Safety Bits: Low-Speed Riding
How To Make Yourself a Safer Rider, Part 1
By Mark Yager firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: This is Part One in a series of safety articles by
Mark Yager. A long-time motorcycle enthusiast, Mark is currently an instructor
at the Canada Safety Council.
By putting these techniques into effect, you will ride at low speeds better
than 80 percent of other riders. I talk to police officers and other life-long
riders who have never heard of these tricks, and many come back and tell
me how much they have helpe d them.
Slow Speed Riding
As much as we enjoy ripping down smooth, curvy roads devoid of traffic
and radar guns, we all know that the majority of our time is spent plodding
through urban areas at low speeds: Trips to the mall, off to the grocery
store, down the street to the v ideo rental store, all clustered with traffic
and "cages" (also known as automobiles).
We deal with slow speed riding daily yet so few riders are adequately
trained to properly deal with it. So we must remember that, as important
as high-speed riding skills are, we can all benefit from slow-speed survival
techniques as well.
My definition of slow-speed riding is about walking pace, and it's easy
when you know a few tricks.
Many riders are tempted to use body parts as balancing weights when riding
slowly. Usually, this involves moving a knee away from the bike to counterbalance
in a slow turn. If you do find yourself doing this, be prepared: Proper
seating posture is ver y important. Sit comfortably on the bike and keep
your knees against the tank. Try not to move around too much as this transfers
weight around and provides steering input to the bike. And keep your feet
on the footpegs.
Failure to look ahead is one of the most common errors with slow speed
riding. A good way to practice this is setting up cones about four yards
(meters) apart and slaloming though them. Vary the distance between cones
if your bike can't make it. As yo u are going between two cones, you should
be looking at the path you want to take in the next gate, which should
be about 3.0 to 5.0 yards (about 3-5 meters) ahead. Many riders look 3.0
to 5.0 feet (about 1.0 to 1.6 meters) ahead which causes them to be shaky.
Looking the proper distance ahead gives your mind enough time to plan a
route, so you don't have to make so many last-minute corrections. Force
yourself to look far ahead. Try it, you'll be amazed how this technique
will improve your slow-speed rid ing.
The Front Brake
Under normal conditions, the front brake is an invaluable tool for keeping
your bike under control. However, at very slow speeds while the front wheel
is turned, the front brake can be too strong to provide a smooth stop.
I tend not to use the front brake at very low speeds. The rear has more
than enough power to stop you at these speeds, just be careful not to shift
around to get your foot on the brake pedal (if it isn't already, as it
should be), or you'll upset the bike's balance.
Another major key to slow speed control is the clutch. Most motorcycles
have wet clutches, which means that the friction plates are bathed in oil
to keep them cool. This means that slipping a clutch is not a problem for
a short time. I have over 50,0 00 miles on my bike -- the clutch has never
been rebuilt and still works fine, even though I occasionally "slip" it.
When riding at a speed that is slower than your idle will let you go, control
your speed by pulling in the clutch past the friction point to disengage
the engine from the rear wheel. The friction point is the point that the
clutch just starts to 'grab' and transfer power to the rear wheel. When
you feel unsteady because you are going so slowly you feel you almost have
to put your foot down, then let out the clutch a bit to speed up until
you're steady. You can do this for quite some time without hurting the
The best way to learn any riding techniques, including these, is
to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation or Canada Safety Council rider's
course. They will increase your confidence and skill immeasurably. Contact
your local Motor Vehicle registration of fice for local contact numbers.