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Techniques:Now that winter is upon us (and I am referring to the Northern Hemisphere here) most of us in the cooler climes have put our bikes away for the winter, and are counting the days to spring. There are a few hardy souls however, who despite not having a year-round riding season, are still thinking of squeezing in a ride or two.
Now, when I refer to winter, I am talking about the North American kind, and the Northern European kind - with snow, ice and sleet. If you live in the UK, unless you're in Scotland you don't really have to worry about treacherous conditions except for the usual rain and cold. Of course if you're in Asia, the most you need to worry about is a bit of chill - something bundling up will fix quite easily. If you're down under in Australia or New Zealand, you're just coming up to the best riding weather of the year. So all you Aussies and Kiwis - enjoy the ride and spare a thought for the rest of us ice-bound folk.
There are some simple things to think about when riding in the winter, but the first rule of riding in the snow and ice, is the same as my first rule of riding at night - don't.
Snow and ice-covered roads are dangerous enough for cars and trucks without adding the element of balance and traction into the mix. But, if you're absolutely certain that you must ride and there is no alternative, then here are some other things to keep in mind.
1. Stay warm: We often underestimate how quickly you lose heat from your body especially when you're on a motorcycle. The steady stream of air rushing by you serves to extract the heat away from your body and lower your body temperature to dangerously low levels. This is especially true if you're riding a bike without a windshield.
So, if you're planning to ride, layer up, especially with a wind-blocking layer as the outermost layer. If you can lay your hands (and your wallet will allow) on heated gear like a heated vest and heated gloves, it will make all the difference.
2. Wear a helmet: There's always a good reason to wear a helmet, even in fine weather. But in winter, the reasons just doubled. First there is the insulation. You lose more heat from your head than all other parts of the body combined! Without a helmet, the air rushing by your head would drastically reduce the temperature to a point where hypothermia and resulting disorientation would set in very quickly. And then of course there is the heightened risk of a slide and a fall. Take it from me - falling on ice is no fun at all. Even though it's only frozen water, ice takes on all the qualities of sharp shards of glass, and can tear and lacerate exposed flesh evry easily.
3. Go slow: When you reduce your speed in the winter, you're dramatically reducing the likelihood of a slide or a crash - and that's a good thing. You also reduce the speed of the air rushing by you, robbing you of vital heat from your body.
4. Ride in the daylight: Apart from the obvious reason that you're more visible to others in the daylight, the daytime in warmer (even if only slightly) than the night time, and you can use all the warmth you can get. Also there is more traffic on the roads which helps to metch icy patches and give you reasonable traction. After the evening rush hour, these melted patches freeze up again and you're left with that most deadly of all winter driving hazards - black ice.
5. Take the road more travelled: While at other times, you might enjoy going off on unexplored roads, in the winter stay on well trafficked roads. Road less travelled are less travelled for a reason. They could be icy or blowing snow could have obliterated the road markings making is hard to distinguish where the road begins and ends. Also, if you're stranded for whatever reason, the chances of your being able to get help is much greater on well travelled roads.
Riding in the winter is never fun - let's not kid ourselves. But if you absolutely have to ride in the winter, these precautions will at least increase your chances of arriving in one piece. Although we may not like to admit it, we have all dropped our bikes at one time or another. I am not talking here about a spectacular crash. I am speaking about the decidedly un-heroic and shame-inducing act of dropping the bike in a parking lot or on the garage floor.
Maybe you've just mounted up after a lunch stop and you get the bike off the side stand and start up. You thumb the starter, and the bike comes alive - the sound we all live for. As you set off, you navigate a tight turn in the parking lot to get around the big SUV and you've got your feet down. Just as you come around the tight turn your foot is on some slippery oil left there by the last jalopy that parked there. Just as you fight for some footing, the weight of the bike is off balance and on your leg. And you have no footing - your leg slides out under you. The bike goes down and you step away from it.
Or you're pulling the bike out of the garage and you don't notice your kid's skateboard behind you. Just as your foot touches the skateboard, you're trying to avoid it and the thought running through your mind is the number of times you've told him to put his *%##@$ skateboard away. But no. Anyway, before you know it the bike is down.
The only real damage done is to your ego. The bike is resting comfortably on its saddle-bags (if it's a bagger) or on its jugs (if it's a Beemer) or on some expensive fairing if it's a sport tourer or metric sport bike. In any event it's resting on a part that was not designed to support the motorcycle. And as it sits there, it's doing your ego no good at all.
So how do you right the bike? Unless you're riding a tiddler (250cc or less), you can't haul on the handle-bars and expect the bike to rise. Most bikes with larger engines weigh upwards of 250 lbs (120kg). If you're riding a Harley big twin, you're trying to lift more than 700lbs (350kg). As they say in New York 'fuhgeddaboudit'.
Unless you're Mr.Universe, you can't lift your own weight or more. Pulling and heaving will cause the veins in your forehead to pop most impressively, but nothing else will result.
So here's the best technique: If the bike has dropped on to its right side, you're in luck (relatively speaking).
First, turn off the ignition and the petcock. You don't want to accidentally start the motorcycle.
Then go around to the high side (left) of the bike and pull out the side stand all the way.
Next, come around to the low side and crouch with your back to the tank and the engine, your left hand on the right handlebar and your right hand on a frame component just aft of the rider's saddle. Spread your knees wide and keep your back straight. Make sure you have good footing.
If there's sand or gravel under your feet, move it out of the way. If you have oil under foot, place a rag or some other absorbent material between the sole of your foot and the oil.
Take a deep breath, exhale through your mouth as you push with your legs. This will work out your thigh and calf muscles - the strongest muscles in your body. Do not try to use your back.
If you're doing this right you'll feel the bike lifting. Keep pushing with your legs and if you overdo it, you'll push the bike over onto the other side and it will land on the side stand.
Now, if the bike has fallen over onto its left side, it's slightly trickier, but you'll follow the same process, except just as the bike starts to lift, you need to pull out the side stand and let the bike sit back down on the stand.
A good idea would be to practice picking the bike up (after first putting some cushioning material to protect the parts that will contact the ground first) when you have a riding buddy with you. That way you'll be ready when the occasion arises.
And believe me, it will sooner or later.
That might sound arbitrary, but there are enough reasons why drivers of larger vehicles (read cars and trucks) don't see you in the broad daylight, without adding the complexity of darkness. Riding in the dark just compounds the danger of motorcycling by a factor of 10.
But if you've decided that for some reason you must ride in the darkness, then here's what you want to do:
Dress Conspicously: Dark or black leathers, no matter cool they are in daylight are invisible in the darkness. So if you want to be seen, wear a reflective vest over your jacket. Yes, the kind the police wear in the UK, and the ones you see on the grizzled women who hold up the 'Stop/Slow' lollipop signs around road construction sites in the US. Yes, they do look geeky, but better geeky than dead.
These vests are available from Re.Flex Safety Gear for less than $10.00.
Be well rested and well fed: When you're sleep deprived or hungry, your blood sugar level drops and you feel drowsy and tired. This is the point at which your eyes start playing tricks on you. You see turns that aren't there, the road appears to go straight when it curves, and all manner of other apparitions mess with your senses.
Early morning darkness is better than late evening darkness: Generally try to start a ride in the dark, rather than end it in the dark. It's much better to rise early and cover some serious distance befoer the sun rises, than rush to get to your next scheduled stop for the night. In the morning you're fresh, hopefully well-rested and alert and can cope with situations on the road. In the late evening, after a day's ride, you're tired, possibly hungry and perhaps not at your most alert. This is when accidents can happen due to inattention.
Also, most animals like deer, foxes, raccoons and skunks are out and about late in the evening, but for some reason they seem not be as prevalent in the arly morning hours. There's nothing that can ruin your day like coming round a bend, fully leaned over into the turn, and being faced with a large stag with a massive rack of antlers, just standing there in the middle of the road looking at your hurtling figure with impassive detachment.
Slow down: If you're riding at night reduce your speed and increase your following distance by 15%. If you would normally ride at 60mph on a particular road, bring your speed down to 50mph. If you would normally maintain a following distance of 2 seconds between yourself and the vehicle in front, increase that to 2 1/2 seconds, or be extra safe and make that 3 seconds. The driver in front of you may not have enough time to tap his brakes to give you sufficient warning of a slowdown ahead, or he just may not be that thoughtful. The result would be that you wouldn't have as much time to react as you normally might.
Avoid cities: If you must ride at night, try to avoid cities as much as possible. The danger of riding at night is mitigated and minimized significantly when you're on a divided highway or motorway. Cities are an entirely different game. Opportunities abound for drivers of other vehicles to not see you at intersections and turn in front of you. People open doors of parked cars on side streets without checking for motorcycles. People back out of drive-ways onto the street without first checking to see if there's a motorcycle coming along. All these problems which are bad enough in the daylight become seriously compounded at night.
Try to ride in a group: If at all possible, try and ride in a group. Even a group as small as two bikes. Two bikes are louder than one, have two headlights instead of just one, and generally more audible and visible. Should you run into trouble, run out of gas, get a flat tire (which, believe it or not, still happens) or encounter mechanical problems, having another rider along will make matters much easier. One person can stay with the disabled bike while the other goes for help. One person can try to puzzle out what's wrong with the bike, while the other warns traffic. You get the idea.
While riding at night is absolutely not my favorite activity, if it must be done, then these tips might help you get it done with the least amount of heartache. For most of us riding in crowded cities is our least favorite motorcycling venue. Given half a chance we would get out of the city on to some scenic country road winding through fragrant citrus orchards, rather than being stuck behind a city bus belching acrid diesel fumes. But sometimes a ride through the city is unavoidable, either if you're touring and are forced to go through a city, or if you live in an urban location and you need to navigate city streets to get to your favorite riding road.
Whatever your reasons for riding in the city, you need to be aware that accident statistics show that accidents involving motorcycles in the city are usually far more serious than accidents either on the highway or in rural settings. So, being aware of the risks, how do you develop the necessary skills to thrive in a hostile urban riding environment?
Reduce Speed 15%: This may sound like contrary advice. We all like to ride fast. That's the whole charm of motorcycling. But when you are in a city setting, reduce your speed by about 15% below the level at which you would feel safe. So if traffic on a city street is moving at 35mph and you would feel safe going at that speed, get your speed down to 30 mph. This will give you more reaction time should some inattentive driver come into your lane, or turn in front of you. The 5mph reduction in speed will not slow people down behind you and cause congestion, but at the same time will give you a margin of an extra 7.3 feet per second of reaction time. Should someone pull out 30 feet in front of you, and you see it instantly, you will have over 4 seconds to bring the bike to a stop. Travelling at 30 mph that should be no problem at all.
Be vigilant at intersections: As you're riding along, you see the lights turn green a hundred yards in front of you, and there is no traffic stopped at the lights. Would you slow down as you approach the intersection? Probably not. But I would that suggest you do.
All it takes is either a driver going across the intersection trying to beat a light that just turned red for him to end the day very badly for you. Or it could be someone coming from a party or a bar, having had a beer too many, hustling home, not noticing the bike that's just entered the intersection. The point is, that assuming that when the light has just turned green, the intersection is going to be empty is not a sure bet. Better to slow down, downshift, look both ways at the intersection to make sure no one is racing to beat the light, and then accelerate quickly away from the intersection.
If your vision of either side of the intersection is obscured by traffic or a bus, then slow down further as you cross the intersection and accelerate away only once you have determined that the coast is clear.
Watch out for parked cars: Riding on city streets, be very watchful of parked cars. Someone sitting in a car may decide to open the car door just as you approach the side of the car. Doors being opened in the path of cyclists and motorcyclists is standard comedy fare and gives us a few chuckles, but not if you happen to be the one into whose path the door has been opened! To avoid this, always keep your eyes moving and watch for people sitting in parked cars. Give parked cars at least a lane's width of room, if you can.
Also, parked cars tend to hide small children and animals who may enter the road chasing after a ball or other object. Train yourself to look under parked cars as you ride along city streets, so that you can spot small feet heading toward the road, before they actually emerge in front of the parked car and into your path.
Keep your mind on the ride: This rule applies whenever and wherever you're riding, but especially so when you're riding on city streets. If you've just had an argument with your boss or co-worker at work, or you're getting away from a tiff with your significant other, your mind may not be focused on the ride. When you're riding in this state of mind, you will miss critical bits of information and find yourself in a situation where, cars "suddenly" pull out in front of you or a pedestrian walks into your path "with no warning". The reality is your mind was not on the ride, and therefore you failed to anticipate the car or the pedestrian. If you do find yourself riding in a less-than-clear state of mind, force yourself to put all other thoughts to the back of your mind and concentrate on the ride - keeping your eyes moving and evaluating situations and developing strategies.
Timing: Statistics show that more accidents happen in the early evening hours than at any other time of day. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, that is the hour when tired office workers and commuters are returning home. They are at their most inattentive, with their minds filled with the events and furstrations of the day.
Next, that is also the time when people who have stopped off for a quick beer after work are leaving the local bars. You could not wish for a more inattentive driver than an office worker who is just leaving the bar after a quick drink to take the edge off a rough day.
Then of course, there is the problem created by twilight. Not enough to see clearly, but just enough for things to be seen vaguely. This is the time when light plays the most tricks on your eyes because of the abundance of the ultra-violet component in the ambient light.
If at all possible, I would suggest avoiding the morning and evening rush hours for this reason, but if you can't avoid riding at this time, then exercise extra caution.
Give yourself space: While in general you would give yourself 2 seconds of space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you, in cities, try to give yourself 3 seconds. The way to do this is to watch when the vehicle in front of you passes a stationary object like a lamp-post, and then count one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, until you pass the object yourself.
Sometimes, in stop and go traffic you may not be able to create this much of a following distance, but if the traffic is stop and go, you're probably never getting beyond 10mph at the most, so stopping the bike in time should not be a problem.
With these simple measures, you can make riding in cities sufferable if not enjoyable.
Whichever it is, there's no avoiding Interstates or motorways. So we might as well learn to deal with them. With proper technique, riding highways can actually be pleasant and quick.
Anticipation - Look ahead: The first thing to remember that on highways, where speeds are generally higher and you have a lot of larger and heavier vehicles like trucks and buses, things can happen rather quickly. A good rule of thumb is to try to see 12 seconds ahead. Now, this is not always going to be possible because of the topography or traffic. But generally speaking if you could put yourself in a position to see 12 seconds ahead, you will have time to react and take evasive action should you see a situation well ahead, that is going to impact you in a few seconds.
Consider this example: You're riding along a highway that is busy but moving rapidly. To your right is an 18 wheeler carrying gravel, throwing off bits of gravel and dust as you travel down the road. In front of you is a minivan with kids who are making faces at you and waving. To your left is a convertible sports car with the top down and the driver's long blonde hair is flowing in the wind as the sun glints off the car's paintwork. Behind you and crowding you is a pick-up truck that you can see in the rear view mirror.
As if all this wasn't enough, through the minivan windows and past several cars ahead, you see a brake light come on. And then another. And another. Traffic around you is still moving pretty rapidly. Were you to be distracted by the kids in the minivan or the blonde in the convertible or frustrated by the gravel truck, you could have missed that critical bit of information. As it is, you're a careful rider, and having noticed the brake lights up ahead, you give the bike a dab of front brake and downshift to start to slow down, always keeping your eyes moving, evaluating escape routes. The gravel truck pulls in front, you duck in behind it and then on to the right shoulder, just as the traffic comes to a grinding halt. Potential disaster averted.
Keeping your distance - Stay back: Sometimes you're not able to see around traffic to give yourself the 12 second visibility. The very least you should have is a gap of 2 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. When you're riding at the highway speed limit of 70mph, you are travelling at the rate of almost 103 feet per second. Even if you're well rested and alert, most of us have reaction times around one second. So in the time it takes for your eyes to convey the message to your brain, and for your brain to convey the message to your fingers to squeeze the front brake, it takes something under under one second. And you've travelled about 100 feet in that time!
Multiply that number if the surface is wet, the bike has less-than- perfect brakes, or if you have committed the cardinal sin of riding while under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.
So the math is simple. One second to react. Another second to actually stop. Modern braking systems being what they are, one second is adequate to bring you to a complete stop from 70mph. Anything less and you risk making contact with the vehicle in front of you, and at highway speeds, that's not pleasant.
Lane splitting - Don't: There are many parts of the US and the world where lane-splitting or riding between cars stopped in a traffic jam, is legal. It is completely legal in California and the UK and in parts of Asia you'll see swarms of small motorcycles and scooters squeezing through the narrowest gaps to get ahead of the traffic. A lot of people will tell you that it's OK, and it is one of the great advantages of being on a motorcycle - that you can beat traffic by working your way to the front of the queue. My advice may seem stodgy and boring. But I say don't.
An advantage of a few minutes could be easily undone by an inattentive driver opening his door to get a better look at what the hold-up is. And if you ride a faired sport-bike, contact between your fairing and the side mirror of a Mercedes could be expensive for everyone.
Lane positioning - Stay visible: There is much debate amongst motorcyclists as to where in a particular lane they should ride. Should it be the inside track left by vehicles, the outside track or the middle of the lane? If you get a group of 10 motorcyclists together, you will find 11 opinions on this topic.
Each position has its own advantages and disadvanatges. Riding in either of the tracks, especially on a highway frequented by heavy trucks could have you bouncing along a rutted path that tends to steer the bike as if it were on rails. I personally don't like anyone else doing the steering for me. The middle of the lane has its share of oil and coolant spills that seem to be there for the express purpose of bringing a hapless biker to grief.
My advice is simple: Choose a path that is not excessively grooved and seems to be clean of oil and other slippery substances, and above all, wherever you choose to ride, stay in the rear view mirrors of the vehicles in front of you. Remember, if you can't see their eyes in their mirror, they can't see you.
Just a few simple techniques and riding the highways could be fun.
Coming up to a curve, you brake gently, downshift smoothly, and start to lean into the corner by pushing gently on the inside handle-bar to start the turn. You pick your line through the turn, and as you come out of the turn, you push on the opposite handlebar to straighten the bike up, roll-on the acceleration as you snap the upshifts. Coming out of the corner, you rocket away with the smile speading ever wider on your face.
This is the essence of motorcycling. The very aspect of motorcycling that makes it so exhilerating, is the one that makes it so treacherous if you're not careful. Motorcycling is the closest thing to flying on land because of the incredible maneuverability and acceleration that bikes have. But in corners and on turns, the fundamental instability of bikes makes them dangerous to the novice rider.
So how can you make this as as risk-free a venture as possible? There are a few simple steps.
The Line: The line you follow through the curve is critical to your safe passage. Judge the nature of the curve before you get to it. If the entire curve is visible, you cna judge it and decide on the approach speed before you commit to the curve. If you cannot see the entire curve before you enter it, your approach speed should be about 20% slower to allow for unforeseen circumstances like a reducing radius (or tighetning) curve. In general don't start to lean into the curve until a little later, since it will give you a better view of the curve and allow you to point the bike towards the exit much easier. So starting the lean just short of the apex of the curve is a good plan.
Entry Speed: It's better to enter a curve a little slower than you might expect, because you will have lean less at a lower speed, and you will still have some margin for error if the curve tightens up on you after you've entered it. You can always accelerate out of the curve handsomely afterward. Also try to slow by downshifting before the curve and gently applying some front brake, so that you're set up with the bike balanced, the engine's power reserve on tap, so when you get to the apex you can roll-on the accelaration easily. If you notice the bike is running wide on a turn and you're panicked into leaning more, you obviously over-cooked the entry speed.
Visual Discipline: When entering a curve it is very important to focus on the exit point of the curve. Always look where you want to go. We discussed Target Fixation earlier where becoming fixated on an object can cause you to head towards the object. The best way to master visual discipline I have found is to point your chin subtly towards the exit of the curve and look through the curve. You will be amazed at how well that little trick focuses your attention on the curve and its dynamics. Also, be very attentive to changes in the color of the road surface which might point to oil spills, sand, water or other slippery surfaces that could bring you to grief.
With these simple techniques, you will be able to derive the greatest enjoyment from motorcycling and be safe too.
As you start to evaluate whether to go around and behind the trailer, the farmer sees you, panics and hits the brakes, stopping dead in his tracks. The gap that was opening up behind the trailer just vanished! The tractor and the trailer now block the entire two lane road with no choice but to stop the bike before you make contact with the farmer, the tractor or the load of hay, or plow into the whole combo.
How do you recover from this situation? First: Brakes. Use them. Hard. Both of them. If you're leaning into the turn, straighten up before you apply the brakes. If you're on straight and level flight, hit the brakes hard. That seems simple, but you would be amazed at how many people don't use their brakes as much as they could.
First let's deal with a myth that people carry over from bicycling: That you don't generally use the front brake. Wrong. The front brake gives you more than 60% of the braking power that you require to stop.
A motorcycle is a lot heavier than a bicycle and therefore takes a lot more before it pops a "stoppie" and stands on its front wheel, throwing the rider over the bars. Also, as the bike slows, inertia throws most of the weight of the bike and rider combination onto the front wheel, giving it much more traction. It's much easier to steer and brake a wheel that's moving, than one that's locked solid.
So here's the drill: Always ride with two fingers, say the index and middle finger of your right hand covering the front brake lever. So, even if you had to make a panic stop, you've only got to squeeze those fingers, and you've got good braking effort already. If you need to slow even more, add more fingers, like the ring and little fingers to give it a full meaty squeeze. Covering the front brakes gives you an extra second of braking - at 60 mph you will travel 88 feet in that one second! That could make a life and death difference.
Start gently on the rear brakes only after you've got front braking going. Remember, as the bike slows and the weight of the rider-motorcycle combination moves to the front, the front suspension gets loaded and the load lifts off the rear wheel making it easy to lock up.
Try not to lock up the rear wheel, but if you lock it up, keep it locked and don't let up on the brakes. A locked rear wheel starts to slide, often sideways, and if you let up on the rear brakes at this time, the bike finds traction, and the rear wheel starts to straighten, causing a "high-side" flip. A "high-side" flip is where the force of the bike straightening up is so sudden, the rider is thrown off the bike on the high side.
So the prescription is simple. Always ride covering the front brake with two fingers. If you're on a curve and leaning, straighten up before you brake. When you encounter an obtacle that you can't go around, brake hard, using a lot of front brake. Use the rear brake more gently than the front. If the rear wheel locks, let it stay locked. Don't risk a high side flip. The first and most important motorcycle riding technique (after learning to keep the bike balanced) is also perhaps the most counter-intuitive technique. Counter Steering is the surest way to gain and maintain control of the motorcycle on a turn. Interestingly it is also the maneuver that people seem to forget the most.
Let me explain why. For most people, their first experience in
riding a two-wheeler is usually a bicycle. And on a bicycle, they learn
to turn by leaning or banking into a turn. This works reasonably well
because in the case of a rider-bicycle combo, the rider is by far the
heavier of the two components is at a higher level than than the
bicycle itself. This causes the center of gravity of the combination to
be close to bicycle's saddle
When a bicyclist leans into a corner, the shifting of the weight of the
rider outside the base of the bicycle causes the bike to turn in the
direction of the lean. Even young childern who have just learned to
ride a bicycle will tell you that you lean into a turn to steer a
bicycle. You don't actually turn the handle-bars.
In the case of the rider-motorcycle combination however, the motorcycle is often heavier than the rider, usually several times heavier. And the steering technique needs to be different.
In the case of a rider-motorcycle combination, the center of gravity is
closer to the base of the engine (the heaviest component of the bike)
and the shifting of the riders weight above the bike will have only a
marginal effect on the direction of the bike.
Since inertia causes a motorcycle that is motion to want to continue
in the direction it has been taking, the easier way to make the bike
turn with positive, predictable and controllable results is Counter
So what is Counter Steering? Counter Steering is the technique of
changing the direction of travel of the motorcycle by gently steering
the bike in the opposite direction to which you want to go. That's right. If you want to turn right you push gently on the right side of the handle-bar. Or in other words subtly steer left.
With a little bit of practice this technique becomes much easier than
it sounds. And here's how it works: Without going into complex physics, just imagine that you're riding along in a straight line. You decide to turn right and so, you push gently on the right handle-bar. This causes the front wheel to point gently to the left, resulting in
the motorcycle "falling" into the turn. Now, when I say "falling",
I mean the bike wants to fall to the right, but the gyroscopic effect
of the turning front wheel keeps it from doing so. What you have is the
bike leaning and turning right.
The reason why this maneuver is so precise and controllable is that for
any given speed (above parking lot speeds), pushing on the handle-bar
on the inside of the turn (right bar for right turn and left bar for
left turn) causes the bike to lean and turn. Push harder on the bar and
it leans and turns more.
Now , we know that as the motorcycle's speed increases, the bike needs to lean more to turn. This is where Counter Steering is so useful.
Let's say you're riding along and you need to make a turn. You set
yourself up for the turn by down-shifting and slowing to the
appropriate speed and you start the turn by pushing gently on the
inside handle-bar and the bike gently leans in the direction of the
turn and starts to to turn. Just as you reach the apex of the turn you
start to pour on the juice to accelerate out of the turn, but you find
that the turn is a lot tighter than you first thought. This is where
you would panic and try to hit the brakes to slow down. BAD MOVE!
The safer alternative would be for you to keep your speed constant, and push harder on the inside bar. The bike will lean more, you may scrape something (usually the footpegs or the floorboard) but you will get around the turn better than if you had hit the brakes and locked the rear wheel.
Similarly, if you had the bike leaned over in a turn and half way
through the turn you saw a deer blocking your path, you would want to
straighten up quickly and brake hard. Counter Steering is invaluable in
this situation as well. You would push on the outside handle-bar to
straighten the bike up and hit both brakes hard to bring yourself to a
When you're out on your next ride, choose a deserted bit of roadway to try some gentle Counter Steering. I guarantee you'll like it for
the control it gives you. Practice as much as you can to make this
technique second nature when you ride.
Coming the other way on the turn is a pick up truck. The rider is shaken out of her reverie by the sudden appearance of the pickup. She leans into to the turn to steer clear of the truck but keeps her eyes on the truck. As the distance between the motorcyclist and the truck closes, she reaches the apex of the turn and her gaze is still held by the truck. She can now actually see the stubble on the chin of the pick-up driver. With alarm she realizes that she is running wide in the turn and hits the rear brakes to slow herself down. This causes the bike to slow, the rear wheels to slide a little, but the bike continues for another second to run on the same course and she feels her left side hit the drivers side door of the truck and she bounces off and heads with the bike into the ditch.
What happened? What caused this idyllic day to come to this? One of the most common reasons for novice motorcyclists to come to grief in a crash is something we call Target Fixation.
Numerous eye-witnesses to motorcycle accidents, even single-vehicle motorcycle accidents, often say the biker seemed to head straight for the tree or the truck or whatever. Quite simply, what happens is that the motorcyclist becomes fixated on the target that she is trying to avoid, and instead of avoiding it, ends up making contact with it.
The reason for this is that subconsciously, our bodies make movements to direct us towards the thing we are looking intently at. This in part is the rationale behind the Segway, the cool two wheeled scooter allows you to start, stop, turn and reverse without any overt moves. The body makes subtle moves like leaning forward when wanting to go forward, leaning back when wanting to stop etc. The Segway reads those clues through a set of gyromotors and does the rest.
So coming back to our hapless rider, had she taken her eyes off the pickup truck and its unshaven driver and focused instead on looking through the turn and past to her exit point, she may have got through unharmed, with a more aggressive lean accomplished through Counter Steering.
When confronted with a car that just pulls out of a side street and stops in your path, the temptation to just stared fixedly at the car while hitting the brakes is almost irresistible. But it almost certainly is going to guarantee a crash. Instead, look around the car, look behind the car or ahead of the car to identify an escape route. Even if it looks tricky it's better to try to go around the car than fixate on the car and crash into it amidships.
Again, there's no substitute for practice. Keep your eyes moving, so you're always evaluating situations and planning escape actions for scenarios that keep popping up. Riders have gotten away with far more dangerous situations by just keeping their heads on their shoulders and their eyes looking to the exit.