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Riders who should have zigged

Discussion in 'New Riders and Riding Tips' started by Removed_User6, Oct 20, 2004.

  1. In light of all the disscussion about people avoifing accidents , i thought this would be a appropriate time to put this up .

    Countersteering: Motorcycle Riders Who Zig
    Sure, you have been successfully steering your motorcycle ever since you started riding. But can you steer hard, quickly and accurately when it really counts? A surprising number of motorcyclists fail the final in Steering 101—when a car, deer or unexpected curve appears in front of them. How will the nut that connects the handlebar to the seat on your bike perform in a crisis? From the August 2004 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. By Art Friedman.

    Illustration by John Breakey

    Most motorcyclists have heard of countersteering. If you have been riding for any length of time, you have probably hashed it over in benchracing sessions. The subject is usually covered in rider-training courses, too. Not always, though. I attended a California Highway Patrol training session for motorcycle officers back in the early 1980s and noticed that the subject was not mentioned. When I asked about it, the instructor told me, "It just confuses them."

    I can understand that. The concept of turning the front wheel one way to go the opposite way certainly is counterintuitive. Those of us who started riding before there was rider training probably had to grasp the concept by ourselves, and perhaps we did it subconsciously. And some people never quite realize that you steer left to go right and vice versa. In fact, I have heard some longtime riders insist that that's not the case, that motorcycles steer the way the front wheel is initially turned. I have also heard bicyclists deny that a bicycle steers this way. The issue is also confused by the fact that you can steer a motorcycle by leaning, as anyone who has ridden any distance with their hands off the bars (a practice that can lead to disaster if you hit something in the road or have a flat tire, I need to point out) can testify. Some motorcyclists will tell you that shifting your body weight is the primary way to steer a motorcycle.

    However, the depth of some motorcycle riders' confusion about motorcycle steering really shows up in accident investigations, which reveal the tendency of some riders to fail to turn or to actually turn the wrong way when confronted by a hazard that suddenly appears. This doesn't happen in the majority of crashes, but it does happen often enough for the Hurt Report to note it. Typically, the hazard is a vehicle that has pulled into the motorcycle's path.

    So why does a rider fail to swerve or actually turn into the intruding vehicle? It is hard to know exactly. After all, this rider has been successfully turning his motorcycle in the direction he wanted to go since he started riding. When it really counted, why did he do the wrong thing?

    One factor is probably target fixation. We tend to go where we look, and it's hard not to look at the SUV that's wandering into your path. But I believe you can teach yourself to focus on your escape path, and those who have taken even basic rider training have likely heard an instructor tell them to "get your eyes up" or "turn your head and look where you are going." Practicing that will not only make your normal turns smoother, it will also help you learn to look at your exit from a dicey situation.

    In a recent poll on this site, almost two out of five respondents (38 percent) said they had never taken any sort of rider training, and two-thirds of that group said they started riding before rider training was available. The fact that you have gotten away with it doesn't mean there aren't rider-training lessons that can save your bacon (and your Hog's) when you ride into a traffic crisis. I have been riding pretty intensely for more than 40 years and still benefit from my back-to-school days, in part because it at least makes me reconsider some of my riding habits through the eyes of a detached professional. One thing I readjusted when I went through a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) program many years ago was what I did with my eyes. I started training myself to look at the paths around obstacles rather than the obstacles themselves. This conditioning has been priceless when someone lurches in front of me unexpectedly, leaving me with little distance to react.

    But just because you know where you want to go doesn't mean you have the skills to do so. Do you regularly practice hard swerves at the speeds you typically ride? If you aren't comfortable making a sudden hard swerve, you probably won't attempt one in a moment of panic, even though it could be the only action that might avoid a collision. Again, signing up for rider training, preferably an Experienced RiderCourses(which only one in nine poll respondents had taken), will get you started.

    However, regular practice—as often as every ride—is what actually keeps the sudden, controlled hard swerve in your bag of accident-avoidance tricks, and makes it familiar enough that you instinctively use it in an adrenaline-addled moment.

    Practicing swerves is probably the best remedy for any tendency you might have to steer the wrong direction in a moment of panic. Although shifting your body weight to help direct and steady the swerve is certainly useful, to get that instant, substantial change of direction, you must countersteer—hard, precisely and instinctively. When you practice that zig, you should also follow up with a zag, since in the real world swerving around something is likely to send you out of your lane.

    Since we at the magazine constantly have to get on and quickly adapt to test motorcycles we have never ridden before, I have developed a routine of making a quick, hard zig-zag at the first opportunity, usually within a few minutes of pulling away. On cruisers, this normally means dragging both floorboards in rapid succession without leaving my lane. This exercise tells me how precisely a motorcycle steers, what sort of pressure is required to make it steer quickly, how well controlled the suspension is, what sort of ground clearance it offers, how predictably the motorcycle steers, and other clues about how it will behave. It is also good practice for me. I normally like to be going at least 30 mph, and most cruisers are comfortably doing a quick left-right-left floorboard-scraping routine at 70 mph while staying within one lane. You don't make this sort of quick direction change by leaning off the bike; you must lever forcefully on the handlebar.

    The other reason riders probably fail to swerve (other than freezing in a panic, which regular practice might also prevent) is hard braking. A motorcycle, even one with antilock brakes, can't turn and brake hard at the same time. If you have taken an MSF class, you may have heard the traction-pie analogy. If you are using 90 percent of your available traction to brake, you don't have another 30 percent left to turn hard. In addition, a motorcycle that's braking hard, particularly a cruiser, probably resists turning. This means a rider must decide in a split second whether to brake or swerve, and if he swerves, in which direction. If you aren't comfortable with a hard swerve, you may instinctively hit the brakes, even though swerving might allow you to avoid the obstacle while braking just means you hit it at a lower speed. In addition to making you comfortable swerving, practicing teaches you what kind of room you need to execute a swerve and lets your mind rehearse making that split-second decision about whether to brake or change direction.

    Many cruiser riders tend to feel they are safe riders because they don't ride particularly fast, but this belief lulls them into a complacency that can bite them when they must react immediately to a pop-up hazard. You need to keep those life-on-the-edge skills sharp, even if you rarely use them. The two major avoidance maneuvers are swerving and braking, but unlike braking practice, practicing hard swerves involves little risk of crashing. And swerving might be called on more often. I recently saw a statistic that 55 percent of fatal highway accidents involve unintended lane changes, and I know I have certainly dodged a lot of Dodges. But those lane changers are usually the easy ones to avoid. The car that appears in front of you without warning and stops is the challenge that will really test your abilities. If you practice swerving ahead of time, you will know how to swerve, be able to do it instinctively and be able to judge whether swerving is a viable option under the circumstances.

    And that swerving practice is even kind of fun.
  2. Printed this out to read in the park at lunch time!
  3. got 2 paragraphs in and gave up. i'm sure its a great read, but my attention span is too short. put some pics of boobies in every few paragraphs and i'll read it tho :LOL:
  4. good read, thanks groberts

    and i really do mean that
  5. I accept that countersteering works like that, but I reckon you need to be a PhD in physics to understand WHY it works. Suffice to say it does.

    Mind you, at this point in my riding career, I probably should just brace for impact...
  6. Good article Glen.

    I like to use the 'cateyes' in the road as practice for swerving. Ride slightly to one side, loosen up, and then suddenly and sharply swerve to the other side of them.
  7. Nah just do what I do... Smile and loose all feeling with your body before you hit that taxi...

    An ancient ninja master taught me that one
  8. Thanks for sharing the article Glen, definitely worth making the time to read it! I do remember touching on counter steering in my rider training, but that was years ago now, so maybe I need a little refresher... thinking of doing an advanced rider course anyway - can anybody tell me if they have done one and if so, what it was like?
  9. Who am I to disagree with the great ninja master... *bows* I shall remember that, should I ever find myself flying feet-first towards a taxi...
  10. I'm assuming you've done a head check first! or splatt!
  11. If only I'd Zigged, instead of trying inverted parking. Bugger.

    Good article, thanks Glen.
  12. holy moly thats a lot of text...

    i dunno if im stating the bleeding obvious, but bikepoint have a big thing on countersteering and lots of good tips for riding (www.bikepoint.com.au)

    just thought i'd put that in...

    oh and yea, YAY!!!! GO ME!!! 50 POSTS !!!!! WOOOOOT
  13. Gr8 lunch time read now I need to work up the guts to try it!
  14. How many of you guys been on a group ride and saw someone in front of you swerving from left to right to clean the tyres, same thing.
    Start slowly and work your way up to it.
    A little forward pressure right hand, bike leans slightly to the right,
    a little forward pressure left hand, bike straightens, if you keep the
    pressure on bike leans left and so on.
    The more pressure you apply the greater the angle of lean.
    Once you stop the pressure the bike will stay at that angle providing you keep a constant throttle.
    In theory, if you had enough room, once you have the angle of lean you could ride around in circles till the fuel ran out.
  15. Another thing to keep in mind, when "countersteering" effectively - LOOK where you want to go! Don't practice countersteering whilst continuing to look straight ahead. Half the reason why sometimes the countersteering efforts aren't as "exaggerated" as they could be, is because the rider doesn't look to where they want to go (instead, they look at the car/rock/pothole).

    Daveh - I do that "warming up the tyres" a lot - even though I've been told it's actually illegal (so I only do it when I'm thinking I won't get caught! :p )
  16. I've heard its illegal too, I'd love to know for real if it truly is though, and the reason why....

    Does anyone know for certain?

    (waiting for all the useless guesswork to start)
  17. It is illegal.
    I cant be bothered looking up the relevant law however.
    I know of a rider in Sinnee that was booked for doing so and also a bloke in Melbourne that did it with new tyres to scrub them in and got booked.
    Not being in control I think was the offence they used.
  18. I got done in a car once, while checking for bearing noises,
    the actual swerving isn't illegal , they just deem you to be not in control of
    the vehicle, like what vic said,

    Like lane splitting, isn't illegal but they can get you for other stuff

    One of those unwritten laws, depends on how bad a day the cops had
    sometimes you tell them why and they let you off, sometimes doesn't matter what you say your gone. :)
  19. Practising is good, ive done it over 3 lanes once.. holey moley you can get the thing to move when you want to... coming back from melbounre on a tusday night at 3 in the morning NO ONE THERE..

    Not in control of vehicle??? WTF does that mean we can get booked for when we go soaring over the bonnet and part company with the handlebars thanks to "Miss Failstogiveway" as our bike fisically cant stop in time... <End Rant>
  20. I`d never heard that before, You`d have to be pretty rude to the copper if he booked you for that I imagine.