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Motorcyclists should realize that accident avoidance skills are even more important than protective wear. Riding a motorcycle requires skills and coordination not required to drive a car. Hesitation can be a killer; you must be able to react immediately. If you are new to motorcycling learn these skills today and practice till the skills become second nature. Important riding skills include steering, braking, shifting, and packing passengers.

Steering skills are vital to avoiding an accident. If you are more accustom to driving a cage than your bike be careful; your first instinct could be a killer. Counter-steering skills could safe your life. Having spent most of my life driving two wheels I often press on the steering wheel of my cage (habit from counter-steering my bikes) to avoid someone who has violated my right of way. Often those new to motorcycling try to steer their bikes like a car in crisis situations by turning the handle bars in the desired direction to turn; this often results in a crash! The use of mid controls vs. forward controls also helps you increase control of your bike in curves.

"How do you make your motorcycle turn? The easy answer is by making your motorcycle lean.

"How do you induce and control the lean of your motorcycle? The lean is best created be by shifting weight to your hand on the inside of the turn and pressing that handle bar grip forward.

Counter-steering

Some steer their bikes by shifting their weight but do not press the handle bar grip forward. Shifting your weight only will steer your bike but more slowly than counter-steering. Counter-steering gives you more precise control and nearly instant response you may need in a serious situation. When a cage invades your right of way you need to be able to maneuver and react instantly to avoid becoming another statistic.

Easiest way to counter-steer your bike and directly control its angle of lean is pressing forward with the hand on the side you want to turn toward. If you want to turn left, you press forward with your left hand. To right turn you press forward with your right hand. This technique is known as counter-steering. Note: in this process you are shifting weight to your hand.

Serious riders are already familiar with counter-steering; those more accustom to driving a cage may be thinking: "Wait a minute that's backwards!" It is based in simple physics; A motorcycle's the front tire does not control the bike the same as a cars front tires control the direction. Deflecting the front tire to one side controls the lean angle of a motorcycles which makes the bike turn. The counter-steering effect starts being noticeable at around 10-15 miles per hour and becomes more pronounced at higher speeds.

If you do not currently have this skill find a safe place to practice counter-steering; practice this skill until counter-steering becomes second nature and requires no thought.

Curves

During your approach to a curve scan ahead to gather information. Use the information you gather to answer questions. What are the road surface conditions? Are there any hazards to avoid? How tight is the curve? How far ahead can you see? What is the best path of travel within your lane? Prior to entering the curve you should slow down to an appropriate entry speed. Proper entry speed that permits safe cornering and constant acceleration through the curve.

Look through the turn as you negotiate the curve; Keep your eyes focused where you want to be. Use your neck to turn your head in the direction you want to go. This will establish visual directional control and enable you to scan through the curve for potential hazards. You should visualize the precise line you want the bike to follow through the curve. You lean your motorcycle in the direction of the curve. If the curve goes left, press forward on your left hand-grip If the curve is to the right, press on the right hand-grip (refer to counter-steering section).

After establishing your entry speed, maintaining visual directional control & scanning, and leaning to enter the curve, gradually roll on the throttle. Gradual acceleration through the curve stabilizes the suspension and steadies the bike. Decelerating in a curve will unsettle the suspension and make the bike feel loose.
Continue gradually accelerating though the exit of the curve.

Important points to remember:

  1. SLOW to a proper entry speed.
  2. LOOK to maintain visual directional control and scan for hazards.
  3. LEAN the bike by pressing on the hand-grip that's on the side that you're turning toward.
  4. ROLL on the throttle for gradual acceleration through the curve.

Swerving

There are times when it's not practical or possible to stop to avoid a hazard; Sometimes it's best to maneuver around it. You must have the skill to quickly swerve while maintaining control of your bike. You must be a master at counter-steering to survive these situations.

A controlled swerve is two consecutive and opposite counter-steers. For example, you are riding down a poorly maintained secondary road in South Carolina and encounter a large pothole; the best way around it is to the left. First, you press forward on your left hand-grip causing your bike to quickly turn to the left, safely avoiding the hazard. Next, you press forward on your right hand-grip to return your bike to a straight-line path of travel.

Sounds easy but there are some things to keep in mind. Swerving requires a lot of the traction; there is very little traction left for braking. The a simple rule is to separate swerving and braking. Don't combine swerving and braking at the same moment.

  • If something suddenly appears in front of you, like a person stepping from between parked cars, you can brake first to decelerate and then swerve around them after releasing the brake.
  • If a cage cuts into your lane and traffic is stopped ahead, the technique would be to swerve (around the cager) and then brake (to avoid becoming a bumper sticker).

This skill will also require a lot of practice till you master it; once mastered it can safe your life.

Tight Turns

You must master tight turns to pass your DMV motorcycle test. Posture is very important. Keep your head and eyes up and turn your head in the direction you want to go; look where you want to go. This is critical; the more you turn your head the tighter you will turn your bike. Secondly, you need to lean the bike to get it to turn. Since you do not have much speed in a tight turn, you must use counterbalancing techniques to get the bike leaned correctly; this will require some upper-body strength. How extreme you get with counterbalancing depends on how tight the turn is. Sometimes just shifting your weight to the outside peg works well enough; the DMV test will require more effort. While leaning your bike and keep your body vertical. For a very tight turn you may shift or lift your ass and place your body weight to the outside of the turn while leaning the bike. By countering the weight of the bike you can get it leaned over much farther than if you were trying to lean with it into the turn; the greater lean allows you to steer much more sharply.

Now that you have your head turned and the bike leaned and counterbalanced; control your speed. Too much speed and you'll go wide; too little speed and you will be wobbly. Use clutch control power to the rear wheel; you may have to "ride the clutch" a little. To increase your speed, ease the clutch out. To reduce your speed, ease the clutch in; and very carefully and lightly apply brake.

Coordinating the head turn, lean, counterbalancing, and power does take some practice. It's worth the effort after you see the difference it makes in your skills and confidence. Anybody can tool down the road in a straight line at 60 mph. Learning slow speed maneuvering actually takes your skills up a notch.


Braking Skills are also vital to the survival of a street rider. Braking in turns or curves can be tricky especially for a novice rider. Controlling a skid is very important to motorcyclists. To survive on the street and keep up with the pack you must be able to use your front brake effectively.

Stopping In A Turn

From time to time you must apply your brakes or stop in a turn. There are two basic situations a normal stop and panic stop. A normal stop could be a a stop sign is at the end of a curve. A panic stop happens when something unexpected happens, like a refrigerator falling off the truck ahead of you! We will assume for the purpose of this drill you cannot swerve to avoid impact.

The normal stop in a curve is very straight forward. You are leaned and traveling through a curve; scanning ahead you see a stop sign at the end of the curve. You gradually apply your brakes. As the bike slows your lean angle will decrease and the bike will stand up. The bike continues to stand up more as you brake. Your goal is to have the bike vertical and the handlebars square (straight) before your forward motion stops. If you are still leaned over when you are stopped the bike will tend to tip; you will be off balance if the bike is still leaning when stopped.

Stopping quickly in a curve involves the opposite process. When you need to stop now, first straighten the bike, then apply the brakes. This is because your maximum braking ability is in a straight line. When you are leaned in a curve some of your tires' traction is diverted to turning the bike. Therefore, less traction is available for braking. To stop quickly, transition to a straight-line path of travel, then apply the brakes as required by the situation. It boils down to a two-step process: Straighten & brake.

Controlling Skids

Skidding while braking can be caused by over-braking, loose surfaces, or a combination of both. Factors such as front and rear wheel skids, and different surfaces will determine the correct action to take. Remember a skidding tire has less traction than a rolling tire.

If you happen to skid the front tire during a stop immediately release the front brake and then reapply the brake to continue slowing. Front tire skids are often caused by an uncontrolled, sudden grab of the front brake lever. Front tire traction is critical to maintaining directional control and maximum stopping power! The front tire needs to be rolling instead of sliding.

The techniques used to control a rear wheel skid will depend on the surface you're riding on. First, consider a skid on hard clean pavement. During a stop, the forward weight shift causes the rear wheel to lighten and reduces its traction. If the pressure on the brake pedal isn't reduced to compensate for this, a skid may result. This is common and easily controlled; it is important to remain calm and relaxed. If you happen to lock the rear wheel while stopping on a hard, paved surface, simply keep it locked until you are fully stopped. Keep your head, eyes up, and look where you want to go; this will help you maintain control. Keep the front wheel rolling and steer with the front wheel to keep the bike going in a straight line.

Why keep it locked? Remember, a skidding tire has less traction that a rolling tire. When the tire is skidding it is sliding over the road surface. Using the techniques in the previous paragraph, you can maintain control. However, if the brake is released the tire will resume rolling and suddenly regain traction. If this happens it may result in a high-side, in which the bike throws you off and then follows you. This effect is especially pronounced in a curve. Experienced riders know how to control this situation.

For a rear wheel skid on a loose surface (like gravel), the technique is just the opposite: Release the rear brake, then reapply it. As with the above techniques, keep your head & eyes up and maintain directional control.

Important points:

  1. Front wheel skid: Immediately release it, then reapply the brake.
  2. Rear wheel skid on a hard surface: Keep the rear brake fully applied until you are stopped.
  3. Rear wheel skid on a loose surface: Release the rear brake, then reapply it.

Use your front brake and live to ride another day.

Your motorcycles front brake provides over 70% of the braking power!

Do not believe the myth that using the front brake will make you crash. Your front brake can make the difference between life and death.

When braking weight shifts forward. Notice how the front forks compress during braking; the compression is a result of the weight shift to the front tire. The weight shift increases traction of the front tire while reducing the traction of your bike's back tire. More traction means you can apply more front brake and stop faster.

To stop quickly begin by applying both brakes; as your bike slows you sense the forward weight shift. Increase pressure on the front brake lever with a firm progressive squeeze while the traction is increasing on the front tire. Do NOT a sudden grab the front brake lever!. Keep in mind that the back tire is getting lighter so you should reduce pressure on back brake petal to avoid skidding.

As always look where you want to be; the important point is to keep your head and eyes up, looking ahead. Avoid the urge some people get to look down. Look down and very likely that is where you will end up!

To get the most out of your brakes practice in a safe location. Learn to use both brakes well without thought and you will live to ride much longer. Practice these braking skills until they are second nature. The shorter stopping distance can mean the difference between an impact and a close call.

Clutch Control

You are now entering The Friction Zone. How many of you remember your Dad yelling, "Don't ride the clutch!" when he was teaching you how to drive? Well, here's your chance. Control of the clutch is essential for smooth operation and is a handy tool for low-speed maneuvering. The key word to remember when releasing the clutch is ease. Control the release, don't just let go of it; do not pop the clutch or your bike may pop a wheelie. Counting in your head (1…2…3…4) while easing out the clutch lever is one way to train your hand to control the clutch release.

Clutch control cure a host of maladies, including jerky starts and bumping noggins when you shift. Between the clutch being fully disengaged (clutch lever squeezed) and fully engaged (clutch lever released) is the Friction Zone. This is that area where some engine power is getting to the rear wheel, but the clutch lever is not yet fully released.

Sooner or later you're in one of those situations where you need to go slow, where you're too fast with the clutch fully released (Heavy traffic, tight turns, etc.). Being familiar with the friction zone gives you direct control over how much power gets to the rear wheel. This is useful in controlling your bike at low speeds or in slow, tight turns. It takes just a little practice to get a good feel for, and is another tool in your motorcycling tool box.

Carrying Passengers

"There I was, going into a nice sweeping curve with my girlfriend on the back of my scooter. Halfway through the turn I realize that this thing is handling like a lumber truck. I glance over my shoulder and see her- sitting straight up!" ~ Jim DeWitt

The first thing you should do is perform a safety briefing for your passenger in case they are not familiar with motorcycles. Make sure she is aware of what parts get hot, what to keep her hands and feet away from.

Make sure she knows to wait until you're ready before climbing on. You need to be prepared to manage the balance of your machine as she mounts it. Picture yourself adjusting your mirrors and suddenly you're tipping to the left. This is the time to begin coordination with your passenger.

Next, brief her on how she should behave on the back of your scooter. Some newbies are afraid to lean with the bike in a turn. Have her hold on to your waist. This will help keep her upper body aligned with yours. Have her look over your shoulder into a turn; in a left turn have her look over your left shoulder and vice versa in a right turn.

When you stop she needs to know to keep her feet on the pegs. Also, it's a good idea to have her keep the rubbernecking to a minimum. If she wants to look around, have her use her neck. She does not need to lean her upper body straight out to the side to see what's going on. The closer she stays to the bike's centerline, the easier your job will be. Otherwise, you'll be in a wrestling match with the scooter keeping it upright waiting for the light to change.

If you take the time to educate your passenger it will make a more enjoyable ride for both of you.


Disclaimer
While the information in this section may be technically accurate, it does not take the place of receiving direct training in a bona fide motorcycle safety course or practice. The writers of this page have no control over how individuals put this information to use; the writers assume no responsibility for the results of the use of this information. The intent of this page is to increase the general knowledge of motorcycling skills and safety, but all riders are strongly encouraged to enroll in a motorcycle safety class suitable for their experience level. Novice riders are additionally encouraged to find an experienced rider to mentor them.


Special thanks to Jim DeWitt an motorcycle instructor for his help and patience in creating this page.

If you have any questions or suggestions related to this page feel free to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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