A Skill & a Habit to make you live.....
Note: I wrote this some time ago but recently, something happened that made me want to post it...
I occasionally get asked by younger guys what they can do to maximize their chances of getting to be an older rider. There is some factor of luck just as there is in anyone’s life but there are two things that YOU can do as a rider that will hugely impact the probability that all other factors being equal, you will survive to be an older rider! One is a skill the other a habit!
My answer is always the same for the first….BRAKING! I believe, and this isn’t up for discussion since it really is my honest opinion, that learning how to brake is thee single most important skill to learn as a rider! Experience be damned, most riders regardless of experience aren’t very good at it! Think about it, it is the only riding skill which can absolutely save your life. We can all twist our wrists and while learning to corner at progressively higher and higher speeds has its fun factor, it won’t often save your life.
The only other skill which has actually saved me from disaster was my ability to steer my bike using the rear wheel…..the oft quoted “steer with the rear” but it wasn’t a skill I learned in the first year of my riding career nor was it a skill that I learned while riding on the street. There is however a HABIT I use though and I’ll get to that in a minute.
Many of us older guys have seen many accidents where the riders lack of skill was evidenced by that single black stripe on the road that led into the woods, into the concrete abutment, into the guard rail, the truck……you get the idea. They froze, locked it up, maybe fell over, maybe not and paid the price. Whenever I see that testament, I just hope the price wasn’t the ultimate price for the guy or gal. Believe it or not many riders even today still do not use their front brakes! Myself, I rarely use my rear brake unless the road conditions warrant it. It makes perfect sense to get comfortable with the front brake since it does something like 70% of the total braking anyway…may as well get really good at using it!
I used to road race many, many years ago. It was nothing much, just a couple years of club racing with a buddy and believe me, I’m not trying to pretend that I was some “Racer X”…because I wasn’t but I did learn a lot of things from riders much better than me and one of those skill was how to brake.
I’ve developed the perfect question when someone tells me that they know how to brake well. I’ll ask them “Does the idea of practicing a panic stop on an empty highway from 70 mph, in the rain frighten you?”
The look on their face when you ask them this question will tell you the truth regardless of what words flow out of their mouths.
That’s right, if practicing a panic stop in the worst type of weather scares you then get to practicing before it becomes a reality that you don’t want to be present for. Now before anyone logs off deciding to wait for a rain storm I should probably add that we all need to start small…..and start SAFE!
Don’t “practice” on a public road, go to an empty paved lot. Start with a friend if you need to but go at a comfortable speed for YOU. It might be 20mph stops in that empty parking lot, then evaluate how you did with actual markings. They can be a piece of a stick thrown down to mark your first “stop point” or a friend making a small dot on the pavement. Point is, make it real by making real world marks or locations. Myself, I drop nickels or quarters. They are bright and shiny and if I’m quick, I can drop & step on them before they roll away. You can use whatever you want but just don’t let it be something large enough to upset your braking!
Once I’m done, since I dropped them all off my right side, they are all in a straight line so I just hop off and go pick them all up. Go to that lot when it’s raining lightly so the pavement is wet but not flooded to the point where hydroplaning begins. Also keep in mind that your 750-900 lbs of bike & rider will hydroplane at a lower speed than that 12,000 lb tractor trailer that just passed you on Rt 95. Don’t be stupid, but GET BETTER!
Once you’ve committed to getting really good at stopping your bike quickly, increase the speeds, introduce other factors and surfaces. You will be amazed at even with twenty minutes of casual practice, how many feet are between that last marker and the first one you put down.
With practice you will be able to feel the rear wheel lockup and gently release it, all without any danger or fear. Same with the front brake. If you use a modern bike, you may even get the point where the rear becomes unweighted and you are able to lift the rear wheel but be forewarned, that may “look cool” but it actually increases the distance to stop.
For the shortest distance, and that is the goal, keep your weight behind the front wheel, low as you can get it and both wheels generating deceleration. Get to know the feel of both of your brakes so intimately that you’ll be able to anticipate the lockup points and remain just under them even as the surface beneath your tires changes. Learning how to brake on a sand blown parking lot is surely better than being forced into a crash course around the next bend when you encounter sand over the road on a weekend ride.
The only thing I do not suggest is practicing on ice or snow…..because you really have so little control that I cannot recommend that anyone try it because I don’t want anyone to get hurt! I’ll issue one other little warning here…..if you find yourself with a locked rear brake and the rear wheel is beginning to be a front wheel, throttle and very deft brake control will probably be the only things that will keep you upright and if that “perfect” question cased you some angst, then do not getting into this position!
I can guarantee each and every one of you that began reading this and thought to yourself “yeah, I can stop my bike as fast as he can” two things.
No, you probably can’t…..but if you practice, you WILL GET BETTER! Guaranteed!
I think most reading this would acknowledge that they would get better….it’s just common sense(and proven science)…we all get better at things that we practice, right? Of course we do…then what exactly are you waiting for?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all got a text message that read something like:
“Tomorrow after work, you are going to go for a ride. On a busy two lane road with 40mph bumper-to-bumper traffic 2.7 miles from your house the SUV in front of you is going to make an unannounced hard right turn leaving you face to face with the back end of the mail delivery truck taking up the entire lane….”
NO, we don’t get those text messages warning us of impending doom do we? Would be nice but it ain’t happening folks. We need to be prepared…and being able to safely stop in time with 18 inches to spare beats the hell out of smacking into the side of that truck or that car or that tree because the rate of deceleration that YOU were able to generate left you 6 feet into that truck….BTW- that 6 feet from 40mph will probably be the distance between your first and last makers on the first time you go practice….6 feet!
A guy I knew from another forum I belong to died less than 6 weeks ago (7/16)….because he couldn’t stop his bike. The bike easily had the ability….but he didn’t and he’s dead. He probably thought that he would practice “later”…… OK, enough said….please go practice.
The Weave-it’s not just a hairpiece
The second is a HABIT that I’m positive has saved me from disaster countless times is “The WEAVE”. That is the habit of weaving side to side in my lane when EVER I see that a car is either preparing to turn left in front of me or is entering the road FROM EITHER SIDE! I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough….to me, it is as important a riding tool as my braking ability! The principle here is what’s been called “The Dragonfly effect”….by weaving I am breaking up the plane of view for the driver against the background that HE sees because I’m smart enough to know that his brain has been programmed since he or her very first day of driving school, to look for a car. THEY AREN’T EVEN LOOKING FOR A BIKE!
Because of that, they will see right through you….even though you would swear that they made direct eye contact! This friends, isn’t conjecture or some conspiracy theory that Jeff thought up while in some paranoid state, it too is science (read the Hurt report published 1981). This report found over and over and over again where the driver who caused the accident tells the police that they never even saw the rider or bike….while the rider in question (same accident) tells the police that he swears the driver made direct eye contact!
How scary is that folks? All those times that you made eye contact and felt comfortable because of it….to now find out that many times, the guy didn’t really make that connection with you at all! They even came up with an acronym for it- SMIDESY (sorry mister, I didn’t even see you) it’s right there in the report. WEAVE, it WILL save your life. As my own proof, I ride year round. Yes, it does actually get cold here in MD but as long as there is no apparent ice or snow, I ride in the winter because I enjoy it. I even enjoy riding in the rain (tip- always pack your rain suit last so it’s on top). Since I began “weaving” many years ago now….I have NEVER had a car cut me off by turning in front of me or pulling out in front of me, EVER! Not even once….how cool is that?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen them begin to pull out then see the weave and stop dead in their tracks but never in my path. Is it just plain luck, could be I suppose but I’ve “read” the recognition on too many faces to simply chalk it up to luck….it makes a big difference. Did I feel kind of goofy weaving all over the road at first, yup I won’t deny that at first I did…not anymore though and what’s really interesting is that I’ve noticed more and more riders around where I live now weaving! Oh, in case you are wondering, I’ve never been pulled over by the cops for weaving. It appears that either they understand what I’m doing or when they see that’s its only when cars are pulling into traffic that I do weave, they must figure it out but I’ve never been stopped for it.
Stay safe and enjoy!
My VStrom 1000 K7
Stock bikes: a
purple '74 RD350 in great shape,
All-original 1975 H2 750 triple (purple of course),
1974 H2 750(my go-fast), a scary fast & fully ported street machine!
'82 Yam 650 Turbo- running 18PSI, Be sure to be pointed where you want to go!
'75 GT550 built up & ported,
'75- H1 wrist-rocket- HOLY GOD ALMIGHTY!
'75 S1 Kaw 250 baby triple w/ lifted and ported 350cc cylinders/28mm flatslides
To-Restore list: '72 H1, 1-'75 H1, 1974 GT750
Last edited by Jeff Kushner; 08-29-2016 at 07:28 AM.
Reason: added break lines to enhance readability