And Yet Another Video Lesson: Surviving the Unexpected

In this installment of Video Lessons, we see this guy on an R6 cruising down the highway when suddenly he finds himself facing a big yellow foam tube that fell off the back of a boat. The rider is okay (see interview video below), so watch with that in mind.
Take a look at the video and I’ll catch up with you on the other end. I’ll wait.

Nasty, right?
So, what can we learn from this video?
Be Wary of Shit Strapped to Vehicles. Whether the cargo is lashed to a boat, trailer, car roof, or back of a truck, you must be alert to the fact that a lot of drivers do the bare minimum to secure their load. Most use the “good enough” measuring device to determine acceptable compliance. Be extra wary if rope is used and if the load is moving in any way.
Be Ready! This bit of advice applies to all sorts of motorcycle mishaps. If you’re alert to the possibility of something bad happening you are essentially pre-loading the mental software required to respond fast and effectively. Daydreaming or failing to predict this possibility means you will not be ready when the poop hits the fan.
Don’t Just Sit There. OK, so you see the potential problem; what’s your plan to deal with it? Sure, maybe the cargo won’t come flying off, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble if you aren’t getting yourself away from the danger. This is the time to consider a change of lane or lane position and identify an escape plan if things do go pear-shaped.
Resist Target Fixation. Listen, it’s incredibly difficult to not put a laser focus directly on a real hazard like a big yellow foam tube bouncing in front of you. But, resist you must! The trick is to find an escape route and focus on that.
Act Fast! Let’s say the big yellow foam thing is now hitting the pavement ahead of you. Humans taken by surprise can’t help but freeze for a moment before acting. In the case of the R6 rider, he waited over half a second to move in his lane and waited almost 3 seconds to get on the brakes. As far as swerving right; situational awareness should have told him that the right lane was clear for him to make the maneuver, but I suspect he was not aware of his surroundings.
Have Skills! When he did move in his lane it was mostly ineffective…more of a drift, rather than a real swerve. And his braking attempt was equally weak. This is a common reaction from riders who have not developed these evasive skills and those who don’t keep those skills sharp.
Now to be fair, anyone would have freaked in this situation. But, there are things he coulda done. His first mistake was riding too close behind the boat. He should have predicted the possibility of a problem and maintained more following distance. When in these situations, we need to be ready to respond fast.
Unfortunately, he was taken by surprise and then froze, which used up precious moments that would have allowed him to respond more effectively. This freeze-up response is what humans tend to do, but is especially noticeable with unaware and untrained riders.

The takeaway: Be alert for the possibility of things like this and be ready, both mentally and physically.
You still may end up on your ass because we can’t control everything thrown at us. But, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to survive calamities like this. That includes being well trained and wearing full protection. Glad he is okay.
UPDATE: The local news station interviewed the 20 year old rider in THIS REPORT. It’s great that he had a helmet and motorcycle jacket, but wearing protection in itself does not prevent crashes…it’s keen situational awareness and having smart strategies that does that. I stand by my statements above.


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Guest Writer: Taking Control- Hope is not a plan

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

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

Getting it Right

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

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

The Big Question

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

My Training Tour Experience

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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


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


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Yet Another Crash Video We Can Learn From

Here is another video that I’m pretty sure demonstrates how we humans don’t want to admit when we screw up.  See the video of the poor guy who sideswiped a big truck on his R6. The problem that he says the wind drove him into the truck. Whaaa?
Note: you only need to watch the first 15 seconds to see the incident, but you’ll have to stick it out until the first passerby arrives to hear him mention the wind. WARNING: The video may be difficult to listen to as the poor guy writhes in pain. He also swears a bit.

While I know the wind out west can be strong enough to knock over tractor trailer rigs, I’m pretty sure wind had nothing to do with this incident. I think it’s another case of inaccurate self-evaluation and lack of rider ability and/or a serious lack of concentration.
I can’t tell how strong the wind was at the time of the crash, but the trees aren’t being blown around very much and his friend’s hair (he appears later in the video) is barely moving at all. Maybe he’s wearing copious amounts of hairspray, but I don’t think so.
Besides, if it were strong enough to blow a bike across a lane, I doubt the rider would be chatting away so casually before the incident. Also, the rock formations on the side of the road should have blocked any direct side forces.

Dangerous Distraction

One explanation for this seemingly bizarre crash is a complete and total brain fart. I’m not sure if he is talking to himself or to his friend who is riding ahead, but he wasn’t focused on leaning enough to make the curve.

Early Turn Entry

Notice how the rider began heading toward the inside of the corner too early, causing his bike to be pointed toward the oncoming lane. – Thanks for readers for pointing this out.

Countersteering, Baby!

Another contributing factor is that perhaps he did not have a good grasp of countersteering. A hard push on the right handlebar should have kept him in his lane even if it were windy.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another likely contributing factor in this incident. Target fixation is a phenomenon that explains why we go where we look. Once the rider realized he was drifting wide into the path of a big truck, he likely couldn’t take his eyes off the hazard and that’s where he ended up. Look toward the solution, not the problem.

Human Nature Strikes Again

I think this is another example of someone blaming something other than their inability to stay focused or steer effectively. Deferring blame is a basic human response to help explain how they could have made such a serious and basic mistake.
See this video of another crash that demonstrates how humans can delude themselves.

The reason to highlight these videos is not to place blame, but to recognize the danger of not knowing why an incident happened. Without that, we are destined to repeat the mistake.
What do you think?


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Video Lesson: Group Riding Crash Video

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of the guy who crashes trying to avoid his buddy who just hit a dog. The second rider doesn’t hit his friend, but almost gets creamed by an oncoming Tractor Trailer. A lot of comments and Monday morning quarterbacking have filled social media already, so I wasn’t planning to add to the noise until a reader requested that I share my thoughts. So, here you go.
First off, I am really sorry this incident happened and I’m glad everyone is okay. I’m very thankful that the truck driver was paying attention so he was able to miss hitting the sliding rider. It’s really too bad about the dog, though.
For those of you who have not seen the video(s):

In addition to these clips, you can read a local TV station's post that interviews one of the riders, as well as a so-called "Expert". You can see that HERE.

Another Example of the “I Had to Lay It Down” BS

The second rider said he avoided hitting his friend by deliberately dropping his bike. I hear this all the time…”I had to lay it down to avoid [fill in the blank]”. It’s BS.
I know, the idea is to try to avoid what could be a worse crash. And in VERY rare situations, this may be true. But, 99.9% of the time, crashing to avoid a crash makes no sense. Today’s brakes and tires allow tons of grip and stopping power to scrub off big speed very rapidly…if executed correctly.
Even if this was a viable solution, having the presence of mind to deliberately crash while facing a panic situation is not bloody likely. It’s way more likely that a person will react the way untrained humans do…by grabbing the brakes abruptly enough to cause the front tire to skid. Classic mistake.
Unfortunately, this video will help keep this dangerous BS myth alive.

Human Nature

The truth is that the second rider who crashed screwed up by braking too abruptly. Don’t feel too bad. We humans make mistakes.
As much as you’d like to think of yourself as a hero for sacrificing your bike and riding gear to avoid hitting your buddy, the odds are that you just braked so hard as to loft the rear tire and skid the front tire, which dropped your moto to the ground in an instant.
You’re not alone. A lot of riders claim that they layed down their bike because they:

  • genuinely believe it was the best thing to do
  • probably know better, but are in denial
  • helps them feel better about screwing up. And who can blame them, after all people easily accept this explanation in a positive way. Just look at the TV reporters and so called expert who gave the rider a big attaboy.

The Case For Training

It’s likely that this guy has not been exposed to such a severe situation before and was not trained to handle it. Unfortunately, most riders are ill prepared to handle this.
To be fair, it’s possible that I might do the exact same thing, because I too am human and make mistakes. But the odds are that I won’t, because I’m trained. One thing for sure is that I would not have deliberately crashed my bike because I thought it was best to throw in the towel.
Practicing braking techniques not only teaches your body how to execute the maneuver, it also puts the maneuver into your muscle memory. This is key when you have a split second to respond. Untrained riders snap, whereas trained riders are more likely to remain in control. ABS would have helped the second rider stay upright, but deferring rider ability to technology has its problems, too.
Notice that I say “respond” and not “react”. There is a difference. Trained riders respond, untrained riders react.

What Went Wrong

A few things went wrong here:

Unleashed Animals

Animals are unpredictable, making it super difficult to know when they might dart in front of you. I hit a small dog last season when it ran out from some high brush and directly under my front wheel. We can’t control this, except to scan for movement along the sides of the road.

Staggered Formation

The staggered group riding formation that the group was using is not unreasonable when traveling on a straight section of road. But, if you look at the video from the rider ahead who looked back, you can see that the rider that struck the dog could not see the animal until it was really too late. That’s because the video rider was blocking the view of the side of the road.
Staggered formations also prevent the riders from using the full width of their lane and limited their option to swerve.
Instead of using a staggered formation that spans the full width of the lane, I suggest staggering only enough to see past the rider ahead so there is more distance between the yellow (center) line for riders staggering on the left part of the lane, and more distance between the white line for riders in the right part of the lane. This will help prevent them from “eclipsing” each other from hazards. This works best if there is ample following distance between riders.

Riding Too Close

It’s hard to tell just how close each rider is following, but a too close following distance commonly results in panic-induced over reaction. I suspect this was another factor.

A Lack of Training

We hit this already, but it is worthy of reiteration. The second rider got on the brakes hard, which is good. But, his abrupt braking caused his rear tire to leave the ground, which was quickly followed by smoke coming off the front tire from a skid. Once a front tire skids, it’s all over, most of the time.

Speed?

Speed is usually a factor in incidents, simply because the slower you go, the more time and space you have to respond to hazards. That said, it appears that the speed was reasonable for the road.

An Interview with a So-called “Expert”

The television station interviewed a local motorcycle safety instructor about the mishap:

“A perfect choice by the rider,” says Vandervest Harley-Davidson Riding Academy Coach Susie Davis. “The bikes can be fixed much easier than people can be fixed – so proud of them for doing that.”

Both men decided to drop their bikes and skid on the road instead of swerving to avoid the dog and then each other. Davis says that split-second decision may have saved their lives and the lives of the other motorcyclists with them.

”I think they did a miraculous job,” said Davis. “They let the bike go. They saved themselves. They came out alive. They’ve come out with minor injuries. I don’t know that it could have been done any differently.”

WRONG! This coach is dead wrong and is perpetuating this BS. Having a supposedly trained instructor miss the point just goes to show how deeply ingrained this myth has become. Sad.

A Similar Perspective

Riding Man author Mark Gardiner wrote these two excellent articles that corroborate my point of view. Check them out.
His Blog
Revzilla

The Takeaway

Untrained humans will react in a knee-jerk manner to panic situations. To avoid this:

  • Get yourself trained
  • Select lane positions that offer the best angle of view
  • Don’t lay your bike down, or at least stop claiming that laying it down was your only choice.

The guys did at least one thing right: They were wearing protective gear. Good job, there.
Share your thoughts below.


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8 Lessons to Learn from This Grom Crash

Grom-CrashGroms are fun…really fun. They are small, yet powerful enough to do all sorts of silly shenanigans. Just watch my fellow scribes Ari and Zack from Motorcyclist Magazine for proof:
Gromkhana 1
Gromkhana 2

Playbike Dangers

The thing is that playbikes like the Grom can trigger a false sense of safety that can make a person think he or she is invincible.
The truth is that you can certainly be hurt or killed even on a little bike.
Another reason that small bikes can be unsafe is becasue they disappear in traffic. It’s hard enough to be conspicuous on a normal sized bike, but it’s extra tough on a Grom.

Lesson

Case in point is a video I saw that is no longer available of a Grom crashing into the side of a car.

It’s pretty obvious that an elderly driver thought he was good to go after waiting for a car ahead of the Grom to pass. It’s a classic case of “I didn’t see him”. Likely another case of inattentional blindness.

Before you launch hate missiles at the old guy you’ve got to remember that people make mistakes. Sure, the driver was at fault…no argument there. His insurance company will pay.
Knowing 100% that we can’t possibly hope to stop people from making mistakes means it’s up to us to do all we can not to become a victim of these people.

The Rider’s Mistakes

The rider in the video could have noticed that the car ahead was blocking him from view. He should have also predicted that the driver was ready to go as soon as the gray car went past. This would have alerted the rider to slow way down and be ready to apply the brakes–hard!
By the time he realized what was unfolding, it was too late. The rider heroically attempted to swerve to the left, but there was not enough time or space to sneak by.
One significant mistake the rider did not make (unlike soooo many other riders) is to wear full protective gear. He was mostly unhurt in the crash. Unfortunately, the dark riding gear probably didn’t help in the conspicuity department.

The Takeaway

Posting this video isn’t intended to callout the rider’s ineptitude; we all act on assumptions that don’t turn out as we expect. Rather, I use this video as an illustration of one of the most common reasons for multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes, so we can learn from it. The following lessons can be applied to any situation involving intersections. The rider in this video did not necessarily break any of these lessons, but perhaps he did.
Lesson 1: Don’t be fooled into thinking because you’re riding a small, low powered bike that you cannot get hurt or killed…you can.
Lesson 2: Recognize that you are hard to see when riding a motorcycle, and you’re nearly invisible on a pint-sized bike like a Grom.
Lesson 3: Develop a sixth sense about your surroundings and then listen to that sense.
Lesson 4: Learn about the classic crash scenarios so you can recognize when they are developing in front of you.
Lesson 5: When approaching intersections with waiting cars, slow down and cover your brakes.
Lesson 6: Have an escape plan in mind in case something does happen.
Lesson 7: Plan for the Worst, hope for the best.
Lesson 8: Make sure your emergency braking skills are well-practiced, just in case.
Did I miss anything? Add you thoughts in the comments below.


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Tailgaters Suck

Photo: Julia LaPalme
Photo: Julia LaPalme

Motorcyclist Online recently posted my article “6 Riding Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters“. This particular piece garnered a ton of comments from readers and Facebook followers of several riding groups. While most people agreed that it’s best to pull over if possible, an alarming number of people suggested flipping the bird or tossing pebbles, nuts, or ball bearings to get the driver to back off.
I know some people were trying to be funny, but I am afraid a lot of commenters were serious. That kind or reaction is what leads to deadly road rage.
Yes, some drivers are habitual tailgaters and total inconsiderate asses. But just as many offenders aren’t even aware they are driving dangerously. Hard to believe, I know.
I once was in the car of a good friend who was tailgating each and every car we followed, no matter the speed. When I asked him about it, he truly didn’t think what he was doing was bad…not because is is stupid or inconsiderate, he simply had a different perception of what was okay.
Listen, I get that tailgaters are infuriating and can rank near the top of most despised people. And it can seem as if their transgression is a personal affront, but trying to teach tailgaters a lesson is a bad idea. Tailgaters, be tailgatin’. They won’t change.
You may be able to wake up a driver by tapping your brake light, but be careful gesturing, even if it is a “friendly” one.
One thing is for sure; addressing aggression with aggression escalates the situation and is very risky. A flip of the bird only adds fuel to the fire. And if you get caught tossing hard objects at a tailgater, you will get into a heap of trouble.
Instead, take the high road. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Easier said than done, I know.
It’s better to disengage and separate yourself from the tailgater. If you can’t do that, then follow the other tips in the article so that you’re less likely to get creamed by a clueless tailgater.

Read the full article HERE.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.
Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

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

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

The Next Level

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

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

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

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

Are track skills useful on the street?

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

Body Position Practice

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

Track2009labeled
Figure 1

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

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

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

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

Safer and More Confident Cornering

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

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

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


Ed Conde
Ed Conde

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


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What to Expect at a Beginner Rider Course

Beginner-groupSo, you think you want to ride a motorcycle? If you haven’t already, please read the first article in the series and the step-by-step article.


Signing up for a Beginner (or Basic) Rider Course is a big step and you probably have some questions about what to expect. Below is a generic description of how many programs work. Study the website of the training course you are signing up with to learn more about specifics.

Pre-Course Assignment

Depending on the training site you signed up with, you may be told to study a Student Workbook or take an online pre-course assignment. Take the time to do this work. Being prepared will put you in the best position for success and relieve a lot of anxiety. Take notes and jot down specific questions you have.
Try to get a good night’s sleep before your first day. Remember that professional training organizations follow stringent procedures to ensure your safety, so try and relax. There will likely be students who have some previous experience, but the course is designed for people who have never ridden a motorcycle before. So, again, relax. Do your homework and have fun with the process.

Pre-Course Riding

If you have access to a motorcycle, it may be helpful to sit on it and operate the controls as you learn about them from your Student Handbook. Some people are tempted to actually ride before the course. If you have your learner’s permit, you can legally ride on the road, but it’s usually best to save your first ventures on a motorcycle for the course where the instructors keep a close eye on your progress.

What to Bring

Bring your Student Handbook and any pertinent paperwork, as well as snacks, lunch and beverages.
You’ll need to wear jeans, over the ankle boots, long sleeve shirt or jacket and full-fingered gloves and a DOT-legal helmet (helmets may be available to borrow). You won’t be allowed to ride without this basic level of protection.
You’ll want to wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Lightweight layers are your best bet so you can add or subtract layers as needed. It’s also a good idea to bring rain gear, because training is conducted rain or shine. Be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water so you stay hydrated.


Beginner-perimeterClass Structure

Class structure will vary widely from state to state and from course providers.
Often, your first day will include classroom time and your first stint on the motorcycle learning the basics of motorcycle operation. Most courses are two days long with the second day consisting of more advanced classroom and riding time.

Day One Classroom

Be sure to arrive ON TIME. There is a lot that needs to get done and stragglers muck up the schedule. You’ll likely have to sign a liability waiver and fill out some paperwork before the class begins. It’s typical for students to introduce themselves and maybe share previous riding experience. Don’t get flustered if you seem to be the only one who has never ridden. The class is designed for absolute newbies, so relax.
The first classroom session will talk about risk and basic operation. Since you already did your pre-course assignment, a lot of this will be review. But, pay attention and ask questions if you need clarification.
A Q&A method of teaching is often used, so be ready to participate.

CoachingDay One Riding

With the first classroom complete (and after some lunch), you’ll head out to the riding “range” to get some hands on experience. The first exercise will revisit the controls and give you a chance to mount and dismount the machine you will be riding. Next, you will get a feel for moving the bike around without the motor running, followed by learning how to start and stop the engine.
With the engine running, you’ll get a feel for using the manually-operated clutch and transmission by engaging first gear and then easing the clutch out until the bike begins to move forward when you will immediately squeeze the clutch back in to avoid rolling too far forward.
The subsequent exercises give you the opportunity to ride in a straight line, brake, shift gears and learn basic cornering skills.each exercise builds on the last, so that students can absorb the skills in a manageable manner.
Most beginner exercises begin with a “simulated practice” where the students mount the motorcycles and go through the physical motions needed to perform the skill they are about to attempt without the motor running. Once they get a feel for the skill, the students are set off on the motorcycle to practice.
You are not yet a motorcyclist, but you can now “operate” a motorcycle.

Day Two Classroom

The second classroom session builds off of the first day with discussions about survival strategies, motorcycle-specific hazards and more advanced cornering, braking and crash avoidance skills.
The classroom ends with a multiple choice knowledge test. Most people pass, but you must pay attention to do well.

Beginner-weaveDay Two Riding

The second riding session includes practice with slow speed maneuvers, emergency braking and swerving, as well as exercises designed to increase cornering competence.
At the end of the day you will be evaluated on how well you absorbed the lessons. The riding test consists of maneuvers that were taught and practiced during the day.
The riding test is often the most stressful part of the whole two days. But, if you were able to successfully complete the exercises, you should be able to pass the evaluation. If you don’t pass,you will be able to retest for a fee. If that doesn’t go well, then take this as an opportunity to reevaluate whether motorcycling is a good fit for you.
At the end of the course, the instructors will debrief each person and hand out completion cards.

Hands On

There’s a saying, “If the wheels aren’t turning, they’re not learning”, which is to say that people learn best by doing, and specifically that riders learn by practicing new skills. While it’s important that students get information necessary to perform a skill, usually through discussion and demonstration, it’s really the act of doing the skill that cements it into the student’s muscle memory and makes it truly learned.

Beginner-crashCrashing

Minor tip overs are common, but thankfully full-on, higher speed crashes are relatively rare. If you tip over, don’t sweat it. If you aren’t sure why it happened, make sure to ask the instructor so you can avoid another mishap.

Congrats!

So, you passed the course? Congrats. Now the real work begins. You can be proud of your accomplishment, but understand that you are still a novice. You learned how to operate a motorcycle in a parking lot. But, you still don’t have the skills to manage other vehicles, potholes, sand and other common hazards while also trying to think about the basics. Take plenty of time to practice, practice, practice in a parking lot on your own motorcycle before venturing out in the world. You’ll be happy you did.

Oops.

Didn’t pass the course? That’s discouraging, I’m sure. But remember that riding a motorcycle isn’t for everyone….although maybe it is for you. Perhaps you just need more practice before you take your skills test. The training organization may have a retest policy and/or private lessons to help folks like you to get the skills. Everyone learns differently and maybe you’re someone who doesn’t learn well at the pace of a typical group lesson.
See more articles in the New Rider Zone.
What were your experiences during your beginner course?


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4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Cornering Lines

Heading toward the apex.
Heading toward the apex.

A “cornering line” is the path you follow around a corner. Riding a narrow, single-track vehicle means we are able to select the left, center or right positions within the lane. The “basic” cornering line starts by entering the turn at the outside edge of the lane and then continues to the inside or “apex” (near the middle of the corner), and ends with the motorcycle exiting toward the outside of the lane. This line is commonly known as the “outside-inside-outside” line.

Why Bother?

A lot of motorcycle riders don’t understand the benefits of cornering lines, believing that it’s good enough to simply keep their tires between the painted lines. This is fine when the road is predictable and speeds are low. But, as speeds increase and the road becomes more challenging, precise cornering lines become more important.
Cornering lines are a must when you ride on a racetrack, partly because the pavement is so wide that you would be silly to not use the available real estate. Riding from pavement edge to edge on the racetrack is the equivalent to using the whole width of the lane. Don’t cross the painted lines (or lean into the opposite lane), but use the lane to your advantage. Here are the 4 primary benefits of riding cornering lines:
1. Straightens the Curve
Entering the curve from the outside, apexing near the inside and exiting toward the outside straightens the curve by increasing the corner radius, which requires less lean and preserves traction. It’s important to have traction in reserve in case you have to increase lean angle or execute a mid-corner maneuver.
2. Gives a Better Angle of View
Entering a corner from the outside also allows a better angle of view into the corner so you can get an early look at the corner’s characteristics and identify any mid corner hazards so you can adjust your corner entry speed for safety.
3. Increases Cornering Confidence

Actively thinking about and choosing a deliberate path into a through curves makes you a Corner Master who ride with a plan. The result is a more preemptive attitude that puts your eyes, mind and body ahead of the corner.
4. Increases Cornering Enjoyment
Riding cornering lines increases the engagement you have with your bike–and every corner you encounter. Riders who unconsciously stay in the middle of the pavement are passive about their riding and miss out on the opportunity for deeper involvement.

Apexing early requires a late increase in lean angle.
Apexing early requires a late increase in lean angle.

CornerVision_figure1_LateApexDelayed Apex Line

When you begin your turn (and how quickly you turn) has a significant impact on cornering precision and safety. New or nervous riders are anxious to get the turn over with, so they tend to turn in too soon. This places the bike at the apex too early, pointing the motorcycle toward the outside of the curve. To finish the turn and stay in the lane, the rider is forced to increase lean angle past the apex  at the time when they should be reducing lean angle. This is a common reason for corner crashes.
Not only does the delayed apex point the bike safely toward the corner exit and not at the outside edge of the road, but it also provides the best angle of view into the corner. Wait, wait, wait…now turn.

Quick Turn

To execute the delayed apex line requires a quick turn-in using firm countersteering. The harder you press on the inside handgrip, the quicker you will turn. Pull on the outside handgrip while pushing on the inside grip to turn in even quicker. Also, pre-position your body to the inside before the turn-in to help the motorcycle fall into the corner with even less effort.
Executing a precise cornering line requires coordination between the timing of your turn-in and the amount of countersteering intensity. Turning in too late and with not enough handlebar force can result in a “missed” apex, causing your motorcycle to stay in the middle or even outside portion of the lane, not near the inside as desired.

Multiple corners require creativity.
Multiple corners require creativity.

Sequential Turns

The basic outside-inside-outside cornering line is the obvious choice if the corner is isolated from other corners with a straight before and after the curve. But, multiple corners strung together can make the outside exit unusable and dangerous.
An outside exit that is appropriate for a single turn may prove too wide if the next corner bends in the opposite direction. In this situation, you have to ride an “outside-inside-INSIDE” line. This means you stay inside all the way to the exit where it becomes the entrance to the next corner. Depending on the relationship between corners, you may end up with an “outside-inside-MIDDLE” line.
Below is a video of Ken using cornering lines on a twisty road:

The trick to seamlessly stringing together a series of corners is to look well ahead  to identify each corner’s radius and determine what the proper entry is for the following corner. The best riders interact with their bike and the corners in a way that turns the road into a dance floor, making the mastery of cornering lines not only safer, but also very satisfying.
Do you use cornering lines?


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Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Motorcyclist

SmileOkay, so you’ve read the previous article in this New Rider series and determined that motorcycling is indeed something you’d like to pursue.
Before we go any further, I’ll ask you once again; are you sure you are willing to make the time and financial commitment to get properly trained and invest in full protective gear? And will you advance your skills beyond the basics taught in a beginner rider course?
If you answered yes, then continue reading. If not, then might I suggest another sport, like tennis or racquetball?

Stages

In the previous post, you’ll recall the 6 stages of becoming a motorcyclist:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Preparation/Determination
  3. Action
  4. Learning to Survive
  5. Advanced Training
  6. Skills Maintenance

This article addresses stages 2 and 3. Stage 2 is where you’re preparing to take action by learning what it takes to learn to ride and get licensed. Stage 3 is the action stage where you make an appointment for your permit test and schedule a rider training course. The order of permit and rider course may differ depending on your state laws.
Below is a step by step list of what you need to do. Note that your state or province may require slightly different procedure, so do some research. Here is a resource to learn about your state’s requirements.


Steps

This a common sequence:

  1. get your permit (depending on your state, this may come after rider training)
  2. take the beginner course (required in some states)
  3. get licensed (some states allow instructors to test, others require DMV testing)
  4. buy a cheap, but reliable used motorcycle (an article on the best bikes for newbies is coming soon-Subscribe)
  5. practice (for the rest of your career)
  6. ride often

Take the Motorcycle Permit Test

The age in which you can apply for a motorcycle permit varies from state to state, but is usually around 16 years of age. Some states do not require a permit at all, while others require the beginner rider course be taken prior to obtaining a permit. As you can see, it varies.
MA-MC-ManualYou’re going to want to study the Driver and Motorcycle Manuals to learn the rules of the road, as well as some rather obscure stuff that the government officials want you to know.
You DO NOT have to own a motorcycle to get a permit or to take a beginner course (they provide the motorcycles). While it’s great if you have a bit of experience behind the handlebars, it’s not necessary. It’s a good idea to wait until you’ve completed the beginner rider course before you buy a bike; that way you won’t feel pressured to ride, or have to sell the bike if you decide that motorcycles aren’t for you.
If you already own a motorcycle before taking the course and choose to take it for a ride, be very careful and stick to parking lots or quiet side roads. Also, know that while a learner’s permit allows you to operate a motorcycle on the public streets, you’ll have restrictions, such as no passengers and riding only during daylight hours.
You may have restrictions even after you receive your license, depending on your state and your age. Make sure to check your state’s DMV website so you are fully aware of the rules.


Take a Beginner Rider Course

Once you have your permit, you should go ahead and sign up for a new rider training course. You probably already know where courses are offered, so now’s the time to get out your calendar and secure your spot. If not, then

MSF_HAndbook

Google “motorcycle training locations” and add your state onto the end of the query.
The cost varies wildly, from under $100.00 in states that subsidize training to over $300.00 for those that don’t. If even $300.00 sounds too steep for you, then you either can’t afford to ride or you’re not serious about being a motorcyclist, so now’s the time to find something cheaper and less risky to do.
Read the training organization’s website carefully to know:

  • The daily schedule
  • Riding gear requirements (many provide loaner helmets)
  • What paperwork to bring

Beginner courses provide the training motorcycle, so don’t go off and buy a bike just yet. It’s better to use the loaner to see if you have the coordination and desire to buy your own machine.
Note that the many states use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum, but some do not.

A lot of people forgo this important step, thinking that they can learn all they need to learn on their own (or with help from a friend). But, statistically, "self-taught" riders are involved in more crashes than trained riders for the first 6 months or so. If you survive that long, then good for you. If you're like a lot of riders, you will probably develop several bad habits that you won't be aware of.

Buy Quality Riding Gear

Don’t skimp on durable, motorcycle-specific riding gear.
This includes a helmet (preferably one with full-faced coverage), sturdy riding jacket and pants, over the ankle boots, and full-coverage riding gloves (preferable gauntlet-type).
See the line of motorcycle helmets, jackets, pants, boots and gloves available from Twisted Throttle where you can buy while supporting this website.

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Buy a Motorcycle

Since you have a permit, you can legally ride on the street. If you are required to test with the DMV, you’ll need your own bike. So, now’s the time to buy a bike so you can practice.
The best bikes for beginners is the topic of another article that has yet to be written. Stay tuned and Subscribe so you know when it is available. I’ll go into more detail later, but I will tell you now that it should have modest power, and be lightweight, inexpensive and reliable.


Get Your License

Congrats! You passed the beginner course and are now ready for your license. Some states allow the instructors to conduct the licensing exam as part of the rider course. But, some states require you to go to the DMV for the exam even if you take the course.
Since rider training is not mandatory in most states, you may be able to simply take a riding test at the Department of Motor Vehicles without any training at all (not recommended). Not requiring new riders to be trained sounds kinda insane, but that’s the way it is…at least for now. Rhode Island is an example of one state that does require rider education as a prerequisite to getting a license.
If you choose to skip training (DON’T!) and go to the DMV, an officer or some other certified tester will scrutinize your ability to operate the bike. This may be done in a parking lot or on the road. Good luck with that.
Some states have graduated licensing, meaning there are restrictions for the first several months you are licensed. In other parts of the world, new riders are restricted to small displacement, low powered machines until they pass the next level of training, eventually qualifying for a full license to ride any size motorcycle.

Being licensed (or endorsed) by your state to ride a motorcycle does not mean you are a competent or safe rider! It just means you met the basic standards set forth by the state officials. Most people who are self-taught and then pass the license test at the DMV are not ready to handle complex situations.
Even those who complete a basic rider course are not necessarily ready to ride on the street, after all, the course teaches only the basics.

Practice, dammit! You'll thank me someday for insisting that you do.
Practice in a parking lot!

CLICK HERE to learn why the basic rider course is not enough to make you a safe motorcycle rider.


Your First Rides

You passed the course and bought a bike of your very own and now it’s time to ride it.
Stick to parking lots until you feel very comfortable. This may take several visits. If you’re not comfortable riding to and from the parking lot have an experienced riding friend take your bike to the lot and follow him or her in a car.
Practice doing the drills you used in your basic course and consider trying the more advanced drills found in the Riding in the Zone book. Also take a look at the video clips.
After a few visits to the parking lot, you are probably ready to venture onto the roadways, but stick to areas without traffic or complex corners. Keep your speeds at or slightly below the speed limit, but never faster than you feel comfortable. If you find yourself riding slower than most other traffic, then you’re probably not ready to be in traffic just yet.


The First Few Months

Keep riding. Learn your personal comfort zone and ride within your abilities. Ride alone (if legally permitted) or with trusted partners (no passengers!). DO NOT ride with experienced riding friends who might tempt you to ride outside your comfort zone. The same goes with riding in groups that will pressure you to keep up.
DO find a responsible, like-minded rider who is knowledgeable and can mentor you as you ease your way into more and more challenging situations. Keep learning by reading books and trusted sources.
After a few hundred miles under your belt, seek more training. This can mean signing up for the next level of training where you took your basic course or find other training opportunities, such as personal training. Trust me, it’s worth the time and effort.


The Next Steps

Your education and training should be a top priority throughout the time you are a motorcyclist. Read Blog articles, take advanced parking lot courses, sign up for on-street training, and attend track days. Make every ride an opportunity to become a better rider. It’s fun and you’ll be safer at the same time.


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