Motorcycle Design And Your Riding

Bikes are built for best practices.

Cameron Beaubier
It’s a workable theory that championship-winning riders like Cameron Beaubier are responsible for the design of future motorcycles, and it’s a theory that can be traced back to the beginnings of motorcycling. Racing pushes the sport and forms the bikes, creating “best practices” in motorcycle manufacturing. So how does that affect our riding?Yamaha Racing

Yamaha Champions Riding School produced a video where I outlined a simple way to understand traction, giving each tire a finite amount of traction divisible between lean angle and brakes or throttle. You can see this 100 Points of Grip video here.

In my videos and discussions of riding techniques, I have rarely added the disclaimer “For Expert/Advanced Riders Only.” That disclaimer has come during discussions of rev-matched downshifts at lean angle, clutchless wheelies, going roadracing, carrying a passenger—but that’s about it.

A few viewers have commented that trail-braking (covered in the 100 Points video) is an advanced technique and for expert riders only, some saying it's for the racetrack only. One viewer wrote that he would not show the video to the new riders he teaches. I don't want to discount those opinions, I want to change them.

Bike Design

At last week’s Champ school, instructor Eziah Davis asked the students, “Who designed this bike, an expert rider or a beginning rider?” They all agreed that factories like Yamaha hire or develop expert riders to help design their motorcycles. Eziah went on to explain that we know many of these riders because they all come from the roadracing community—guys like Nate Kern—who have won a lot of races for a long time. Those are the riders who factories ask for input.

Nate Kern
Nate Kern “working.” When you ride consistently quickly in national and international events, your opinions are valuable to manufacturers. What are riders like Nate doing and how can we mimic their actions to achieve their success?Etech

One major manufacturer has sent its engineers to the Champ school for 13 years in a row (we were the Freddie Spencer school before Champ school; Champ school is 11 years old). Two other major component manufacturers send their engineers to our school too. Dunlop engineers and testers attend Champ school, one was there last week.

And those riders trail-brake. In every corner that needs braking, they are never off the brakes before they turn in. They all turn in “with the brake light on” to control their speed, cornering radius, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch.

These designers respect neutral or maintenance throttle, the slight throttle openings that hold the bike on line until the corner opens and allows acceleration. The bikes, tires, and components they design work best for the riding public when the riding public mimics the approaches and techniques of the designers.

Releasing the brakes before turn-in rebounds the fork and lengthens the steering geometry while reducing front-tire contact patch. That technique works just fine when you’re riding slowly with good grip, but my goal is to teach to the highest standard; whether I’m speaking with a new rider or a MotoAmerica competitor, it will never be okay to let go of the brakes before you turn into corners you brake for. It won’t be okay to accelerate in the corner until you can see the exit and take away lean angle. It won’t be okay to flick the bike, grab the brakes, stab the throttle. These issues are extremely clear to me and the growing cadre of riders bent on revitalizing our industry. The reason they will never be okay to me or anyone involved with Champ school is because they go counter to the bike’s design.

Shortcut The Beginner

A good goal for the industry is to reduce the time a rider is a beginner. To saddle them with “new rider” techniques that get worse as the speed rises or the traction lessens makes no sense to so many of us in the industry. In effect, we are saying, “Nobody good rides like this, but if you survive for a while, you can learn advanced techniques that you are too stupid to understand at this time.” Disrespectful and wrong. New riders need the techniques used by the designers of the motorcycles, or those machines will not work as designed. That’s unsafe and no fun. Riders quit when they get scared all the time or when the fun of riding is gone.

Champ school
The beginning of a Champ school and no student has been asked about their riding experience because we believe all riders must know best practices as soon as possible. Fast, slow, new, expert, female, cruiser rider, roadracer — let’s ride the bike as it was designed to be ridden — by the expert riders who designed it.Nick Ienatsch

We Are Not Coaching Ourselves

One viewer wrote, “I can see the value of trail-braking, but let’s face it, if you set up properly for the turn, you don’t need the brakes. If anything, you’re applying power to maintain and then accelerate out of the turn. If you’re braking in a turn, you went in too hot.”

This rider obviously rides with restraint and discipline. He gets his slowing done before the turn. That said, his comment is worthless for our purposes of riding improvement, isn’t it? We need techniques and approaches, not finger-pointing blame from on high. This is the goal of discussing life-saving, industry-growing techniques like trail-braking.

The reality is, riders are crashing on back roads by themselves. I’ll guarantee you that they have heard “Slow down before the corner,” but those words apparently do not help. They have heard you should ride the speed limit, but it’s a beautiful day and the bike’s running well. My belief is that the techniques of proper brake use drown out the well-meaning words of advice. Let’s run through braking basics quickly:

1. Go to the brakes when you are nervous. Nervous about surviving the upcoming corner (or intersection or deer in the verge).

2. Use the brakes as necessary straight up and down, but tip into the corner and leave the brakes on until you're happy with your bike's speed and direction. If traction is made up of lean angle plus brakes or throttle, don't flick, huck, snap or drop the bike into the corner; steer it into the corner in a linear, progressive, smooth fashion. If you find you are going too slowly to need trail-braking, use lighter initial brakes because you want to leave the brake light on through the turn-in. If you are going downhill, plan to light that brake light 50 percent more than if you're going uphill at the same risk levels.

3. When you're happy with your speed and direction, sneak off the brakes and ease in a little bit of throttle to maintain your speed and thus your cornering radius. This is "neutral" or "maintenance" throttle and it is huge in the lives of expert riders. You're midcorner and waiting at neutral throttle. For more info on this, check out the Champ school video on cornering radius and speed.

4. When you can see the exit and take away lean angle, you are allowed to accelerate. Yes, you can accelerate gently leaned over, but you don't increase the bike's speed significantly until you can see the exit and take away lean angle. We all know this inherently, but there's some crazy advice out there that has you powering through the corner and other provable poor techniques. You can prove them to yourself in a parking lot in about 15 minutes.

5. Repeat next corner and for the rest of your life. Watch as you collect trophies, smile all the way to breakfast, regrow our motorcycling in America.

Sure, the bike is designed to trail-brake, but being able to use your brakes down into the corner is not just the best way to win roadracing championships but also to control your speed, cornering radius, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch well into the corner when necessary, even stopping midcorner when needed.

If my instructor staff at Champ school were told not to trail-brake, we would all quit riding. Too dangerous.

Kyle Wyman and Chris Peris
Students listen to two insanely quick and consistent riders, Kyle Wyman (left) and Chris Peris (right), about how to prioritize the racetrack. During this talk, and every other, instructors don’t segregate new riders into a category and speak differently to them. We ask: Do you want to ride well? If so, then do this, no matter how experienced you are.Nick Ienatsch

Mark Schellinger: The Bike Knows

The tide is turning in the discussions I see regarding riding’s best practices and especially trail-braking. You riders are trying it—simply leaving the brake light on through the turn-in and spreading the message. While you spread the message, you are having a ton more fun on motorcycles because the bikes are working as designed. You are safer, more consistent, and faster, if you care about that. Your neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends see you loving and enjoying riding and think, “I want to be a motorcycle rider too.”

In the past, trail-braking has seemed like a religious or political debate. Any discussion has been taken as argumentative, as an attack on one’s family. I want to state that I have no ulterior motive to my arguments written here and elsewhere about techniques like trail-braking. My motive is out in the open: Improving individual riding technique will improve motorcycle safety and help regrow our industry.

Let’s take our riding discussions to the highest level of respect and curiosity. Your life counts on it, your students’ lives do too if you’re a coach, your son’s life if he wants to ride, your club members’ lives if you are a mentor or officer or thought leader. We can have our opinions on many topics, but the beautiful thing about motorcycle riding is that it is provable in terms of lap times, championship points, street-riding safety. And it’s traceable through the history of motorcycle design. As YCRS instructor Mark Schellinger says, “Let the motorcycle prove the truth to you.”

Marine Corps Major Mark Thompson Says This About "Wrong"

Have you read my "The Pace 2.0" piece? In it I admitted to having a few things wrong in the original "The Pace." I didn't double down and push an agenda; I evaluated and changed my outlook, my riding, and my teaching. And don't worry, that's happened more than once and continues to happen! It's called improvement.

Mark Thompson, a friend, YCRS instructor, and enlightened gentleman, brought a Sam Harris quote to our school that helps anyone who is re-evaluating their opinions: "If I'm wrong, I want to be wrong for as short a time as possible." Isn't that a great thought? Don't stick to a riding-technique argument that you discover is wrong. In this sport, wrong hurts and kills. Follow the Sam Harris quote that Mark introduced to us: "Change…and grow."

More next Tuesday!