Faster and safer.
By Nick Ienatsch, January 12, 2021
I skirted around the edges of speed on the street, but I ain’t your mommy. Do what you want, but know that “faster” without “safer” is not sustainable or even survivable. What is “safer”? It looks exactly like a lit brake light.
This week is about riding more safely at the speed you choose in situations you don’t choose. In other words, we don’t crash on perfect days riding roads we know with zero surprises. We crash when something unknown and/or unexpected jumps into your riding life. Sometimes literally.
A GP rider’s goal is to win the world championship. Our goal is to reach our destination safely with a smile on our face and joy in our heart. These goals are not achieved when lying next to wrecked motorcycles, and the main place we American riders are dying is by running wide in corners.
I don’t know if the majority of riding deaths are on roads unknown to the deceased, but many of us ride on unknown roads a great deal of the time. This morning I rode with Champ School’s Keith Culver in San Diego County and the roads we enjoyed were new or barely known to me.
Brake Light On
We don’t crash on perfect days, we crash when our skills can’t meet an immediate challenge, in this case gravel (deer, boulder) around a downhill, tightening-radius corner with oncoming traffic. This might be a corner these riders know, but this Sunday morning there’s something significant in the lane.
Rider B is out of control, literally. He has closed his throttle, his braking fingers are still wrapped around the throttle drum, and he’s using engine-braking to slow his bike for the corner. He’s been through here 100 times and this has always worked. Until today. Because he can’t slow his bike any more—engine-braking is not adjustable, you can’t close the throttle more—he can’t tighten his radius to go to the right of the gravel. He either hits the gravel or stands the bike up into the truck.
Why doesn’t he lean over more? Because lean angle is not infinite. Perhaps he’s already at the bike’s limit (undercarriage dragging or tires slipping), it’s cold and raining, and there’s no more grip; he’s scared to lean over further.
But wait, there’s additional possible drama with Rider B. When he realizes his only option is to slow his machine and go to the right of the gravel, he unwraps his fingers from the throttle drum and reaches them out to the brake lever, or moves his boot off the right footrest to the brake pedal. That takes about half a second, meanwhile his bike is hurtling toward the gravel and F-350. By this time he’s beyond panicked and grabs the front brake lever or stabs the rear brake pedal. Drama ensues. The lesson I hope you’re hearing: Close the throttle with your fingers already outstretched so they land on the brake lever, even in corners/intersections you don’t plan to brake for. An additional half-second of braking is a lifesaver.
Rider A enters the corner with light braking, just enough to fire her brake light and put the brake pads against the rotors. The throttle is shut, the brakes are on, and she is in control and ready for anything unexpected.
Both riders see the gravel at the same point in the corner and Rider A’s heart rate stays steady because she’s got her speed and geometry control in place. Like Rider B, she doesn’t have unlimited lean angle available, but as her speed reduces in an efficient and adjustable manner, her radius tightens at the lean angle she chooses. (You discover this on your own, in the parking lot.)
As she accelerates off the corner she thinks, “I’d be silly to close my throttle and not sneak on some brakes. Sure is a beautiful day. I just love riding motorcycles.”