Motorcycles

 

Rider's Guide - Riding Position

 

I spent many years driving sports cars before getting into bikes. In cars, I always felt secure driving fast. Besides being surrounded by a cage of metal, I was wedged into a high-bolstered seat and secured by a race harness. I wasn't going anywhere, despite the g-forces.  Strange then to look at the performance of a modern motorcycle and realize that you aren't attached to it. Here is a rocket capable of sub-11 second 1/4 mile runs, that leans over far enough for the rider to scrape their knees on the pavement, and can brake hard enough to flip the bike over the front wheel and nowhere is the rider truly attached to the bike! Mind-boggling when you think about it. Here the pilot must actively attach himself to his machine. Fortunately, when done correctly, it doesn't take as much effort as you might first assume.

 

The first inclination when riding a motorcycle (especially a sportbike) for the first time is to just sit on the seat, rest your feet on the foot pegs, and put the weight of your upper body on the handlebars, gripping them tightly to hang on.  This is the exact opposite of what you should do.  The lower body should be used to grip the motorcycle while you try to keep your upper body from doing much work at all.  I'll walk through things step-by-step:

 

Lower Body

The lower body, from the waist on down, is responsible for clamping your body to the bike. There are four points of contact:

 

Feet: The balls of the feet are placed on the pegs.  Yes, you will have to move the foot forward to shift and brake, then back again to its resting position.  It will become second nature after a while.

 

Ankles: The ankles are rotated inwards to clamp the back of the foot onto the foot peg's ankle guards.


Knees: Place your knees loosely against the sides of the fuel tank.  Under braking you'll want to squeeze inwards against the tank.  This should keep your body from moving forward and also assist your lower back in supporting your weight so your arms don't have to.


Posterior: You can sit anywhere on the seat you feel most comfortable but I recommend staying up against the gas tank. This should allow you to clamp onto the tank more easily and prevents you sliding forwarding and slamming into the tank under hard braking.


 

Riding the new CBR600RR at the Freddie Spencer School

Upper Body

With the lower body holding you onto the bike, the upper body is freed up to.....well, not do a whole lot.

 

Arms: Whenever riding, your arms should never be straight. Keep your elbows bent and relaxed. Don't rely on your arms to support the weight of your upper body.  Instead rely on your lower back.  New riders may may have sore back muscles after long rides but as these muscles strengthen this will go away.

 

While cornering, accelerating, and braking the arms should remain loose. Otherwise, not only are we needlessly tiring ourselves, we are interfering with the suspension's ability to cope with bumps. We are adding additional resistance to the bike's ability to move up and down over surface irregularities. To keep the tires in contact with the road surface as much of the time as possible, the suspension must be able to do it's job unhindered. Besides, with all of these movements passing through a tensed-up body, it just doesn't feel very pleasant. Loosen up. Keep a relaxed grip on the bars and let your bike do its thing.

 

Wrists: Climb on your motorcycle and place your hands on the controls.  Now look at the position of your wrists in relation to your forearms.  If they're really bent you might consider making some adjustments to your controls.  Loosen the bolt(s) clamping your clutch lever assembly and your front brake level assembly onto your handlebars.  You should be able to rotate each assembly and sometimes you will be able to slide them inwards or outwards on the bar.  These adjustments should allow you to find a location that fits you better.  Just be certain to turn your forks from lock-to-lock ensuring that nothing comes into contact with the fairings, instrument panel, etc.  Only takes a few minutes and should make the bike much more comfortable to ride.

 

Hands: Your hands should have a loose hold on the grips, without any tension. Tension makes the hands less sensitive to the touch, causes fatigue, and interferes with the normal movements of the bike.  If at the end of an hour long ride your forearms are killing you, chances are you've been gripping the bars too tightly. 

 

I recommend covering the clutch lever with at least two fingers on your left hand.  On your right you should always have at least two fingers covering the front brake lever. When you need to stop quickly, you don't want to waste time reaching for the brake. How big of a difference can this really make? If reaching for the brake only takes 2/10ths of a second, at 65mph, you've traveled almost twenty feet in that time. That means you will stop about three bike lengths later. In emergency braking, every moment counts.

 

With the rest of the right hand, lightly hold the throttle. Again, you just don't need to squeeze it much at all in order to operate it. If you find yourself having a hard time operating the hand controls smoothly and easily, double-check that you're not using the handlebars to support your weight and/or hang on.  Your hands will have trouble doing both things at once. 

 

So to summarize, the lower body clamps onto the bike, while the upper body supports itself - not with the handlebars, but with the lower back. Arms are kept bent and relaxed, hands hold the grips lightly.  What about your head?  And how do you hang off the bike and drag your knees going around turns?  I'll deal with those subjects later on.

 

Continue to Riding Smoothly

 

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