What have you done wrong today?

Published: 18 August 2000

MISTAKE: ASSUMING DRIVERS CAN’T/WON’T ATTEMPT THE SAME OVERTAKE AS YOU

HOW many times have you gone to overtake a slow-moving vehicle only to have a car pull out from the queue behind it to attempt the same thing?

That’s frustrating if you see him swerving out in time, downright dangerous if you don’t.

Always assume the driver won’t have seen you, let alone given you a second thought. And bear in mind that the higher performance the car, the more likely the driver is to attempt the manoeuvre.

One thing the Porsche driver has in common with a Ford driver is he is less likely to look behind before making his move than you are. His chances for overtakes are fewer than your own, so his frustration is greater.

If he sees a gap he’ll go – and it’s hard luck if you are alongside at the time. So if you are going to go past him, go as far to the other side of the road as you can in case he swerves out, and go past at a speed at which you can abort if the need arises.

While you are waiting to overtake, don’t get too close to his rear. Act as if you are on a long piece of elastic strung out behind the vehicle you want to overtake. When your view of the road ahead is blocked, drop back (stretching the elastic). As you scan ahead, try to predict when the view might open up (on the exit of a corner, for example) and start accelerating with the intention of being in the right position to overtake when you first see the road ahead is clear. You’ll actually find the exits of corners are often the best and safest places to whip by.

MISTAKE: HOLDING TOO TIGHT/BEING TOO TENSE

There’s no need for a leotard or a Yoga class, but to be fast, smooth, safe and focused on a bike you need to be relaxed. Remember the time you got buzzed by a rapid rider passing you? When the red mist descended you got more than angry, you got tense. You may have felt fast because your riding was erratic, but you didn’t go faster. He got farther and farther away. Relax and start to flow and you’re more likely to reel him in, even if you feel like you are going slower.

Tensing up is an all too natural response. Almost overshoot a corner and the fear makes arms and legs stiffen. Your rigidity hampers the movement of your bike’s suspension (you are effectively fighting back against its movement) which makes the risk of you losing control even greater. You fear this, get even more tense and, if you don’t break the cycle, you’ll end up breaking your motorcycle.

You may feel this doesn’t apply to you. To find out, do this simple test. Find yourself a corner and, while you ride round it, try waggling your elbows up and down. If doing this " funky chicken " upsets your bike, you are holding too tight. Holding on too hard also increases your risk of having a tankslapper.

MISTAKE: FAILING TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE CLUES IN YOUR VIEW

THE best riders are those who use every clue they can to see where the road is going.

That gives them time to react to the ever-changing view without fear of the unknown chiming in to slow their ride.

Others ride like a man walking down the street but staring at his feet. Before too long they are going to bump into something. You tend to end up going where you are looking.

The big advantage a bike has on the road is that it can be moved from side to side to improve your view. Unless the surface or other hazards dictate otherwise, always ride on the part of the road that gives you the greatest view ahead.

The vanishing point (the point at which the road disappears from view) now becomes a useful go-faster tool. If that point is coming closer to you then you should slow down or at least keep the throttle constant, as this shows the bend is tightening. If it is getting farther away from you, the corner is opening out and you should start powering out.

Police riders have to do a commentary on their ride during tests, describing every hazard they see, where the road ahead is going and what the surfaces are like. Try doing a commentary to yourself next time you ride. Keep it up and you’ll learn to make use of the things you are seeing to tell you when and where you can pile on the power. You’ll end up cracking on smoother than ever.

MISTAKE: RIDING AS IF ALL ROAD SURFACES ARE THE SAME

TWO things keep us on the road. One is our tyres, the other is the road surface. If we haven’t got a good bond between them we’re going to struggle to ride fast. Watch the road surface and learn how your bike feels when it’s on different surfaces.

We know what happens if we hit a drain cover or metal studs while cranked over, but some roads, where you see black lines in the bitumen where cars have started to wear out the road, can be just as slippery.

Reading the surface can also give you advance warning of what is around the next bend. See horse manure and it ain’t an all-girl marching band you can expect to find on the next straight. Lots of skidmarks from heavy braking could suggest the next corner is tighter than it initially looks.

Remember the rubber part of the story, too. We all know someone who crashed on new tyres - cold tyres can be just as dangerous. Be patient, take the time to warm them, then enjoy.

MISTAKE: CLUMSY THROTTLE CONTROL

IT takes more than just a big handful on the straights to go fast. Used properly, the throttle is the key to getting round corners quickly.

Take time to get to know how your bike reacts to your throttle inputs.

The best way to discover its effects is to find a favourite corner and go into it a little slower than normal. As soon as you are in the turn, gently open the throttle. A constant throttle balances the bike. Accelerate too hard and the rear will squat too much, lightening the front and reducing the control you have through the front tyre. Roll off the throttle and the bike will be slowing through the turn, loading up the front and potentially overwhelming it. Keep it constant and, as the exit opens up, open the throttle more to drive firmly out of the bend. You will end up smoother in both the dry and the wet.

Once you’ve got this nailed down you can start looking for more acceleration out of the bend. The closer to upright the bike is the more throttle you can feed in, as an upright bike puts more rubber in contact with the road and is less prone to stepping out. Get the bike in the powerband and feed it in gently, always being aware that the rear tyre could slide if you’re trying really hard.

Many make the mistake of going round corners in too high a gear. Ideally, you should be in a gear you can go round the whole turn in, as changing ratios can unsettle the bike when cranked over. Keep the revs relatively high and the bike is less likely to wallow.

MISTAKE: FILTERING TOO FAST

IT’S a busy Bank Holiday and you are filtering through the car park that is the M25. Check your mirrors moment by moment for signs of riders even more impatient than you. And keep looking ahead for signs of movement from cars and lorries. Look at the wheels. Are they steering to change lanes? Look at the drivers. Are they looking in their mirrors? Are they turning their heads? Look out for indicators – a lot of drivers seem to think they only have to turn them on to have the right of way.

Filtering is illegal in some countries. Here the police tend to accept it if you are going

4-5mph more than the traffic. Whip through lanes of parked cars at 40mph and expect Plod to get excited. He has good reason.

MISTAKE: TRYING TOO HARD TO GET YOUR KNEE DOWN

THERE’S nothing on a bike more satisfying than grinding your kneesliders to dust, but if you have never quite achieved that it may not be because you can’t, just you want to too much. Staring at your slider and willing it towards the deck is likely to slow you and make a knee-down harder to achieve. Concentrate on your riding and accept your knee will kiss the deck when your riding is right.

It’s best left to the grippy surfaces of a track day. But if you can’t wait, find a well-surfaced roundabout at a quiet time of day. You need one you can get round at about 40-50mph.

Ride it a few times to set yourself up and get your tyres warm and attempt to get at least one buttock off the side of the seat. Go round the corner a little faster than you normally would and probe down with your knee. If it doesn’t go down it could be that you’re not sticking your knee out in the right place or you’re not going fast enough.

The key is to concentrate on your lines and keeping your corner speed smooth.

If the police show up, don’t argue, move along.

MISTAKE: ADJUSTING YOUR CHAIN TOO TIGHTLY

ALLOWING less than an inch of movement up and down in the chain not only means the next big bump will put a tight spot in it, it can also affect your bike’s handling.

If the chain’s too stiff it will upset the bike by restricting the movement of the swingarm and you will essentially have an extra, and unpredictable, damper. One-and-a-half-inches is a better guideline, though you should refer to your manufacturers’ handbook for precise details. It may look a little loose while you are staring at it from the side of the bike, but don’t forget how much difference the addition of your weight will make.

Getting the adjustment right is particularly important on bikes with long-travel suspension. Check your handbook and follow what it says. Some require adjusting on a centrestand or paddock stand to be set correctly. It’s not worth gambling with.

MISTAKE: FAILING TO LOOK INTO SLIP ROADS

PERIPHERAL vision tends to only register when something is moving.

If a truck is coming towards you down a slip road, your peripheral vision will pick it up only if it is moving fast enough to meet the road safely ahead of you, or slow enough to meet it after you have passed the junction. But you won’t notice the one on a collision course with you, because it is closing at the same relative speed you are. In order to create the movement you need to pick up that potential killer, you should turn your head to look into the slip road. Now, looking directly into the slip road, you’ll see any danger. It’s also a top tip to check there are no coppers skulking up there with plans to catch the unwary.

MISTAKE: APEXING CORNERS TOO EARLY

TRYING to apex a corner without seeing where it ends is always likely to be difficult. It could mean you cut in too early, then find you are heading for a kerb and have to create another apex to get round the corner when you finally work out where it actually goes.

The best position you can find to see round a corner also gives you the most road to play with on the entry and exit. On right-handers, you should start off as far left as you can and on left-handers you should move to the right.

Look where you want to go rather than fixing on the hedge that may be threatening your finance deal and you’ll go where you look (think about a U-turn and you’ll know what we mean).

There are three elements to getting round a corner: Entry, apex and exit. Getting a good view is the key, and the way you’ll get to part three quickest.

On a left-hander, stay out towards the centre white line until you get the view to the exit and then start moving away from the white line to take advantage of the camber and to give yourself more margin for error between you and oncoming traffic.

On a right-hander, start close to the kerb, stay deep until you see the exit, and then start moving away from the gutter to reduce the adverse impact of the camber when you want to drive hard out of the corner.

Try a racing line and the camber is likely to force you on to a wider line than you had intended.

You’ll also get less view through the kind of cluttered bends we experience on the road.

The best line for a good view is also the best line for speed on our hectic roads.

MISTAKE: PLAYING CATCH-UP

TRYING to keep up with someone you know has more experience can put the pressure on. Pride might force you to try too hard and, while stretching yourself is good, going beyond your limits is dangerous.

When you ride in a group, the last person often has to go considerably faster than the man at the front – to make up for the reaction lag between the leader deciding to accelerate and the last rider in the chain realising he has gone.

It means the last man could end up charging into the next corner much faster than the man at the front of the queue.

Next time you’re leading a group, spare a thought for the blokes behind.

MISTAKE: RIDING TO IMPRESS YOUR PILLION

PILLIONS have a drastic effect on the way your bike performs.

Try to ride like a loon and you are likely to end up dangerously, and unimpressively, erratic.

The key to riding fast with pillions is the same as with any fast ride: Keep it smooth. Feed in the acceleration gently and be easy on the brakes. No pillion wants to be head-butting your lid and I’m sure you don’t want them mashing your Arai either.

You can use more rear brake than you would when riding solo. It helps steady the bike and stops the forks diving so much. The extra weight over the rear tyre means the back is less likely to slide under braking than usual, too.

For the same reason, the rear suspension is likely to squat more under power so be ready for your front to lift if you roll on too hard.

MISTAKE: AVOIDING WET ROADS

RESALE values, the desire to keep your bike looking showroom-fresh and your leathers free from grime keeps many off the road when the clouds turn grey.

But rather than fearing the slippery conditions rain can bring, you should make the most of them to help you become faster and smoother.

True, there is less margin for error in the wet, but that’s a really good incentive to keep it smooth. Restrained use of the throttle, sweeping, smooth lines and progressive braking are all ideal wet-weather techniques which translate usefully into faster dry-road riding.

MISTAKE: IGNORING THE DANGERS OF CRESTS

THE wrap-yourself-in-cotton-wool approach to riding dictates you should always be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. In the real world it is certainly best to slow down a bit when you can’t see what’s coming.

Blind crests of hills are good examples. Try to get airborne over the hump and you could end up in the back of a combine harvester lurking on the other side.

Ease off and put yourself halfway between the white lines and the kerb. That gives you room to react to slow-moving farm traffic on the left, and idiot car drivers drifting from the right.

MISTAKE: FAILING TO WORK ON YOUR BRAKING

GRABBING a panicked handful, or being reluctant to brake hard enough for fear of locked wheels, means many of us do not make the most of our brakes.

Of course, if your observation of the road ahead is painfully perfect you should never find yourself running out of brakes on the road. But we’ve all charged on presuming the granny in the Metro at the crossroads has spotted us. When she doesn’t, you may have to rely on hard and effective braking. It’s best you find out how before you are faced with a real emergency.

Find a quiet, clean-surfaced and relatively camber-free stretch of road. Set yourself a marker and try stopping at it from varying speeds. Start at 20mph and gradually build to as fast as you feel comfortable with. You’ll see how quick you can stop, even from high speeds.

More importantly, the practice will teach you to trust your brakes not to spit you off the first time you use them in anger.

Don’t grab the lever as hard as you can (the rear brake is next to useless in emergency braking, the rear locks easily and can slide, because weight is transferred forward). Squeeze it progressively – gently at first, with increasing firmness as you slow.

Braking during cornering is rarely recommended.

Using the front brake will stand the bike up at best and dangerously overwhelm the front tyre at worst. But if you are running wide, using the rear brake gently (and only the rear brake) can tighten your line to help you make it round.