Thursday, 3 June 2010

Self-Teach Advanced Rider Training

Post 2 in the set

Over the next few posts I'll be adding the 'Games' content currently on the Cooper Bike Training web space.

These allow you to train yourself without the necessity of trailing an advanced motorcycling instructor or observer along behind.

Each 'game' is intended to work on a particular aspect of riding skill, awareness, or planning.

Games for grown-ups!
Playing games isn't just for children. Setting aside the "Football, more important than life or death" theory, there are a number of games you can play to help improve your riding.

Pick and choose from the list below. You will find that some of the games build on earlier exercises, so there are benefits to working through in order.

You may also find it helps to print this out and carry it with you for roadside reference, although there are 'armchair' exercises to do in the comfort of your home!

Drive Yourself Around The Bend!
One of the easiest ways to improve your cornering is to 'drive' the bike around each corner. There's two elements to this:
1. You need to finish all braking or gear-changing while the bike is still upright and traveling in a straight line;
2. Opening the throttle as you lean into the corner (remember that cornering with the throttle closed is effectively braking around the bend).

Using these two points means that you brake while the bike is most stable, and corner with the throttle open, which gives good weight distribution (taking weight off the front so it's less likely to slide) and can increase your ground clearance..

To achieve both 1 & 2 you may find that you have to brake earlier and more firmly than usual.

Whether or not you are comfortable with opening the throttle is one way of judging the accuracy of your choice of speed for the corner.

To start off, just notice whereabouts you open the throttle, with the bike still upright and in a straight line, just as you start the turn, or do you corner with the throttle closed? Does this vary between corners, perhaps 'open' or 'blind' bends? When you change the point where you start to 'drive', does the bike seem more 'comfortable'?

No Brakes?
When you've got 'Drive Yourself . . . ' off to a fine art, build in an additional element of good forward planning. Try to identify hazards (actual or potential danger) earlier so that you don't need to brake, just close the throttle, then arrive at the corner (or other hazard) at the correct speed and ready to to open the throttle.

As before: use the brakes if you have to, remember that 'engine braking' means using the engine to slow you - not the gearbox, only change down when the revs have dropped, then use the throttle to match the revs with your road speed.

Funky Chicken
"Tense, nervous, headache." Remember the T.V. advert.? Well, tension in your shoulders while riding a motorcycle will initially cause discomfort, then pain. Worse still, it will adversely affect your riding as you will not be allowing the 'bars to move when the bike wants to balance itself. Another potential problem is that if your shoulders are tense you are far less likely to steer easily, and you will tend to feel that you are 'fighting' to get the bike to go where you want it to be.

Unfortunately, you can't stop tension happening, or just make yourself relax. What you can do is 'mark' your tension level, on a 1-10 scale. By being aware of tension you can start to overcome it.

So, you need to watch for the signs of tension - a 'death-grip' on the bars or straight arms and tense, raised, shoulders, for example - then tense even more and release. If in doubt, do the 'chicken' to check: your arms should be 'loose' enough that you can 'flap' your arms!

Although the easiest way to explain counter-steering is as a 'push' an the bars in the direction you want to turn, it's often better if you can keep that arm relaxed and pull back on the other bar. When cornering, try to keep your arms relaxed, particularly the arm on the side you are turning to, the 'inside' of the turn. It may help if you lean slightly forwards as you start your turn. Depending on your bike, you may be able to sit slightly further forward, which will also help to avoid the 'straight-arm syndrome'.

One instructor I've met calls this sort of thing 'Zen motorcycling'. Another well-known instructor will chant "Relax, relax, relax . . . " through your earpiece, in a soothing voice! At Cooper Bike Training, during our 'Born Again' courses, we encourage riders to have a comfortable, relaxed, riding position. To remind them we quote the American expression 'Loose as a goose'.

Are you uptight, chicken, Zen or goose? Keep a check while riding!

All Together Now: 'Drive', 'No Brakes' & 'Funky Chicken'!
So: at the start of the turn, turn your head and look where you want to go. Press - or pull back, you choose which works for you - on the bars, and roll the throttle open, all the time keeping 'loose'.

Occasionally the council will paint direction arrows on sections of road. Usually they'll be on the approach to junctions to indicate which lane you should be in. In other locations they probably suggest that drivers could be confused by the road layout, and might head the wrong way. However, they may have an unintended benefit for you as they can be a great place to practice counter-steering (see 'Funky Chicken') at 'reasonable' speeds. Don't scare the daylights out of other road users, please!

Time To Spare?
Here's the one for a quiet few moments at home: You will require a comfy seat, a watch, and a good memory.

Think of one of your 'best' roads, the one you regularly use for a 'clear the cobwebs' ride. You're going to ride a few miles of that road from the comfort of your armchair! So sit down, check the time, close your eyes and imagine riding down that road . . . . . . and when you get to the other end, check the time again. Did it take as long to imagine the route as it would to ride it?

If not, what have you missed? Go back and 'ride' through it again, this time in detail and in 'real time': think of each gear-change, braking point or throttle movement, every change in the road surface, every side turning, change in camber, bend & twist, any pub, shop, school or house entrance, all signposts, road markings or diesel spill.

The armchair ride should take at least as long as the real ride - if it doesn't, where are the 'blanks', the sections of road where you've not noticed the details? Next time you ride for real, slow down and fill in the gaps, seeing the detail is the key to good observation. Then ask yourself "How could that affect me?"

If you're interested in becoming an instructor, this 'ride recall' is probably an essential skill to develop, in order to discuss and assess a trainee's riding. It's also a great way to improve your own riding, rather than just sitting there without a full awareness of what's going on around you.

What If?
This game has been around for many years, but is about to become well known as a result of a recent pair DSA videos (one for car drivers, the other for motorcyclists).

It's a variation on the Roadcraft 'Observation Links', and involves asking yourself one question, many, many times. Whatever you see, ask yourself "What if . . . ?" For example, as you approach a blind corner, and are about to try and get your knee down, ask "What if there's a broken down car around the corner?" and choose your corner entry speed accordingly.

Another variation is:
How Can That . . . ?
As in "How can that affect me?" Try to be as imaginative as possible. Could a low flying aircraft have any effect on you? Probably not, but if you've noticed it then other drivers may have done too. Are they still looking at it? is it taking their concentration away from you?

So ask "How can that affect me?

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