10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 4

10 riding tips part 4 8 photos
Photo: formulanone on flickr/autoevolution
Learn how to lean at slow speedsObserve other more experienced ridersDrive around townStay close to the apexPractic in big parking lotsCrashing a bike is expensive and painfulFollow the line
Riding a bike on a winding road might be fun or a nightmare, depending on how skilled you are. But if you're not afraid to learn and assume mistakes, then you'll be more pleased than scared, and that's why you have to keep learning about life on two wheels.
While motorcycles are usually faster in straight lines than most cars on the roads, things are different in the corners. A driver can steer left or right, and the vehicle will do the rest. Conversely, a rider must work with their entire body for that, and the bike will follow. That's a huge difference. It's also true that most drivers are taking the curves much slower than motorcycles. And they are doing that not because the car can't go faster, but because they are considering the comfort of their passengers. Meanwhile, solo riders do that for their own pleasure, at their own pace, unconcerned if someone might get sick. But how do you take the curve? That's a different problem.

6. Learn to turn and lean

Generally speaking, cars rely on four wheels, and motorcycles on two. This leads to a huge difference in rubber on the road. While the former sits on four palms, the latter relies on four fingers. Thus, the maximum side acceleration supported by these types of vehicles is different. Sure, a superbike may handle better on a turn than a minivan or SUV. But usually, cars are better on turns because, despite their weight, they are putting more rubber on the road. It's that easy. So, think twice if you are considering overtaking a car in a curve. You'd better wait for a straight line where bikes are usually faster.

How to take a curve, you might ask. Well, first, you have to think ahead. Some people have a nice saying: stay ahead of the bike! Think where you'll be after ten or fifteen seconds. If you're speeding, that distance is so far ahead that you won't know. It might be the exit from the corner or the gravel pit on the side of the road.

Prepare your turn

I'm sure that you watched motorcycle racing before. Look at those champions and how they tackle tight turns on the track, and you'll notice something interesting. They are coming wide, and that's what you should do. This will give you a broader perspective, and you'll be able to spot a possible danger on the curve's exit long before you'll reach that spot. If it's a left turn, go to the right side of the road, and if it's a right turn, go as close as possible to the dividing lane.

Learn how to lean at slow speeds
Photo: Chris Nielsen on flickr
Slow before the corner, so you'll get more time and also be safe. If you're coming too hot, the corner's exit might surprise you, especially if you can't see it. Even if you've been on that road before, maybe the previous time there was no vehicle stopped on the road for whatever reason. If you're already slowing down and braking, you'll just have to brake more. Gently use the front brake to shift the bike's weight onto the front wheel and gain traction. Some people say that you have to pull the lever just enough to light the braking lamp.

Taking the turn

Then, you have to lean on the inside of the curve. To do that, you have to push the handlebar from that direction and, at the same time, shift your body to the same side. The faster you're going, the more you have to lean. If you're afraid to lean too much, then slow down even more. Do not use the accelerator at this stage of turning.

Focus on the inner side of the curve where the road begins to stretch back and start accelerating only after you pass that point (the apex). Then, you have to shift your body so the bike will resume its perpendicular position to the road. Afterward, you can start accelerating from that point, but only if you see the road stretching. If there is another turn, prepare it accordingly, as mentioned before.

Keyword: The key to a perfect turn is to ride smoothly. Brake too hard, and you'll lose control. Accelerate too early or too hard, and either the front or the rear tire will lose traction, and, you guessed it, you'll crash.


Tip: before going on long roads, take as many turns in the city as possible. Preferably of different radiuses, so you'll learn how much you have to lean. Furthermore, it's better to practice at slow speeds and then increase.

7. Remember you're never done learning

They say that you're starting to learn with your first mile on two wheels (might even be a bicycle), and you'll keep doing that until you hang the keys for the last time. This is mostly true because you'll encounter new situations on every trip. Sometimes there will be some oil on the road; other times, debris, rocks, a careless driver, etc. So, remember this: you are never too good at avoiding any situation.

Some people think that if they pass two or three years without any accidents, they are very skilled. Remember what we've told you about the proverbial bag of luck and the bag of skills? Sometimes it's not you who did something great. Sometimes other drivers drove slower because they sneezed or checked their mirrors and avoided you, or you braked on the drier part of the lane. The moment you believe you are so skilled that nothing bad can happen to you is when your bike will become your enemy.

The best and the worst are suffering

Those who consider themselves highly skilled will become careless. They'll stop checking their six for other cars, start talking on the phones, or stare at the scenery too much. At the same time, those who are beginners who haven't learned how to handle a bike properly will be the victims of their ignorance. So, if you pass the moment when you know very little about riding on two wheels, start learning from situations you encounter.

Sometimes, greenhorns make stupid mistakes because they want to show off. If they didn't learn anything from that, it would happen again. Other times, they will lean too much, brake too late or too much, or be caught in the wrong gear. This is a big issue here; nobody can tell you which gear you should be when taking a curve because there are too many variables. The same turn with the same bike might be taken with the second one time and the third on other occasions, depending on the road surface, traffic conditions, tire wear, temperature, and so on.

Drive around town
Photo: Elvert Barnes on flickr

Over time, you'll learn to "feel" the bike and to understand how much you have to slow down, to lean, and when and how hard you can accelerate. Don't forget that between you and the asphalt is just your jacket, boots, gloves, and helmet. Moreover, even the smallest fall can and will hurt you.

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 an 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.

Stay close to the apex
Photo: Elvert Barnes on flickr
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 their full potential. This means taking it easy in the first weeks, getting acquainted with your bike and the way it reacts once more, practicing some turns and braking, doing some low-speed maneuvers to regain the smoothness, and then gradually returning 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 isn't cold. 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 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.

Practic in big parking lots
Photo: Jim Rose on flickr
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 of hearing the "I didn't see him" horror are also higher.

Keyword: you're not the king. Every old rider in their right mind will say 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.
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