Rider Resolutions

New year resolutions for a great riding future

motorcycle roadracing action
General Schmidle at speed, working hard on good riding technique that also brings safety.Schmidle Collection

2017 will be three days old when this is published and many of us will have already pledged ourselves to resolutions. May I add a few more to your list? My suggestions are based on the shared goal I have discussed with you many times: We never hit the ground again!

This shared goal can be termed "safety" but as Marine Corps pilot General Robert Schmidle taught us (read Situation Awareness In A High-Threat Environment), consistent flight safety only happened when the Marine Corps "decided to quit talking about safety and focused on creating excellent pilots". General Schmidle told us that written or verbal platitudes did nothing to improve pilot safety, but excellent skills did.

The Transportation Institute at Virginia Tech teamed with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to follow 100 riders for over 350,000 miles and their findings will also affect the rider’s resolutions I present to you today.

And on top of the Marine Corps and Virginia Tech/MSF information, we at YCRS have our own "laboratory" that puts us helmet-to-helmet with riders year-round. The YCRS instructors are living the life in the saddle, whether racing, street riding or dirt-bike riding. We love, love, love riding and realize how much fun "not crashing" is! Our constant question to ourselves and our students is: How can I ride at a pace I enjoy for the rest of my life? Many of my friends and students are racing so we racers slightly rephrase this question: How can I run at the front without unreasonable risk?

Motorcycle riding
Stopping mid-ride to talk motorcycles and relax is always good, but that stop should never include alcohol. Studies suggest that between 30 and 50 percent of crashing riders have alcohol in their systems.Cycle World

So all this input brings me to this column of 2017 Rider Resolutions.

1) Resolve to never drink alcohol and ride. But let's take it a step further: Resolve to always drink a root beer/iced tea/water-with-lemon/tonic water with lime when you stop during a ride. Rather than just promise to never drink a beer or glass of wine, be pro-active and establish a non-alcoholic drink that you will always order on a ride. Studies tell us between 30 and 50 percent of crashing riders have alcohol in their systems. Resolve now to never drink alcohol and ride…have a riding refreshment you always order.

2) Practice braking. The Virginia Tech/MSF study shows that riders are hitting and almost-hitting stopped traffic in front of them. Here's a link to a "what to practice during braking practice" article I wrote: A Practice Guide for Braking. If you own three bikes, you must practice on three bikes. If you ride at 100 miles an hour, you need to practice stopping from 100 miles an hour (and you'll immediately see how long it takes to stop from 100…and that realization will help to keep your speed in check).

Motorcycle braking technique
Remember to always practice good braking techniques. This is more often than not the difference between getting stopped on time in an emergency situation and not.Cycle World

3) Practice steering. Pushing and pulling on the handlebars is the best way to steer your motorcycle. It's called countersteering. It can be subtle to just ease your bike into the corner, or aggressive to dodge a rock. Practice pushing and pulling on the bars on every bike you own. As we start doing track days and looking for even more subtle ways to control our bikes, we begin weighting footpegs, using our outside knee against the fuel tank and braking gently at lean angle to further control our bike's direction. But being intimately-familiar with countersteering will go a long way to fixing the problem crash studies reveal: We aren't staying in our lane very well on backroads.

4) Get and use a Mantra. How many times have you heard "get your eyes up"? Yet the Virginia Tech/MSF study riders hit and almost hit traffic stopped in front of them and they were not brand-new riders. Yes, it's a braking problem, but before that it's an eye problem and I believe the solution comes a step before that in the form of an often-repeated Mantra. "What's Next?" works well. "Focus, Focus, Focus" is good. "Where am I, what am I doing". Perhaps tape it to your speedometer until it becomes second-nature. Have it in your brain and on your lips because every time you mutter "What's Next?" you will jump your eyes forward.

Motorcycle riding onboard image
As a rider you should become intimate with the equation Radius Equals Miles Per Hour, and must understand that you can only accelerate when you want your radius to open.Cycle World

5) Have no trust in the driver behind you. That driver is almost assuredly driving with a cell phone in their hand or at their ear and have almost no extra mental space to realize your motorcycle is stopped at the upcoming red light. Stay on the left side (or right side, but not in the middle) of your lane, stay in first gear, flash your brake light, keep your eye on the mirrors and be ready to jump ahead and to the side if the approaching car isn't slowing well. We're getting hit from behind more and more.

6) Cover the brakes. Habitual readers of Ienatsch Tuesday have read these words before. It's not just how well you can stop your bike, it's also how long it takes to get your brake pads against the rotors. Decrease that time by covering the brakes, especially in traffic, double-especially when approaching an intersection. We have been getting killed and injured in intersections for years, and riders have been taught to not cover the brakes for years because new riders have a habit of panicking on the brake lever. I understand that argument. As we move beyond our first few hours on a bike, work toward riding in crowded areas with the brakes covered. I wrote about it: Fingers Up.

7) Get intimate with this equation: Radius Equals Miles Per Hour. Studies show we're running wide on backroads, leaving our lane and hitting whatever might be over there, or running into the dirt if we're very lucky. Play around in a parking lot to get a feeling for what slowing your speed does to your cornering radius, what increasing your speed does and what holding your speed does. You will soon learn to ride your bike based on where it is in its direction change: Slow your bike going into the corner, hold your speed when you're happy with your radius and never accelerate until you want your radius to open.

Motorcycle riding onboard image
The better you are at predicting what drivers around you will do next, the safer you are as a rider.Cycle World

8) Put your inside foot down during a u-turn. The Virginia Tech/MSF study showed that almost half the "crashes" were riders dropping bikes at a standstill or during slow-speed maneuvering. At YCRS we teach riders to put their inside foot down before beginning the u-turn because if the bike stalls or the rider stabs the brake or runs out of steering lock, they will try to put their inside foot down to catch the upcoming tipover. Put it down early, put it down every time.

9) Put your feet down early, put them up late. Looking cool is important and many new riders at YCRS feel that keeping their feet on the pegs until just before the bike stops looks cool. We teach them that anything that prevents them from lying under their motorcycle is cool! As you come to a stop, get your foot/feet off the pegs, your "landing gear" ready. As you leave a stop, leave your landing gear down until your bike is truly underway. Snapping your feet up on the pegs as you're engaging the clutch is a bad move when you stall your bike. If you have a new rider in your life, get him/her to get their inside foot down in u-turns and to get their landing gear in place early and leave it in place late. Something I know from experience: Your new-rider friend will quit riding if they're constantly struggling with low-speed drops.

10) Become a traffic predictor. Riders who are victims of a driver's mistake figure in injury stats and sometimes it's simply "wrong place at the wrong time". But perhaps we riders can avoid those places by learning to predict the future moves of surrounding traffic? Start this habit on the next car or bike trip you make. Make it a game. When you're surprised by a driver's move, log that move in your riding brain and be ready for it next time. Use car drives (especially while a passenger) to build your prediction strength. Great street riders avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time because they see the wrong place developing.

Motorcycle riding
Practice steering. Whenever you can. As often as you can.Cycle World

11) Wear your gear. I'm watching you right now and you're saying "yeah, yeah, yeah". That's because you've already hit the ground and that experience clarified the need for riding gear on every ride. I'm talking to new riders or riders who have never crashed. Proper riding gear can eliminate so much pain that I don't have enough room to describe what I've seen. Basically, I've seen proper riding gear reduce a crash to a simple monetary problem. The crashed rider can focus on fixing the bike, not paying hospital bills and then fixing the bike. Game changer. Like resolving to never drink alcohol while riding, you must resolve to get your gear on for every ride, no matter what.

12) Learn to go slow to be consistently fast. I've written it before and I'll write it again: Riders who go fast everywhere will be hurt. Racers who can't slow down for cold tires or in the rain or for the hairpin or to learn a new track, will not win championships. Street riders who can't slow down in town, for intersections, for blind rises and corners, for road work or for heavy traffic will be hurt or killed. For those who truly enjoy speed, we must respect the areas where speed adds huge problems. I think of these slow areas as a place to breathe, relax, regroup, look at the scenery, give the Highway Patrol a big thumbs up, wave to the Sheriff, enjoy your great life, praise your bike, look forward to the next set of corners.

In Closing

I’ll finish the first column of 2017 the way we finish YCRS. I ask the students if they know of anyone who has been hurt crashing a motorcycle. Do they know anyone who has been killed? They often do. You probably do too. So I encourage them and I’ll encourage you: Approach your riding seriously and give yourself entirely to it because done poorly, this sport hurts. Everything from u-turns to riding gear to drinks at stops to braking practice to where to take chances is examined by “good” riders. It’s a new year and I hope you join me in my 2017 riding resolutions.

More Next Tuesday!