Motorcycles

 

Rider's Guide - Riding Smoothly

 

In trying to write this article I found myself struggling a bit.  As I stepped back to think about it the reasons became clear:  the purpose of this section is to encourage new motorcyclists to ride smoothly but the simple fact is that you don't have to ride smoothly.  There are some great reasons to do so and I'll try my best to convince you but you can ride sloppily and still get to work every morning.  That said, I'll assume that if you are reading this it's because you are interested in becoming a skilled rider, doing more than the bare minimum.

---

 

I was fortunate enough to attend two days of Jason Pridmore's Star School back in 2002 at Pahrump, Nevada.   Jason raises money for his favorite charity by offering rides in exchange for a donation.  Both days I took Jason up on his offer to be his passenger for a few laps.   This was incredibly instructive, seeing and feeling first-hand how a top-level rider does things on a racetrack.  If I had to sum up his riding style in one word it would be 'smooth'.   Every movement of the bike was controlled and precise, with no abruptness of any kind. Jason rolled on and off the throttle so smoothly that the bike did not pitch perceptibly.   Although his transitions - from 100% throttle to 0% throttle, from 0% braking to 100% braking, from being upright to leaning over about 40 degrees - were quick, they were always done smoothly.  No abruptness ever and yet he was riding incredibly fast. 

 

Smooth Equals Fast

When beginning riders try to go fast, it is invariably at the expense of smoothness.   This is natural and will occur without the rider even being aware of it.  But I would say that even consciously, new riders don't associate being fast with being smooth.  We watch professional racers and imagine them hacking away at the controls like madmen.  Afterall they're racing, aren't they?  Oftentimes our instincts point us in the exact opposite direction of the truth and that is definitely the case here.  For a racer or anyone else to push a bike to its limit without crashing, smoothness is absolutely essential. 

 

Why?

Riding fast is all about getting as close to that knife edge as possible for as long as possible without going too far.  At the limit the margin for error is a narrow one.  Any sloppy movement can send the bike over the edge, demanding more resources (namely, traction) than the bike has available.  That can mean a locked wheel under braking, a tire spinning under acceleration, or a front tire sliding out from underneath you in a turn.  Any one of these situations can lead to a crash, excessive wear on the tires, or losing time on track. Racers want to avoid every one of those scenarios so the best ones are invariably some of the smoothest.

 

That's not to say that operating a motorcycle smoothly means moving the controls lazily or having slow reaction times.  Far from it.  If you are having a hard time imagining being smooth and fast, doing it is even harder. I know because I've been trying to get the hang of it for many years.  Anyone can ride quickly.  Anyone can ride smoothly.  Combining them takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice.  Why do you think it's so hard to become a world champion racer?  The good news here is that being smooth will actually lead to you being faster, rather than standing in the way of it.  Speed is a by-product of riding properly.  When you perform the fundamentals (like riding smoothly) correctly, speed is the outcome.

 

What about us non-racers?  I don't want to go fast so I don't need to be smooth then?  As I stated in the beginning you don't have to ride smoothly and you certainly don't have to ride quickly.  Most of us aren't racers.  However you can never truly master riding until you learn how to push your motorycle and your own skills to their limit.  Even if you don't race you will almost certainly encounter an emergency situation while riding.  Sooner or later you'll need to perform emergency braking, evasive maneuvering, or accelerating out of harm's way to avoid an accident. These situations may only last a few moments but the same skills needed to get you safely out of harm's way are the same skills you would use to ride quickly - being able to push the bike to it's physical limits.  Better to be prepared than not.

 

Continue to Looking Ahead (coming soon)

 

Return to Rider's Guide

Return to Motorcycles