We hear this cliché all the time, but how does a new-to-the-canyons rider keep it that way?

Nick and the YCRS crew

Photo by Inde Motorsports Ranch

Okay, this is who I hang out with! I’m on the left, next to Chris Peris, Kyle Wyman and Nick. We spend a lot of time on the track, but each of us rides on the street too.


Nick’s Note: We all know street riders who went roadracing, but how about hearing from a roadracer who just started street riding? Keith Culver, YCRS’s Operations boss, is just that man. Here’s how he balances the thrill of his new favorite hobby against the inherent risks.

And since I hang out with some of the best riding instructors in the country, my brain is constantly working the puzzle of “better riding”. These instructors and others in the industry, often pretty high in the food chain, are always discussing riding and sometimes even asking my opinion about motorcycle accidents in SoCal. That’s what I want to write about in this week’s and next week’s Ienatsch Tuesday.

Since I tempered the urge to compete years ago, I’ve adjusted my concentration to riding safer rather than faster. The problem is, I still like to go fast and I ride with people who go fast. Wherever I go, no matter what type of riding I am doing, I can still run with the quick group but I see that I have one of the better PACE-vs.-RISK ratios of any given group. So how does someone compute how fast to go in order to keep the adrenaline flowing yet stay safe enough to avoid ambulances and Highway Patrol?

I’m constantly formulating a plan for my riding based around this ratio: PACE-vs.-RISK. Think about it, what is your pace vs. risk ratio? How fast do you go and at what risk level? How in control are you at your given pace? How well would you be able to react to unfavorable variables if they were thrown at you on the track, on the street or in the woods? For today, we’ll concentrate on the street. If you expect a downhill turn to be a 50 mph curve to the left and when you get there, it’s a 35 mph right, could you make the necessary adjustment to survive?


Keith Culver standing behind motorcycle

Keith Culver (Tischa Culver)


I started thinking about this during my new hobby, canyon riding. I’ve joined a few local SoCal “Meetup Groups” where people of like minds or common hobbies plan events. Well, I’m new to San Diego and love riding so what better way to meet new, like-minded people and get to enjoy Sunday mornings the way they were designed to be spent: with a helmet on. #helmettherapy

On my first few rides I stayed low key and rode in the back of the pack…but I got bored. Then I started doing rides where I did the first half in the back but ran up front with the fast guys on the way back. At “the front” I noticed these guys having way more “pace” than the riders in the back but also much more “risk”. They were fast but they kinda scared me. Way too much lean angle for the public roads, running over the double yellow line way too often in right-hand curves, onto the shoulder in the left-hand curves. These riders were getting well into the triple digits on back roads. I was a bit scared, but more for them than me.

For the first few months I rode that pace, even though I thought it was too fast for the street, because I was trying to figure out where my place in these groups might be and it was still well within my PACE-vs.-RISK ratio. How could I enjoy these rides, casually promote the school without being a salesman, keep the rubber side down and Five-O away from me all at the same time? Since I travel a lot, becoming one of the “regulars” is probably not going to happen. Some of them know what my career is and consider me one of the fast guys but that and a dollar might get you a burger at McDonalds. Now a year in, I’m just the guy who shows up once per month with the non-sport-bike who can hang with the fast guys.

What does this all have to do with my formula? This past year of riding in the canyons, three years of listening to Nick and the gang teach thousands of riders, working with the USMC on their motorcycle safety, and traveling the country demoing Yamaha sportbikes to track day riders, have added a new outlook to motorcycle riding that has led me to the PACE-vs.-RISK ratio.

YCRS participants and instructors

Photo by thesbimage.com

If you want a lesson on smoothness, watch the champions who visited YCRS at NJMP last autumn. These guys live on the edge so they manipulate the controls, especially initial and final movements, more smoothly than I can explain here. Cam, JD, Garrett and Josh are the riders I try to emulate on the street or track.


The reason for PACE-vs.-RISK was that I want to try to get across to canyon riders that they can run a good pace without having to take such risks. I especially want the faster guys (that others look up to) to know there is a reason that a guy from flat-land New Jersey can run the pace on unfamiliar roads on a bike with a lot less handling ability without any drama. I don’t cross any of the lines, I don’t have any feet-off-the-pegs moments, and I never feel unsafe or out of control. Why is that?

Most of these guys run fast with relatively low experience and many without incident (yet). Still, many of them have had crashes and near-misses yet still continue to ride the same way when they return. Some have taken training but unfortunately, not the type that relates directly to the riding they are trying to do. There are important skills to be learned in a parking lot where the speeds are low and muscle memory can be created but it is not the answer in order to be in control on the illegal side of the speed limit. Some of them do ride with proper technique and don’t even know it. Many of these folks have more talent than I do (not difficult) and have higher pace but it’s the PACE-vs.-RISK ratio I’m interested in.

In riding, particularly sport-bike riding, the most common synonym for risk is lean angle. In fact, the Yamaha Champions Riding School teaches that Lean-Angle is Risk. It’s good old fashioned physics, right? Can anyone deny that for every level of lean angle, you increase your chance of falling? It applies to just about anything that is affected by gravity.


Keith Culver motorcycle riding down the street

Keith on the way to some canyon fun (Tischa Culver)


But lean angle is fun, right?! Yes, leaning is fun, and it is the reason most of us ride motorcycles. I test rode a Can-Am Spyder one time at a demo event and although I was impressed with the power and ability to drink my WaWa coffee while riding, I had absolutely no interested in it because I couldn’t lean it. Fun, but not for me. We’re not giving up our lean-angle.

We all like a certain amount of risk to keep the blood flowing and make us come back for more. For many of us motorcycle riders, lean angle is a huge part of the risk that brings us back. The magic is in pushing and enjoying that adrenaline pumping risk in the form of lean angle but doing so while keeping the rubber side down. If we can’t keep the rubber side down, all of a sudden the hobby or sport that we love becomes painful, expensive, and sometimes deadly. We need to balance the level of risk in order to keep the latter from happening.

What else can be considered risk in motorcycle riding? How about “abruptness”? You ever drive on snow or ice? Do you stab the brakes and hope to stop before you cross the intersection with the red light? Even in the rain, we know we must apply the brakes of any vehicle (two, three, four, or more wheels) smoothly if we want to keep from skidding. Skidding dramatically increases your stopping distance. So now take away the stability of those extra two wheels and consider the impact of a skid or loss of traction with only two wheels. The result contains much worse consequences. Let’s add abruptness to the list of risks because it is paramount in learning the techniques needed to maintain proper control over a motorcycle, control that is needed to have a better PACE-vs.-RISK ratio.

Next week I will talk about how I learned to alleviate these risks so between now and then, pay attention to being smooth in everything you do. Until then…Keep the Rubber Side Down. –Keith Culver, YCRS COO