For the last 16 years, I’ve led wintertime riding schools at places like Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. We’ve lapped on many a cold and rainy day, and I’ve seen my share of cold-tire crashes.
Only two percent of these chilly tip-overs involve a rider grabbing too much brake lever and overwhelming the front tire, or stabbing the throttle and causing a cold rear tire to break loose. Most riders know that a tire slides when it’s overloaded, so they ride gingerly and smoothly until the tire comes up to operating temperature.
The most common cold-tire crashes aren’t so easy to explain. Most riders, in fact, are shocked when it happens. “I was just cruising,” is what I commonly hear them say.
As you leave the pits (or ride away from your house), ride slowly and gradually warm the tires. After a full lap, get into a groove at speeds that are 70 percent of your best pace. At this point, after turning into a corner slowly, it’s common to think you’re going way too slow and pick up the throttle early. Where does the weight go? It transfers to the rear tire and off of the front. Consequently, the front contact patch gets smaller, and because the tire is still cold, a crash is just one step away.
Because you entered the corner slowly and picked up the throttle early, the bike is often not yet on the ideal exit trajectory. What should you do? How about leaning over farther? No! That just increases your chances of going down. With the smaller contact patch, adding lean angle overworks the already taxed tire. The most common spot for this crash to happen is in a 180-degree corner where the direction change comes fairly late. It’s easy to get in too slowly and try to fix it with the throttle, but then you arrive at the sharp part of the corner with only a small patch of cold rubber. No grip.
To fix this, focus on using the brakes until you’re happy with your trajectory or line, and don’t accelerate until you can see your exit, pick up the bike and take away lean angle. These concepts are paramount for any rider on any tire. It may sound simple, but doing this will dramatically reduce your risk of a cold-tire crash.
THIS IS GOING TO HURT: Even the best of the best can get it wrong. In this sequence, Nicky Hayden steps over the edge of traction at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during qualifying for the 2012 MotoGP. Cold-tire crashes can result in similarly spectacular highsides.
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