What’s the best way to ride a motorcycle? There isn’t one way. Ask a dozen different riders and you’ll get different answers and contradictory advice. All longtime riders have developed their own individual style and techniques that work for their bikes, body type, and environment. Riders are students for their entire lives. As they change, so does their approach to riding. Despite the variables, there are a handful of skills that every motorcycle rider can hone for safe road racing.
1. Safety Check Your Motorcycle Before Racing
Before each ride, check the chain, belt, or shaft and the brakes. Inspect tires thoroughly for wear and make sure they’re set at the exact correct pressure. When tires are even the slightest bit flat, the handling becomes challenging, steering becomes inaccurate, and the bike won’t lean. This will increase your safety risk and undoubtedly result in a crash.
2. Wear The Right Racing Gear
Helmets are a touchy subject with riders, but when it comes to road racing there is no other option. Nearly 50 percent of motorcycle crash fatalities involve speeding, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Riders who forgo a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash and three times more likely to suffer brain injuries. When Texas and Arkansas repealed their helmet laws they saw a 30 percent increase in motorcycle fatalities. In addition to the helmet, wear road leathers, gloves and appropriate footwear — all specifically designed for racing and crash protection. A quality race suit should run about $800 to $1,000.
3. Learn How to Brake Your Bike
Braking techniques vary depending on each individual bike. Begin each brake application with a light squeeze on the lever. This allows the fork springs to collapse with control and the front contact patch spreads as weight is transferred forward. This initial squeeze can happen quickly but should never happen abruptly. Experiment with the difference at a walking pace on any bike you ride.
Conversely, add as much rear brake as your specific bike can handle. After loading the fork springs and front tire, stay focused on your right-hand fingers and front tire. Don’t lock your elbows, but be ready to load your arms and hands. Keep squeezing until you begin to hear the tire, signaling that it’s near the point of lockup. Always hold pressure in a linear manner.
4. Hone Your Steering Skills
Roadracers use body position to help steer their bikes. Start with the basics: understand and practice “countersteering,” the application of pressure on the inside bar to turn your motorcycle. Get a feel for how sudden pressure “veers” it, and how pushing on the inside bar or pulling on the outside bar accomplishes the same thing. Experiment with different pressures.
5. Watch for Motorcycle Road Hazards
This may sound obvious, but keep an eye out for bumps, potholes, or any change in the road’s surface — they can pose serious danger, especially at high speeds. A motorcycle has less contact with the ground than a car, so sand, wet leaves, or pebbles can cause a bike to slide unexpectedly. If you can’t avoid them, slow down as much as possible before engaging them, with minimal to no steering input. Railroad tracks and other hazards should be approached as close to a right angle as possible. This precaution will significantly reduce the chance of a skid.
The bottom line: know your bike like the back of your hand. Understand how it handles in different weather, on different surfaces, and in various situations and conditions. Apart from a helmet, the best safety precaution you can take is accumulating experience.