Author: Bike Coach
Motorcycle braking in the wet
The video below shows how much grip there is available if you just apply your front brake smoothly and steadily as you slow – back wheel comes off the ground.
You gently apply both brakes initially, but you need to release the back brake as the weight transfers forward to avoid locking the rear wheel, whilst steadily increasing the pressure on the front brake lever.
Can you brake and turn a motorcycle at the same time?
Yes, but it requires a degree of skill to prevent locking a wheel and falling.
At low speed when manoeuvring you use the rear brake to control the speed with the engine set at a fast turnover and slipping the clutch.
At speed, the safest option is also to use the rear brake whilst cornering if you need to slow, but this should be avoided if possible by slowing before the corner and using the ‘limit point’ — the furthest ate a of tarmac you can see — to judge the entry speed.
You can use the front brake mid corner, but this is risky and requires a very gentle initial pressure whilst the weight transfers forward onto the front tyre Increasing the level of grip.
Racers ‘trail brake’ into corners using mainly the front brake, which maintains the weight on the front tyre, gradually releasing the pressure as the lean angle increases. This is very risky on the road, leaving no safety margin.
Some modern motorcycles have ‘leaning’ ABS which is designed to stop wheels locking and skidding whilst cornering, but this may not prevent a fall when braking at extreme lean angles.
Can you legally ride your motorcycle between two rows of stopped or slow-moving traffic, if there is no shoulder available?
It’s known as ‘lane splitting’ and is illegal in some US states and in some other countries, so check before you ride there. It’s legal in the UK and known as ‘filtering’.
However it is illegal to use the hard shoulder on a dual carriageway or motorway. It is recognised as hazardous, and you should only filter in slow moving or stationary traffic at no more than 10 mph.
Filtering also means overtaking a single line of slow moving or stationary traffic, and is also hazardous and also needs to be done with great care.
You need to be aware that some drivers can react aggressively and try and block your progress, and most will not be aware of you until you are past.
Motorcycling – general advice for ‘born again’ riders.
If you’ve driven but not ridden for many years, you should have the hazard awareness, but the main difference on a bike is that you can be invisible to others, as they are not looking out for bikes.
If so the skills you most probably need are primarily in cornering, braking and throttle control.
‘Positioning‘ is also an issue for riders, with the default position near the crown of the road, so you can see and be seen, when it is safe to do so.
Particularly if you don’t have a bike fitted with ABS, you need to practise high speed braking. Find a clear streach of road and take care.
Squeeze the front brake lever gently at first, then as the front dips and bottoms out you can squeeze as hard as you like, as most of the weight will be on the front tyre. There is little danger of going over the handlebars as you would do on a bicycle, which stops many cycle riders braking properly or a motorbike. The main risk is locking the front wheel on non-ABS bikes.
You can initially press down hard on the rear brake, but you need to gradually release it to avoid locking the wheel as you slow, but it’s the front brake which is far more effective. It is critical to scrub off speed as quickly as possible.
You’ll probably survive a 30 mph impact, but not one at 40 mph, which is why head on crashes are usually fatal for all – the impact is the sum of the combined speeds.
Use the limit point, which is the furthest piece of continuous tarmac you can see, to judge entry speeds.
If you find yourself too hot into a corner, the trick is simply to look where you want to go, around the corner, pushing on the inside bar, which you will do naturally to lean the bike further, but can deliberately push on it if you need to. You can practise this positive ‘countersteering’ with care.
You can also use the rear brake, not the front brake mid corner if you need to, with care. Make sure your foot is hovering over the rear brake as you corner, and your not on the ball of your foot on the footrest.
You can lean a modern bike on any reasonable road surface until something scrapes – just need to be smooth and avoid panicking.
Particularly if you have a large capacity early sports bike without traction control, you need to use the throttle smoothly. Keep your foot over the rear brake if accelerating hard and press it if the front wheel comes off the ground.
Highsides are a real danger if accelerating hard whilst banked, which can result in serious injuries, again apply the throttle gently and smoothly as the revs rise, then if you do lose traction you’ll have a chance of shutting off and saving it.
If you have traction control, don’t rely on it saving you from a mid corner fall if you’re too ambitious with the throttle. From experience it may well prevent a high side, but you can still lowside and slide off.
Above all pay full attention at all times, and assume that you’re invisible.
Counter-steering a motorcycle.
Counter-steering appears to be an issue with many of our riders.
We all counter-steer a motorcycle at speeds above 5-10 mph, as at higher speeds the bike goes in the opposite direction when you turn the bars, due to the centrifugal effect of the front wheel known as precession. The bike leans the opposite way to which you turn the bars as the front wheel acts as a gyroscope trying to steer itself back upright.
So you turn the bars to the right and the bike falls to the left and visa versa. You find this out when you learn to ride a push bike but it’s not obvious – it works without most riders realising.
Positive counter-steering, that is steering away from the corner apex, forces the bike to lean further, and allows you to tighten the radius of the turn. You push on the inside bar, or pull the outside bar, and then let the steering centralise with the bike now banked at a steeper angle and turning at a tighter radius. Racers do this all the time, often while trail braking into a corner, which requires some physical strength, but is also a useful tool if you need to tighten the turn on the road to avoid a hazard, or because you’ve misjudged your entry speed.
You can feel the effect if you push gently on one side or other of the bars when travelling straight, and feel for what is happening.
The best advice, if you do enter a corner at too high a speed, is simply to look where you want to go, not where you don’t, and you will probably counter-steer without thinking.
Motorcycle Riding – Beyond Advanced
Advanced training is mostly based on Police Motorcycle Roadcraft and Police Class 1 riding standards.
Roadcraft doesn’t cover in any detail modern advances in motorcycle design and dynamics, which present new problems and opportunities.
Cornering in particular is somewhat over simplified, no particular ‘lines’ are suggested (since the 1970’s version of Roadcraft) apart from riding around the outside of corners to get a better view ahead. The problem with this, is it puts you close to the scenery or oncoming traffic all the way around the corner.
There are techniques that are routinely used in road racing that can be employed in an emergency, particularly trail braking using the front brake into corners, when you misjudge your entry speed, or encounter a hazard before you enter.
Learning how to change body position to increase ground clearance when leant, can be vital on many bikes, and can be the difference to making it around a corner – or not.
Modern tyres have unbelievable levels of grip to most riders, who often lack the experience and confidence to lean a bike anywhere near as far as they safely could, again making them vulnerable if they need in an emergency to turn at a faster rate.
It is also important to be always in the correct gear, and not rely on ‘block shifting’ as you come to a halt. You can do this by employing a slipper clutch if you have one fitted, or blipping the throttle to match the engine speed to the lower gear on downshifts.
It helps if you are professionally coached in these techniques and others, and given an opportunity to practise in a safer environment than the road, if you are to be as safe as you can be.
How do I avoid having a motorcycle accident?
Pay full attention at all times, and realise you will be invisible to many other road users in the UK, as there are so few riders.
Get all the post-test training that you can. Getting a licence is the start, not the end.
There is BikeSafe, the DVSA Enhanced Rider Scheme, and Advanced riding courses by the IAM or RoSPA.
If you do any other courses, make sure your instructor is properly qualified – many aren’t.
There are also off road and on track courses to improve your bike control. Again, make sure the organisation is properly accredited for training.
Cornering and leaning a motorcycle with confidence.
Many riders struggle with having the confidence to achieve higher lean angles on a motorcycle, which is the major issue we have to address at The School.
Modern tyres, given a reasonable surface, provide an extraordinary level of grip even in the wet – as long as you are smooth. You can usually lean a modern motorcycle until something scrapes – which should be the foot pegs – which then start to fold upwards. This gives you prior warning of leaning too far.
Everyone seems to have their own ‘pre set’ maximum lean angle over which they find it difficult to go. If you’ve cycled a lot, you will have probably found the limit of leaning a cycle, which is a lot less than a motorcycle due to a far higher centre of gravity.
If you’ve been riding motorcycles for many years, you would have started on tyres that had far less grip, and also likely to have come a cropper in the past when they have let go.
Many riders have serious accidents failing to make corners, particularly on left hand bends, when they could have, had they the necessary confidence. However, it’s not sensible to habitually use high lean angles on the road – this should be your safety margin.
So how cornering ‘pre sets’ be altered?
- Firstly we’ve found that looking into the distance helps – eyes on main beam – and looking as far down the track as you can see. Keeping your head up seems to help.
- Secondly relaxing, with a light grip on the bars, letting the steering make small corrections.
- Thirdly, riding smoothly, making sure you change down before the corner into a lower gear, and don’t accelerate hard until the corner starts to open out, then opening the throttle smoothly.
We’ve also found that as riders increase their lean angles they then confuse the suspension compressing with the bike sliding, so need to get comfortable with this. It just takes some time and practise. This gives a false impression of the limit being reached. Once you get used to the bike dipping, it’s not a problem.
Riding on the road, you need to have completed your braking before you turn, unlike on a track where you trail the brakes deep into the corner. Again, this can provide some more safety margin on the road in an emergency, but again takes time and practise to master.
You can see from the drawing above, you can still have up to 45% of cornering grip available at 45 degrees of lean (dark green area) – but it dimishes rapidly after that – and still some some more grip available with care for accelerating or braking even at this angle (light green area). This is Mohr’s Circle of grip and assumes 60 degrees is the maximum lean angle.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using flat handlebars on a motorcycle
Flat bars are probably the best compromise.
Clipons allow you to lie flat on the tank, making you more aerodynamic which is why they are fitted to most race bikes.
Higher bars are more comfortable as the rider stays upright in the saddle. They also allow the rider to move his weight backwards and forwards more, which is why they are fitted to off road bikes.
Ape hangers are mainly for show, and can be painful without a back rest.