You're riding along enjoying the morning. Oregon's High Desert just east of the Cascade Mountains offers awesome and engaging scenery. Suddenly, an unexpected piece of scenery presents itself. Looking through your windscreen you see a bucket that has blown out of the back of the pickup ahead.
Maybe it's empty, maybe it's not. You certainly don't want to hit it and find out. You need to decide pretty darn quick what avoidance action to take. The preferred choice is to stop. That isn't going to happen. Stopping, even at maximum braking, takes room. Room you don't have. Choice number two is to swerve around it. This option takes less space. It also opens up other hazards if done incorrectly. Unfortunately, a lot of riders get it wrong.
Are you thinking the bucket thing is a bit corny or stretching it? Let me tell you about a recent motorcycle accident. It happened on the last day of the BMW rally in Redmond. The day after the first annual International Moto-Bloggers Convention ( copyright T-Bolt ). As part of the gang was heading west toward the Pacific Ocean they saw the accident scene. Here's the reference. Look at the sixth paragraph.
Briefly, here's what happened. Two BMW's being ridden two up. Both on the same road traveling in the same direction, but not actually together. A bucket bounced out of a pickup ahead of the bike in front. Yep, a bucket flew out of the truck onto the road. The first rider successfully swerved around the bucket. The second rider got around the bucket but ran into the back of the first bike in the process. Both bikes went down. All four people on two wheels went to the hospital. Those on the first bike with minor injuries. Those on the second bike with serious to critical injuries. Would you like to reconsider your opinion of my bucket photo and illustration, now?
I'm not going to dissect this particular accident. I wasn't there although I have talked to an officer that was on scene. Judging by the number of swerve attempts that end up in crashes, a lot of riders don't have a full understanding of the maneuver. Many riders in my classes who claim to have a lot of experience don't fully understand it, either. So I figured it might be a good idea to take a look at swerving correctly.
It's often easier to break a process down into parts. In the case of swerving we can break it into these parts: The presses, where we look, and traction management.
There's confusion about the presses in two different areas. The first is about actually realizing that a rider needs to press on the handgrip in the direction they need the bike to move. Some riders actually try to STEER around the hazard. In their "every bodily orifice tensed up" state they fall back on driving a car. Ironically, attempting to steer around a hazard actually countersteers a bike right into the very thing they were trying to avoid. Interestingly, Youg Dai made a similar comment on my post about Visualizing Success. Here are some excerpts.
Now dial in an :'Oh my god I am going to die!',bend that is tighter than you first thought. The if that is what is swamping your concious thought, as you have said before, the rest of the body is running on learnt muscle memory and reaction, so you try to steer towards the bend, as you would in a car. ..... where in fact you are applying counter steering input to the bike and in entirely the wrong direction.
This happened to me 12 years ago at less than 20 mph, so I healed and the bike was repaired. Now for many years I thought the cause of the bike running wide was me braking in mid corner.
We then had a presentation from an accident investigator at my riding group, about the number of single vehicle accidents on corners involving middle-aged men on summer Sundays, where he put up that theory. I thought back over my own accident and I now firmly believe it was me introducing the wrong steering inputs that actually put me across the kerb and into the wall.
Young Dai was talking about finding oneself too hot into a corner but the same principle applies. Tense situations often cause people to revert to ingrained habits. Good or bad.
Having established that we actually need to countersteer the bike in the direction of our escape route, let's talk about the actual presses. A swerve is two consecutive countersteers. A press in one direction followed by a press in the other direction. So what does each of the presses do?
Notice the term "hold the press". The amount the bike moves doesn't depend on how hard you hit the handgrip. It's the length of time we hold the press that determines how far the bike moves. Think of the press as standing in the doorway of your house. Then think of putting your palm flat against the storm door. ( of course, on the bike your hand will be curved around the grip ). Now push the door straight away from you to open it and let the cat or dog outside. It's that simple, because all you're doing is moving the front wheel slightly to one side. The faster the bike is traveling the more resistance you will feel to the press. Higher speeds require a firmer press.
Don't worry about a lot of upper body movement. There isn't time for that, anyway. Only the hands move. Let the bike move independently underneath you. In my classes I call it the "Elvis Presley School of Swerving; just let your hips swivel, Baby!"
Then my joke is "Notice I just said it, I didn't do it!" In my last Advanced Rider Training classroom I had a couple of Harley gals pull out some dollar bills and offer them to me if I did it. I might have blushed. Where's Jack R. when you need him?
Back to the presses. The first press moves the bike into the new path of travel. What does the second press do?
I've had a lot of riders tell me that the second press puts you back onto the original pathway. What if you can't go back? What if it's a fifty foot fuel slick? How about a quarter mile of nails spilling out of a truck? Or a line of stopped traffic? How do you go back?
The second press simply cancels the first press. In other words, it straightens the bike back up until we decide what to do next. That's it. A long press to move to the new path of travel followed by a short press to straighten the bike. Press and hold. Press to cancel. Long press, short press. Whichever way is easier to remember.
Where do we look? The answer to that should be thundering across cyberspace right now. WHERE YOU WANT THE BIKE TO GO!!! Keep your eyes up. Many riders who were unsuccessful in their swerves ran right into the hazard because they stared at it. It's called Target Fixation. A thing to be vigorously avoided, to be sure.
Ok, we've covered the presses and the look part. Let's take care of the last part. Traction management.
A swerve at any speed eats up traction. Higher speed swerves eat up more. Simple logic. Braking eats up traction. Look at the compressed forks and the squished front tire on the BMW above. Now we have two actions, each with its own large appetite for traction. Those two things should never be allowed to eat at the same table. There's a greater than average chance that there won't be enough food, or traction to go around. Never brake while swerving. Never attempt to swerve while braking. A lot of riders have tried and a lot of riders have crashed in the attempt.
You may need to swerve and then come to a quick stop. You may need to slow to see which way the object in front of you will roll ( such as a rolling bucket ). Do one, then the other. Brake, then swerve. Swerve, then brake. Never together. Separate, separate, separate.
Pop quiz. How many brakes does a bike have? Right away most people say two. Do I hear three? Yes, engine braking is the third one. So what do we need to do with the throttle through the entire swerve? A lot of riders start to roll off the throttle as soon as they start their swerve. It's a natural reaction. Danger = Slow down.
Isn't rolling off of the throttle braking during a swerve, though? Even if engine braking isn't enough to put us over the edge traction-wise, here's something else to think about.
What holds a bike up when it's moving? Speed, momentum, all that good stuff. So we're asking the bike to quickly lean over to one side and then pick itself up again. That's hard enough. To make it even harder, though, we're going to roll off the throttle as soon as we start to swerve, thus taking away the bike's power, speed, and momentum. In other words, all the means the bike uses to hold itself up. Somehow that just doesn't make much sense to me.
Hold the throttle steady all the way through the swerve. Don't roll off and don't roll on. You may need to refresh your roll-on afterwards, but in this case I'm talking throttle, not anti-perspirant!
Put it all together. Visually lock onto your escape route. That's the most interesting thing in your world right now. ( obviously, don't fixate and miss something critical around you ) Press the handgrip in the direction you need the bike to move. Hold that press long enough to totally clear the hazard. Once clear, execute a short press in the opposite direction to straighten the bike back up in the new path of travel. Hold a steady throttle until the bike is back upright. If braking is involved, do it before or after the swerve, never at the same time.
Swerving is like a fire extinguisher in your house. You pray you never need it. If the time does come, though, it's much better to have figured out how to use it correctly ahead of time. Therefore, go Thee, and practice in a safe place!
Miles and smiles,