Basic Skills

To be effective, skills must be automatic

Skills are the actions a rider learns in order to ride. They are learned by practice, not words. To be effective, skills must be automatic. There are two types of skills, basic and advanced. The basic skills are mounting, take-off, riding and stopping. These are the skills you need to ride at all. If you are experienced, you can skip this section.

Mounting

Hold the bike close

To mount, stand beside the bike, holding both handlebars, with the bike leaning towards you, and the front brake pulled on, so the bike doesn’t move. Hold the bike close. Be careful if someone is on the other side. If the bike falls away from you, it is hard to stop. Swing your leg over, sliding the bended knee over the seat. Don’t hurl your leg back, as this puts you off balance. If you have a pack-rack, you cant do that anyway. Just raise your knee and push it over the seat. Keep it tight as you mount. If you have a passenger, you mount first, then they get on.

Take off

Sitting on the bike, open the choke as necessary. Put the gear in neutral, then turn the ignition to start the bike. Give it a moment to warm up, then kick back the stand. With all four fingers of the left hand, pull in the clutch, and with your left foot engage first gear. Now you are ready to take off.

The POE is when the clutch lever lets the engine's power go to the wheels

Slowly open the clutch to the point of engagement (POE). The POE is the point when the clutch lever lets the engine's power go to the wheels. It varies from bike to bike, but at the POE the bike will start to move and the engine revs decrease. It can be altered by a knurled adjuster where the cable leaves the clutch lever. When you get to the POE, you have to do two things at the same time:

  1. Release the clutch to transfer power to the wheels
  2. Open the throttle, to keep the engine revs up.

If you do this right, the result is a nice, smooth, controlled take off.

Take off

In general, when taking off, you let out the clutch while opening the throttle. Two things can go wrong in take off:

  • Too much power - you take off out of control, as in a skid.
  • Too little power - the engine stalls, you don’t take off at all.
Take off is a point of high acceleration

Acceleration is not speed, it is how quickly speed is changing. At take off, your speed is low, because you begin at speed zero, but your acceleration is high. Take off is a point of high acceleration. If you are on a slippery surface, like a white line, or in gravel, you can easily skid on take off. If you are perfectly straight, the back wheel just spins in place, but any imbalance and it slides out to the left or right and the bike falls.

High revs and slow clutch gives a smooth takeoff

The more likely outcome for beginners is to stall. This means not enough throttle. If you are stalling, you need the engine at higher “revs”. Take the clutch lever to the point of engagement, again slowly let it out, but this time keep the revs high. The higher you rev the engine, the less chance there is of stalling, but the slower you let the clutch out to avoid takeoff "lurch". High revs and slow clutch gives a smooth takeoff.

Posture

Your posture is how you sit on the bike. You can:

  • Crouch forward
  • Lean back
  • Sit upright

or some combination.

Upright is less effort

Racing bikes are designed so riders crouch forward to reduce wind drag. However this becomes uncomfortable over time. Easy rider bike let you lean back, but surprisingly this can also be uncomfortable over time. Touring bikes, desinged to ride for long distances, favor an upright posture. Upright is less effort, because the body supports itself, giving a more relaxing ride. Upright gives better vision, because the head is higher. Finally, it gives better control, as the body is not leaning on the hands or feet. Leaning pressure can interfere with hand/foot control actions.

Can you move your hands or feet without affecting the body balance?

Check yourself when you sit on the motorcycle - can you lift and move your hands and feet without affecting the body balance? If you lift your hands up and fall forward, you were leaning on them. Such body pressure interferes with bike control. Another way to check your posture: go on a long trip. If you have a sore back or shoulders at the end of the day, your posture is not right. When you sit upright, you retain a lumbar arch - that arch in the lower back is an important part of good posture.

Feet off the brake

If you lurch with your foot over the brake, you can accidentally apply it

I ride with my feet to the side of the brake pedal (or gear pedal). This means pointing the foot outward. Here is my logic. If you hit a bump you may lurch forward. If your foot is over the brake, you can accidentally apply it. An unintended sudden slowdown can be very dangerous, in traffic for example. If you are thrown forward and also accidentally press the brake, you may leave the bike. If your feet point out, and you lurch forward, the brake is not affected. I only move my foot over the brake when adopting the "ready reaction" position.

Stopping

The main brake is the front brake, but the best is to apply both brakes at once

There are two brakes, front and back. When stopping, the weight of you and the bike are thrown forward, pressing the front wheel down. This gives the front wheel more friction and so more stopping power. The main brake is the front brake, but the best is to apply both brakes at once. Applying both front and back brakes together is a skill you must learn until it is automatic. It should be a single action.

You cant expect your body to behave differently in an emergency from how it normally does

How you stop normally is how you will stop in an emergency. Your normal stop will become your emergency stop. Your body will follow the same steps. You cant expect your body to behave differently in an emergency from how it normally does. It wont suddenly learn new skills. In fact, when the adrenaline is pumping, habitual reactions dominate. In an emergency, you revert to your habits. So practice emergency stopping when you are normal stopping, and set up a habit that may save your life.

Sudden stopping

If you jam the brakes too fast, you skid and crash. If you are too slow, you also crash.

Stopping in an emergency is not as simple as it looks. If you jam on the brakes too fast, you skid and crash. If you are too slow, you also crash. What to do? As with the clutch, there is a point of engagement (POE) for brakes, both front and back. You must separate the stages of braking, because one is done at maximum speed, and the other with maximum control.

Stopping is a two stage process.

To get your body to the braking POE as fast as you can: pull the clutch lever in to the POE, and get your right foot to the brake pedal POE. At this point, you can still not brake. Then, after reaching the brake POE, apply the brakes with control not panic. Stopping is a two stage process, namely:

  • Engage the brakes, fast.
  • Squeeze the brakes, with control.
Get quickly to the POE, then gently apply the brakes

Dont carry out both braking stages the same way. If you suddenly both engage and press the brakes, chances are you will skid and lose control, especially in the wet. If you cautiously both engage and apply the brakes, you may crash before they activate. Get quickly to the POE, then gently apply the brakes. Practice stopping in two parts: a fast as possible “kick in”, followed by a controlled squeezing of the brakes!

In panic situations, controlled braking is really hard to do

For the front brake, the initial “fingers to the lever” action is fast, but the braking is steady and controlled. In panic situations, controlled braking is really hard to do. For the back brake, first "cover" the brake, then apply the pressure. To get control, the pressure is from the ankle turning around the pivot of the heel. It’s a controlled turn, not a stomp down with the leg. The end result is a smooth and controlled emergency stop.