Advanced Riding Course: Ride Fast

Niall Mackenzie passes on his hints and tips on fast, but safe, road riding. It’s not all kneedown

For me, fast road riding has never been about on the limit braking, knee down action or the rear tyre wiggling while nailing the throttle on a corner exit. I’ve always liked to save that stuff for the track and, if the truth be known, be it lack of bottle or just boring old common sense, from an early age, what little brain I have has always said no.

Riding slow, however, is also not an option though as this induces sleep. In the U.S of A, where much of the Country is strictly limited to 55mph, I’ve seen the most hideous crashes where the natives have lost concentration or simply nodded off due to the tedium of slow driving.

If like me your idea of fast road riding is to get from point A to point B safely, in the shortest possible time, while still having fun then read on and I’ll talk you through what really works for me.

I’d like to start with out of town, A or B-roads and the marvellous ‘vanishing point’.

This is spot where you can no longer see where the road goes. The closer this point is, the tighter the corner. The further away it is, the wider the corner. This, coupled with roadside signs and road markings, is a good indication as to what type of corner might be imminent.

So, if I were approaching a fairly open right hand corner, I would position myself as far to the left as was safe and avoid any traditional braking.  Instead I’ll just click back a gear or two. This gives a small amount of engine braking but also I then have instant acceleration as the corner starts to open out. For many reasons, whenever it is reasonably possible I always try to use the gears for braking. Firstly as the idea of fast road riding is to keep your average speed up, if you brake more than is necessary the momentum you have lost then has to be built up again. The Scot in me tells me this uses more fuel and brake pads so not only do you save time you save cash as well.

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Getting back to our corners, if I’m approaching a left turn I’ll do the same thing with engine braking but depending on what the white lines say in the middle of the road, I will set myself up as far to the right as is safe. The object of the exercise is always to scrub as little speed off as possible, which in turn saves time. Using the gears for braking can take a bit of practice but it’s very effective providing you keep things smooth. Remember though, the more you increase lean angle, the more the engine braking will increase.

On slower corners when I do have to use the brakes, I like to get my braking done early, then get into the right gear in plenty time for good acceleration on the corner exit. 

Again, depending on what the white lines say I like to ‘straight line’ roads as much as possible.

Yes straight lines. You see, back in 1977 my Denny High math’s teacher Mr. McConnell taught me the shortest distance between two points was a straight line and that has served me well ever since. Later that year he also tried to explain long division but that was considerably less successful.

For motorway riding, if it is safe I apply the same straight-line principle. Parts of the M74 for example twist all over the place between Glasgow and Carlisle so I can shorten the distance by miles simply by subtlety straightening out the bends.

Also, I find the faster I go the more I like to get everything tucked in. This might not save much time but it tends to be more comfortable and definitely saves fuel.

Still on motorways, and it appears nowadays quite often the clearest lane is the slow lane.  And as it isn’t illegal to undertake providing it isn’t done in a dangerous manner then why not take advantage? As with any filtering, I always like to have an escape route so in the unlikely event of getting into trouble in the slow lane I’d look at heading for the hard shoulder.

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For general filtering on any roads, my rule of thumb is not to go 20mph over the speed of the backed up traffic. At this speed the chances are you can react and scrub off speed if anything untoward unfolds, and even if you don’t you should survive a 20mph impact. When filtering I always have fingers covering both levers plus my foot over the rear brake pedal just in case some flat cap in a Volvo fancies a lane change. I advise you do the same.

I’ll admit as a driver (it’s a Ford Capri) I’ve had a few scary moments when bikes have been alongside me just as I was planning a move, so when filtering through traffic at higher speeds I always do my best to make my presence felt before doing any passing.

I’ll sit for around five seconds where I should be visible in the rear view mirror (I don’t need to tell you trucks and vans don’t have these) then move to the side for a few more seconds before passing. I find most drivers get a feel for where you want to pass so I try to give them a thumb of appreciation. The ones that don’t want you to pass are pretty obvious but I tend to pass them anyway, then upset them even more with a nice wave (A3 Audis seem to be the worst culprits for this for some reason).

When it comes to villages and town centres, particularly with schools around them, for me the only option is staying at the mandatory speed limit and keeping your wits about you. The risk factor here when going any faster is too high. Apart from us bikers keeping the excellent reputation we deserve, the consequences of wiping someone out doesn’t bear thinking about.

Finally body position. Climbing all over your bike on the road, apart from looking naff is a waste of energy. However shifting your weight smoothly from side to side and gently weighting the inside footpeg will ease your bike through corners. And leaning your upper body forward (put your head towards the mirror) and to the inside of the corner will also help while giving you a feeling of more control.

Niall’s Top Tips

Things to remember

  • Use the ‘vanishing point’ in conjunction with road signs and markings to anticipate corners.
  • Try to use your gears for gradual braking before corners.
  • Straight line sections of road when its safe and legal.
  • Give drivers time to see you before passing them.
  • Use the clearest lane while on the motorway for steady filtering.
  • Keep your foot over the rear brake pedal and fingers over the brake and clutch levers at all times  when filtering.
  • Use subtle body positioning to help cornering.
  • Beware especially careful when approaching soft caps in Volvos.