Next Ride Drill, Part 1 – Nick Ienatsch July 7, 2020

Are you aware of how much pressure you input into your motorcycle’s steering while riding?- Jeff Allen

In the next few weeks, this column will give you a specific drill for your next ride. At ChampSchool we do this in real time, giving our students an exact technique or approach to focus on that lap; the positive feedback we get from these one-thought laps made me wonder if a written version would help your riding too. 

These single-lap drills happen late in the school and augment what we have been working on for a day and a half. They are intended to add refinement to earlier lessons, place another tool in riders’ toolboxes, further the general understanding of bike dynamics, and increase subtlety behind the handlebars. 

Behind those reasons is another: It allows my staff to experiment with curriculum, redefine priorities, and make the next school better. When we try a minidrill and get significant positive feedback, that idea gets molded into the lessons earlier and with more attention. On the flip side, if students feel “that one was a waste of time,” we move it further down the priority list. 

It’s notable that the more expert the rider, the more easily they are able to focus on these seemingly minor details. They have “grooved” their riding basics, riding safely at the speed they choose, so they have extra headroom to play with subtleties. Many of my columns are aimed at new riders, but this series will work best if your riding is getting pretty dialed in. 

On Your Next Street Ride, Part 1: Steering Feel

Let’s start this series by focusing on steering, something you may not have thought much about after your initial understanding of how bar pressure works to steer a two-wheeled vehicle. The term countersteering describes pushing on the right-hand bar to steer your bike to the right, left-hand bar to the left. You learned it on a bicycle and use it on your motorcycle. 

What this Next Ride Drill asks is that you begin to feel the fleshy pads of your palms against the grips, adding and releasing steering pressure. Notice how your pressure—and the pace at which you add pressure—changes depending upon the steering needed. A quick and firm push moves the bike around a surprise boulder in your lane; a light and gentle push makes a delicate lane change on the freeway. 

Feel how the pressure comes off your inside hand as your bike gets to the lean angle you want in a corner. You might still have some pressure to hold the bike in the corner, but notice how the pressure used for steering reduces as the bike gets to the necessary lean angle. 

Turn-In Point And Turn-In Rate

Feel how pressure is traded from palm to palm in transitions. Riders who push too hard or too quickly find their bikes steering into the corner too early. They might automatically think, “I’ve got to steer into this corner later next weekend,” but will now also think about adding bar pressure more subtly—slower at the same moment or spot on the pavement and that will slow their turn-in rate. Once your brain is on the pressure you countersteer with, this option is added to your toolbox.

midcorner corrections
Exact and fine bar pressure is needed for midcorner corrections, abrupt and forceful inputs only work to upset your line and motorcycle.

As our eyes search through the corner, we are making steering corrections based on our speed, radius, and pavement condition. This drill will get you focused on how exact and fine the bar pressure is to make midcorner corrections. With part of your mind on your hand pressure, you will find a midturn security that should affect every ride. 

Push And Pull

As your focus on steering grows, notice how much the outside hand can help. To steer right, push on the right handlebar and pull the left toward you. Notice that the same subtlety of pressure works to steer the bike delicately. Continue to play with how the pressure builds, holds, or reduces when cornering. Know that the best riders might need to steer their bikes quickly, but never abruptly. This focus on hand pressure will allow you to find that vital difference. 

Having your brain on your hand pressure will be reassuring for another reason: You (perhaps for the first time) are sensing what your front tire is trying to tell you about traction. Before this drill you might have been steering automatically with no thought of grip pressure and the timing of that pressure. When you make a mistake and steer your bike abruptly with a punch rather than a row, you will have trouble feeling traction for that moment because the abrupt input doesn’t give the tire much time to talk to you. Stay with this abruptness, this flicking of the bike, and the front tire’s inability to discuss traction with your hands, body, and brain will hurt you.

And when you’re in touch with what your front tire is trying to tell you about traction, your confidence and riding joy increase. You sense traction changes earlier, before they become a major issue. You feel your cold tires “come in,” reach their operating temperatures, and begin to work. The mystery of cold tires disappears because your sense of hand pressure grows—but only if you take the time to make this a priority on your next ride. 

handlebar pressure
Front end feel and communication with your front tire will improve as you are more aware of your handlebar pressure.
Kevin Wing

A huge part of these Next Ride Drills is for riders to maximize the design of the motorcycle. These minidrills at the school are extremely focused. We understand that there are a few hundred things to think about while lapping at a track or riding on the street, but we stop each lap and ask riders to work on specific things. The improvement is instant because, for perhaps the first time, the rider has a single thought as the top priority. 

And, yes, it’s okay to slow down and work on these minidrills because nobody learns anything riding at 100 percent. On your next ride, I encourage you to focus your brain on hand pressure while steering. 

More next week!