Advanced Riding Course: Awareness

Niall Mackenzie talks you through his top tips which could save you from a nasty incident

If you ride smoothly while staying relaxed but sharp, then getting into trouble should hopefully be a rare occurrence. Having said that, tricky, unexpected situations will always unfold occasionally, so this month I’ll try to explain what action I take when things go wrong.

Although the exact circumstances may differ every time, I have some basic rules that serve me well in many different scenarios.

Firstly, I am always aware that the more upright I am whether braking or accelerating then the more grip I have from both the front and rear tyres.

So my first example would be rushing into a corner then realising I might be carrying too much speed at the point I need to start leaning over. Rather than risk losing the front while braking at an angle, I would most likely choose to stand the bike up, scrub some speed off safely and sacrifice my good line through the turn.

Similarly if I found myself heading for the grass after missing my braking point and corner entry on a track day, this time I would remain upright, brake as hard as possible then release the brake just before leaving the tarmac. Once on the grass it is always best to let engine braking slow things down by gently back shifting while applying the slightest amount of pressure to the front brake.

When braking in the wet, being upright is even more important.  If I lock up the front wheel on slippy roads then quickly releasing the brake lever completely is the first step to letting the bike regain stability. Then the process has to start all over again but this time being gentler with brake lever pressure and when possible using more engine braking.

While accelerating, the risk is obviously with the rear tyre sliding; so again the more upright you are the safer you are. Being 100% upright while exiting a corner may be 100% safe but it is also very boring. Now and again when I have the back end step out the following process usually keeps me safe. When I feel the rear go I never completely close the throttle, as this tends to flick the bike in the opposite direction and could throw me off.

I find gradually rolling back the throttle to let the wheel speed come back in line with the engine speed will even things out. At the same time I help the bike get more upright by pushing on the foot pegs, which lifts my bum slightly and gives me more control. All of these are subtle riding adjustments to help regain control but remember all of this can be practiced safely while having a laugh on a cheap off roader.

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braking for trouble

Going back to braking, if you find you have the back wheel juddering or locking up while braking then you might be back shifting too early or using too much rear brake. If this happens to me I will firstly release the rear brake, and if this doesn’t work then a little pressure on the clutch lever will stop the hopping. As always, prevention in the first place is best so if this happens every time you brake hard some experimenting with your braking/back shifting technique might be a good idea.

Another rule I have is the ‘do nothing’ rule.

On the road or the track when something unexpected happens, normally my first reaction is to do nothing. Racing has taught me that instantly grabbing a big handful of brake will have me sliding down the road in a heartbeat. Should a rider fall off right in front of me on a racetrack, nearly always he or she will slide to the side and leave my line clear.

Many riders get into big trouble by braking sharply which will definitely have you off if you happen to be mid corner or cause a chain reaction of chaos should there be any riders behind. My plan would always be to wait for a moment to see how the incident unfolds and then be ready react accordingly. When possible I will look for an escape route on to the grass as if all else fails at least I get a soft landing!

On the road when something or someone has to be avoided again I will avoid heavy braking at least until I can do it safely with some weight transferred onto the front of the bike. Just like when I head for the grass on a circuit I always look for escape routes on public roads. I would much rather veer off through some cones into motorway roadworks than clobber a stationary car or be sliding along on my arse after losing the front attempting to stop. The hard shoulder on motorways is another safe haven and as the inside lane is often the least busy these days it might be the fastest as well as the safest place to be.

TWO’s ex-editor Tim Dickson maintained the safest action to take if a car traveling in the same direction turned into your path was to turn in towards the car. His reasoning was you would then make contact at a more acute angle and there would be less chance of you falling off. Should you steer away from the car and hit you the impact would catapulted you in that direction and possibly into on coming traffic. I’m not sure on that one but might try it one day and report back. Meanwhile as far as I’m aware Tim is still alive.

Other trouble you may find your self in is when your gassing things up a little and you miss a gear or find a false neutral. If you find yourself in this situation always go for an up shift. The reason being if you go the opposite way you could find yourself in a really low gear that could well pitch you off or do some expensive damage when you let the clutch out.

And although I know you would never attempt these on the public highway there is always a fair amount of risk attached to the good old wheelie.  You have two get out of jail cards here should you be past the point of getting the front wheel down by closing the throttle. Firstly you can simply pull in the clutch and you will instantly have both wheels back on the tarmac. It won’t feel very nice but it is effective. The other tool is the rear brake that will provide more feel while controlling things nicely, the choice is yours. Or you could just not try to show off by pulling wheelies, but where’s the fun in that?

Things to remember

  • Try to ride relaxed but stay sharp
  • Keeping your bike upright gives maximum safety for braking and accelerating. Although it’s not much fun and your tyres will show you off as a great big girly
  • Try not to react instantly. Wait until a situation begins to unfold
  • Try to avoid grabbing the front brake quickly as this will always be dangerous
  • Always look for escape routes rather than locking up the brakes 
  • When riding expect the unexpected. Allakhazam. There, didn’t expect that, did you?