Less than fancy footwork. By Nick Ienatsch. November 3, 2020

no tipping

Getting your feet down earlier and up later will help you avoid an embarrassing and possibly costly tip-over.Jeff Allen

This series aims to add breadth and depth to the riding experience of all riders. Each week I will introduce a few concepts that are not necessarily covered in most riding schools, but as I often note in this column, safety priorities change as our riding environment changes. And even if an included tip is not a safety priority, it will make your rides better and more enjoyable. I wish our Champ School crew could teach every bit of our experience to every student we meet; and this series is my attempt to do just that. Here is Part 2:


Less Dorkiness With the Feet, Please

We work with many low-hour riders and see an almost-universal misunderstanding: The belief that “good riding” means keeping your feet on the pegs as much as possible. As they roll to a stop, their feet come down too late. As they release the clutch from a stop, their feet pop up onto the footpegs too early. Any fault during the stop or start makes for heart-fluttering moments and more than several dropped bikes. The rider is rarely hurt, but it’s embarrassing, and we often quit endeavors that embarrass us in public—my bodybuilding career, for instance (funnier if you see me in a T-shirt).

Think of your feet as landing gear and get that landing gear in place early as you approach zero mph. No, that doesn’t mean drag your feet (though that’s better than late feet), but get your feet off the pegs and ready. Leave your feet down as you leave a stop; again, not dragging, but ready in case you left in third gear by mistake.


Think of your feet as landing gear and get that landing gear in place early as you approach zero mph.

At YCRS, we teach “foot-ready” U-turns. We ask our students to get that inside foot off the footpeg, out away from the bike and lower to the ground to reduce the time it takes to catch an off-balance tip-over. All our instructors do foot-ready U-turns as well, because we are comfortable running more lean angle when our foot is doing its best impression of Valentino Rossi at turn in. In championship terms we are “running maximum lean angle for as short a time as possible,” as instructed by Freddie Spencer; that’s a huge deal when you’re flipping a U-turn with possible oncoming traffic.

Encourage all your new-rider friends to practice foot-ready U-turns and think of trying them yourself to decrease the time it takes for you to flip a 180. Encourage your new-rider friends to deploy their landing gear earlier and smoother, and retract that landing gear later with less disruption to the motorcycle.

Why? Because a few low-speed tip-overs, especially in public, might just get them off the bike for good. And they’ll look less dorky.


A Professional Move to Save Fiddling Around All Day Long

Riding a motorcycle can be one of the most challenging undertakings of a person’s life. That challenge can either compel riders to improve or dishearten them back into a car. This series hopes to increase chances of the former.

Here’s a warm-engine shortcut to improve your professionalism and reduce some frustration: Shut off and start your bike in first gear. We witness riders fiddling with the shifter and clutch before starting their bikes and then again before shutting them down. Skip all that fiddling by killing your engine in first gear with the clutch lever in, and then refiring it in gear with the clutch lever in when it’s time to leave.


That clunk is ugly and cruel.

With a cold engine, we will usually start it in neutral and let it warm. But take a page from Jeff Haney: This former factory Honda dirt-tracker and roadracer’s habit is to let his bike warm in neutral, but then shut it off at the kill switch, snick it into gear, and then restart it and leave. Takes him about one second. He prefers that move over clunking it into gear, especially if the high-idle warm-up circuit (choke in the old days) is still employed; that clunk is ugly and cruel. If Haney’s bike is warm, this pro will never use neutral.

Starting your bike in gear and immediately riding it away is a pro move. There’s no fiddling, clunking, checking for the neutral light, moving the shifter too far and then not far enough—while your friends wait, or don’t. Just touch the button and release the clutch. I watch riders get left behind because of their search for neutral prior to leaving lunch, for instance.

As you come to a stop, snick it down into first gear and you can just deploy your sidestand to kill the engine. Again, very slick and your hands never leave the controls until the engine is dead and you reach forward to click the key off.

No, this isn’t a huge safety issue, but I’m a fan of new riders being new riders for as short a time as possible; nothing says a new rider like someone searching for neutral all day long.


Understanding Gearbox Jewelry

At some point we will all come to a stop in second, third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth gear. It happens all the time in our programs’ stopping drills. The rider then needs to downshift the stationary bike into first gear to leave the stop, and we often see the rider beating on the shifter because a stationary gearbox doesn’t love to shift. We will even hear mutterings about the stupid bike stuck in gear.

Beating on a modern motorcycle shifter can damage the beautiful and finely wrought gearbox internals, especially shift forks and other actuating pieces. The secret to downshifting from a high gear to first gear at a stop is to use the clutch to load the transmission and then clicking the shifter into the lower gear. If the engine is dead, just rock it backward or forward to load and unload the gears and it will shift delightfully into the gear you want.

bike lever

If your bike is stuck in a gear, don’t stomp on the lever; rocking the bike should do the trick.Cycle World Archives

If you stop in fifth, you will need to ease the clutch out to the friction point and back toward the bar end four times: Once for fifth-to-fourth; once for fourth-to-third; once for third-to-second; and finally one more time for second-to-first. This can be done in about four seconds and is critical to the happiness and continued butteriness of your bike’s transmission.

You will know that you need to load your transmission because a light touch on the shifter is not working! If you’re in neutral and your bike doesn’t want to catch first, fan the clutch once or twice and roll your bike a few inches, forward or backward, and click, first gear will be chosen by a light-but-solid foot movement. If you are in the habit of banging, stomping, or jamming the shift lever with your foot, your bike’s transmission will fail before its time.


Learn to gently load the jewelry that lives inside your engine cases.


More next Tuesday!