High-Performance Street Riding

At the 1994 USGP at Laguna Seca I attended a High-Performance Street Riding seminar given by Sport Rider and Motorcyclist magazines. Nick Ienatsch and Lance Holst did the presentation — and in spite of his reputation on rec.motorcycles, Lance knows a hell of a lot about motorcycles and how to ride them quickly and safely. And Nick seems to know even more than Lance.

To prepare for the seminar they gave sport riding some considerable thought and tried to reduce the key points to a small enough number that we could remember 'em and therefore work on improving those areas. They presented two lists of five items, and then elaborated upon them (the elaboration given below is mine, from memory). The first list was 'things to do':

1) Look where you want to go.

Remember 'target fixation', the tendency to go where you look. So don't look at the pothole, look at the good pavement just beside it. Don't look at the road right in front of the front wheel, because it's too late to do anything about it. Look further down the road or through the corner. The faster you go, the further ahead you have to look. This is particularly important if you enter a corner 'hot' (too fast) — look at the road where you want to go and push on the inside handlebar, do not look for places to run off the road and crash!

2) Set entrance speed early.

Basically, this means get your braking (or just backing off the throttle) done before you enter the corner. The purpose for this is so you can then do step #4 below — open the throttle as soon as possible. This assumes you are riding what is called the 'late apex' line through the corner meaning you don't initiate your turn until you can see the exit of the corner, and if you can't see the exit then ride in as deep as possible (staying in your lane, of course) before beginning your turn. Setting your entrance speed early and correctly means you won't have to panic in mid-corner because you're in too hot...

3) Turn the bike quickly.

Using a short but strong countersteering effort (akin to the effort in rowing a boat) causes the bike to turn more quickly, and allows the bike to remain upright longer to accomplish step #2 above. The more you lean, the less brakes you can use — so get the turning part over with as soon as possible.

4) Open the throttle early.

Opening the throttle causes the bike to stabilize. The weight transfer from braking and decelerating in Step #2 left the front end compressed and steepened the angle of the forks. This left the front end feeling very harsh and being very sensitive to bumps and irregularities in the road. Opening the throttle, even just barely, causes the weight to shift back to the rear resulting in the relaxation of the fork angle. This restores the full suspension travel, softens the ride, and makes the front end less sensitive to bumps, etc.

5) Use precise, smooth control inputs.

Smooth application and release of the brakes, clutch and shift lever allows the bike to respond without unnecessary loads being put on any of its components. The ride is more comfortable, the bike responds better, and it's just plain more fun. Reg Pridmore (of C.L.A.S.S. fame) is the world's champ at this — try riding a lap or two as a passenger and you'll be amazed at how 'seamless' his shifting, braking and accelerating are.

The second list was 'things riders do wrong', and it went like this:

1) Lack of concentration.

This is simply a case of not paying enough attention. When you're riding a motorcycle you need to be 100% focused on riding. Don't be thinking about work, or your love life, or any other distraction. The Hurt Report, often quoted by the MSF, found that in the majority of motorcycle accidents, the rider didn't do anything to avoid the accident!

2) Poor visual habits (not looking far enough ahead).

Nick stressed the need to remember the formula: D = mph. By this he meant that as a rider increases speed, he/she needs to increase the distance ahead where they look. You should be constantly scanning the road ahead, looking for potential dangers (the 'Scan' part of the S.I.P.D.E. technique taught by the MSF). You should include checking your rear view mirrors too...

3) Early turn-in points.

Initiating your turn too soon means you'll be leaned over longer and therefore be spending more time in a state in which you don't have as much control — particularly over the brakes. You may also have to adjust your speed up or down since you probably can't see the exit and don't know if the corner has a decreasing radius or not. If you're rolling on the throttle (as you should) you may end up speeding up too much and exit the corner wide — potentially moving into the oncoming lane or onto the shoulder.

4) Gorilla riding (i.e. non-smooth).

This results from jerky control inputs: brakes, shifting, and turning. It can induce unnecessary reactions from the motorcycle, result in temporary loss of traction, or break your concentration. Don't do it.

5) Panic attacks.

These are most often caused by entering a corner too 'hot' and thinking you can't make it. In fact, a modem sportbike with good tires can almost always make it — it's the rider that can't. So if you get into this situation, first tell yourself you can make it. Really believe it. Then look through the corner where you want to go. Push on the inside handlebar to increase your lean angle. Do not use the brakes! If you can summon the courage, open the throttle — even just a little. It really will help.

All the above was in the context of 'The Pace', but they didn't actually teach the Pace per se. It was pretty damn good. I wish I'd been able to tape the commentary on the above points. Those guys know this stuff and can explain why it works and/or is important, and they can do it in a humorous enough way to keep everyone's attention for over an hour. I hope to see a magazine article on this subject soon...

H. Marc Lewis