call the blue-gray Nissan an eclipse vehicle.
Add to that the fact that the road was curving (see :45) in a way that makes Hans even less visible to the oncoming white car and you can see the problems with this particular lane position.
One possibility is if he had stayed in the left lane behind the Nissan, he could have seen the white car move earlier. But then if the Nissan hit the white car (they missed by inches), Hans would have needed to be far enough back to be able to brake in time to not rear end the Nissan. In the end, he made a fine decision, but the driver of the white car did something so unexpected that it’s tough to blame Hans for this decision.

Vision

Lane position plays a huge role in terms of being seen and being able to see ahead. Greater following distance would have allowed Hans to see the movement of the white car earlier. And remaining in the left lane (with lots of following distance) would have allowed him to see past the Nissan.
Because intersections are so dangerous, my eyes would be flicking around while my wide vision would be looking for any peripheral movement. You can see the white car move at 1:58. Impact comes at 1:59, so because of his speed he had almost zero time to react.

Speed & Stopping Distance

Hans wasn’t riding particularly fast, but his speed could have been better for the situation. Hans says he slowed (and downshifted) before impact, but I don’t hear any significant change in RPM…although he clearly brakes just before the crosswalk. What I saw was a seriously dangerous situation ahead that would have had me rolling off the throttle earlier and covering my brakes.
For reference, trimming just 5 mph off of 40-mph travel speed requires about 20 fewer feet to stop. Add to that the reality of perception time and reaction time that further increases actual stopping distances and you can see how much speed affects safety. Read my article in Motorcyclist about reaction time and speed.
So, how much time did Hans have to stop? A Nissan Altima is about 16 feet long, so at the time of initial brake application (seen by the front end dive) I estimate the distance between the rider and the white car to be about 40 feet. The speed he would need to be at to get the bike stopped in time is about 25 mph! See this chart from the MSF that documents that a VFR800 needs about 36 feet to stop at 29mph. This is with a trained rider in a controlled environment.
Keep in mind that Hans is likely to be an average rider who rarely (if ever) practices emergency braking skills. This means he, like most average riders, can only achieve a deceleration rate of 0.6 g’s even though most bikes are capable of 1.0 g. Add to that the reaction time of the average human is 1.3 seconds and you can see the problem.

Expect the Unexpected

The point of this article is for us to consider possible solutions that would have prevented or at least minimized the effect of the driver of the white car’s screw up. In this particular case, the white car cut off a large four-wheeled vehicle, so he would have surely cut in front of a motorcycle. This is an extreme case of a driver totally screwing up and is hard to believe. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t still do all we can to prepare for the unexpected. Do what you can to not let it happen to you!
That’s about all I got. I hope you heal fast, Hans.
Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Video Lesson: How to Manage Downhill Turns

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE ENERGICA REVIEW, CLICK HERE. SORRY FOR THE MESS UP.
There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and the nuances of managing a downhill turn, including trailbraking.
This is the sort of cornering techniques we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.
-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.
Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Video Lesson: Cornering Finesse

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and show some of the nuances of body position, cornering lines, countersteering and visual skills.
This is the sort of cornering detail we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.
-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.
Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Tips for Getting Your Bike out of Winter Hibernation

This article covers the most basic maintenance points for getting a bike ready for another season of riding. If you’re a smart veteran rider who wants to elaborate, please add your comments below so we can all learn from your wisdom.
Those of us who live where the weather blows cold put our motorcycles under cover until the frosty temps subside. And that time of year is fast approaching.
Before taking your first ride you’ll need to make sure you and your motorcycle are up to the task. Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.

General Maintenance

With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks I’m about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, you’ll have to consult a moto-smart friend or your dealer’s service department.

Fuel System

Riders who park their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline are in for a heap o’trouble. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected.
If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.

Air Filter

Rodents seem to think that air boxes are the perfect place to build their nests. Look for clues like partial acorn shells or shredded fabric or paper. Even if you don’t see these telltale signs, it’s smart to get eyes on the filter. Unless you replaced the filter within the last year or so, you might want to have a new one on hand and just swap it. If the filter is in tact and doesn’t look too discolored or dirty, you an try to remove it and clean it with compressed air.

Too worn? The tire on the left still looks good, but it was getting old, so new rubber was mounted. Read the code on the sidewall to find the manufacture date.

Tires

Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires are older than 5 years (no matter the tread depth), I’d replace them. Read the date code on the sidewall. Example: 0415 mean the 4th week of 2015.

Drive Train

While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good cleaning an lube (this should have been done before you stored it…just sayin’). Then be sure to perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.
Those with shaft drive need to make sure your fluid doesn’t need to be changed or topped off and check for any leaks.

Engine Fluids

Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).

Brakes

Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or in the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good. The fluid should be like watered down apple juice. If the fluid is any darker, then plan on replacing it soon.
Grab a flashlight and take a close look at how much brake pad material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, replace the pads. It’s cheap insurance.

Battery

Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged with a Battery Tender. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is necessary.

Lights, Cables & Fasteners

Check that all of your lights are operational: front and rear brake light switches, turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam).
Confirm that the throttle and clutch cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike putting a wrench on as many fasteners as you can to ensure they are tight.

Awakening the Rider

Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle, it’s time to think about preparing for your first ride. Remember that your brain and muscles have deconditioned over the winter.
Some people begin their season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or with an advanced rider training program. But, at the very least, take some time to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, get in the game by practicing some cornering and braking drills like the ones in the RITZ DVD.

Spring Roads

Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Road salt is used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. A dusting of salt can decrease traction, so reduce speed where heavy concentrations of salt are present.
Sand is also widely used to combat slippery conditions and we all know how hazardous sand can be for a two-wheeler. Keep your eyes peeled for sand and avoid it whenever possible.
Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.

Inattentive Drivers

Perhaps most important is to remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road. You’ve got to be extra vigilant when riding in traffic by using strategies for being seen.


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5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?
Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

Note: This article pertains to all types of riders. So, please read on.
What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.
It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men. And this stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.
A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.
While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.
Ken-smile
I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 57 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.
Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some. Yes, this is the photo “borrowed” by whoever made that video that went viral.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.
Top photos © Ken Condon
Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.
It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.
The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.
Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a while ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.
Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.
Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.
And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

I’m grateful that I can share knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help people like you ride better and smarter. But, another benefit to writing and teaching is that it makes me a better rider. I constantly think about my riding, which keeps my skills sharp.
A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.
Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind the handlebars?
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Motorcycle Track Days: What You Need to Know

Two riders going through Turn 1a at Loudon.
Two riders going through Turn 1a at Loudon.

What are Track Days All About?

Track Days are the most exciting, fun and effective way to improve your riding skills…period! You will learn how to corner and brake with a lot more confidence and control. And you will have a freakin’ BLAST.
Track Days are held on a closed course (racetrack), which means you learn in a safe environment and at real-world speeds. Learning on a racetrack allows you to ride freely and concentrate on and advancing your skill level without the typical hazards faced on the street…potholes, sand, tar snakes and Buicks.
Many types of machines at our regular track day events. While most ride sport bikes, there are also those who ride Tourers, Adventure bikes, and Sport Tourers. There are even special “Non-Sportbike Days”.
It’s one of the best investments in fun and skill development money can buy.
You may want to listen to this short podcast where Tony and I discuss many track day FAQs.

Learn to Corner Better

While parking lot courses have their place, riding your bike on a track will let you practice riding skills at real-world speeds – without the normal distractions found on public roads (like cars, sand, cops, etc).
Classroom sessions are usually included in the price of your day where you will benefit from discussions and demonstrations of advanced riding technique that you can then try on the track.
The fact that you visit each corner several times a day allows you to perfect your technique without the changing variables found on the street. These techniques are transferable to street riding.
The skills typically learned:

 


My wife, Caroline in "the bowl" at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s
My wife, Caroline in “the bowl” at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s

 


The Racing vs. Track Day Myth

Who said anything about racing? Here’s the thing; A track day is NOT a race event. Many people respond to a suggestion of attending a track day by saying “but I don’t want to race”. Now, I understand that most people automatically think “racing” when they hear “racetrack”. This is why I spend a fair amount of energy on educating the potential new customer that a track day just might be worth considering, both for having a blast, but also for becoming a better rider (much better).

If it’s not a race, then what is it?

Imagine the perfect twisty road, but with no oncoming traffic, sand, gravel, guardrails or folks in big sedans trying to figure out their GPS while talking and texting on their phones and you start to get the idea of what a track day is. Oh, and did I mention no speed limits? So, riding on a racetrack is not only a safer place to ride, but you can also go as fast as you want without the risk of getting an expensive speeding ticket and insurance points.
Not only are track days fun, they are also a great place to develop your skills. Most track days offer some instruction, with classroom time and perhaps a garage seminar on body positioning. You can also get some on-track coaching if you ask for it. Then you go practice what you’ve learned by circulating around the track. The beauty of riding on a racetrack is that you visit each corner multiple times a day so you can perfect each corner as the day goes on. You also get to explore the limits of your bike, the tires and your ability. Woot!

It’s not about speed!

Yes, we are talking about riding on a racetrack, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the latest rocket, or even that you have to go a whole lot faster than you do already on the street (in the novice groups). That’s the beauty of track days as opposed to a competitive racing environment; they have two completely different purposes. Both track days and racing allow you to go as fast as you dare, but track days allow you to go as fast as you want without the pressure to win a competition. When racing, you risk a lot more because your goal is to try and beat the next guy.


The goal of a Track Day

So, what exactly is the point of doing a track day then?

  • A Safer Place to Have Fun! With no surface hazards or roadside obstacles to hit and an ambulance just seconds away, the track is the safest place to ride, especially if you want to ride fast.
  • A Safer Place to Learn! You will be able to concentrate on refining cornering and braking skills by riding the same corners over and over.
  • Socialize! Commiserate and socialize with like-minded motorcyclists. Most new track day riders show up for their first day nervous and afraid, only to find a friendly group of fellow riders eager to help you learn the ropes.

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

Track Days Make Safer Street Riders

I am often about the benefits of track days for street riders. The bottom line is that a day or two spent at a training-oriented track day helps develop braking and cornering skills beyond what can be done in most other courses and certainly better than relying on experience alone.
Learning to brake harder and lean deeper pays benefits when a car pulls out in front of you or a corner tightens more than expected. Riders who have never experienced floorboard-dragging lean angles usually panic, stand the bike up and run off the road, even though they had more ground clearance available. Those who have learned to lean deeply and to trust their tires are much more likely to remain in control and stay in their lane.
On the track, a rider practices braking skills by waiting to brake deeper and deeper into corners. Not to go faster, but to see just how capable their bike is at slowing. Trailbraking is also practiced…an important skill to have for safe street riding.
Finally, highly-developed physical skills allow more automatic responses to challenging situations, freeing more bandwidth to manage the hazards and variables of street riding.
Be sure to check out the Non-Sportbike Street Rider Track Training Day page.


Top Excuses why riders don’t do track days:

  • I don’t have Proper Riding Gear
    Yes, you need to protect your body in the event of a crash, but that’s a good investment whether you ride on the track or the street. Most track day organizations allow street gear, so you should already have most of what you need.
  • I am worried about crashing my bike.
    It can happen on the track, but it can also happen on the street (with more severe consequences). Track day crashes usually happen because the rider pushed too hard before they learned to manage the extra speed. Rarely do two riders come together to cause a multi-bike incident. And with no trees, mailboxes or oncoming vehicles to run into, serious injuries are also rare.
  • I’ll be the slowest rider out there.
    So what if you are the slowest rider out there? You’ll get faster as the day goes on and will likely be passing people by the end of the day.
  • I’m afraid I will be in the way of faster riders. This is a common concern. The answer is to ride your own ride and be predictable so faster riders can safely pass. This means learning the line and staying on it. Oh, and keep your eyes looking forward. It is the passing rider’s responsibility to pass…just like when skiing.
  • I don’t have a way to get up to the track.
    Many organizations have a forum or Facebook page where you can ask for help getting your bike and yourself to the track. If it comes down to it, just ride your bike there. You are risking crashing the vehicle you planned on taking you home and you’ll be tired ride home, but many people do it. Bike prep is usually minimal and can be performed at the track. Here is a video I did showing what is required for Tony’s Track Days. NOTE: some of these requirements are no longer required. See the bike prep page on Tony’s Track Days site.
  • I don’t ride a Sportbike.
    Again, so what? All types of bikes show up at track days…sport tourers, adventure bikes, standards, vintage bikes, even the occasional Gold Wing and cruiser.
  • It’s too expensive. Why should I pay to ride someplace?
    It makes little financial sense to risk serious injury, a speeding ticket, and insurance points rather than pay to ride on the track. The cost of a track day varies from region to region and from track to track, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $150.00 to over $300.00 per day. This often includes some instruction.
  • I’m not comfortable doing a track day yet.
    Maybe you’re just nervous. If so, then rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s smart to have some street miles under your belt, but if you’re comfortable riding around corners at brisk street speeds, then you’re probably ready to do a track day. Many organizations allow spectators to come check out what it’s all about. This is a great way to see if it might be right for you. And most organizations have two or three group levels so you are matched to others’ experience level.

I hope this has shed some light on the mysteries behind track days.
If you have questions, let me know and I’ll do my darnedest to help out. You should also check out the website of the track day organization you plan on joining. FYI, I work as the chief instructor for Tony’s Track Days. And check out other track day related posts and videos.

http://www.tonystrackdays.com/

Check out the other track day related posts and videos.


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Read about strategies and techniques that increase safety, confidence and enjoyment.

Click Here for details.MRW-cover

 


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Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.
This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.
First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.
I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.
It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).
Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:
1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?
2. why did he fall over?
Here is my explanation:
1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.
Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.
2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.
Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.
1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.
Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.
2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.
Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.
This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.
Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.
Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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