Three weeks ago I started a series that includes a specific drill to concentrate on during your next ride. These are based on the drills that we do at ChampSchool and each has received positive feedback from students. They are intended to add refinement to earlier lessons, place another tool in your toolbox, further the general understanding of bike dynamics, and increase subtlety behind the handlebars. As you become a better rider you will be able to focus on the details of these drills, further increasing your ability to understand and feel what your motorcycle is doing.
Next Ride Drill #3: Slow Longer
This week’s drill happens at corner entry, where we are slowing our bikes with deceleration or braking—a moment dependent upon our entry speed, corner radius, elevation change, tire temperature, pavement condition, and line. We have closed the throttle to use engine-braking to slow for the corner, or closed our throttle and initiated braking while trailing brake pressure into the corner.
The next step after slowing for corner entry is to initiate throttle to begin corner exit. This week’s drill is to delay your throttle initiation—let your bike slow another 10 feet. This drill is a game changer for our ChampSchool students, especially those riding fast bikes fast.
1. Safety: Riders inherently understand that cornering radius is tied to speed, but the leading cause of rider deaths in a Marine Corps study was running wide in a corner. This week’s drill to slow the bike longer and to delay initial throttle will have your bike turn longer and prove to you that your bike’s cornering radius continues to tighten as your bike slows.
2. More Safety: An accelerating motorcycle wants to open its radius; it will run wider. If the rider is accelerating the motorcycle and the corner isn’t opening, we’ve got a problem developing. This problem gets fatal with an oncoming vehicle in right-hand corners or unmovable objects on the outside of left-hand corners. Longer slowing allows the bike to point into the corner longer, getting us the all-important direction we talk so much about at ChampSchool.
3. Tire Loads: One way we can crash a motorcycle, even a traction-control-equipped bike, is to unload the front tire with acceleration and then add lean angle. This is the scenario when we accelerate too early, too hard. Our bike begins to run wide and it’s easy to think, “I’ll just add some lean angle with my throttle open.” Drama awaits us because a motorcycle wants weight forward to best change direction and acceleration puts weight rearward.
Yes, TC will save us from high-siding (losing rear grip) but we don’t yet have electronics that will save us from an underloaded front tire that is being asked to work, to steer, with almost no rubber on the road.
Note that this is the scenario in the majority of cold-tire crashes I have seen in our sport. The throttle comes open too early (bike’s not pointed yet), weight comes off the front tire, and then the rider asks the bike to turn sharper without closing the throttle to properly weight the tire. This week’s drill leaves the front tire loaded longer, allowing us to get pointed so when we begin acceleration, we can take away lean angle.
4. Priority Shuffling: Some riders prioritize early acceleration and try to get back to the throttle as soon as possible in the corner. They want to balance the bike or get the weight back on the bigger rear tire. I’d like to take that priority and put it way down the list, somewhere under “What color should I paint my rims?”
In place of that thought, prioritize where the load should be during a corner. At corner entry, we want weight forward via deceleration and/or braking. At corner exit, we put weight rearward via acceleration. Our goal is to transfer weight off the front and to the rear with gentle initial throttle at the right moment. This moment differs between corner layouts but happens for the exact same reason in every corner: We are happy with our speed and direction. This week’s drill will focus on letting our bikes turn, get pointed, before thinking about initial throttle.
5. One Purpose of Initial Throttle: Put this in your brain. We initiate throttle to stop our bike from steering into the corner. Don’t think of initiating throttle to accelerate; think about the step before that. Think about coming off the brakes and sneaking open the throttle at the point in the corner where you want your bike to quit turning into the curve. It can be regarded in terms of increasing (or, in fact, holding) your speed by initiating gentle throttle and thus holding your radius. Or you can think of it as changing your bike’s steering geometry by transferring weight off the front with the throttle. When you start to think of it this way, you can see how prioritizing early initial throttle is a real problem.
6. Let’s Be Freddie Spencer: The three-time world champion tells his students, “If my bike’s engine died midcorner, I’d run over the inside curb. I want to steer my bike so that I can then take away lean angle on the throttle. I use the throttle to stop the bike from steering—after I let it steer long enough that I can begin acceleration early because I can take away lean angle.”
7. Josh Hayes’ Lesson: You know Hayes as a MotoAmerica Superbike champion but he’s also won AMA championships on 600s and 750s, and is a force in vintage racing on no-nanny unlimited Yamaha FJs in trick chassis; he’s one of America’s most accomplished roadracers. Several years ago, Hayes was testing his R1 Superbike during a ChampSchool and invited us into the hairpin at Las Vegas Speedway’s north course. We watched him rail through the corner a few times and then he rolled up, killed the engine, and said, “I bet I’m slower in the middle of this corner than anyone here—and I’m slow in the middle because I’ve got to get this bike pointed for the exit.”
Hayes talked about riders coming into a corner and ruining the direction change by initiating throttle too early. The bike quits turning. Hayes wins championships by being fast, certainly, but also by staying healthy. Faster, safer is a tagline at ChampSchool and this week’s drill of allowing the bike to change direction longer into the corner chases this tagline. Josh Hayes does it and he’s been the fastest rider in America many times. The old guy is still healthy too!
I joked last week that the drill discussed (close the throttle to the brake lever) was not a drill for me, but how I ride and certainly race. Same with this week’s drill, especially in two places.
1. On unknown roads, because nobody gets hurt entering the corner too slowly: This plan of letting your bike slow longer into the corner is a game changer on unknown roads, especially those with blind corners. Occasionally you will slow too much, but that is not what is hurting and killing riders. After last week’s drill and all our discussions on trail-braking, riders will roll off the throttle to the brakes and then use the brakes into the corner until satisfied with their speed and direction. They won’t accelerate the motorcycle until the corner’s radius begins to open. Sometimes that’s right away, sometimes it’s delayed due to the length of the curve. This week’s drill gets your bike pointed and ready to accelerate if the lane is clear, or continue to slow if the lane is compromised by gravel, a deer, or whatever.
2. When I race fast bikes: I’ve written about my love of racing Rusty Bigley’s Spondon TZ750 and I spend a lot of track time on my FZ1 and the school’s literbikes. These machines accelerate violently; so drama ensues if I’m asking the rear tire to accelerate hard and hold lean angle. I want to be able to stand the bike up as I pull the trigger, and that only happens if I follow Hayes’ and Spencer’s advice of taking the time to point the bike. Leaving the brakes on a little longer, or allowing the bike to coast a bit longer between braking and initial throttle. That’s right, don’t think you must release the brakes and immediately accelerate. Gotta let that thing turn, and it turns best with decreasing mph.
As a magazine guy I’ve had the privilege to ride GP bikes, MotoGP bikes, AMA Superbikes, World Superbikes, and might get a few laps on Kyle Wyman’s Ducati later this year. This drill is a way of life on machines that fast because guest rides don’t get offered to journalists who crash factory racebikes. “Must. Let. Bike. Turn.”
Go and drill, riders.
PS: I’m constantly asked if readers can share these articles and the answer is yes. Share them with friends, clubs, social media. Grow our industry by making healthy, happy, technically strong riders.
More next Tuesday!