Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ready - Aim - Fire

The goal in successful cornering is to have all your transitions done before the corner. What are transitions? Anything you do to get ready for the corner.

Things like braking and downshifting, moving the bike to set up your line, turning your head, rolling back on the throttle, and the press to initiate the lean. All these things happen while the bike is still straight up and down. The actual leaning of the bike is the last thing to happen. Ok, enjoying the corner is the last thing, but we're talking the actual mechanics, here!

We've taken the Slow-Look-Roll-Press sequence and condensed it to Ready-Aim-Fire. It's easier to remember, flows better, and more accurately describes the process. Here's some pictures. These are digital pictures of PDF files from our course so bear with me. They're usually shown as overhead slides.

This one's pretty much self-explanatory. Just notice that the bike is still straight up and down. Next, and certainly the most important to success, is the Aim portion.

This is the head turn. I prefer to call it "Target Acquisition". To me that really describes what's going on much better. The majority of riders don't look nearly far enough ahead. Notice that the head turn comes before the "roll". Why? Firstly, we need to gather information to tell us if it's okay to roll. Secondly, we need a target to roll towards. So many times we see riders enter a corner and only look to the exit after they're halfway through the corner. They end up getting information way too late. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes they crash.

It's a fact of life. The bike will go where you look. It doesn't seem to work by just moving your eyes. The rider's head has to turn, as well. Never underestimate the power of a head turn. Here's a little story that's one of many times I've had to use this knowledge to protect a new riding student.

It's May in Tillamook. This is a small coastal town on the Northern Oregon Coast. We don't have a fixed site up there. Tillamook High School has graciously given us the use of one of their parking lots. Several times a year we go set up a class. The school is closed on the weekends so we bring in a Porta-Potty for the students. Circumstances dictate the placement of the outhouse in the corner of the parking lot we use for the class. It's out of the way but not totally out of harm's reach.

We usually send two instructors up here. The normal thing is to have two classes of 12 students each with two instructors per class. The parking lot at Tillamook is smaller than our normal range so we limit the student count to 8. In our other program we would send two senior instructors and each one would teach a class alone.

So I'm standing on the range in charge of my 8 students. It just happens that I'm diagonally across from the outhouse. One of my students is on a Suzuki GZ250. We'll call her Diane. My student is staring at the outhouse. Guess where she's heading? Yeah, you guessed it. Right for the outhouse that she's intently staring at. I see that a collision is imminent. What to do from clear across the range? Here's why senior instructors were used to teach alone. Experience, people, experience.

I yell to her across the range. "Diane! Look at me!" Diane turns her head to see what I want. Now that she's looking over her shoulder at me, guess where the bike heads? Away from the outhouse and toward me. Right where she is looking!! Like I say, the bike WILL go where you look.

By the way, I always wondered what I would have written on an accident report had Diane actually ran into the outhouse. I think I would have summed it up by writing,

"Student was looking where she wanted to GO." Get it? Outhouse, go? Oh, never mind!

We'll talk more about head turns later. It's a deep subject to explore.

Here's the last step.

Notice that so far the bike is still straight up and down. At this point we are off the brakes and back on steady throttle. Only after that do we initiate the lean by pressing. We keep looking at our target which is the exit of the corner and then beyond.

If you look at the picture you'll see that the throttle roll is described as a gentle roll on. There's an important reason for this. In cornering, traction is the currency. It's all about keeping some of that currency in a savings account for unexpected needs.

So there's the general sequence. What it means to most riders is that they need to start things much earlier than what feels normal. After braking is completed, the bike needs time to transition from a weight forward condition to a stable attitude. This happens before we press. That's why most riders find that they're trying to brake and lean at the same time. The braking happens late which means everything else happens late, too.

Getting it all done early makes a huge difference. You'll feel more comfortable and confident. The bike's suspension will be more stable. Traction will be better managed. You'll be riding more safely. Life's better all the way around.

There's still more but this post is getting long. I'll finish up in the next post with the dynamics involved and what they really mean. Better yet, how understanding them will help you master the art of cornering!

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

Great post Dan. Running into an outhouse would not be something easily forgotten. Glad you saved her from that, she would be scarred for life!

I think sometimes the slowing before the curve is what throws people off since many times there is no need to slow and the curve can easily be managed at the speed being traveled.

Over time I have learned to estimate what speed will be comfortable for any given turn or curve and can slow appropriately. I know I am doing well when I don't sense any discomfort in turns, just a fluid movement.


irondad said...

You're right, not every curve requires a body to slow down. The main thing is that you are looking far enough ahead to determine that before you get there. What's happening is that riders don't have enough information before they commit. They just don't look far enough. Then they're suprised.

Here's the two things that tell you your entry speed is good. And you nailed one.

One, you make the corner!!

Two, you can hold steady or slightly increasing throttle throughout the entire curve.

Take care,

Ale- said...

this is one of the best series of posts I've ever read. Very very useful even to an experienced rider, I think.

I reached this post via Steve's Scooter in the Sticks, which I follow regularly, and I happened to realize I neglected your blog for too much time...!

I was just thinking of posting on mine about cornering on a Vespa, and I was instantly preceeded by these wonderful blogs; serendipity? maybe. But I'm gonna seriously think about a post on such an argument just for fellow Vespa riders and italian people as well, though I blog in two languages...!
thanks a lot for all the help.

L'Insetto Scoppiettante

Unknown said...

good explanation... I've ridden all my life .. some thirty five years in the adult arena.. started at 19.. no 67 . the only time iv'e gone into the brush was when i got target fixation .. hey maybe it was the huckleberries at fault ! I was on my original Honda 350 Scrambler.. heading thru Pebble Beach.. twisties doing fine.. when suddenly I found the front tire in thick pine needles and my eyes stuck on trees and bushes.. off the bike went .. fortunately we both missed each other... and softly landed in the compliant bush.. no cuts and the pristine bike un touched by harm.. all would of been avoided had a been steadfast focused on 'my line' and not drifting off .. my thanks for this reminder ! I too was directed to your site from Steve of SCOOTER IN THE STICKS - for those of you unfamiliar with his blog... go there whether you own a scooter or not .. its written richly and Steve's a fine photographer as well enriching the tales with thoughtful pictures taken along the way .. Best to all of you ! Good riding ! CH