10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 4
6. Learn to turn and lean
Unlike cars, motorcycles come with rather complex dynamics when it comes to negotiating a turn. Cars are less subject to the (sometimes) dramatic balance changes and weight shifting motorcycle riders have to cope with, and that's why the untrained or less-experienced motorcyclist may be tempted to believe that cars perform better through turns.
In fact, the real situation on the road proves the exact opposite: bikes are faster in a turn, provided the rider knows what to do, and this goes for pretty much any kind of bike, from the enduro to the sport ones.
The higher the speed, the more the bike and biker must lean, to counterbalance the centrifugal force attempting to “throw” the vehicle towards the outside of the turn. New riders must not be afraid to lean, especially as they will soon realize that the motorcycle has a natural tendency for that, right as it has been properly set on the right track.
Different bikes lean differently, and that's a thing each rider should learn fast. Sport bikes allow sharper angles, while choppers are limited by the low-swung silencers. Some bikes are turning better with less tilt from the rider and more for the machine: it's the case of the supermoto-type ones, which can be easily controlled through a turn with the rider in an almost straight up position.
Thankfully, the Internet is literally full with countless videos depicting both good and bad examples, and they can provide a very visual understanding on the matter. Watching such videos and reading some additional explanations should grant new riders enough confidence to start leaning and eventually turn better.
One of the key elements for developing a good turning technique is trying to smooth out the radius of the turn. This means avoiding to make severe changes in the curve you're in, and trying to keep a steady radius until you're past its half.
As a rule-of-thumb, most turns should be approached on the outside, with the bike on the inner side halfway and then on the gradually wider track as the turn ends. In case you're riding in a series of turns (twisties), it's best to come out of the turn as close to the ideal position for entering the next one.
Don't brake in a turn
In case you have to brake in a turn in the absence of unforeseen dangers (fallen rocks or trees, pot holes, stopped cars and the like), then you've approached it in a bad way. According to the bike type and riding surface combined with the radius of the turn, the ideal entry speed varies.
It is, however, much safer to enter a turn a little slower than having to brake hard in the middle, so get used to anticipating how fast you need to be. Too much speed will cause you to do a wider turn, away from the ideal trajectory and possibly into the opposite lane or scenery (depending on which side the turn is).
A tad slower is OK, you can just cut the corner a bit to straighten the bike. Much too slow and you'll either be unable to lean, or you will “fall on the inside of the turn” and have a lowside crash. It's always good to throttle up during the second half of the turn: you'll notice how the bike straightens up by itself and becomes easier to handle.
In any case, all the sudden and abrupt actions are to be avoided, whether it's having to brake in emergency or throttle out of a turn. Braking hard WILL crash you, while laying a heavy hand on the throttle can cause the rear wheel to spin, with serious chances to crash, too.
Keyword: smooth. Riding elegantly through turns is an art, and riding elegantly in turns at a high speed is a great art. Art is never brutal, so learning how to make smooth and gentle adjustments to the speed and riding position is the beginning of the masterpiece.
Tip: get used to as many types of turns as possible so that you get to know the “technical” limits of each type. Gradually increase speed and leaning angle as you feel safer. A detailed 3-part guide can be found here.
7. Remember you're never done learning
There is no biker in the world skilled enough to make it safe from ANY situation. In fact, motorcycle riding involves constant leaning and continuously honing your skills. Just like stunt riders are practicing their moves every day, a common rider should be constantly improving the basic skills.
One of the biggest dangers in the first years of riding is believing you've become very good. This feeling provides a false sense of safety and boosts self-confidence in the absence of the much-needed skill backup. Starting to believe that nothing bad can happen to you now that you're safely past your first 2 or 3 years aboard a bike IS your enemy.
It's not about the fact that some beginners are tempted into doing all sorts of tricks or engage in stunting and eventually crash. It's not about trying to push the limits. It's about the fact that you're forgetting how fragile and exposed you are and are no longer aware of how dangerous your presence on the road is.
It's spring, but take your time
As years go by and you leave tens of thousands of miles behind, you'll realize how easy it is to get to the ideal shape, even if it's only a short winter break. A lot of guys crash during the first weeks of the riding season just because they ignore some of the basic, common sense facts about bikes.
Riding a motorcycle involves muscular routines your body gets used to as you practice them. In a way, the body “learns” certain moves and is able to provide extremely fast and well-tempered
response in a variety of scenarios. After a break, these routines are “forgotten,” if you wish, and you will no longer be able to provide the best reactions possible.
In a more plastic and easier to understand way, it's like gymnastics: if practicing on a regular basis, the body retains and enhances tendon elasticity so one could easily put a foot behind the head. Cease the training and the muscles and tendons will become stiffer, no longer allowing such feats.
That's exactly what happens during winter and other periods you don't ride: skills and instincts grow “stiffer” and you need to bring them back to a full potential. This means taking it easy in the first weeks, get acquainted to your bike and the way it reacts once more, practice some turns and braking, do some low-speed maneuvers to regain the smoothness and then gradually return to your previous riding habits.
It's cool and it's dirty, but in a bad way
With the snow gone and a couple of warmer, sunny days to dry out the asphalt, some might believe it's summer again, already. Well, it's not, and being aware of this (cruel) reality might save your hide.
The warmer weather does not mean the earth is already warmer, too. The asphalt is still just degrees above freezing point and this means your tires offer reduced grip. You might be smiling in the happy early March sun, but your ground contact is truly fragile. Even more, as you ride and stop for refueling or simply a brake, you'll be surprised to find out how fast your tires cool, so as long as you remember this, you should be safe.
Road treatment during the winter leaves a lot of dirt sometimes: dust, all types of finely-ground gravel and the like. It would be truly wise to be careful and analyze the road ahead to spot and avoid such dirt-covered portions. Cold tires combined with cold asphalt and some sand multiply the chances of a crash thousandfold.
Finally, we should mention that in your absence, some car drivers “forgot” that you are a part of the traffic, too. Some are just as glad as you are and may not be as careful and alert as ever... so the chances to hear the “I didn't see him” horror are also higher.
Keyword: you're not the king. Every old rider in their right mind will tell it to you: as long as you're riding, you never stop learning. And it's for your best to never stop learning.
Tip: as eager to ride as one might be, it definitely pays a lot to be always willing to learn and to keep the wild side at bay, just enough to be safe back home and get to ride on the morrow, too.
10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 1
10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 2
10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 3