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  • July 01, 2023 6 min read

    Slow riding - My take on it.


    I am often asked how to perfect slow riding. Some are more competent than others and below is my take on improving and understanding slow riding.

    To pass the IAM motorcycle test you must be able to demonstrate that you can ride slowly in full control of the machine. They are not looking for heroics but sensible competence.




    How do I know when I am vertical? Usually the inner ear provides this information coupled with eyesight and the binocular effect. Additionally we can feel by body weight if we are leaning to one side. Muscles pull differently. All this input information allows us to know our attitude relative to the ground. Practise blindfolded or with eyes shut. Try standing still for 10 seconds. Feel the other senses trying to stabilise you. Relax and feel. Gradually build up to 40 seconds. Then, try moving. Kneeling down, standing up, kneeling down, standing up. Just 'feel' the other balance mechanisms working without the eyes helping. Now add the eyes back, remove the blindfold. Try the same exercises. Add in balancing on one leg by lifting the other an inch from the ground. Feel the body correcting itself. Practise, practise, practise. You may find this helps in attuning you to the feeling of balance.


    Machine control

    We use the input mechanisms to do this.


    Body position.

    How we sit on the machine. To the front, to the rear and or to one side. If attempting full lock, will our arms be long enough to stretch out without altering our central balance position? Do we want our knees out or in? On smaller bikes you may need to have your knees out approaching full lock. There is nothing wrong with varying knee position to assist in balance. (Tightrope walker with long pole).



    Try and make small corrections. Building up towards full lock when the machine is stable. If it isn't we can't go all the way.

    Do we have to go to full lock? Answer: No, but it can sometimes get us out of awkward situations.


    Speed control.

    By definition we need to be going slowly.

    Using the rear brake will control this aspect and also pulls the bike down a fraction at the rear. Gentle application of the rear brake will stabilise the machine. Dragging the rear brake all the time is another method of control which can be used until confident in applying and releasing.

    Avoid the front brake. This is attached to the steering (obviously) and any input with the lever will have an effect. Front brake application causes a weight movement forward which can de stabilise both the bike and us. Avoid the front brake. (Repetition deliberate)


    Throttle control.

    We need some throttle input but this needs accurate use. Twisting the right wrist can upset balance, so try setting the throttle at first and varying input when required. Throttle power needs to be sufficient so we don't stall the machine. If the ground has a gradient, increase in power will be required going up and reduction going down. Throttle input must be smooth.



    We will need to slip the clutch for the really slow stuff. Our hand therefore has to be on the lever. Find the bite point and try and set the clutch in that position. Vary it minimally to alter the drive characteristic. When we turn the bars, our reach to the clutch control will vary and possibly vary the position of the lever. We need to guard against this and be aware this will happen. Positioning further forward on the seat can help. Be aware of overheating the clutch after prolonged practise. Have a break if you can smell burning friction material. Occasionally the clutch bite point will alter as it becomes hot. Be prepared for this.


    Practice manoeuvres.


    Pull away in a straight line.

    Slowly pulling away and stopping within a couple of metres . Rear brake only. Vary the pull away speed from gentle to abrupt. This goes to machine control and the effects of harsh movement. It will program the brain on how to cope.

    Lift the foot from the ground more and more quickly on pull away until you can lift your foot off the ground without actually having moved forward. Feel the balance of you and the machine. Sense it.


    Straight line slowly.

    Once stable, use the controls to reduce speed to a walking pace. Try keeping in a straight line but don't worry if you deviate. Takes time to settle. Varying the grip on the bars as this can sometimes alter how stable you become. Slowly reduce speed and feel the point of balance. Speed up if necessary or put a foot down to regain control. Once back in slow riding mode, just keep slowing down and attempt to stop upright without putting your feet down. Only try this for a split second at first and then apply power and move forward. Steadily get used to this method until you can physically stop the machine moving forward with your feet up.

    Do we have to be able to do this? Answer: No, but it can help with confidence.


    Stopping in a straight line.

    We avoid the front brake when slow riding so practise stopping using the rear brake. Try not to lean over too far when coming to rest. This becomes especially relevant when touring fully laden with a passenger.

    Now try stopping with just the front brake….something I suggested we avoid. Feel the difference. There may be occasions when we need to place the rear brake foot down on the road (such as a steep road camber on the other side) so it is useful if we can stop smoothly using the front brake too.


    Stopping on the curve.

    Can be tricky but may be necessary if circumstances dictate. Feel the forces acting. Use the rear brake. When competent, gently try the front brake but be prepared for odd things to happen as the fork angles and centre of gravity move. We should avoid the front brake.



    The bike may want to fall into the circle you are describing. This coupled with throttle input can work but you may find you then travel too fast. Try keeping the machine vertical. Make large circles at first gradually decreasing the diameter. Don't rush this. Take your time. You may find that turning right or left is easier than the other. Practise the one which is more difficult.

    Gradually decrease the circle diameter beyond your comfort zone. Try going to full lock momentarily. Use right and left circles.

    Look where you want to go.


    Figure of 8.

    Now move to the figure of 8 manoeuvre first with a large figure of 8 and then gradually reducing it. I prefer to keep the machine as upright as possible but on occasions when the bike falls in, a throttle input can be used to assist in bringing it back upright. Be smooth and aware that your speed will have increased and require rear brake correction.

    Look where you want to go.


    Holding full lock.

    As the diameter of the circle decreases, try going to full lock. Initially just a quick nudge of the bump stops will do. Gradually build up to keeping it on the bump stops. Left and right circles will feel different.

    Do we have to be able to do this? Answer: No, but it can help with confidence.


    Starting from full lock.

    This is tricky. Build up gently. Apply full lock and physically hold the bars in that position as you smoothly add power, gain clutch control and lift your foot from the ground. Your leg dangling in the air will affect balance. (remember racers entering corners with a leg out to change the centre of gravity position). Think 'landing gear up'.

    Practise left and right full lock pull always. They will feel different.

    Do we have to be able to do this? Answer: No, but it can help with confidence.


    Where to practise?

    Somewhere safe and off road is always better. Try areas which have a flat area and then move onto camber or slope. Brake and throttle input will become more relevant in these situations. Finally; when feeling more confident try loose surfaces and gravel. You will come across these one day so why not practise before. (Norfolk…those who know, will know!). Even more sensitivity and smoothness is required in these situations to keep the bike vertical. Think what will happen if you put your foot down on gravel whilst leaning over. Will your foot slip away or can you use your thigh muscles to hold the leg at a constant angle if the foot starts to slip? This is all part of planning.



    Practice makes perfect but acknowledge that, as with most things in life, some are better at it than others. Just try to improve to reach an acceptable standard.

    PW 08/21

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