Our fighting forces are generally type A personalities who value training, fitness, success, and challenge—not too different from every roadracing champion I have met. We learned long ago that platitudes and preaching do nothing to improve the safety of this type of personality. They buy or build fast bikes with a plan to enjoy the addicting acceleration that our sport offers. Huh, just like MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Tony Elias.
A Marine Corps general, now retired, related the Champ school approach to what the Marine Corps learned in aviation training. Years ago, the Marine Corps realized the only way to produce safe pilots was to produce technically excellent pilots. Safety followed skill and no amount of words replaced proper techniques, approaches, and decisions based on how the airplane was designed to be flown. Make great pilots to make safe pilots. This forms our curriculum and approach at Champ School, in every program we do. Riding safety comes by increasing rider skills.
An Acceleration Mantra
Aggressive riders repeat this mantra very early in our ChampMil classes: “I accelerate because I plan to brake.”
This column has discussed the Marine Corps motorcycle-accident statistics that show riders leaving their lane on back roads is, always blamed on speed. The knee-jerk reaction is to tell these warriors to “slow down.” Good luck with that.
We go beyond the words and get this plan to brake firmly established by practicing straight-line braking and, even more importantly, trail-braking. The definition of trail-braking is trailing brake pressure into the corner, or trailing off the brakes as you add lean angle. I include the definition because several Marines in this class were told trail-braking was using the rear brake. Yes, we trail-brake with the rear brake too, but trail-braking is trading off brake pressure as you add lean angle; it’s mandatory if you want to ride well. Riding well means you put your bike exactly where you want it at the speeds you choose.
Our straight-line braking practice revolves around spring and tire loading and unloading, the responsibility of the rider or “on-board engineer.” Springs and tires will take astounding loads but neither do well with abrupt loads, so we work on the engineer who is inputting loads to the springs and tires to drastically improve braking. For how and what to practice, try this link.
Become An Expert Rider More Quickly By Replicating Expert Habits
Expert riders never close the throttle without their fingers on the brake lever. Never. They put their fingers on the lever and squeeze the brakes to shed speed for the upcoming corner, intersection, or hazard. If they accelerated harder this weekend than last weekend, they will brake more because the corner will not miraculously open its radius for them; they must adjust our speed for the corner. Say it with me: We must adjust our speed for the corner. We must adjust our speed for the corner. Got it?
One huge misconception in our industry is that we ride faster with less brakes. One hundred percent wrong, provably wrong, and painfully wrong. Our bikes are designed to steer into the corner with a little bit of brakes on, yet many riders who try to ride fast simply roll the throttle shut for the corner. That is literally out of control and we address this during the first moments of every Champ School program.
We all know brakes shed speed, but, (almost) as importantly, brakes control our steering geometry and front-tire contact patch. How and when we use our brakes, especially the front brake, is vital to how the bike handles—especially at corner entry. Rushed corner entries lead to riders leaving their lane, mainly because their speed control, geometry control, and front-tire contact patch control were not in place. Expert riders trail-brake and expert riders design our bikes, so if we are not replicating their techniques at our own pace, the bike doesn’t work as designed. That becomes a bigger deal the quicker you ride.
Mantra This Please
“More speed, more brakes” is another mantra all our Marine Corps graduates can repeat to you if asked. All things being equal, we will use more brakes on a Honda CBR1000RR than on a Yamaha YZF-R3. Riders might know this instinctively, but this knowledge must be at the tippity-top of our consciousness. Riding quicker this weekend? Use more brakes to control that speed. Plan to have your right hand roll off the throttle to the brakes to set your corner-entry speed precisely and repeatedly, rather than only close the throttle and hope it works out. Soon, it won’t.
The Myth: Speed Kills
If speed was to blame for single-bike back-road crashes, all my best friends would be dead. My wife would be dead, I’d be dead. We like speed, we buy vehicles to enjoy a little speed. The safety issue is not the speed, but the inability to control that speed. I accelerate because I plan to brake. More speed, more brakes. Important mantras, sure, but also industry-growing, championship-winning plans.
Sometimes the written word is ambiguous. Let me try this: The lack of braking, especially trail-braking, is the root safety issue for riders failing to negotiate corners, street or track. Our industry needs to see a lot more brake light. Rider safety will only improve when we increase rider skill, based on the awareness of how the bike is designed to be ridden by the experts who designed it.
Next week: Part 2 regarding an entirely different group.