Personal Tips and Techniques

2001_spokane_sidecar_tiny.jpg (12932 bytes)

This page contains tips based on my riding experience.   They are practical things learned *after* my motorcycle course.  Stuff that's "useful to know".





Curves and Cornering

Drag Racing Techniques

Error Margins

First Bike

Hearing Protection

Straightening out Lean Angles

Metacognition failures in the unskilled

Motorcycle Communications (Bike to Bike)

Proper Training

The Pace


Road Hazards


Vanishing Point

Visibility Myth


Winter Storage



Braking:  Motorcycle courses don't do this justice.   Although they teach stopping quickly, they don't teach how to stop HARD.  And by HARD I mean a true panic situation where you want to stop NOW (not 50 feet from now as in my course).

The keys to a truly HARD panic stop are:

1)  Simplify.

Forget about using both brakes.  Too much to coordinate.  Concentrate on the front brake since under HARD braking the front does all the stopping (the rear tire should be skipping in the air doing virtually nothing -- watch the racers on Speedvision.)

Forget about trying to gear down as you pull in the clutch lever.  Too much to coordinate.  And setting yourself up for something *after* the stop is just not a good investment in concentration or time in a true panic situation which has far too little of both.

It's great if you pull in the clutch lever (it'll keep the engine from stalling) but don't worry if you don't.  Get stopped and trust me you won't care that much if the engine is stalled.  Conversely, don't get stopped and a stalled engine will be the least of your concerns.

Bottomline:  Concentrate on ONE thing only -- which is squeezing the front brake lever.

2) Learn to do a near "stoppie" (rear wheel in the air under braking).

The harder you brake the harder you can squeeze.    This is the secret.   The key to HARD braking is starting with "easy" pressure and, as the front tire loads up, rapidly increasing the braking pressure.   Learn the feel of how fast you can increase the braking pressure.

Most people squeeze too hard TOO SOON...their front tire hasn't got enough weight on it yet and skids free.  "Jabbing" or "grabbing" at the front brake almost always overwhelms the tire IN THE BEGINNING so it quickly breaks free and skids.    The result is a fraction of the possible braking force before the bike goes down.

Learn to squeeze in conjunction with the front tire load.   Practice with a bike you can afford to drop (good reason to buy a used bike as your starter...).  There are a couple ways to practice.  The "cool" method is to listen to your tire while braking.  It will "whirrrr",   "chirrrp" and just generally become noisy before it lets go.  This is near the limit of traction and the goal is to keep that sound from the beginning to the end of your squeeze.    I've done it and it works...but I've locked up the front wheel and almost dumped my bike more than once with this method.  Those a little more faint of heart (ie smarter) should instead just try a graduated squeeze with the goal to end hard enough to lift the rear wheel.  If the rear wheel doesn't lift, then start the same squeeze pressure but keep increasing your ending squeeze pressure.   On dry pavement and a modern sportbike with sport (ie sticky) tires, your rear wheel will lift well before the front will let go.    Once you're successful you'll probably have discovered three major things: 

1)  How fast you can increase the squeeze pressure (very fast), and

2) How hard you can squeeze at the end (very hard), and

3) How fast your bike will stop (fast enough to make you worry about going over the handlebars).

On cruiser style bikes the front wheel still dominates but the rear contributes more than on a sportbike.  So work on the above but also experiment to see if adding in the rear wheel is worth the extra complexity.

NOTE:  My '84 Goldwing has a linked braking system where the foot pedal controls the rear brake and ONE of the front disc brakes.  So I have to learn a completely different braking technique on it versus my Bandit 1200.    Dumb in my view...this kind of thing should be standardized because there is no time to think in a panic situation.

FINAL NOTE:  Don't get carried away trying to do a real stoppie since errors with the wheel in the air are very difficult to manage (no speed or acceleration available to you for recovery).  In fact you are more likely to crash doing a real stoppie than a wheelie in my experience.  So just take it to "almost the point of stoppie" and call it a day unless you are prepared to tip the bike over (likely on you).

Counter-steering:   The "only" way to turn.   Push right, go right.  To turn right, you push the right bar with your right hand.    And similarly to turn left you push the left bar with your left hand.   If you are still riding you've learned this unconsciously but competent cornering requires a conscious understanding of how you turn.

In order to speed up your turning, while the right hand is pushing the left hand should be pulling (for a pivoting motion with the handlebars).    And vice versus to go left.

Curves and Cornering:  Anyone can point a bike and pull the trigger...but cornering requires skill.  This section describes some keys to cornering.

Prior to corner:

1)  Assess corner sharpness and set entry speed (and gear) accordingly.  All braking should be done prior to entering the corner.   You should be holding or ideally increasing your speed from this point onwards.   Any further decrease means you entered too fast.

Braking and shifting *before* the corner is more effective and safer since all the traction is available for braking (none wasted on cornering).   This approach also frees your mind to concentrate on TURNING while in the corner.

Learn to brake HARD (see Braking).    This isn't necessary for normal riding but will give you the confidence to handle the unexpected corner or obstacle.

2) Select your cornering line to "flatten" the curve as much as possible.  This means starting on the outside of the curve, swooping across the inside at the curve apex and finishing back on the outside.

If the corners are connected (ie esses) think "straighten" rather than "flatten" and choose your line accordingly.   Be particularly careful that your initial line doesn't box you in for a later curve.  Generally you pick the line that sets you up best for the *next* corner.

3) Identify your "turn in" point.  This is the point where you will actually start making the turn.

Don't start your turn too soon -- Most people panic when they see a tight corner ahead.  They know they're going to have to turn faster than their comfort zone allows so begin turning far too soon in order to get a "head start".  This moves them to the inside of the turn resulting in a very sharp radius turn at the apex of the corner that they fail to negotiate.

Don't fixate your vision on the "turn in" point.   Once you've identified your turn in point relax and look through the corner.   Looking through the corner significantly reduces the sensation of speed.

4) Anticipate the "lean angle" you'll need to make the corner.

Make a single turn (minimize changes within the curve).  Confident cornering requires the learned ability to predict where your bike will go once you've set the desired lean-angle.  Misjudge and you'll have to make a correction.  Changes consume traction, suspension and lean-angle.   Learn to make one steering input, at the right place, to get through the curve.

In the corner:

5) At the "turn-in" point, turn the handlebars AS FAST AS POSSIBLE (staying smooth) to "flop" the bike over to your desired lean angle.

Learn to counter steer (see Counter-Steering).

Turn the handlebars FASTER for those tight corners -- The speed you turn the handlebars limits the speed you can take a corner.  Racers can go from full pavement scraping left to full pavement scraping right in about 1 second.   Most streetriders take several seconds for this.  This is the real secret to taking sharp corners (or speed through the corners).

When turning the handlebars, make sure you are applying the force in a turning direction.  A lot of sportbike riders push down on the bars rather than pushing level.  This means only a fraction of their force is going towards turning the handlebars...the rest is going towards bending them !!!     Remember, the speed you can take a corner depends on the speed you can physically turn the handlebars.  It becomes the limiting factor at race speeds.

The faster you can turn your handlebars, the less lean-angle ultimately needed in the corner.   If you see street riders scraping pegs it is almost always a dead give-away they are "slow turners".  A slow turn runs the bike deeper into the corner before the turn is you have no choice but to use a steeper than optimum lean angle to finish the turn (or you'll run wide).

Avoid counter leaning -- Counter leaning is when the bike is leaned down but your body is leaned up.  It forces the bike into a greater lean angle for a given cornering speed consuming valuable clearance.  Most people do it unless they've consciously thought about it.  The more a bike leans the less traction it has and the worse its suspension works.   So avoid the faults that unnecessarily increase lean angle.

6) Hold the lean angle constant as you swoop through the curve.

Remember:  One corner, one turn, one lean angle !

The goal is to make a single turning action in the corner.   Minimize the changes to avoid destabilizing your bike.  Changes unnecessarily increase lean angles, consume traction and stress your concentration.

7) Keep a nice "throttle pull" throughout the turn.  Aim for a 60/40 weight bias towards the rear of the bike.

Bikes are designed for best performance when their weight is evenly distributed or better yet slightly biased towards the rear.  So don't chop the throttle or hit the brakes in a corner.  It unsettles the suspension and consumes valuable friction forces.

Don't "hang on tight" -- When the rider is hanging on tight, they will be introducing external forces which destabilize the bike.   A modern streetbike is inherently stable so let it do the work.  A lot of weave and wobble in the corners is actually rider induced.

8) Keep your eyes on the exit (ie vanishing point) to avoid "target fixation" in the corner and provide maximum time to identify potential changes or hazards developing in the corner.

You go where you're looking.  It's been proven time and time again.  And the more panic stricken you become the more this is true.   Look at the guard rail (or ditch, or oncoming car) and that's what you'll hit !!!

If you get in trouble force yourself to look at the exit of the's your best chance.  You won't know how but you'll probably make it.

Finishing the corner:

9) Finish the turn by straightening up the bike.

10) Once the bike is vertical, apply full throttle until the next corner !  (Just kidding...but at this point you are anything goes.   Hint: slow on the straights and fast on the corners is usually more fun than the other way around...)

Conclusion:   There's a lot to do in a corner and that's probably why it's fun.  But a lot of people make it more "fun" than necessary.   Each of the above keys has an inverse for what NOT to do but the most common problems I see are:

Wrong line that results in an overly sharp turn.

Turning the handlebars too slowly and needing excessive lean angles to make the corner.

Entering a corner too fast and needing to brake in the corner.

Turning in too soon and needing to either brake or scrap parts to make the resulting turn.

Crossing the center line in order to make the corner.

The last three are signs of a rider reaching their limits.   So if you're with them -- slow down and take the pressure off !!!

Simplified Version:  For those with a short attention span, a basic guide to cornering goes something like this:

Brake and set your speed BEFORE the corner (further braking means you entered too fast).

Start wide (resist urge to turn in too soon).

Make a strong, decisive turn to just clip the inside apex of the curve (multiple steering adjustments indicate a bad line)

Finish wide

Once the bike is in the turn (ie leaned over) gently roll-on the throttle throughout the remainder of the turn (unable to do this means you entered too fast or have a bad line)

Finish the turn by straightening the bike back to vertical (more throttle can be applied as the bike straightens)

Keep looking through the corner towards the exit (ie vanishing point).

Basic Drag Racing Technique:  I have a Bandit 1200 so of course I've dabbled with drag racing!  I quickly discovered it's not so easy to do well!   Luckily 4 time National Drag Racing Champion Dale Walker of Holeshot Performance Products fame (   ) decided one day to teach us Bandit types how to do it properly.   Since Dale knows tons about this and I know next to nothing, I've included his treatise rather than do my own.  It's focused on the Bandit 1200 but the principles are generally applicable.  If you want more, Dale sells a video explaining all this too.

Date: 5 Nov 1998 23:01:46 -0400 Subject: Drag Racing Techniques by Dale Walker


Hi Everyone,

A handful of people have asked me to post some drag racing riding techniques on the list. I appreciate all of you, having faith in my products and efforts. This is my way of contributing to everyone on this list. I guess I should blab off a little for some Bandit owners that don't know my drag racing background. I don't really like to brag but here goes. I started drag racing motorcycles in 1975 when I was 18 years old. I'm a 4 time National Drag Racing champion. In production, Modified, Pro Street and Top Fuel. I've also set over 50 National ET's and MPH records in my hay day. In the late 80's, I opened a Drag Racing School at Baylands Raceway in Fremont, California. It was semi sponsored by Kawasaki. It was featured on tv and in most of the magazines. Then 3 years later, the track closed. I really enjoyed the school and would love to do it again someday. In fact, it might happen in 1999. There's a guy that made his own 1/8 mile on his private land 30 minutes from me. I'm talking to him now. Ok, on with the ins and outs of the 1/4 mile.

First of all, these are my personal techniques that I have found work the best on most stock production bikes.


If you are going to run your Bandit 12 with the stock swing arm and all of you just go out to the track on the weekends, this is a must.

1. Loosen the triple clamps and slide the forks up as far as possible without touching the bars. Turn in the pre load adjusters all the way in flush with the fork caps.

2. Use 3/8" all thread and make a rod the proper length through the front axle. Add barbell weights on each side at least 10 total pounds. You will have to space one side out from the fork leg. Use 3/8" fender washers and nylock nuts. You may want to make two threaded axles one slightly longer to hold more. I ran 14 lbs to a 1.63 60 footer with the stock rear ride height and only 1" longer wheel base which was equal to the axle being pulled all the way back in the stock swing arm slots.

3. If you cut and install a new chain, you can pull the wheel back almost to the max in the stock arm.

4. Set the rear shock on the softest preload and rebound. The softest spring preload is the most important.

5. If you get hooked on this stuff and get more serious, you may want a 3" to 6" longer swing arm, strap the front end down and lower the back end as well. Larry has a set of ride height adjusters to lower the back end. I may come out with some in the future that are adjustable for street riders to play?

6. You may want to run a set of Barnett clutch springs or at least one Barnett and one stock. I also stay away from synthetics and personally run Kendall 20W-50 motorcycle petroleum. Say what you want, but clutches slip more with synthetic oils. If you get serious, Anders, Larry or Brad can give you more insight on clutch modifications. Again, if you don't overslip the clutch and use my technique, I'm sure you will find one or two Barnett clutch springs to be fine. I now stock them.

7. You also may want to play with the gearing a bit and drop to a 14 tooth cls sprocket. Unless you are very serious, the stock gearing is fine. You will only use a little of the 5th gear but it actually calms it down a bit off the line and the motor has no problem pulling it.



Back into the water box, never drive through it getting the front tire wet. Back in a couple of feet. Then pull forward with the tire just to the edge of dry pavement still in the water. Put your bike in 2nd gear with both feet flat on the pavement. Take a little of your weight off the seat. Clamp down the front brake. Bring the revs up to about 5000 to 6000 RPMS and drop the clutch. Be  sure to snap out the clutch and not slide it out. This will break the tire loose much easier and won't smoke your clutch. As soon as the clutch is out, apply more throttle then an even RPM say 8000 or so. There's no need to over rev it or beat it. If you look down at the tank, you will see the smoke by your legs. This is long enough. Let off the front brake and roll forward a couple of feet, then pull in the clutch and get out of the throttle.


NOTE: If you have a sticky track, you may find the burnout not even necessary. The Bandit's short wheel base really helps hook up. I ran 10.30's without any burnout at all. This will really depend on track conditions.


This step is really to check the hook up prior to you staging the bike. Again, if your tracks good, don't bother. It isn't exactly easy on the drive train. Line your bike up about 5 feet from where you want to launch from usually a couple of feet from the centerline. It's the stickiest there. Have your bike in first gear with your right foot resting on the peg and brake pedal. Take the play out of the drive train with the clutch. Lean forward slightly keeping your arms bent and rigid. Bring the RPMS to around 6500 and snap the clutch out quickly. Apply enough throttle to spin the tire one short and quick chop. Let off the throttle and pull in the clutch at the same time then quickly apply the rear brake and stop.



This phase is where good riding style and concentration separate the men from the boys. Mostly it accounts for a much harder controlled launch.

Recheck that your bike is still lined up with the spot you already picked out in your mind to launch from. Roll within 4 feet from the pre-stage beam then get into the proper lean forward body position. Legs back and even, chin and shoulders down and forward, and arms slightly bent and rigid. Take the play out of the drive train with the clutch. Creep forward slowly. Just before pre-stage, start bringing up the RPM's very slowly. Light the pre-stage beam. Creeping into the lights should be done by the slight push of your toes not the clutch; just have the play out of the drive train with the clutch at this point. Do not worry about your competition: run your own lane putting him out of your mind. Once the pre-stage beam is on, bring the RPM's up to proper range which on the Bandit 1200 will be around 3500 to 5000 RPMS depending on the added weight on the front end, chassis set up and how good you are. Start at 3500 RPM. NOTE: Hold the throttle even at this point and never blip it up or down.



The Bandit makes so much torque there's no need to over slip the clutch. My technique will make the clutch live longer and be consistent. When the amber light comes on, immediately slide the clutch aggressively. Use two fingers on the clutch and two on the grip. Load the motor fairly hard with the clutch without dumping it. This takes practice and finesse, BE SMOOTH. When you hear the motor pulling down, start applying smooth throttle at the same time you let the clutch fully engage. I SAID SMOOTH THROTTLE, DON'T WHACK IT OPEN unless you want to see John Glenn. Keep feeding the throttle keeping your body and arms leaned forward and stiff. The wheel is lifting by now but you've shot the bike forward already quite a ways out from the starting beams for a good 60 foot time. Short shift to second gear. Don't bother with watching the tach, stay focused on feeling front wheel lift and holding your body position. With a few runs, you will find your sweet spot on the launching RPM and just when to hit 2nd gear before it comes up to high in 1st. With a stock length chassis I would add enough weight to the front end so once in 2nd gear you can smoothly pin the throttle. REMEMBER, I SAID SMOOTHLY! By being able to keep the throttle pinned in 2nd your ET with drop up to a full tenth or more.



Once you've put the hammer down in second, it's time to tuck in tight, you know, get under the paint I call it. Now it's time to watch the tach. If you have a stock motor with a pipe. I suggest 9400 to 9600 RPM as your shift point. The Suzuki trans is so good that full throttle power shifts are possible. At full throttle simply fan the clutch just enough to complete the next shift. Don't pull the clutch in too far causing the motor to rev. This also wastes time and is harder on clutch plates and the basket. I got to get in a plug here, I guess. You may want to install my PowerShifter2 or my new full push button unit. Then you can shift at wide open throttle without touching the clutch. It's sweet and doesn't require an air tank, on board air compressor or all the other parts required when using an air shifter. Ok, now be sure you travel the entire 1/4 mile in a straight line and don't wander around covering more ground while the clocks are ticking away! Never cross the center line if you do, you lose.



Making a stupid mistake at speeds may be hazardous to your health. Accelerate past the last MPH timing lights. Slowly and smoothly roll off the throttle while still in a slightly tucked in position. Once you've slowed to a comfortable speed apply light even braking. Some tracks have bumpy shut off areas, so don't grab a big handful of front brake. Warning! While still on the gas, if you hit something or develop a speed wobble, also never grab the brakes, front or rear. Keep your arms rigid with a tight grip and pull in the clutch and ride it out. Go back to the pits and change your underwear. One more thing, once you reach the turn off road quickly exit, clear off the track for safety reasons.

Well, now go out and practice. Remember, CONCENTRATE ON BEING SMOOTH AND PRECISE. You may also want to have a friend video you so you can see your mistake. Compare your video to my instructions. I always used a video at my school and let the students review them every few runs. It really helps the learning curve.

Have Fun and Be Safe!

Yours truly,

Dale Walker , Holeshot Performance

Error Margins:     The concept of error margins is a useful one.   Simply put, it means every biking maneuver should be judged  based on what *could go wrong* versus what is *merely going right* at the moment.   You want a large margin for error on things that can kill you but need only a small error margin on things that merely embarrass you.

Besides simply not thinking about error margins, the most common mistakes I see when evaluating safety margins are not properly adjusting for different environmental conditions and over-estimating riding skills.

An example of changing environmental conditions (take gravel for example) would be:   Is gravel present on the shoulders?  Is gravel/sand on the embankments?  Is the road on a hill where sanding might be common?    Was there gravel on the previous corner(s)?   Is there a gravel side road entering the highway?  Are the corners getting tighter?  The question then becomes, "Were you aware of your eroding error margin and did you make suitable riding adjustments?"  All too often the answer is, "no".

Over-estimating riding skills usually occurs because people haven't actually measured or tested their own abilities.  For example, when taking a corner how far *can* you change your line before getting into trouble?     How fast *can* you stop (on straights and in corners)?   How quickly *can* you turn your bike at various speeds?  How comfortable are you with a sliding bike?  Not knowing these things means not knowing how close you are to disaster.  This means you're riding without a useful risk management plan (or worse a completely invalid one).   The result is usually surprise, followed by panic and then a crash.

So spend some time consciously evaluating your safety margins.  It will pay back hugely over your riding career.  It's a knowledge based skill that, like most other skills, takes thought and practice to get right.   Think about what can happen and then explore how close you are to having it happen under various conditions.   Make sure that margin for error is consistent with your risk tolerance given the severity of that event.  At the very least, being aware of the concept will put you ahead of your riding buddies who ride hell-bent-for-leather and blame "gravel" on their crash rather than their riding skills!

First BikePeople use emotion to buy a bike and logic to rationalize it.  So nothing I say will change anything...but here's my 2-bits anyway.   For your first bike, get one you can handle that is used, cheap and popular !!

Realize that you are probably going to drop and scratch it.  You're almost certainly not going to keep it.  And your tastes will likely change with experience.  Also, it's easier to get test rides on used bikes.  So don't become "target fixated" on a new, expensive first bike!! :))

Once you've got your bike, go out and practice like hell.   If you buy an expensive first bike you'll be reluctant to practice which will limit your riding skills for the rest of your life.  After all that, you can buy whatever you want with a good chance of life-long success.  It will depend on you, not the bike.  The operator is the dominant safety device for a motorcycle.

As for size of bike, I think the main point is to get one you can handle well.  Most people become fixated on one or two bikes and don't test ride enough different types.   Bikes vary quite a bit.  Some are top heavy, others not.  Some are high while others are low to the ground.  Some are touchy with the clutch and throttle and others aren't.   Some are close to the handlebars and others feel further away.  Some a great around town and awful on the highway.  Some feel heavy, others feel light.  Some kill your wrists, others kill your back.  And still others kill your bum!!!    Don't be timid, try them all out.  It's *your* money. You'll only buy a first bike once so have some fun with the experience!

Straightening out Lean Angles:  Will a little 250 lean as much as a heavy Goldwing in the corners? Does "leaning off" help traction? For that matter, why do we care about lean angles anyway?

That's what a riding buddy just asked me. Apparently he was having an armchair debate with some other riders and they couldn't agree. It's an interesting question without an obvious answer (unless you stayed awake during physics class) so here's my summary.

Very simply, all bikes will lean the same amount for a given corner and speed.  This is because the lean angle results from the balancing of two forces acting on the bike/rider's effective Center of Gravity (CG). One force acts downward due to the gravitational field, the other acts laterally due to inertial (centripetal) force. Because BOTH force equations are linear with mass, the mass effects cancel leaving no effect on lean angles.

More interesting is how lean angle depends on speed (Velocity, V) or corner sharpness. It turns out centripetal force increases with the square of V and inversely with the cornering radius (R). This means doubling your corner speed will require more lean angle than merely navigating a corner that is twice as sharp.

And perhaps most interesting, "Why does anyone care about lean angle?" Simply stated, too much lean angle and our tires will skid causing us to go "SPLAT!".  But it's not really anything to do with lean angle.  Lean angle just happens to be a good barometer indicating the amount of lateral force being applied. How much lateral force is too much? Well, quality street tires can handle about 1.1g of force before breaking loose.  And a 45 degree lean angle is always 1g.   So a 45 degree lean angle indicates you are right on the edge of traction. Regardless of speed, bike, corner or rider !!

Remember also that cornering force is highly dependant on speed. So if you are riding a race replica and trying to "get your knee down", then it is important to understand that if you are achieving 45 degrees at, say, 110 km/h then at 116 km/h you'll crash (1.1g). Also wiggling your handlebars or throttle at 110 km/h can crash you too...all it takes is another 10% of traction consumed and you're down. This is why world class racers put such a premium on smoothness.

For a sense of the difference between various bike types, quoted lean angles indicate that a good cruiser is in the middle 30's, good sportbikes in the high 40's and radical racers in the mid 50's. However manufacturers don't specify their test methods and the effective lean angle of the bike is probably a lot less than these figures (due to static versus dynamic loads, tire width, CG location etc).

If someone is "leaning off" then the effective lean angle is harder to see.  One has to guess at the location of the CG in order to visualize the effective lean angle.  A "leaned off" bike will appear to be at a lower lean angle than is really the case.

As an aside if you are "leaning off" thinking it is helping traction, you are mistaken. Lateral cornering forces are unchanged being based on mass, speed and corner radius.  If you had an CG at 45 degrees and then "leaned off" far enough to make the bike upright you'd still have an effective lean angle of 45 degrees and be near the limit of traction (1g).

Even non-racers make this mistake. You'll see it when riding in the rain. The rider will be contorting his/her body to keep the bike as upright as possible thinking that helps traction...but it doesn't...the forces are the same. All you can do to help is slow down (and that makes a dramatic difference because of the V^2 relationship).

Lean angles ARE important. But only as indicators of lateral forces. Given typical tire friction limits, 45 degrees is a handy number to know.

Hearing Protection:  If you are riding without earplugs then your hearing is being damaged.  No helmet will prevent that.   My audiologist friends say after 10 years it is easily measurable.   So use earplugs.  You'll feel better after long rides and you'll probably find yourself shifting at higher rpms so it isn't all bad!!!

Metacognition failures in the unskilled:   Modern psychology has shown the incompetent suffer from a "double whammy" when assessing their skills -- they cannot tell they have limited skills which paradoxically leads them to falsely believe they have superior skills!!   For more information see .  (Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Department of Psychology, Cornell University).

Because competent and safe motorcycling is a knowledge based skill, this helps explain typical phenomena such as:

You can tie yourself into a knot on this one so don't get carried away...but the fundamental principle has been well established.  Knowledge produces more knowledge, ignorance often generates overconfidence!!

Motorcycle Communications (Bike to Bike)A good motorcycle communication system is hard to beat when riding with others.  Today FRS radio based systems are the standard.  FRS radios provides adequate range (2-3kms or more), 14 user channels, good audio quality and a low price.   When combined with a good motorcycle headset they can produce excellent results.  Unfortunately the market is still in its infancy (2001) and at this point hasn't solved the one big weakness of noise in the helmet at highway speeds (due to wind).  Headsets in this regard are overpriced and under performing.  But for those eager to proceed, here are some tips to consider when assembling a system:

FRS Radio:





Proper Training:   This one is simple.   Take a proper motorcycle training course to learn to ride.  The single best tip on the page.

Since I've seen a few "fly-by-night" trainers, I've plagiarized the ICBC website for the following tips when selecting a training course:

  1. Is the school licensed? (By law, all driver training schools and instructors in B.C. must be.) Check that licences are displayed at the school.
  2. Is your school ICBC-certified to perform riding assessments?
  3. Can I see a written policy of your rates (including all charges), hours, number of instructors per student and refunds? (The school must provide this.)
  4. Can I see a course outline?
  5. Does your school use several methods of instruction (e.g., practical, on-road and classroom groups)?
  6. How experienced are your instructors? How much training have they had?
  7. Are your school's motorcycles safe and well maintained?
  8. Does your school have vehicle and liability insurance?
  9. Finally, ask other people: Have you heard good things about the school?

The Pace:     This phrase comes from two classic articles written in the early 1990's by Nick Ienatsch.  These articles focussed on the mental side of street riding (especially in groups).  Essentially based on common sense and maturity, the thoughts expressed are an eye-opener to many.  The original 1991 Motorcyclist article is here and the follow-up 1993 Sport Rider article is here.

Rain:  Clean you visor/windshield with shampoo.  It will improve the rain run-off for a clearer view.  Bugs wipe off easier too!!

Road Hazards:   Motorcycle riders must pay attention to the road surface.  Many hazards that go unnoticed in a car will crash a motorbike.  This section lists some of the more common hazards I've encountered.

Crosswalks and other painted lines -  These can be *extremely* slick when wet.  Even when dry, painted lines often have less traction than normal asphalt.

Railway tracks - These can catch your front wheel and dump your bike.  Pay attention to the angle tracks cross the road.  Use as much of the road as necessary to get a safe attack angle.  Be aware that occasionally tracks cross roads at *very* shallow angles and it only takes one in a hundred to create an unhappy statistic.

Railway crossing areas - Some of these have metal or wood instead of asphalt between the two tracks.  When wet it can be very slick.  If this is combined with a turn you'll be in for a nasty surprise.

Metal bridge decks - These will cause the bike to track with an uncomfortable weave.  This isn't a problem but if the rider over reacts it can become one.  So relax and let the bike track the metal groves.  You'll be fine.  The same goes for grooved pavement and sections of gravel road - the bike will handle fine if you let it.

Cattleguards - These usually have small metal strips running across the cattleguard.  The strips are there for a smooth ride when crossing with a car.   The strips are located roughly where you'd expect car tires to cross the cattleguard.  Just line your bike up with one of the strips and ride over for a smooth ride!   It doesn't have to be perfect, sometimes I miss the strip a little but it still works (presumably due to the width of the tires).

Oil, anti-freeze, grease - All these can be deadly in a corner.  You'll go down before you can react.

Rain after a long dry spell - This can turn the roads into a skating rink.  Let the rain wash the roads clear before you ride them.  A half hour can make a huge difference.

Gravel on pavement - This can be deadly.  Gravel is more common as the road becomes twistier.  It seems cars have a hard time staying on the pavement when there are corners.   Gravel problems tend to be worse in spring due to winter sanding.   A little bit of gravel should be avoidable (or you are riding too fast).  Unavoidable gravel covering the entire corner can be taken in stride if there is plenty of asphalt showing and you are prepared to let the bike slide around a bit.  The key is to relax, don't over-react   and keep steering towards the exit line.  Bikes are surprisingly stable and will usually ride it out.   The real problem is a heavy gravel patch in a corner.  Surviving that is mainly luck given you were already going too fast to stop or go around best advice is to treat it like light gravel and hope the bike rides it out.  If the back-end washes out, steer like a dirt bike and hope the rear tire doesn't suddenly get traction!!  

Having said all that, most "gravel crashes" were unnecessary.  Usually the rider is lacking in fundamental skills.  Common physical errors are not looking far enough into a corner so not picking up the gravel soon enough, not being able to brake at the bike's capabilities, not being able to turn at the bike's capabilities and over-reacting when hitting the gravel (a one inch slide feels like a mile so people panic).  Common mental errors are missing signs of probable gravel (tight corners, earlier history, gravel shoulders or embankments, hills that might have been sanded etc) and riding without regard for suitable error margins.

Leaves - They look innocent but are worse than gravel.   Especially if wet.

Small animals - Hitting a mouse a 220km/h can put you in the ditch.  Especially on a light sport bike.  Hitting a deer at 30 km/h can put you in the hospital on any bike.  Be alert to wildlife hazards!

Standing water - Don't just charge through water like you would in a car.  Depending on tires you can  hydroplane which will make the bike feel like it's on ice.   If you are unlucky enough to experience this make no steering inputs and ride straight on through.

Ice - This is obviously dangerous.  Much more so than in a car.  So be incredibly alert to conditions that can cause ice.  Early morning in the fall can be especially dangerous.

Snow - If you ride carefully, make minimal traction demands and remain smooth you will survive.  I've ridden hundreds of miles in snow on high performance sport bike tires and managed to stay upright.   But it isn't for the faint of heart.

Mud - Yes mud!  I've wheeled into a campsite, hit mud and promptly dumped the bike.  Worse than snow and, believe it or not, ice.    At least it is on my Bandit 1200 with high performance (ie no tread), wide aspect, sport tires.

Tires:   Check tire pressure when cold.  Pressure increases after only 1 mile of riding to produce an incorrect reading.  It is better to be on the high side than the low side of the recommended pressure range but don't go over the maximum limit printed on the sidewall.  If your bike begins to wobble, weave and flop into corners then stop and check your tire pressure (possible puncture).

A standard rule of thumb is that a properly warmed up tire will read around 10% higher than when cold.

If you are curious, most tires are stamped with a manufacturing date code.  Used to be a 3 digit number such as 329.  This means the 32nd week of 1999.   Nowadays it is a 4 digit number such as 3201.   This means 32 week of 2001.

I've had a couple tires go flat while riding. Both rear tires.  I felt it in the handlebars first with an increase in turning resistance.   The bike wanted to go straight and felt like it was on rails (or in a rut).    So if you suddenly get a "hard(er) to turn but otherwise fine" sensation pull over and check tire pressure.

People debate the safety of tire patches.  I'm a patcher.  I've had to be...every rear tire on my Bandit 1200 has needed patching far too early in its life.  So I've ridden on patched tires more than unpatched ones.   If the hole is near the centerline I don't worry.  If it is in the cornering area I replace the tire instead.    If you do patch a tire, make sure it holds air before going on a trip.  This means putting on about 100 km and 24 hours.   After that you're probably good for the life of the tire.  I've had one fail in the first 24 hours and none after that in about 6 patched tires.

Vanishing Point:    Especially useful on corners, this is the exit point representing your limit of vision.  The Vanishing Point provides your earliest warning that the curve is changing radius.   If the Vanishing Point moves towards you then the curve is decreasing radius and getting tighter.  Slow down!    If the Vanishing Point moves away from you then the curve is beginning to straighten out and becoming easier.    And, since you "go where you look", monitoring the Vanishing Point will help guide you through the corner.

You should be able to stop prior to the Vanishing Point in a corner.  Otherwise you are overdriving your vision.  Many people have no idea what speed they need to match a given Vanishing Point.  Find a suitable corner on a deserted road and practice stopping within the Vanishing Point.   You might be surprised.  Stopping distances in a corner (which you've probably never practiced) are much different than stopping distances on the straights (which you might have practiced once or twice...<grin>).

Visibility Myth:   Drivers that hit motorcyclists usually claim they "didn't see him".   I was taught in my motorcycle course that visibility is king, more visibility is better.  Frankly, I think it is bogus.    Think about it...what driver is going to say "Sure I saw him, and hit him anyway".    I have a large 4x4 truck, a small import car, a big motorbike and a smaller one.  I see a distinct trend based strictly on size.  I think the truth is really a combination of two factors. 

1) Drivers partially misjudge the speed of a motorbike, and

2) They subconsciously discount the bike because it is small.  In other words they aren't suitably worried about being run over and hurt by the bike.   I see this behaviour all the time...with my truck coming down on them they're very careful to have plenty of room to enter/pass. But when it's my car they'll "take their chances" and dart out given much less space.   On my motorbike they gamble even more.  In fact, I get noticeably more "clearance" on my Goldwing than my Bandit 1200.  My Bandit is a bright red color and much more visible than the Goldwing's very dark blue but the Goldwing simply looks more massive.

In my view, it really boils down to "visual intimidation".   Whatever you do to be more visually intimidating works in your favor.  They probably already "saw" you but their brain discounted your presence.

By the way, I'm not a fan of using high tends to be blinding and makes it harder for people to judge your distance (IMHO).

How to do a wheelie:

A small wheel float is fun and, once mastered, probably as safe as any other riding.  I certainly do it lots of times even when I'm not trying to (ask my wife...).  Monster wheelies however are highly dangerous (people die) so not recommended.

Getting the wheel up:

Throttle wheelie:  This is the easiest and safest if your bike is capable.  Roll forward at the start of your power band (3500rpm on my B12, a lot higher on most sportbikes) and then rapidly twist the throttle.   Twist fast enough that the acceleration is limited by the bike and not your twisting speed (a common mistake).  If you know your bike will throttle wheelie and you are twisting fast enough then check that you are twisting FAR enough (ie twist to WOT).  If all that doesn't work then you probably aren't at the optimum rpm.  Experiment with different rpms, it can make a big difference.

Chop throttle: If your bike can't quite throttle wheelie then squeeze the front brake (to load up the front suspension) and then quickly whack the throttle open while releasing the brake.  With good rhythm the wheel should lift.  Complicated but effective.

Clutch dump: A must on under-powered bikes.   Works well although a bit hard on the clutch.  Rev the engine into your power band (on my GS500E 7000rpm was sufficient) with the clutch slipping to maintain you desired forward speed.    At that point QUICKLY and smoothly release the clutch while holding or slightly increasing the rpm.  If the wheel doesn't lift then try again releasing the clutch faster (until you are eventually just dumping the clutch).  If that doesn't work then you might be letting the rpm droop as the clutch engages.  Or you aren't in the bike's power band so try another rpm (usually higher).


Steering while up:

Lean:  Lean in the direction you want to go.

Counter-steer:  This works normally provided the front wheel is spinning.


Staying up (theoretical only since I'm not dumb enough to try it):

This requires getting the wheel up high enough to balance the bike.  It's very light above 45 degrees but probably something like 80-90 degrees is needed for true balance (I'm just guessing on that).  Once you learn how to balance the bike then you can learn how to shift gears and keep it up indefinitely.  It is usually easier to shift into second while the wheel is coming up (say around 45 degrees) and once near the balance point it is probably easier to be in second gear (better throttle control).  I actually prefer to get into second as quickly as possible since the B12 has so much 1st gear torque it is hard to control.    Beyond that I can't add much having never done it.

Coming down:

Keep the wheel pointing forward and land.  Wheelie landings can be softened by accelerating just before the wheel touches down.

Winter StorageFirst, clean the bike -  A dirty bike tends to rust and corrode more (don't ask me how I know...).  

Fill the gas tank, add fuel stabilizer - Filling the tank protects from rust forming.  Adding fuel stabilizer prevents varnish and "gum" forming.

Go for a ride - The ride at this point helps dry the bike so it isn't stored with excess moisture in the nooks and crannies.  And it distributes the fuel stabilized gas into the carburetors.   With this approach there is no need to drain the carbs.

Change oil before storage -  Used motor oil is corrosive so it's a good idea to change it.

Add engine stabilizer -  Not needed if stored inside but a good idea if stored outside.   Follow the directions on the can.

Remove battery, make sure levels are correct, charge occasionally - A battery rarely lasts the winter without needing to be charged.  Since a battery gives off corrosive gasses when being charged it's a good idea to charge it outside of the bike.

Brake/Clutch fluid -  Brake fluid absorbs moisture.  So it is a good idea to change it every few years.  My book says every 2 years but I've never had a problem doing it every 5 years.  If any of my cars or bikes had a problem with this regime I'd change but since they don't I continue to take my chances.

Antifreeze - Antifreeze breaks down over time so it should be changed to prevent internal corrosion.  My book says every 2 years and, since it is easy, I do that.   Also I *have* had problems in my cars due to antifreeze never being changed...    I use silica-free antifreeze to avoid water pump damage (especially on the Goldwing).   Also don't use 100% antifreeze as some do...straight antifreeze has a low boiling point and more importantly it doesn't dissipate heat nearly as well as a 50% or 70% mix.  This creates hot spots in your engine.

Spring time preparation -  Change the oil and filter.  Then install the battery and start the engine.    While the bike is warming up, check headlights, turn signals, brake lights, running lights, horn and tires (foreign objects and tire pressure).    Then shut the engine off, let it sit for 5 minutes and re-check oil levels.   Check your brake pads to make sure they'll get you through the season.  Finally check that the steering is free, the choke and throttle are free, all fluid levels are correct and then have a good riding season !!!

Miscellaneous:   Old or scratched bike?  Your local automotive paint store can make a custom spray can to match the paint.  Nothing else required.

Do you use Armor-All?  I don't, nasty stuff as far as I can see.  You're seat will be forever slippery and your vinyl, leather or plastic parts will eventually break down to be far worse than never using it.  I'm sure it's good for something, I just haven't found what yet.

A pressure washer used too close to wheel bearings or other water-hating parts will cause premature rusting.  Back off a reasonable distance or just use a garden hose.

Don't clean your windshield with ammonia based products.   It will become cloudy.

Regularly clean the bugs and dirt off your front forks if you want the seals to last.  On a trip, this means check and clean each fillup.   Better yet, install a fork protector to keep the bugs off.

Can't figure out why your rear brake light bulb always burns out?  Probably due to excessive vibration.  Check how much vibration occurs AT THE TAILLIGHT on high rpm's.

Turn signal or taillight burned out while on a trip and can't find one with the right number?  Use whatever physically fits.  They aren't that much different.

Hands cold through those gloves?  Anything that blocks the wind will make a significant improvement.  A pair of latex gloves (consumes no space easily fitting in your emergency kit) will do wonders for those trips where you didn't come prepared.

Temperature dropped unexpectedly when riding?  Put on your rain gear.  It will block the wind and you'll be warm in no time.

Worried about a flat tire while on a trip?  A small repair kit from Canadian Tire with rubber plug, glue and insertion tool consumes little space.  Bicycle pumps are very small these days so no need for those fancy (and bulky) C02 cans.   Slow and usually effective.   I did have one roadside flat with a big gaping hole that wouldn't seal, in that case BCAA motorcycle package saved the day by towing me 150km to the nearest motorcycle shop to get it fixed.

Wish your bike had a sun visor for those times of the day when you're riding into the sun?  Paint a 1/2 inch line across the bottom of your visor then adjust your visor so it blocks the sun (a full face helmet needed and you should have a windshield and glasses for eye protection.)

Don't buy premium gas for a bike designed for regular octane.  It won't run any better and in fact probably worse. A waste of money.  Buy whatever is specified in your owners manual.

The topic of engine oils is a slippery subject.  IMHO, use what's recommended in your owners manual.  This accounts for any bike specific needs including driving conditions.  I haven't seen scientifically valid information showing other oils make a worthwhile difference.  I have seen information suggesting specialty motorcycle oils are relabeled but often marginally reformulated (if at all).  I've also seen tests indicating particularly cheap oils may skimp on the additive package.   In any case, oil change interval is more important than a specific brand of oil so change it often!

Hot summer days and pavement don't mix well.  Bring a small piece of wood or metal to put under your sidestand.  This will  prevent it from sinking into the pavement and dumping your bike.  I probably learned this in my motorcycle course...but I didn't learn/remember that merely warm days can be enough too...

Motorcycle speedometers almost always read high.   Usually at least 10%.  In fact, 240km/h on my Bandit 1200 is really only about 200km/h.   However bike odometers are usually fairly accurate.  Check your own bike to know for sure.

Back to Main (Home) Page