Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Joys of Learning to Ride - Cornering Crisis
You can't brake while in the middle of a turn. It's quite possibly the riding rule of thumb that kept me from getting back on a bike after my instructors explained this to my Harley-Davidson Rider's Edge class. I've been cut off mid turn in a car enough times to wonder how I'm supposed to cope with it with half the amount of wheels and without braking. Not to mention all of those dangers such as gravel and water that hardly used to affect me that could now take me down in an instant. Still, cornering is a huge part of riding, and possibly one of the most fun parts, so knowing how to deal with a crisis mid-turn on a motorcycle is not only important, it's pivotal.
The first Obstacle: Rider Error. One of the most common corner crisis' has little to do with outside factors and can happen to any rider who goes into a turn with too much speed. Either due to lack of attention or a turn being unexpectedly sharp, a rider can get caught going in way too fast and their first instinct is usually to grab the brakes to slow down. But with less tire hitting the road and therefore the loss of traction during a turn, braking will surely end badly leaving you off your bike and probably a little banged up.
So what's the best way to avoid the easiest of cornering mistakes to make? On roads you're unfamiliar with, go into every corner a little slower than you would expect to be necessary. That way you can throttle through the rest of it if it turns out to be as subtle as you expected but won't get caught going extremely fast if it turns out to be a tough one. If you're about to enter a turn and realize you're probably going to fast but you haven't started to lean into it yet, there's still time to put on some brakes to shave off some speed. Just make sure not to punch the brakes too hard. Still going to fast? Ride it out. Sure, your butt might pucker and you might need to pull over to keep from having a heart attack once you get out of the turn, but trust your bike and your tires and you'll probably find that they'll lean farther than you ever thought you'd be comfortable with. Of course, I find this easier said than done. One of the hardest things for me has always been trusting to lean in turns. But if you find yourself flying through a turn, trusting your motorcycle will save you way before panicking will.
The Second Obstacle: Second crisis that usually plagues newer riders in corners? Target fixation. Any rider will tell you that the most important thing when going through a turn is to look all the way through it or, in other words, to look where you want to go. Your body follows your head and your bike follows you body so if you get caught looking somewhere other than where you should be riding in a turn, you'll go there instead of making it out of the corner. This becomes an even bigger problem when an object enters the equation. Gravel deposits on the road in the middle of a curve can easily become the center of a rider's attention, and therefore will quickly become the direction you go in. No matter what pops up out of the corner of your eye, even that hot neighbor washing a car, make sure to look only through the turn.
The Third Obstacle: Debris. Despite whether you've mastered the problem of target fixation, however, you'll end up coming across debris in a corner that you can't avoid at some time or another. If you're forced to ride over the debris, remember not to panic or throw on the brakes. Going over debris in a turn is more dangerous just because of the lack of traction you have while leaning. In order to get over the debris and out of the turn safely, try to reduce your lean before you get to whatever you need to get over. To do this, increase your lean angle as you get into the turn and approach whatever is in your way, which will give you more room to spare as you get closer so that you can stand your bike back up as much as you can to cross. If you can reduce the lean enough to stand the bike up completely, you can apply some brakes as long as you're not punching them and you let off them before hitting the debris.
No matter what kind of road you are on and what crisis comes your way, always make sure you say on your side of the road. No matter what the circumstances are when you hit that turn, crossing lines and going into oncoming traffic, regardless of if there's any coming or not, is never an option.
Overall, there are three main things to remember when hitting the turns as a new rider: look through the turn, trust your motorcycle and don't panic. If you can keep those three things in mind when you hit the curves, you'll be surprised what you can get through.