Take any bunch of long-experienced, rufty tufty bikers going on holiday and you can guarantee one thing. Eight out of 10 of them can’t ride for toffee at low speed.
You don’t believe me? Watch those flailing, paddling feet as they wobble up the ramp on the Isle of Man ferry.
Or down the ramp to the Channel Tunnel train. They can be riding Harleys, grand tourers, sportsbikes or 125s – it makes no difference.
Eighty on the M20 is a piece of cake, but doing 1mph confidently on a slippery ramp is another thing entirely. It’s as if going slowly isn’t worth bothering to learn.
So here’s an outrageous assertion: any self-respecting rider should be capable of banging their bike onto full lock and doing a feet-up U-turn.
This is not because of any safety issue, or even because riding with both feet on the footrests while going extremely slowly is more efficient than paddling. You just look like a dork if you can’t control your motorcycle.
So how is it done? Confidence, which comes from – what else? – practice. But there are a few tricks that help.
First is the clutch. At tickover in first you might be doing 8mph. If you want to do a steady 4mph, one way is to pull the clutch half way in. This is a bit like having another gear which is half as short again as first. Or you could pull it three-quarters of the way in, and now you’re doing 2mph. It’s very effective, but will make your hand hurt if you do it for long.
Second is to own a modern bike, because it will almost certainly have a light clutch, a featherweight ride-by-wire throttle and the colossal advantage of centralised mass. Compared with something like my own 1998 Ducati 900SSie (low, narrow bars, leaned-forward riding position, lumpy engine, erratic dry clutch), low-speed manoeuvring is a piece of cake.
The third trick is to apply light and continuous pressure to the back brake. This has a similar effect to pulling in the clutch, but because you are dragging the engine down by making the back wheel harder to turn, the whole bike feels planted.
U-turns are suddenly really easy. Try it. Anyone who doesn’t know what you’re up to will think you’re a magician.
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