Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Practice makes perfect... even in motorcycling.

Practice makes perfect… even in motorcycling.
by Rocky Marks

Okay, so it was early March and I just couldn't wait to get out on the road.  The streets were dry, the sun was out but it was only 9 degrees.  Dilemma.  What do you do?  The conditions on the road were safe... but the air temperature was rather cold.  Knowing that I could cover my head with a full face helmet and I had the proper gear, I decided to ride in to work.  

Some people cheered me on, some rolled their eyes, while others thought I was just absolutely crazy.  Yeah, maybe I was a little crazy, but I had to find out for myself what it's like to ride in temperatures well below freezing.  It's part of the biker in me.  It’s the thrill or the adventure of being that one person out there on a motorcycle among automobiles.  That's why I did it.  It was great to break out of the norm and leave the rest of the world behind.  After all, that’s why many riders saddle up.

My bike is a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra.  It's made for colder riding weather because of the fairings and windshield.  When you combine that bike with the kind of gear I was wearing, the ride in was decent. While on the road, I did realize that my reaction time is much slower when it is cold outside.  I found myself making wider turns than normal.  I wasn't smooth on my starts and stops, and it was hard for me to stay on the inside of my lane.  These distractions could prove to be dangerous without a little practice.  

Do I recommend that you go out on one of the coldest days of the year and ride?  Not at all.  I would, however, recommend that you go out and practice for the conditions that you would normally encounter during your rides.

Practice makes perfect regardless of the sport you participate in.  Whether you view motorcycling as a hobby or sport, practice will help you become a better rider.  Practice will help you control your bike in emergency situations and it will help build your confidence when faced with obstacles in the road.  This will make for a much more enjoyable (and safer) ride.

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Guide to Motorcycling Excellence, five minutes can save your life by practicing evasive motorcycle maneuvers in a safe area.

Stopping your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance is a skill that every rider needs.  To achieve it practice squeezing the front brake and the clutch levers and pressing the rear break while keeping the bike in a straight line.  

The definition of a swerve is two consecutive quick turns using counter steering.  The first turn would be to avoid an obstacle the second would be to return to the original direction of travel.  Counter steering involves pressing forward on one side of the handlebar (press the left hand grip to turn left) Practice while maintaining consistent throttle, without braking.

The guide to Motorcycling Excellence continues saying that the best technique for stopping in a curve requires enough room to get the motorcycle perpendicular to the road, standing the motorcycle upright (aka: "squaring the handlebars), then applying the maximum braking technique.  If conditions don't allow a straight line stop, brake smooth and gradual while leaned over.

As every biker knows, skids can sometimes occur during maximum braking situations.  Whether you're cruising along a parkway and you are forced to stop for a car that cuts in front of you or you are going down Carson Street and need to stop quickly because the driver forgot to put their turn signal on. Motorcycle riding courses teach riders to practice straight line rear wheel skids, helping riders to be comfortable should it occur during a ride.

Obstacles can be a hazard for even the most seasoned motorcycle rider.  Practice riding over a small obstacle (my wife had to ride over lumber in her safety course).  Ride over the obstacle by approaching it at a 90 degree angle, the bike upright.  Rise slightly off the seat, shift your weight rearward slightly keeping your knees bent and braced against the fuel tank.  This technique will also prove valuable should you encounter a pothole.

So whether you’re one who rides in colder weather, or if you want to be prepared when you encounter the day-to-day obstacles on the roads, the most important thing you can do is practice for whatever type of riding that you do.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio talk show: “On the Road with Rocky” 

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