By Gigi Pridmore
Having been taught to ride by my husband Reg, I have been blessed to be able to hone my skills on the racetrack with the help of the CLASS team for the past 25 years (wow!). I’m not the fastest one out there, it’s not inside me to look for the edge, but I have been told many times that following me on the racetrack helps instill smoothness into the follower. Because being smooth is so central to my job and my being, it’s very clear to see the mistakes riders make that sometimes lead to a crash.
You know if you’ve been to CLASS that safety is a huge part of our agenda. Though crashes can happen, it’s very common to have no “red flags” or even nobody fall down at our events. We hear lots of stories of all the red flags leading to lost time at other track days. Hey, the throttle’s in your hand — so what might be some things that cause riders to crash? Here’s my two cents…
1) Cold Tires: We are constantly telling people “warm up your tires”. As Marcus says, a hot tire is a sticky tire and a sticky tire is a safe tire… How do you do that? No, not waggling around like a race car driver. Acceleration and deceleration put forces into the tire to generate heat. When my tires are cold I (smoothly) accelerate hard and brake hard — both with no lean angle — to get the friction going. But before I get on it in the turns I try and give it a couple of laps to make sure I have some heat in my tires. The funny thing is, every rider has heard this, but they still forget… Don’t let that be you.
2) Chopping the Throttle: When a rider gets into a situation like entering a turn too fast, sometimes panic sets in. You want to slow down and your reaction can be to completely chop the throttle. When you do that, the front end suspension collapses. If you’re leaned over in the turn that can lead to the front end tucking and you go down. Maybe some turns are more forgiving than others, but a flat turn like 3 at Laguna Seca and a really banked turn like the Bowl at Streets of Willow won’t let you get away with it. These turns take no prisoners. Pay attention and make a plan to enter at a comfortable speed for your ability — on the track or on the street.
3) Grabbing the Brakes: Chopping the throttle and grabbing the front brake are two sides of the same coin as they have a similar effect on the front suspension. And when you’ve just grabbed the brakes, I’m willing to bet you’ve also just chopped the throttle, but add to that the abrupt stopping of the front wheel. Proper front braking technique involves a progressive squeeze so that the front tire can begin to increase it’s contact patch as the weight shifts toward it. Once the traction is increased, your brakes are much more effective and this is true whether you’re straight up and down or beginning to lean into the curve, which is trail braking. It’s a quick process but if you grab the front brake without letting this occur, chances of locking the front wheel are much greater. Front wheel lockups rarely end well. But where’s the limit? Even the pros sometimes find the limit and tuck the front end under extreme braking. Perhaps you have ABS and are not concerned with it, but you should be. We have also seen rear brake dependence getting riders into trouble in the turns. Once that rear wheel is locked up (even with ABS) it’s not helpful and if the rear end slides out, you might go down. Being a great rider does not include constantly relying on electronics to get you out of trouble.
4) Bad Downshifting: Downshifting is one of my favorite things to do and there is a method to doing it well. If you are a blipper and match the engine revs with rear tire speed, and do it well all the time, Bravo (or is it electronics 😉 ! But if you don’t, and you lock up the rear and the bike gets all squirrely, it’s time to work on your downshifting. Anytime the bike is getting squirrely going into a turn, it takes a lot more energy to control it, not to mention the distraction and uncertainty of how it might end. I remember one time a rider demo’ing one of our Honda VFRs at Laguna Seca. He accidentally downshifted to first heading into T2 and the bike literally swapped ends and went down. He could have used some downshifting practice – oh, and know what gear you’re in! Make a plan, get your downshifting done in a smooth manner, keep control and easily make the turn. I’ll never forget Nicky Hayden’s words to the class at Sears Point: “How fast I can get into turn 2 depends on how smooth I do my downshift”. Even if it’s not speed you’re after, it gets the bike settled and makes everyone happy. And if you have electronics to help you do a better job, I would still encourage you to pay attention and make everything you do on a motorcycle precise and keep yourself as safe as possible. What happens if something malfunctions and you’ve never practiced smooth downshifting?
5) Entering a turn in too high a gear: Sometimes when a rider’s gone down at the track, we’ll check what gear they were in when everything came undone. We often times see maybe a liter bike in 3rd or sometimes 4th gear in a max 2nd gear corner. When you are in too high a gear, you can easily end up carrying more speed than you wanted too. Next thing you know you’ve chopped the throttle, unloaded the suspension and it still won’t slow down, so you grab the brakes… Engine braking is a wonderful thing. Get your downshift done before the turn and use your engine to help slow you down. The control I feel using my engine as an extension of my brain is a huge part of being a smooth and safe rider.
6) Not looking far enough through the corner: It can’t be overstated that you go where you look! So in the midst of a riding error, like getting into a turn too hot, the last thing you should do is look at where you don’t want to go – like off the road or track. Look where you want to go, have a can-do attitude and keep yourself as safe as possible. Consistent visual markers make for consistent results.
These 6 items are the most common things that come to light as we dissect why a crash occurred, but they don’t have to always cause you to fall down to be worth correcting. And the list is not exhaustive — there are other reasons a rider can crash, even if it’s just from being tired or distracted. But the point is make it your mission to be a better rider. Bad habits return like a bad check as you pick up the pace. Sometimes you can get away with things at lower speeds, but once you pick up the pace they will cause you to crash. At the very least they will keep you from becoming a great rider.
I asked (fellow CLASS instructor) Marcus to take a look at my list, and though he had lots to add toward making you a better rider, we’re gonna leave it for another posting and for the classroom. He does however share Reg’s and my opinion about electronics, so Marcus adds one last thing to think about in your quest to become a great rider:
7) Don’t be too dependent on electronics: Modern electronics (slipper clutch, traction control, ABS) are fantastic things, but learn how to ride with no intervention. Don’t depend on the electronics to make corrections, but instead use them as a learning tool. Challenge yourself to try to get smoother until the electronics don’t intervene even at their most sensitive settings. Everything from shifting to braking can be improved by using the electronic feedback as a learning tool. Make the goal never to need the electronics.
We really believe you never stop learning and I hope I’ve given some of you a little insight in what not to do. Continue to work on being a better rider and be safe out there. Stay alert, ride smooth and I hope to ride with you at the track!
Learn more and register for CLASS at www.classrides.com; Photo top: Etech Photo
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