Last night I found myself riding in a deluge. The rain's held off for a long time. Being confined has only intensified its energy. The chance to pour upon the earth finally came. Rainfall was gleefully making up for lost time. Why is it that the idiots always pick the most adverse conditions to come out in?
Somewhere there's a driving school with a twisted curricula. Some misguided instructor is diligently preaching the gospel of "uni-directional scanning". In other words, if you're going to turn left then only look left. Any vehicles approaching from your right? Forgetta 'bout 'em!
I had the distinct misfortune to be on this driver's right as they made their left turn and pulled out in front of me. Having gone to a different driving school, my scanning was a little more effective. Another close call, but nothing serious. No harm, no foul, as I'm fond of saying.
As I passed the driver and played speed boat, I was blessing the fact that I teach riding classes so often. The constant exposure keeps me thinking about proper techniques. In this incident I had naturally accounted for the dicey traction in the equation. Believe it or not, the rear brake is relatively more effective in the rain than when it's dry. With reduced traction on the front wheel not as much weight transfer happens. This means that more weight stays on the rear wheel longer. Weight means traction. With decent tires a good rider can take advantage of the situation. Still, it would be really easy to skid the rear wheel on a wet and sloppy road.
For years and years the MSF has preached the gospel of keeping the rear wheel locked once it starts to skid. If the rider does need to let go they should make sure the front and rear wheels are aligned. We've taught the same thing here in Oregon forever. The justification is that this technique will help prevent high-siding. Since most of our students are brand new riders we've just left it at that. Even most of the so-called "experienced" riders really don't have many miles. With between 500 and 3,000 miles as a yearly average, not much deep skill learning takes place. Skill-wise, they're really still beginners. By the time the rust from long Winter lay-offs is cleaned out, there's not much riding time left. So the motorcycle safety community has taught the simple strategy of keeping the rear wheel locked if it skids. It's always felt to me like we're not really presenting the true picture.
Like me, some of you have raced or ridden on tracks. There's also been some spirited high speed cornering in other places, hasn't there? What's your experience been if you've gotten on the brakes a little too hard setting up for a corner? I suspect you've released as soon as you noticed the skid and then re-applied. That's the way it happens in the real world of experienced riders. On the other side of the coin, there's mounting evidence that riders are trying to do what they're taught and crashing anyway.
A rider who keeps the rear wheel locked may or may not end up high-siding. A rider who keeps the rear wheel locked may or may not stop in time to avoid an obstacle. A sliding rear tire adds to the stopping distance. Keeping the rear wheel locked also negates any ability to make a directional change. If the back of the bike's sliding there's absolutely no directional control available. The bike's going to keep on in whatever path it was headed for when the slide began. I also know a former instructor who found himself in a skid when a car abruptly stopped in front of him. Faithfully holding the brake pedal down, the bike started to low-side. Being a big guy, when his weight started coming off the bike the center of gravity changed. The rear tire hooked up and he high-sided anyway! He's not alone.
Being professional trainers means we need to stop and re-evaluate things once in a while. Our obligation is to serve the riders we touch in the best way possible. Real world experience shows that we need to adjust our teaching on how to handle rear wheel skids. So we're doing it. This change is only being made to our program in Oregon as far as I know. The MSF may eventually arrive here but our concern is for Oregon's riders. I'm passing it along here for what ever benefit you may derive from it.
The fact of the matter is that if a rider's bike gets into the position shown on the far right, they're pretty much screwed, to put it bluntly. So the goal is to avoid having the bike step out in the first place. The way to do this is to immediately release the brakes as soon as a skid is recognized. Then re-apply. Remember, it's firm progressive pressure on the front brake and light to lighter on the rear. Always be smooth. It's hard to do when the heart's racing and the adrenaline's pumping. Don't leave it to chance and hope it happens correctly when needed.
You knew I was coming back to this, didn't you? Practice, practice, practice, ahead of time. Practice quick stops and don't lock either brake. You're probably not going to get it right first time, every time. That's ok. There's a blessing underneath what you might consider a mistake. You might accidently lock a wheel during the practice. If you suspect you've messed up the front brake application let go RIGHT NOW!! A rear wheel skid may be harder to detect on some bikes. Pay attention to what the bike is telling you. It will give you a chance to learn to recognize what a skid feels like on your bike. What you learn will serve you well when it happens in a real situation. When it does, release quickly and apply the brakes again. Be smooth, rider, be smooth.
When we suddenly encounter something that makes us want to pucker we're going to fall back on habits. Practice until our habits work for us, not against us. Keep your skills sharp for the unexpected!
This strategy allows us a chance to make the most of our braking. It's going to give us a better chance of stopping short of the obstacle. Releasing and re-applying will extend the time we're actually able to brake as opposed to sliding the rear wheel. We're also going to have a better chance of maneuvering around something since both tires are rotating.
Miles and smiles,