by Jerry Palladino
While I've written about this subject
before, I believe it's very important and needs to be repeated and
discussed in even more detail.
In this article, I will give you every single tip, trick and technique I
can possibly think of to get you to lean your motorcycle. First, keep in
mind that a motorcycle or any 2-wheeled vehicle including your bicycle
turns by leaning, especially at speed. By speed, I mean anything above
about 15mph where the gyroscopic effect takes place on most motorcycles.
On a bicycle or a small motor scooter, the gyroscopic effect may take
place at 3 to 5mph. At very low speeds on a motorcycle, you can turn
without leaning simply by turning your handlebars back and forth,
however, turning with the bike straight up is not a natural movement,
the motorcycle was designed to lean. Let's take a Harley Road King as an
example. If you walk that Road King around in a circle with the bike
straight up, it would have a turning radius of about 22 to 24'. If you
lean the bike over to it's lean angle limit, that same Road King will
turn in well under 18'.
So, if you're able to lean that Road King over only about as much as it
leans while sitting on it's kickstand, you can make a U-turn on a 20'
wide street with little problem. If you try to turn with the bike
straight up on that same 20' wide street, you won't make it. You'll wind
up having to back that 800 lb. bike up and duck-walk it forward to make
that turn. At 40 or 50mph, if you're afraid to lean that bike, when a
car turns left in front of you, you're going to steer right into it or
jam on the rear brake and slide into that car, when all you had to do
was lean the bike a little and steer around it. Consequently, if you're
afraid to lean your bike, you're a crash looking for a place to happen,
it will be inevitable.
So, to get you familiar with leaning, we'll start small. First, get out
the old mountain bike you've got rusting in the garage and start
pedaling it. Get up as fast as you can then start coasting and begin
pushing the handlebars back and forth. This will force the bicycle to
lean from side to side and hopefully show you that your not going to
fall over. Keep you head and eyes up and maintain some speed. You can
even set up a few cones in a straight line, say at 15' apart and weave
through them allowing the bike as much side to side lean angle as you
dare. Then, coast through a few U-turns set up at 12 or 13'. Keep your
pedals up so they don't get caught on the pavement and lever your tire
off the ground. In addition to helping you get over your fear of
leaning, the bicycle can also help to teach you why dragging the rear
brake gives you stability at low speeds. Just put the bike in first gear
and try to pedal as slowly as you can in a straight line, then try the
same thing only this time, put a little pressure on the rear brake (on a
bicycle, the rear brake is at your right hand). I'm sure you will find
pedaling against the rear brake will allow you to go much slower and
with a lot more control. You can even see why hitting the front brake is
the wrong thing to do when the handlebars are turned and the bike is
I guarantee you a couple hours on a bicycle will help you get over your
fear of leaning the 2-wheeled vehicle, plus, it's great exercise.
Now, it's time to get on the motorcycle. The first thing to do is get
familiar with the friction zone and using the rear brake. First, try
going slowly in a straight line, remember to keep your head and eyes up.
Begin making turns at 3 to 5mph by turning your head from left to right.
Now, get your speed up to 15mph or above, let the clutch out all the
way, get off the rear brake and start pushing the bars back and forth.
Hold the throttle steady and let the bike weave from side to side. The
bike wants to lean, so let it, in fact, above 15mph it must lean when
you push on the bars. Once you get familiar with the sensation, slow
down to 5mph or so and try to duplicate that side to side leaning
sensation while in the friction zone and putting a little pressure on
the rear brake. Set up 6 cones in a straight line at 14' apart and begin
weaving through them. As this exercise gets easier, start cutting the
distance to 13', then 12' apart.
When you get bored with the cone weave, start turning circles. Start
with no markers and big 30' or 40' turns. Have a person stand in the
center of the circle and focus on that person's face as you ride around
them, that should keep you from looking down at the ground. In addition,
that person can tell you how far you're leaning, the further the better.
Well, that's it for this month. I know this sounds like a lot of work,
but it will save you from injury or even death. All it takes is a few
hours of practice.
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More articles by MOTORMAN:
Back to Basics Series:
A "Motorman" is the term used in police circles to identify a motorcycle
cop, or any law enforcement officer assigned to the motorcycle division.
becoming a Motor Officer, Jerry rode for enjoyment for about 25
years. Then one day, he saw a 5 minute segment on a television show
which depicted motorcycle officers training on their Harley police
bikes. The way these officers could maneuver these full size motorcycles
around like a child's toy, made it appear as if they were defying
gravity. At that moment, he knew that he had a lot to learn about riding
a motorcycle. Shortly afterwards, the agency he worked for started a
motorcycle unit. he was sent for training to Tallahassee with the
highway patrol. The training consisted of 120 hours of intensive
motorcycle training, focusing mainly on low speed handling. Jerry says,
"When I finished this training, for the first time I really knew how to
ride a motorcycle."