Expert Eye, Part 3
We continue our January theme of asking expert-level riding coaches to improve our 2019 riding by sighting their most-seen riding mistakes and fixes. This week we go all-street with two high-mileage, highly enthusiastic coaches. Both of this week’s coaches ride almost every day, each in demanding conditions and at challenging paces.
Steve is the lead motorcycle instructor for
We have a saying in police training, “If you don’t arrive, you can’t assist!” With 150 motorcycle officers who average approximately 1.7 million miles a year in Las Vegas traffic, LVMPD deals with 50 million tourists from around the world who travel to see the hot spots of the city. Tourists’ attention is everywhere but where it should be and this provides even more challenges to motor officers. Thus, there are four key street-riding strategies that we see as common errors that riders of all skill levels make:
Following too closely. It doesn’t matter how skilled riders are if they do not have the time and distance required to see a hazard, they will hit the object the car in front of them drives over. The ideal following distance is between two to three seconds in order to maintain a gap between you and the car in front of you. Don’t forget all of the hazards that are out there on the roadway: potholes, manhole covers, rocks, sand, oil, anti-freeze, ladders, and couch cushions—you name it, we have seen it on the road. So, if you allow for the proper following distance, these hazards can easily be avoided.
Blind spots. Stay out of the blind spots of high-profile vehicles. Get around that truck or RV and limit the amount of time you spend in the blind spot. Many times we interview drivers after an accident and they say, “I never saw the motorcycle before I changed lanes.” Ride where you can see and be seen.
Ride within your skill and ability. Riding a motorcycle should be fun! Think about when you ride by yourself—you get to decide the speed and direction. That’s fun! Riders normally get pushed out of their comfort zone when riding in a group. They attempt to keep up with better-skilled riders and don’t want to be the last rider to lunch. They add speed into the next corner, and we all know what can happen next. The answer to this is ride your own ride. I lead a lot of group rides with my HOG (Harley Owners Group) chapter and I constantly remind riders to ride their own ride. Remember: No one can make you ride faster than you want. You are the risk manager, so manage your own risk.
Ride within your bike’s capabilities. Every bike has its own limits whether it’s acceleration, lean angle, or load limits. Don’t push your bike beyond its limits and capabilities by trying to keep up with the local sportbike club on your cruiser bike. Their bikes are a few hundred pounds lighter and designed to carve up the canyons. Invite them on your next Iron Butt ride (1,000 miles in 24 hours) to level the playing field. My solution to this problem is to own more than one style of motorcycle and have a bike for every riding occasion!
David takes advantage of his location in Southern California to ride year-round on amazing roads at very entertaining speeds on a variety of bikes, mostly his BMW GS. He has burned many miles touring the US and Europe. He is a YCRS instructor for our track and street programs, does trackdays, and writes for the motorcycle industry occasionally.
David Bober in a rare moment of stillness, lost in a Southern California canyon.
I recently took Nick, Chris Peris, Josh Siegel, and Keith Culver (all owners/coaches at YCRS) out for a day of riding through some of Southern California’s most technical and fun roads. I brought along two other YCRS graduates who are my close friends and who I ride with on a regular basis. We spent the day riding as a group but it was as if we were one bike and one rider. There we were, all six of us, riding at a similar pace, respecting each other’s space and skill level, and trusting that the rider in front and behind us would ride in a predictable, consistent, and appropriately “speedy” manner (more on that below). It was a great day of riding, laughs, and conversation about the impact the school has had on all of us and how much fun we had riding together as students/coaches.
As a street and track rider, here are a few areas I see many riders can improve upon:
Vision. This is more than just “you go where you look.” To me this is the magic fairy dust of riding. As we grow as riders, age, and change how or where we ride this is a skill that won’t change in terms of its level of importance. I struggled for years hitting apexes at the track because my eyes were used to riding at street paces, and I did not get things done early enough to compensate for the increase in pace. How and where we look, scanning back and forth, and not having lazy eyes is huge. Most of the riders I coach struggle with hitting apexes and it starts with eyes 90 percent of the time. And it’s no less important on the street for obvious reasons.
Adjustability. Whether you’re on a track you’ve ridden many times or a canyon road you ride every weekend, having the ability to make a pass on a slower rider or avoid a big rock in the middle of a turn without drama is in many cases the difference between a trip to the doctor or enjoying the rest of your day. Changing an intended line is so much in our sport, a sport that is often taught in terms of perfect lines with no lapped traffic or gravel. Being able to change your speed, and thus your radius midcorner, is a big push in my coaching.
The myth of speed or pace. I’ve encountered just as many slow riders who are dangerous to themselves and others as I have fast riders who are. If you are a brisk rider, have you worked on your riding enough to ride that pace without incident? If you’re a slower rider, do you think just because you ride slowly that you’re safe? I hope the answers are yes and no respectively.
I’d rather ride with a fast rider who stays in their lane and on their line, doesn’t drag pegs every corner, and is on a bike that is not moving around much instead of a slow rider who leaves their lane or line, makes sudden movements, throws the bike around, rides into corners with only lean angle as a plan.
Brakes. YCRS emphasizes helping the bike get direction at the right time through the use of not only steering inputs (feet, hands, body, head) but, just as importantly, by applying the right amount of brakes at the right time.
If you’re going downhill on a tight canyon road and aren’t trail-braking into just about every corner, then the only way you’re going to be able to adjust your line based on an unforeseen obstacle or changing radius is by throwing lean angle or abrupt inputs at the problem. Trail-braking allows you to control your speed and direction in a way no other input can. Oh, and trail-braking is not getting on the brakes at lean, it’s getting on the brakes before you’re at lean and trailing them off as you lean. Big difference.
Timing. Most riders I coach or observe do a version of this: See a turn, make a few inputs to get the bike turned, and hold those inputs until the turn is done. The pros do it differently; they might be using the same inputs as the amateur, but they are also modulating the degree of application of those inputs in an iterative way throughout the turn.
And it’s not just in the corners. The pros are modulating everything in real time, nothing is locked and held, everything is in a state of timing and adjustment: throttle, brakes, eyes, body, head, feet, etc. Body position is different from body timing as an example of this. The timing of when you do something is just as important as what you are doing.
Continuous improvement. I occasionally talk to riders who are quick on the track and don’t think they need coaching. Same for street riders. Same for commuters and people who have no interest in going fast. My answer? When you get sued, you hire a lawyer. When you do your taxes, you hire an accountant. When you have surgery, you hire a surgeon. When you are putting your life on the line every time you hop on two wheels, how could you not invest in learning from the pros, at any pace, on any surface? I can personally attest: Not only will coaching help you ride safer and faster if that’s a goal, but it will make riding exponentially more fun. No-brainer. To me, when I see a student or friend ride, I’m asking myself, how are they riding versus how fast are they riding.T