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BACK TO BASICS - OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF LEANING YOUR BIKE

by Jerry Palladino (MOTORMAN)

So many riders are deathly afraid of leaning their motorcycle, especially at low speeds and I believe this subject needs to be discussed.

First, you may ask, "why is this important?" Leaning the motorcycle is of the utmost importance because a motorcycle turns by leaning. The further you lean the bike, the tighter the turn it will make. Let's take your average Road King. If you walked a Road King around in a circle while it was straight up, it would take about 21' to complete the circle. If on the other hand you leaned the bike over as far as it will go, that same motorcycle will turn in about 16'. That's a 5' savings. Look at it this way, when a car turns left in front of you and you have to make a quick evasive maneuver, you can miss the car by 5' if you lean the bike to it's maximum. If you're afraid to lean the bike, you'll have no choice other than slamming on your brakes and low-siding. You should learn your bike's lean limits at low speeds under controlled conditions in a parking lot. That way, if you tip the bike over, you simply step off of it and let the bike go. If you attempt to find your bike's limits while rounding a turn at 60mph and you make a mistake, the results will be disastrous. If you're not aware that a motorcycle turns by leaning, try this simple exercise. Cruise on down the road at 20mph and keep only your palms on the grips with your fingers straight up, push on the left grip and you'll notice that the bike leans to the left and goes to the left. It's the same with the right grip. The front wheel actually turns very slightly, the harder and faster you push on the grip, the quicker the bike will react. Now at low speeds, below 15mph, you are actually handlebar steering. That means, whatever way you turn the handlebars, the front tire will turn in that direction and that's the way the bike will go. In addition, if while you're turning the handlebars you allow the bike to lean, even the biggest motorcycle will become extremely easy to handle at low speeds. You'll be able to maneuver and U-turn quite easily. Of course at low speeds, you should be in the friction zone, be putting light pressure on the rear brake and using your head and eyes, looking where you want the bike to go. Of course, head and eyes is even more important at higher speeds. Always keep your focus on the end of the turn.

Now here's some tricks that will get you leaning your bike and overcoming your fears. Set up 5 cones in a straight line, spaced at 30' apart. Get your speed up to about 20mph and begin maneuvering through the cones by pushing back and forth on the handlebars. When performing this exercise, you should not be using the brake or the friction zone. You're simply counter steering the motorcycle. Keep your head and eyes up and focus on the very last cone. As you get more comfortable with this exercise, increase your speed, allow your bike to lean from side to side. Your goal should be to get your pegs or floorboards to scrape occasionally as you maneuver through the cones.

For low speed leaning, place the cones at 12' apart. During this slow exercise, you should be in the friction zone and applying pressure to the rear brake. Again, allow the bike to lean from side to side. You'll find it difficult to scrape the boards with the cones set at 12' apart, but it will help you to get familiar with leaning the motorcycle at low speeds.

The next exercise for leaning the bike is the very simple circle exercise. It would help to have a friend stand in the center of the circle. Focus on that persons face as you begin circling around them. Start with big circles, 30 or 40' around, stay in the friction zone, put pressure on the rear brake and try to tighten up the circles each time you go around the person. Have the person in the center of the circle tell you how close you're getting to scraping the boards or pegs. Eventually, you should be able to scrape a perfect circle in the ground with your floorboards or pegs. Remember to keep both feet on the pegs or floorboards. As long as you keep power to the rear wheel, the bike cannot tip over. Putting a foot down should be a last resort and should be done with just a quick dap to maintain balance. Make sure you practice this in both directions, turning to the right and to the left. Good luck, all it takes is a little 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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