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BACK TO BASICS - THE ART OF THE LEAN

by Jerry Palladino (MOTORMAN)

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 leaning.

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:   About Jerry Palladino:
A "Motorman" is the term used in police circles to identify a motorcycle cop, or any law enforcement officer assigned to the motorcycle division. Prior to
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."
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