Riding on the street is a calculated risk, which is what makes it so engaging and so much better than sitting on the couch. It's not like a video game or a carnival ride. Learning to ride well on the street is more like learning to fly an airplane. It might offer a type of relaxation at times but we should never loose sight of the fact that it is serious business. It demands our highest physical skills and situational awareness. The following are a few of my personal tips for happy survival in the asphalt jungle.
Keep your eyes moving and scan the scene ahead. Like a fighter pilot in enemy skies, there are possible threats that must be anticipated and planned for before they materialize. Deer, dogs, rocks in the road, almost anything could unexpectedly present itself and you will have almost no time to react. Cars and trucks represent the greatest danger whether oncoming, merging, or entering from a cross street. The road you will be riding in the next few seconds is your battlefield. Identify every possible threat and be prepared.
Position yourself in your lane to allow the greatest possible time to react should something turn against you. When oncoming cars approach, I like to ride to the right. When passing a cross street with a waiting car ready to enter or cross my street, I move away from the car. When entering a blind curve, move to outside of the curve where you can see further down the road.
Overtaking slower cars on a bike is part of the fun, but watch out! If there is a crossroad or driveway on the left, your slowpoke may be planning a left turn. Wait until after you pass by that possibility. The more maddeningly slow your roadblock is, the greater the possibility that he is planning to do something – but what? Ask yourself why he is going so slowly. Be ready for anything, including a U-turn.
Keep a finger or two draped over the front brake lever. The smallest fraction of a second in reaction time could save your life. Your front brake is much more effective than the rear as weight is transferred to the front tire.
My personal advice about the rear brake may be controversial but I am a believer. Unless you are on a heavy cruiser or touring bike, the rear brake can get you into a lot of trouble and is seldom much good in a hard emergency stop. The rear tire may even lift off the ground. I never use mine except on slippery surfaces where I very cautiously modulate both brakes. The danger is that in an emergency stop your foot will automatically press hard on the pedal, locking and sliding the tire. Unless you are traveling in a perfectly straight line, the rear will step out to the side. Then, if you react by releasing the brake, it will suddenly snap back. This can result in what is known as a “high side” crash where you are flung through the air. Ouch!
If you get into a corner too hot, don’t give up on your bike. Wait for it to give up on you. Chopping the throttle or braking in a corner will upset the balance of the bike and reduce ground clearance. Modern tire technology will probably allow you to successfully make that corner. Even if it doesn’t, you are much better off falling down to the “low side” and grinding metal to the outside of the turn. The other two deadly alternatives are, giving up and riding right off the road at speed, or lock-snapping the rear and flying though the air.
Leaning way over in a turn is great fun but don’t max yourself out on any curve unless you have just ridden it and know that turn well. This is what track days are for. Go in slower than you think you need to and open the throttle once you have the turn made. Roaring out of a turn is more fun that braking into a turn anyway.
Practice counter-steering. Yes, on a motorcycle we steer left to turn right. You can flick the bike left and right with great effect when you consciously apply aggressive counter-steering. When you need to dodge an obstacle in the road quickly, you don’t want to be waiting around for your bike and body to get into a lean. Practice tightening up your line mid-corner, as if you suddenly realized you are in a decreasing radius turn. Counter-steering forces are necessary to maintain a tight line once leaned over. Practice.
Read Twist of the Wrist - 2 by Keith Code. His explanation of our natural “survival reactions” and how they can work against us is the kind of information that can save your life.