14 Ways To Improve Your Riding Skills Before The Pandemic Ends
Clean up your rusty riding techniquesby Harry Fisher, on
Are you a beginner rider or have you had a break from riding for a while? There are lots of things you can do to make your riding safer and more enjoyable, from simply practicing riding to taking part in a track day or some off-road training. The important thing is to not think you know it all and be prepared to learn. Hopefully this list will help you.
There’s Always Something To Learn or Remember
Whether you are new to riding or have returned to riding after a long break, there are always hints and tips that aren’t taught on any official training platform but which will make a huge difference not only to your enjoyment of riding but also your own personal safety.
With all the lockdowns that have happened around the world, many of us haven’t been able to ride for months on end. Even the most experienced among us will be a bit rusty and, if we can put the ego to one side or a moment, we will admit to ourselves that we don’t know everything. So, how about a few ideas to get us back up to speed?
When you ride regularly, actions become second nature. Experience teaches us a lot - not all of it correct but at least it keeps us out of trouble. We were never told this when we were learning - if anyone tried, the lessons would go on for months - it’s just stuff you have to pick up on the way. And, sometimes, it’s easy to forget the small stuff.
Here are a few hints and tips to make your riding that much more enjoyable.
Don’t be tempted into riding beyond your skill level.
It’s easy to be needled by someone who thinks he is the next (or last) Valentino Rossi and to be drawn in to trying to show him that, no, you are the next Valentino Rossi. The only rule here is, ride to your own skill level. Who cares if you reach the destination five minutes later than everyone else? Did you enjoy the ride? Were you in control at all times? Did you avoid any close scrapes? Half the satisfaction of riding is riding well and you can ride well at 50mph as much as at 100mph. If someone has more talent than you and is prepared to take more risks, then good for them. Often, the mere fact of being on a motorcycle is plenty to be satisfied with; would you rather drive that scenic mountain road or ride it? You’ll see a lot more on a bike so why not take your time rather than treating the road like a race track?
Talking of race tracks
Forget the idea that track days are only for sports bike riders with full leathers, tyre warmers and well-worn knee sliders. You can learn more in a day at a track about you and your bike than in a year on ordinary roads.
For a start, you’re in a controlled environment; nothing is coming the other way, the surface is perfect and each lap is a repeat of the last so you can learn technique on the same corners over and over again: corners that are all different to each other so you’re learning every time you go round.
It’s not about how fast you go or if you get your knee down. It’s about understanding the limits of your motorcycle: limits that you’ll never reach because your motorcycle has more ability than you’ll ever realise. But learning that it has so much ability is valuable; how far you can lean in a corner; how fast you can change direction; how hard you can brake without the front end washing away; how looking through the corner helps you go around the corner; how body position helps the bike do what its trying to do.
In my experience, no-one is going to judge you for how fast (or slow) you are. Most people who attend track days are always only too happy to help newbies with advice or by leading them around on a slow lap to show them the lines. What matters is that you’re giving it a go; you’re probably a lot better than you think.
Do an off-road course
Not because your goal is to compete in the Dakar Rally! Riding off-road can teach you so much about bike control. You’ll learn that a sliding tyre isn’t the prelude to disaster and, just like track riding, you’ll learn how using your body weight can help the bike do what it needs to do.
Now, I’ll admit that the last thing you’ll be doing on your cruiser or touring bike is standing up and leaning forward to give the front end more bite or leaning back to stop the front tyre digging into soft sand but, as I said above, it will help you to understand what a bike moving around feels like and it gives you the opportunity to practice steering into a rear wheel slide or to feel what it is like when the rear loses traction. After all, big bikes have enough power to break traction of the rear wheel, so why not prepare for it? It’s only by constant practice that we get used to something. Look what happened after you’d been changing gear for a week when you were learning.
Not all riding is at highway - or faster - speeds. Riding slowly is part and parcel of motorcycling, whether manoeuvring out of your driveway or in a car park or crowded street.
So, again, practice. Find a parking lot and try doing u-turns without putting your feet down or dropping the bike. Try a slow slalom - you don’t need cones: use imaginary ones. Practice clutch control and, most importantly, vision! It’s an old saying, but it’s true whether in sixth gear or first: look where you want to go, not where you are. There’s nowhere better to demonstrate this than at slow speed doing a u-turn. If you look over your shoulder at where you want to end up and not at the ground in front of your front wheel, you’ll get round. Keep the revs up and slip the clutch and you’ll be surprised at how nimble even the biggest bike can be and how in control you can be.
Ride in the Wet
Yeah, I know; it sucks riding in the wet. But give it a go often, even if you’ve nowhere to go. Riding in the wet teaches subtlety of rider inputs for throttle and brakes; it teaches you to be smooth and that is a skill you can take to your dry road riding as well. Again, it’s all about practice - the more you are used to slippery wet road surfaces, the less you’ll be intimidated by them. The worst thing you can do as a rider in the wet is stiffen up, gripping the ’bars with a vice grip. You need to stay loose and relaxed and the only way to be like that is through experience.
Talking About Being Smooth; Carrying a Pillion
Two simple techniques to make the pillion more comfortable. Firstly, practice clutchless upshifts through the gears. This prevents the sudden slowing of the bike as the clutch is pulled in and drive is momentarily lost to the rear wheel. Secondly, start your braking with the back brake. This prevents weight transfer of the bike to the front and stops the pillion cannoning into your back. Obviously you have to bring in the front brake, but starting with the back brake a second before makes things so much more comfortable for the pillion and the rider.
Because we are so much more vulnerable on a bike than in a car, we have to take much more responsibility for our own safety. It’s no good expecting drivers to look out for us; they’ve enough on their minds what with talking on their cellphone or checking their reflection in the mirror.
It’s easy to blame that car for pulling out of a side road in front of us, or driving right up our backside, waiting for you to get out of the way on the highway, or pulling sharply in front of us when they realise they are about to miss their slip road off the highway. The simple truth is that you have to look out for yourself. Assume that every car is going to do something that might kill you and act accordingly. Give them space.
If you’re going too fast, can you really blame the car driver for not seeing you? Most of them have no experience of fast closing speeds and so have no way of judging them, leading them to think they have time to complete the manoeuvre they are contemplating. Is that their fault, or yours?
Everyone makes mistakes when driving or riding. The best thing you can do is try to minimise the risk of the mistakes of others affecting you.
And that brings us to Anticipation
With experience, you’ll start to anticipate what other road users are about to do. With that knowledge comes the knowledge of what to do yourself. For example, that car waiting to turn into the road you are on, from your left or right. Has he seen you? It’s best to assume that he has not. Position yourself towards the middle of the road to distance yourself as far as possible from the car as it pulls out or just to give him (or her, of course) the best chance of seeing you. Be ready with the horn or headlight flashing buttons or simply slow down.
It sounds silly, but go out for a ride and just practice riding, doing everything by the book, including exaggerated use of mirrors and over-the-shoulder life-saver glances. Practice being smooth with the controls, practice taking a corner in the best way - road position, speed, vision, braking, throttle. Assume you have an examiner riding behind you and make sure you ’pass’ the test.
They Can’t See You
Compared to a car, truck or bus, a motorcycle is tiny and drivers’ eyes are unaccustomed to seeing us because we are so small. Assume you are invisible and act accordingly.
Go Slow, Part 2
We all know that bikes are much faster than the vast majority of cars on the road but that doesn’t mean you have to demonstrate it everywhere. Slow down a bit, especially in built-up areas. Save your speed for the open country road but even then, modulate your speed to allow for the unexpected. Think of it this way; most drivers are simply trying to get from A to B: they are not expecting a Grand Prix rider to be coming round the corner ahead or passing them from behind in a blast of speed and noise.
You are a road user and you have a responsibility to other road users; it’s not your own personal race track.
Don’t get riled by other road users. That leads you to ride aggressively in retribution and the only one who is going to get hurt by that is you. Similarly, don’t jump on the bike when you are seething mad with something or someone. Your judgement is clouded and you need it clear as a bell if you are to stay alive.
The fitter you are, the better you will ride: not only will it stop you getting fatigued as quickly, riding a bike has an element of physicality about it. A bike is an inanimate object and you need to work to make it do not only what it can do but what you want it to do. If you ride regularly, you will build up riding fitness. Any lay-off from riding will impair that fitness so take time to build it up again.
I could go on and on but you get the idea. Ride more, ride well, ride safely, live to enjoy it again and again because nothing else comes close.