Advanced skills

Advanced riding skills are those you occasionally need, or need is special circumstances. You should develop them over time. Dealing with other people on the road, including anticipating, positioning and signaling, are covered later under Situations. Most advanced techniques are about improving stability and control.

Vertical stability

You can use your legs as shock absorbers

Occasionally you hit a hole in the road that almost bounces you off the bike. It is a scary feeling, as you rise in the air. A road ridge can also act like a ramp to throw you upwards. One protection against such upward forces is your bike’s shock absorbers. You can also use your legs as shock absorbers. Some people can raise themselves entirely off the seat. This might seem pointless, as there is a perfectly good seat there, but your legs absorb road shocks that might otherwise bounce you off the bike. Even if you merely push with your legs, and your body doesnt rise off the seat, the shock absorber effect still works.

The tactic is to push your legs down and raise your body a bit

If you see a hole or ridge on the road ahead, the tactic is to push your legs down and raise your body a bit. This will absorb the upward shock. Note you need footwear with a heel, to lock against the foot-pegs, so the foot cannot slip off. I often do this when crossing "speed bumps". Dont try this if you are struggling with normal riding!

Forward stability

Shock absorbers absorb shock, they dont repel it

If you hit something on the road, you can also be thrown forward. Now your arms must act as shock absorbers. If you ride with your arms "locked" or fully extended, they wont be very good shock absorbers. Remember, shock absorbers absorb shock, they dont repel it. If you press down on the front shock absorbers of a motorcycle, the bike goes down. It is not a rigid resistance. So your arms need to work the same way if you are thrown forward.

This "bendable iron arm" gives you forward shock absorbers

Hold your arms forward, curved at the elbow, and palm down. The arms are bent, not rigid, so don’t “lock” your elbows. Keep your palms down, with thumbs and fingers in a natural inward pointing curve. The thumbs line up against the handle grips. This "bendable iron arm" gives you forward shock absorbers. Your body, arms and the handlebars form a circle, which under forward pressure, bends but does not break. You never know when you will suddenly hit something on the road, so set your arms to give forward stability at all times.

Sideways stability

The knee tank grip is a way to control sideways forces on a motorcycle

Your arms and legs give forward and vertical stability, but what about sideways stability? Sometimes winds or ridges in the road push the bike sideways. There may be rut that pulls the bike to one side. Or you may hit an object that twists the bike. How can you straighten a sideways movement? The knee tank grip is a way to control sideways forces on a motorcycle. With a firm handlbar grip, press your knees against the tank, and also push your feet in. This lets you hold the bike vertical, giving sideways stability.

How slow can you go?

Good riding, like good wine, is smooth

Being stable is more than just not falling off the bike. Stability is how well you keep your balance, and how little you wobble. With experience, you reduce the natural wobble or wavering that occurs as you ride. New riders have a lot of wobble. Skilled riders have very little. Good riding, like good wine, is smooth. Wobble is not bad - it is natural - but the less there is the better the rider.

Unstable riders tend to wear out their shoes

Stability is especially evident when you start and stop the bike. A stable start means you just lift your feet and go. An unstable start involves swerves and foot dragging. A stable stop means you stop, then calmly put your feet down. An unstable stop involves feet scraping the ground while the bike is moving, with a heavy heave at the end to stop it falling over. Unstable riders tend to wear out their shoes.

Your motorcycle skill is not in how fast you can go, but in how slow you can go

When you go fast, centrifugal force keeps the bike stable. When you go slow, that reduces, so then you find out how stable you are. Your motorcycle skill is not in how fast you can go, but how slow you can go. Any fool can twist an accelerator. But to come to a complete stop, staying vertical, then calmly drop a leg, takes skill. The more stable you are, and the less you wobble, the safer you are on a motorcycle, at any speed.

The two-part grip

Your right hand controls both the accelerator and the front brake

The controls of a motorcycle are very sensitive. Twist or pull a fraction of an inch more or less, and success can become failure. Especially important is your right hand, which controls both the accelerator and front brake. It makes sense to keep these two control functions separate. Here is how I do it:

  1. Accelerator Control: I “choke” the accelerator grip as far up as I can. It sits in the base of my thumb/forefinger “V”. Turning my wrist then turns the accelerator.
  2. Brake Control: Locking accelerator control into the base of your grip, leaves your fingers free to operate the front brake. Pulling my fingers back then pulls on the brake.

    To check this, extend all your fingers over the brake lever, then turn the accelerator. If you can’t accelerate with all your fingers extended, you are doing it wrong.
My extended right forefinger "reminds" my body where the brake lever is

I ride with my right forefinger always extended over the front brake lever.The rest of the fingers curl around the handle, but my extended right forefinger "reminds" my body where the brake lever is . The rest of the fingers quickly follow the forefinger when needed. This is part of the "quickly engage" sudden stop sequence. Meanwhile the wrist turn quite separately takes care of acceleration.

Awareness - the best defence

The best defense against danger is to see it coming and avoid it.

Your best defense against danger is to see it coming and avoid it. If you learn karate and kung-fu and walk down dark alleys at night you can defend yourself against attack. A simpler solution is not to walk down dark alleys at all. Ask a young child what they fear most, and they say monsters, bad people and fire. Actually, their greatest danger is cars, followed by accidents, household poisons and water (in swimming pools). Ask them what their best defense against danger is, and they will likely say their ability to run fast. Again they are wrong. The best defense against danger is to see it coming and avoid it. This is the eyes-wide-open approach to safe riding

All round awareness

Keep your head up, looking into the distance, not head down looking at the car ahead

Riders should always be looking "up, up and away". Look out, not down. Imagine if you had an early warning radar system, at what distance would you set it? Surely you would set it at maximum distance to give you maximum warning of danger. Well you do have an early warning system - your vision. So always set it for maximum effectiveness. Keep your head up, looking into the distance, not head down looking at the car ahead. If you look at the distance, all the near stuff will also be taken in automatically. You wont miss anything, plus you will also see the future before it happens. To ride safely, you need to look beyond just the car ahead.

Be seen

If seeing is the best defense, being seen is the next best

Seeing and being seen are two sides of the same coin. If seeing is the best defense, being seen is the next best. If the other driver can see you, they can avoid you. However a motorcycle is harder to see than a car, as it is smaller, and studies suggest many accidents occur when drivers dont see motorcycles coming. It is in your interests to be as visible as possible. Some ways to do this are:

  • Headlights. Ride with your headlights on at all times
  • Visible Gear. Wear light or bright helmet and clothing, with reflective strips for night-time
  • High Beam. Flash your high beam if you see a "situation" (see later), e.g. a car inching out of a side-street. If you are not sure the driver has seen you, flick on your high beam
  • Visible Position. One can make sure one is seen by putting yourself in the right position on the road (see later). Get in the centre, where drivers can see you. Also, what gets attention is change, so move the bike about, say from the center of the lane to the middle of the road. This may also give you more space in a situation. If you are a headlight coming towards another, even a slight movement to the side can help others judge your distance better.

Whatever you do, dont creep along the side of the road. If you are going to ride a motorcycle successfully you have to be assertive. Part of this is making sure you are visible.

Always indicate

Give others a chance not to hit you - always put on your indicators when you turn

Indicators are important because they tell others what you are going to do. Always indicate your turns, even when there is no-one around. Make setting your left/right indicators a good habit, an automatic thing you always do when you change position on the road. Make no exceptions. Then if you dont see someone, at least they see you. If they see you, they can avoid you. Give others a chance not to hit you - always put on your indicators when you turn.

Non-visual control

If you cant find a control without looking, perhaps you wont find it at all

When you ride, can you operate the controls without looking? This includes front light, high/low beam, indicators and horn. Try beeping your horn without looking down at the controls (to see where the horn button is). Why do this? In a “situation” you will almost certainly be busy looking elsewhere. If you cant find a control without looking, perhaps you wont find it at all.

Looking at your controls changes your focus, from far (where it should be), to close (where it shouldnt be). Changing focus takes your eye time to do, and this takes your eyes off the road. Looking in a mirror is less of an issue, because you are still distant focused. So practice using all the motorcycle controls without looking down.

Turning

Slow down into a turn, then accelerate out of it

You turn a bike not by steering it, or twisting the handlebars, but by leaning or “falling” into a turn. Your forward momentum then makes the lean into a turn. Going too fast into a left hand turn can run you off the road. Going too fast into a right hand turn can put you into oncoming traffic. Either way, its a problem, so judge the line of the turn first. This is behind the general rule: slow down into a turn, then accelerate out of it. You slow down into the turn to judge the line of the turn. As you accelerate out, you follow that line, and the acceleration increases control. Accelerating into a turn is like diving into a pool when you dont know how deep it is.

Choose the turn line according to the situation

Judging the "line" or trajectory a motorcycle will travel on a turn is a skill. With experience, you can "see" the movement curve the bike will take. You also choose the turn line according to the situation. For example, on a right turn into heavy oncoming traffic, you might keep more to the right . However on right turn with a cliff on your right that blocks your view, you might keep more left, to better see what is ahead. In wet weather you might reduce the amount of turn by “cutting” the corner, starting outside the lane, then going inside it, then back outside the lane again to exit the turn .

Drag your vision up from the front wheels, and extend it out to the turn end-point

Normally when riding you look where the bike is pointing, as that is where it soon will be. However when turning, the bike is not pointing where it soon will be. When you turn, look where you will be going, not where the bike is pointing. This can be difficult, as it is not natural. Drag your vision up from the front wheels, and extend it out to the turn line end-point. Get your early warning danger “radar”, which scans as far ahead as it can, to recognize the turn line end-point. Otherwise it will just lock into the local turn control process. As you turn, you will be looking at the road side, not the road ahead. from. So separate doing the turn from your look ahead long-term vision.

The "Ready Reaction"

The ready reaction does nothing at all - it just gets you ready to do something

The "ready reaction response " is the most valuable motorcycle skill you can develop. This critical riding skill must be practiced until it is automatic. You say "Go!", and it should happen right away. However, in itself, the ready reaction does nothing at all - it just gets you ready to do something. To be useful, the ready reaction response must happen automatically, without thought. The elements are:

  • Front brake. Right fingers extend over front brake lever
  • Back brake. Right foot "covers" the back brake
  • Clutch. Left fingers extend over the clutch lever
  • Gears. If time, the left foot drops down a gear
  • Accelerator. Right wrist reduces acceleration
What initiates a ready reaction is your sense of risk

This reaction puts you in a "ready" position. Dropping a gear gives more control over the bike. Reducing acceleration means you slow down. You are ready put on the front and back brakes. Your awareness goes up. What initiates a ready reaction is your sense of risk, the feeling that something might happen. It is for example mandatory whenever you go through an intersection.

The ready reaction is the most valuable safety skill you can learn, because forewarned is forearmed

Many times you may go to ready reaction mode, and nothing will happen, e.g. you may see children on the side of the road. If nothing does, you have lost nothing. However if something does happen, you are ready to deal with it. The ready reaction is the most valuable safety skill you can learn, because it prepares you, and forewarned is forearmed. It saves you those vital seconds that may make all the difference. Being prepared helps you react so much faster.