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BACK TO BASICS - FAILURE TO NEGOTIATE A CURVE

by Jerry Palladino (MOTORMAN)

Recently, on Full Throttle Television, I did a question and answer session with Paul Allen. Paul told me he is aware that the most common crash is when a vehicle violates the motorcyclists' right of way. But, Paul said he was surprised that the 2nd most common crash was strictly the motorcyclist's fault, and that is, "failure to negotiate a turn."

A week after that Full Throttle segment was filmed, I happened to be riding with some friends when I witnessed that exact crash.

I know I've discussed this type of incident before, but I feel compelled to go over it once again since it happens so often. Here is the circumstances of the failure to negotiate a curve I just witnessed.

I was 5th in a staggered group of 8 riders. We were cruising down the Ozello Trail in Homosassa at a leisurely pace. If you're not familiar with the Ozello Trail, it's a winding two lane road which winds for five or six miles from U.S. 19 to the Gulf of Mexico. On both sides of the road there's a grassy, soft shoulder about six feet wide that dips into the narrow Homosassa River. Most of the turns can be taken at 40mph, but our pace was closer to 20mph. The rider in front of me was on a two or three year old Fat boy and had over 30 years of riding experience.

As we entered the second half of an S curve, I noticed the last part curving to the left had a slight decreasing radius. The rider in front of me was leaning slightly more than the bike would lean when it was sitting on the kickstand. In other words, it was no where near it's lean limit. When the rider on the Fat boy realized the turn was becoming sharper, she panicked, let off the throttle, straightened up the bike, then looked at the edge of the road and the river and right off the road and into the river she went. Amazingly, her only injuries were a few cuts and bruises.

Now, the question is, why did an experienced rider straighten up her bike and ride right off the road, and, how can you prevent this from happening to you?

There are several reasons for the crash. First, she didn't know her bike's lean limits, therefore, she thought she was at that limit when she actually was no where near it. Second, she was focused on the bike in front of her, instead of at the end of the turn. By not focusing far enough in front of her, the decreasing radius came into her view very quickly which made her think she was going much faster than her actual speed. Last but not least, she then fixated on the River and since your hands follow your eyes, that's where she went.

To avoid this type of crash, find your bike's lean limits under controlled conditions. Practice turning ever tighter circles in a parking lot until you get comfortable leaning your bike until the pegs or boards scrape the ground, then practice making wider turns in both directions at speeds above 15mph. Keep your head and eyes UP and look well ahead of the bike. Never look down or anyplace you don't want the bike to go. Remember, at speeds above 15mph, you're counter-steering. Push left to go left, push right to go right. In other words, if you need to turn sharper in a left turn, push harder on the left grip. It's the same to the right.

Never, ever, focus on the bike directly in front of you. Instead, focus on the end of the turn. Do your braking before you enter the curve then release the brakes and roll on the throttle. This will cause the bike to rise up on its suspension and give it more lean angle before any hard parts hit the tarmac. That's all there is to it. It just takes a little practice of the proper techniques. If you wait until you're in the middle of a curve on a winding road with water, guard rails, or even a cliff off the shoulder, it's too late to practice.

You can either rely on dumb luck to get you through a tricky situation or you can rely on skill. It's up to you.

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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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