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  • April 01, 2024 6 min read

    The question “What makes a good rider?” has a surprisingly complicated answer for such a seemingly simple question. In this article National Observer Norton Hawes with input from others shines some light on this tricky question.

    A question that sometimes gets asked is what makes some riders seem to be that bit more progressive, smoother, and better than others? The answer to this question is a difficult one to answer simply!

    We asked some top riders the same question - Marc Marquez responded, “ride a Ducati”, Valentino says it is years of experience, Francesco Bagnaia says consistency is key, Jorge Martin says, “best to be in front always” and Jack Miller asked, “when you know tell me”.

    As that wasn’t very helpful, we then asked some of LAM's more "experienced" road riders in the group for the answer and distilled the various written and spoken words into what follows:

    All I will say that it comes from experience and clocking up the miles on all sorts of roads and in all kinds of weather. One thing is certain - the System - IPSGA - is still the key - it is how you use it that matters.

    • Information - VISION UP - look at the road ahead as far as possible, not at the bike or car in front, scan around. Look to the horizon and to the sides, train your peripheral vision to pick up movement, the eye and brain are very good at spotting any kind of unexpected movement, don’t just stare ahead move your head so that you are aware of what is happening around you, in front, behind and to the sides, in other words 360 Degree awareness.
      Look, see and register what is around you all the time and prioritise that information, what can you see, what can't you see and what might you reasonably expect to happen?
      Use the information to make decisions based or your capability and that of the bike, look where you want to go.
    • Position - this should become instinctive, keep thinking, am I in the best position giving me maximum advantage whilst maintaining my Safety Bubble? Change position to gain information, e.g. looking up the inside of the vehicle in front for a possible overtake. You should compromise position for safety if you can justify that position. Better to lose some vision and slow down rather than hit a pothole that would throw the bike out of balance mid-corner.
    • Speed - always appropriate - Make good use of the brakes, not just the gears. Gears only give braking to the rear tyre. The front brake is bigger than the rear brake for a reason - it gives you the greatest stopping power, use it when the bike is upright and stable to lose speed. Be gentle and progressive with brakes but not afraid of them. Know what the bike will do in terms of both acceleration and braking. Learn how mechanical grip (that is the traction / grip available from the front and rear tyre’s contact patch with the road surface) improves your safety in all situations. Delicate use of the throttle can provide precise speed control to both increase or decrease the speed of the bike as needed, remember the throttle goes both ways.
    • Gears - be in the most responsive gear for your bike for any hazard, don’t be lazy with changing gear. When the speed phase is correct then select a lower gear, if appropriate, for the hazard to make your bike responsive to throttle input. If there are no hazards, consider high gears to rest engine and rider! Understand how your bike “feels” at a given speed in each gear using vibrations and sound to save always looking down at the speedo.
    • Acceleration - use the available power and torque, know how the bike will respond. A lower gear will give you more torque and acceleration out of corners and will bring the bike upright as you apply the power. Develop acceleration sense to enable you to be precise with your riding, be smooth with acceleration (and braking) to ensure that you always maximise the available grip of the tyres.

    All the above applies to just one hazard/bend and is over in seconds and leaves you ready for the next hazard and a repeat of the above. Experience and repetition mean that you get quicker at doing this and that gives you more time to plan ahead. As you exit one hazard, be it a corner or other, then you should be looking ahead, planning for the next hazard and where you need to be positioned on the road for that next bend / hazard. More time means you can plan a smoother, more progressive line for the next hazard and so it goes on. Riding a motorcycle is a mental exercise, it is only physical if you drop it!

    If you are unable to process all the information presented to you into your riding plan in the time needed to react to that information, then you are going too fast. You should be travelling at a speed that is appropriate to safely negotiate any hazard which presents itself from the information phase. Information overload usually means you should slow down to allow better reaction time. The flow of information should always feel slow, so you have time to react. Time to react to a developing hazard is key for safety and good progress. You should be planning far ahead all the time, looking at the next hazard whilst exiting the last, knowing where you need to be for that next hazard, at what speed and in what gear before you even get to the hazard.

    Remember you should always be able to stop in the distance you can see to be safe, on your side of the road. Crossing the Centre line or ending up off the road is not a good idea. Ride with an escape route, a "Plan B", in mind because you never know when you might need it! The vehicle that pulls out in front of you - what options do you have? If you have seen it then move position to see if there is space to avoid it. Brake hard (in a straight line); you will be surprised how quickly a bike will stop in an emergency situation. If there is a softer option, such as a hedge or grass bank then swerve to take that rather than the hard side of a vehicle. Of course, you should have time to recognise the issue and take the appropriate action to avoid the hazard, but you never know!

    Putting in the miles on the bike are key, make regular rides every week or two or more, that will help build up the focus and concentration that is needed when riding a motorcycle. It is very easy to get “rusty” and lose some of that “feel” for the bike and the road if you have a break of several weeks or months from riding.

    Reflect on your ride, concentrate on accuracy and precision.  Don’t ride too fast (or too slow). Often slowing down a little and being precise will lead to a smoother, more progressive ride as you gain confidence and get a better feel for what the bike is doing on the road. Aim to be precise and accurate always, and progress will follow.

    Being comfortable on the bike and "with" the bike is important, be in the right "frame of mind" for the ride and be comfortable in yourself and your riding gear before you even get on the bike. There will always be a degree of risk when riding a Motorcycle on the roads. The system (IPSGA) will help to mitigate that risk; if you want zero risk buy a Tank or an Armoured Personnel Carrier and remember that every other road user has the potential to kill you, be aware and stay sharp.

    Courses such as the Machine Control Day (MCD) and the track based IAM Skills days are fun ways of learning about what you and the bike you ride can actually do. In addition, there are other training courses such as Rapid Rider Training, BMW / Triumph off-road courses etc. and trail riding in the Surrey Hills and other areas, many of the techniques they teach can be applied to road riding. LAM also offers Post Test Rides (PTR) for full members who have passed their test recently, or many moons ago, to help refresh the above skills.

    There is a lot of material out there that may also help, such as The Police Roadcraft book and Keith Codes "Twist of the Wrist" books, The “Full Control” document on the IAM website (Google - IAM full control document) as well as lots of YouTube videos.

    We all make mistakes! Hopefully not serious ones and there are three things to remember about mistakes:

    1. Recognise your mistake, don’t blame the road or another road user, YOU are in control.
    2. Work out what happened and why.
    3. Learn from the mistake and try not to do it again! Then hit the "reset" button.

      Know your own capabilities and be prepared to extend them bit by bit.

      Become the "Thinking Rider".

      Be aware that a rider that has recently completed any form of training is at more risk of being involved in a collision! Over confidence is dangerous; build up confidence in your own capabilities and those of the machine slowly, step by step and mile by mile, as ever practice is the key.

      Finally relax, breathe, and enjoy the ride and – above all never stop learning because every day is a learning day!

      Norton Hawes – updated February 2024

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