Top 10 Ways to Ride Like a Wing-Footed MO Deity

John Burns
by John Burns

Our must-do techniques for road-riding like the wind safely

We here at MO enjoy the sensations and challenges of riding motorcycles briskly along twisty and undulating roads, and our collective decades of experience have taught us many lessons in how to do it – for the most part – safely. We’ve flogged hundreds of motorcycles and returned them virtually unscathed, so we’re sharing a few tips on our favorite techniques that just might save you a little or a lot of unnecessary grief.

10. Ride a good bike with good tires

It doesn’t have to be a new motorcycle, but everything needs to work like it did when new. Riding a motorcycle anywhere near its limits is an exercise in fine control movements, and you can’t make fine adjustments to your motorcycle’s controls through stictiony cables and levers and a sticky throttle. That goes for your suspension, too: It needs to be able to absorb bumps and ripples without continuing to bounce up and down for another 50 yards, or be on the verge of a gigantic tankslapper because your fork tubes have been bent since 1989. Your chain needs to be not too tight or too loose. Basically, make sure everything’s bolted tight and doing what it’s supposed to do. You don’t need lots of horsepower to go fast on our favorite roads, but you will appreciate a predictable powerband with no flat spots or sudden spikes of power. And nothing will perk up your bike like a pair of fresh tires. Something in a nice sport or sport-touring compound, like a Dunlop Q3 or Pirelli SuperCorsa, will give the best compromise between plenty of grip and long life.

9. Leave your MotoGP fantasies on the couch

We’re not going to be going 200 mph on the street or anything like it, and trying to drag your elbow on the road is a recipe for disaster. Even dragging your knee on the street is squidsign unless you’ve got like a 40-inch inseam and can’t help it. That’s because hanging off your bike helps you turn at high speeds when you know exactly where the corner is going and that no elk are mating in the exit. Hanging off that way on the street reduces your ability to react instantly if something unexpected does suddenly appear. On the street, it’s better to keep your head up for maximum visibility, to see as far around the next corner as you can, in the old Mick Doohan/ Kevin Schwantz style. Heck, even the current MotoGP heroes don’t really hang off all that much; it only looks that way because their bikes lean over about twice as far as you ever will on the street unless you’re in the process of falling off.

8. Think Dirty

Counter-intuitively, the best way to ride quickly and safely on the road, with its unseen/unexpected hazards, is to semi-emulate good off-road riders. Off-road riders keep their weight centered above the bike as much as possible, which increases their ability to instantly change directions. Riding at a school like Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp, Rich Oliver’s Mystery School or a Danny Walker Supercamp is invaluable for instilling the correct non-panic response when your motorcycle is sliding, and other skills, but you can gain the same experience on any small dirtbike in a vacant lot with a few orange cones. Watch some vids, wear plenty of gear, and have at it on whatever XR100 or TT-R125 you find lying around. All the great riders will tell you riding well is all about seat time.

7. Pick your spots to go fast/ Chill on the straights

The number-one thing you can do to extend your lifespan as a sporting motorcyclist is to know when to chill out and have patience, which would be almost all the time. If you’re on a beautiful winding country road but with lots of driveways and intersections, chill. If you’re on a long straight with lots of trees and things for motor officers and demented old people in pickup trucks to lurk behind, chill. In fact, you should just chill on almost all the straights when you’re on the road unless you really need to be somewhere. National park with lots of tourists in rental cars? Chill. Deserted mountain road with no residents, driveways, crossroads or logging trucks? OK, maybe it’s time to open it up a little bit and sample some of the 160 horsepower you paid for.

6. Relax and breathe

That motorcycle goes fastest and smoothest which is governed least. Never go faster than your comfort speed no matter who you’re riding with. We’d all rather wait for you at the next stop than have to deal with your crash from trying to keep up and failing. You’ll find your comfort zone expanding as you learn to go light, easy and loose on the controls while focussing your eyes upon where you want to go. And guys like Jason Pridmore will tell you a good way to relax is to not exactly concentrate on breathing, but to just remember to do it. Relax, inhale, exhale. Except on the very tightest twistiest road, street riding shouldn’t really be an aerobic activity. If you find yourself tight and your breathing ragged, Jesus is telling you to slow down. The goal is to keep all your inputs smooth and unhurried. If you’re having to stab the brakes and scaring yourself, you’re going too fast. Dial it back until you’re loose and relaxed again.

5. Look where you want to go and go there

Hanging off like Marquez is not the way to go down our favorite roads, but when you learn to lead a bit with your eyes and head into tight corners, the rest of you and your bike will magically follow. Literally getting your head into the game, craning your neck in that direction a bit, tends to also have you pushing on that inside grip, and countersteering, of course, is what makes your bike turn.

4. Know your tires

Possibly the single biggest piece of knowledge we learn from track days and the occasional race is how much grip the typical motorcycle actually has upon the road. Seeing firsthand how fast a bike can be ridden through a corner is highly instructive, whether you’ve reached that level yourself or are just being rapidly lapped around the outside. Once you’re aware of how fast your bike and its modern tires can corner, what once may have looked foolhardy on the street in fact becomes a reasonable pace that’s fast enough to exhilarate while leaving enough in reserve to deal with the unexpected. Provided it’s not too unexpected. Motorcycle riding remains a high-risk activity, but knowing that your tires have more grip to give when you’re already going around a corner at a good clip, is invaluable knowledge.

3. Maximize your field of vision

In right-hand corners you can’t see around, entering as far to the left in your lane as you can lets you see as far as possible around the corner. In lefts, staying in the right part of the lane maximizes your ability to see. The farther you can see into the corner, the quicker it’s safe to proceed. The goal is never to enter a corner so fast you won’t be able to stop if there’s a wildebeest or a broken-down Ford pickup in your lane.

2. Brakes are our friends

In the good old days when I was trying to learn to ride (and falling off occasionally, luckily without maiming myself), the faster guys thought it was big fun to show how fast and fearless they were by never letting you see their brake lights come on. Sometimes they’d actually unplug it to psych out their “opponents.” Well, tires are better now and so is everything else, and now I use my brakes all the time and don’t really care who knows it. On the street, I seldom need “all the brakes I can get all the time” like Joe Prussiano teaches at Texas Tornado, but just as with tires, it’s good to know how much you’ve got in reserve. You can brake surprisingly hard at moderate lean angles when corners unexpectedly tighten up, and bikes like the Ducati Multistrada, KTM Super Adventure and BMW S1000XR up the safety factor even farther with lean-sensitive ABS. ABS on the rear brake is even better for aggressive street riding: Dragging the rear a little or a lot tightens your line gently midcorner, and totally tames bikes with jerky throttle response if you blend rolling back into the gas with easing off the rear brake simultaneously. Heck, your Schwantzes and people used to control rear tire spin with the rear brake.

1. Enjoy why it’s called a “motor”cycle

Now that you’ve done everything right and gotten yourself safely to where you can see the unimpeded exit of the corner at a good clip, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your patience. Tons of street crashes happen when people lose the front end through panicky overbraking or unseen gravel or what-have-you on the way into the corner, but very few lose the rear end through applying too much power at the exit — even fewer now that we all have our traction control turned on. Weight that outside peg just like you would your downhill ski, and savor your bike’s awesome (or not) power-to-weight ratio as you smoothly (or not) roll on the gas. Any sportbike and most others worth their salt will happily oblige by compressing the rear suspension and transferring weight onto the rear tire’s contact patch, further assuring you are cleared for blast-off. Minimizing your risk on the way to this moment does nothing to minimize the reward of a corner well executed. On to the next one! Say, I think we’re gaining on that guy who used to be faster… remember to breathe, relax, and keep your eyes as far down the road — ahead of that guy you’re gaining on — as possible.

John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 6 comments
  • Old MOron Old MOron on Sep 11, 2015

    A wing-footed MO deity? Gee.
    I think I can aspire to slow-witted MO pleb.
    Is that worth anything?

    Of course! Any MOron is better than someone who reads other moto publications.

  • Martin Luther Martin Luther on Sep 22, 2015

    Wow...!! Nice idea for driving. I m pretty sure it is so exiting and enjoyable. I love riding but i am a new rider and have finished my riding before few days from Motorcycle Training Centre Toronto. But i am fully confident that after few days or weeks i will be able to drive like this.