Street Riding Tips

BRAKING: Effective braking is one key to going fast on the track, and is extremely important in your quest to stay alive on the street. The only way to improve your braking skills is to continually practice. This is one reason why racing or riding on a track is so beneficial - you are constantly using your brakes to their fullest potential.

The biggest question you must answer is whether you are going to use both brakes, or just the front. While most beginner riders rely heavily on the rear brake, it is fairly well known by now that it is your front brake that provides most of your stopping power. The reason for this is that during heavy braking, very little weight remains over the rear wheel, and it is very easy to lock up. The front wheel meanwhile, has most of the weight, and can therefore be subjected to a hard squeeze on the lever. Notice I said SQUEEZE and not, GRAB.

When I am racing or riding on the track, I only use the front brake. I have tried using both, but the trouble I seem to get into is not worth the potential gain. I realize that most of the very top riders use both brakes, but I had trouble modulating both levers while doing everything else that is necessary to set up for a corner.

Anyway, it is a personal choice. Try it both ways and use what is best for you.

Proper braking technique when using only the front brake:

1- ROLL off the throttle (as opposed to SLAMMING it shut)
2- SETTLE the front end by applying moderate pressure to the lever
3- SQUEEZE the front brake lever firmly, decreasing pressure as you approach your turn entry speed

NOTES: Settling the front end is the process of transferring weight to the front wheel. Once there is a forward weight bias, you can squeeze the brake lever very firmly. As your speed decreases, the amount of force on your front wheel decreases, and you need to reduce lever pressure to avoid locking up the wheel. Do NOT worry about flipping over the handlebars. It takes a certain skill to do a "stoppie" and IT WILL NOT HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT.

The higher your speed, the harder you can squeeze the lever without risk of locking up the wheel. If you feel the wheel lock up, quickly reduce pressure momentarily, and then continue to squeeze firmly. You don't need to completely let go of the lever, simply reducing the pressure will allow the the wheel to regain its traction. Never jerk the lever back. Always squeeeeeze!!

Proper braking technique using both brakes:

1. Roll off the throttle;
2. Apply the brakes simultaneously to settle the bike;
3. Increase front lever pressure as you decrease rear pedal pressure;
4. As your near a stop, decrease front lever pressure and increase rear pedal
pressure, if necessary.

NOTES: When you initially apply the brakes, there is almost a 50/50 weight bias. As most of your weight transfers to the front wheel, you must lessen your pressure on the rear pedal, or it will lock up. In order to continue stopping, however, you must increase front lever pressure. As you near a stop, your weight begins to transfer backwards, and you can once again apply more pressure to the rear.

When the expert riders at SPORT RIDER did a test, they got the following results:


As you can see, there is a big drop going from REAR ONLY to FRONT ONLY, but a much smaller drop going to BOTH. Once again, its up to you to decide.

Proper, hard braking is the key to fast lap times on the track. On the street, knowing how quickly you can stop can save your life (or at least your bike).

Some other things to remember about braking:

Maximum braking can only be done while straight up and down.

If you are in a corner and need to scrub off a lot of speed, remember
this saying - STOP TURNING and START STOPPING. Once your
speed is under control, quickly begin turning again.

On the street, leave yourself an out. Don’t go into a corner so fast that if the road
is blocked, you will not be able to come to a stop.

The same procedures work if it is raining. I tend to use a little more rear brake when
I am riding on the street in the rain. On the track, I still use all front brake.

Practice your braking. Go to an empty parking lot. Make sure there is not a lot of
sand or debris, and try to avoid painted lines. Pick out two “lanes”, and go back
and forth, each time trying to stop a little sooner. Try using one brake, then both

Decide how many fingers you want on the brake lever. Most racers use only the first
two fingers. This provides ample power, but still leaves them two fingers to
“blip” the throttle. This is when you crack the throttle slightly before each downshift
to better match the engine speed with the rear wheel.

DOWNSHIFTING: When racing, it is necessary to downshift very quickly while braking hard. To match the rear wheel speed to the engine speed, riders will “blip” the throttle, therebyincreasing the RPM’s slightly. "Blipping" the throttle simply means a quick rev. If you don’t blip the throttle, the rear wheel may momentarily lock up, increasing the possibility of losing control.

On the street, it is not necessary to blip the throttle in most instances. A slight opening of the throttle will usually allow the gears to mesh smoother, however. One thing that is important, is that you let out the clutch lever between each downshift. This allows you to take advantage of engine braking, and also assures you of being in the right gear should you need to accelerate quickly.

COUNTERSTEERING: Countersteering is the process of pushing the handlebars in the opposite direction you wish to turn. Whether you know it or not, you have been countersteering if you ride a bicycle or a motorcycle.

To practice countersteering, go to an open lot. Accelerate to 30 mph or so, and remove your left hand from the bars. Now, gently push your right hand forward. The bike will automatically “fall” to the right. PUSH RIGHT - GO RIGHT. PUSH LEFT - GO LEFT.

Countersteering does not bring you around the turn so much as it “initiates” the turn. Once the bike begins to “fall in”, you then make the necessary bar and body inputs to control the turn. You also use countersteering to pull out of a turn. Next time you’re on an on-ramp, you can practice this. As the road begins to straighten out, accelerate and push on the bar in the direction you want to go, which will most likely be to the left. You are making a right turn, but to merge with traffic you want to go left, so you will PUSH on the LEFT handlebar.

Countersteering is a much more effective way to steer a motorcycle than shifting body weight. If something suddenly enters your path, and there is no way to stop in time, countersteering may save your life. The trick is to look past the object to your escape route, and to quickly countersteer in the proper direction. Many new riders, and even seasoned riders who do not practice countersteering, will turn away from the object, which just brings them closer to it!!

CONTROL: One thing racing teaches you is to control your bike. I never realized just how much you can throw a motorcycle around without it biting you back. Don’t get me wrong, I am not recommending you go out and start weaving and swerving all over the place. You should, however, practice evasive maneuvers.

One that I like to do is driving straight toward a manhole cover, and swerving at the last possible instant. Your swerve should be a firm push on the bars one way, quickly followed by a firm push in the opposite direction. Do not switch lanes - simply miss the manhole cover or paper or whatever you have chosen. If you have chosen a manhole cover, make sure you don't make the hard input while you are on it. They tend to be very slippery.

Also, I do not recommend doing this in traffic. It tends to scare the people around you, and can actually cause an accident if the car next to you also swerves.

LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO: In racing, the motto is “look past to go past”. What this means is that if you are following someone that you want to pass, don’t look at him. Look at that little piece of track that he has left open, and go to it.

In an emergency situation on the street, riders often fixate on whatever it is they want to avoid. Since the tendency is to go where you look, this brings the rider right to the object. If you are practicing good street riding behavior, you will be constantly scanning the area around you, and continually providing yourself with escape routes.

If something suddenly appears in front of you, simply look to your escape route, and make the appropriate bar inputs (remember - COUNTER STEER!)

DON’T PANIC! Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice...... Only when you continually practice maximum braking, emergency swerving, looking ahead, etc., will you not panic when faced with an emergency situation. Riding on the track will make you a better rider because you are constantly testing the limits of yourself and your bike. You will notice that you are much more confident at street speeds after you’ve been at the track. By incorporating these new skills into your street riding, you will be better prepared to handle an emergency situation. The trap you must avoid is doing everything on the street that you do at the track. At the track, you can push it to the limit, leaving virtually nothing in reserve. On the street, you should always leave yourself an “out”.

GROUP RIDING: For me, riding in a group is much more fun than being out there alone - if the people in the group know what they're doing. The key to riding in a group is making sure everyone is on the same wavelength. To ensure this, discuss the ride beforehand. Go over the PACE, the stopping points, the route, etc. Also, if some members are not comfortable riding at the group's PACE, they should not try to keep up. The rest of the group should wait at all intersections.

If something is in the road, the first person to see it should stick an arm or foot out, if possible, point at it. All others should avoid the object and signal also.

GROUP LEADER: As the group leader, you should set a pace that is safe. See the PACE section for more on this. Also, be sure and let others lead after so many minutes or after a particularly fun section of road.

FOLLOWERS: When in a group, the standard rule is "no passing unless waved on." This eliminates the competitiveness that sometimes arises on group rides. If the leader is setting a good pace, everyone should be happy playing follow the leader.

NOTE: DON'T DRAG YOUR BRAKES!! Others in the group have to deal with your brake light. You should approach the corner, apply your brakes if necessary to set your entrance speed, GET OFF THE BRAKES, and then begin turning the bike as you get back on the throttle to settle the bike for the corner.

The SportRiders of New England

CORNERING: Cornering on the street uses all the same principles as on the track, but on a smaller scale. On the track, it is necessary to hang-off, so that your knee gets closer to the ground, and can act as a feeler. On the street, you should not be dragging your knee. If you are, you are too close to the maximum traction limits, and it is only a matter of time before you get 'bit'.

When you're on the street, you should stay fairly centered on the bike, with the balls of your feet on the pegs. Almost every stock sportbike can drag the pegs without losing traction. If your foot is hanging over the peg, and you need to lean further than usual, you could easily catch your foot and bend it backwards - causing you to crash.

As for leaning a motorcycle, most bikes will handle far greater lean angles than the rider is comfortable with. Keep this in mind when you're approaching a corner that you think you are not going to make. If you've been riding at 70-80 percent, odds are you can just lean the bike more, and look at your exit. The key is - DON'T PANIC.

LATE APEX: The apex of a corner is the point where you are closest to the interior of the corner. On the street, this would either be the center line (in a left), or the edge of the road (in a right). By using a LATE APEX on the street, you get to do more braking while straight up and down, you get a better view of the exit of the corner, and you minimize the amount of time you are near the edge of the road (or the centerline).

Things to look for in a corner are the camber or pitch of the road, the shape (increasing, static or decreasing radius), is it bumpy, is there debris, is the road clear, etc. To properly do all of this, you cannot be over 80% of your ability, or you will eventually get caught - i.e. you won't have time to react and you will dump or go head on into traffic. Leave yourself a reserve that is big enough to deal with anything - even a complete road blockage.

The PACE: If you read SPORT RIDER magazine, you'll read a lot about riding the PACE. Basically, the PACE is a rate of speed that is fun, yet safe. It takes into account road conditions, rider abilities, rider fatigue, etc.

On the track, I routinely ride at 100% of my ability. When I go to 101%, I'm rewarded with a slide down the pavement, and maybe a 4-wheeled ride around the track (in a vehicle with a little flashing red light and horns . On the street, the maximum level I ride at is 70 to 80 percent of my ability. Since I have begun racing, I notice that I may ride a little faster on the street, but I actually feel like I am going slower. Also, I notice that I don't need to take every corner at full speed. I'll never be able to take a corner like I do on the track, so now I don't even bother. I no longer need to get a "rush" from every corner. If you find yourself regularly trying to "hang" corners, it's time you get to the track!

Before I started racing, I was continually riding at about 90% of my ability. In fact, this was one reason I decided to start racing. That 10% reserve was too small, and I had several instances where I was right at 100%. I didn't go down, but it was far too close. Without the ability to go fast at the track, I was searching for that "rush" at every possible moment.

Another thing about the PACE, is that it means keeping the speed down on the straights. Any 'squid' can turn the throttle, but triple digit speeds tend to attract the boys in blue quicker than taking a corner at a nice pace. Use the straights to tighten up the group, and give everyone a chance to relax before the next section of corners.

Remember, it is not a RACE. You are not on a track, so keep plenty in reserve, don't pass unless asked to, and have FUN!