Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Front wheel skid, or Things I really don't want to do again!

Like I mentioned earlier, we conducted a motor cop training class yesterday. I managed to borrow our program's ST1100. It's a 2003 model but it only has about 7600 miles on it. Originally the bike was set up as a police bike. Most of the fun stuff has been stripped off of it. We're using it for the Eye Tracker project I wrote about previously. I can't tell you how good it felt to be back in the saddle of a bike like Sophie! It felt like coming home after a long journey.

This post isn't about the police training per se. I'll probably catch up on that down the road a bit. This is a story about what happens when you have a bike, the opportunity, and too much time on your hands.

We all met up at the track while the cops were in the classroom. From there we split into two groups of four. That would give each group somewhere around 14 or 15 cops. Jeff Earls of IronButt fame, Dan Batz the ultimate sportbike guy, Ray our training manager, and Dean W ( who reads and comments here ) were to be one group. Dean was FJR mounted. He's one of the few I've seen who can really get the most out of the FJR's sporting side. You know how some riders are all elbows and knees? They look like they're doing a lot but it's all flailing about. Dean's just the opposite. He's deceptively smooth. Also wickedly fast!

Scott, a state cop and former motor officer himself, went to help The Director with paperwork in the classroom. That left Laurie and I to meander over to the airport. The plan was to have half the motor officers start at the airport while the other half would start at the track. At lunchtime our groups would switch venues.

At the airport we use a taxiway that we block off. Since we do maximum braking and swerving drills at speeds up to 70 mph, we need a lot of straight line room. So there you have the background. Laurie and I were with the group starting at the airport and were hanging around waiting for the other two instructors to arrive with our half of the motor cops.

We were told to be ready for this arrival at about 10 AM. As it turns out, it would be about 40 minutes later than that when everyone else showed up. Hmmm. Time to kill. As much as we enjoy each other's company, time started to drag. We have all this space and two perfectly capable bikes just sitting there begging to play.

Laurie's ZX-12 is an awesome bike. However, in the right hands, the ST is no slouch, either!

I know. Let's practice our high speed braking and swerving demonstrations. Soon there's two bikes zooming up and down the pavement. Riding certainly makes the time pass much more enjoyably than standing around waiting!

When the motor officers run the braking drills, they start at 45 mph. Then we move to 60 mph. Then we do it at 70 mph. I use the word "we" on purpose. In our program, you're not allowed to teach motors unless you can prove to The Director that you actually have the physical and coaching skills required. That's why there's only about 8 of us certified for this course. You can't effectively coach unless you've personally experienced it. Over and over. Then there's the credibility thing. Cops can smell incompetency a mile away. They're not going to respect an instructor's coaching if they feel the instructor doesn't have the skills themselves. Being conscientious folks, we take advantages of opportunities to run the maximum braking drills at high speeds. Over and over. You need to know how the bike reacts and how it feels. You need to be able to watch a bike coming at you and see what's really happening. Then describe to the officer how to fine tune their technique. And, we have to do demonstrations at the start of each exercise. Any one of us who's handy.

With me so far?

Laurie decides to park her bike and get some water. Then I have this idea. It's either really brave or really, really stupid. Maybe I should have just taken a water break, too.

I remember when I first started training motor cops. The idea of doing a maximum braking stop from 70 mph kind of freaked me out. I've written about this before. Riders always think they can do whatever even though they've never actually done it. I had stopped quickly from about 40 to 45 mph before. I figured I could do it from 70 if I had to. Or could I? Now that I've actually done it, I know for sure, There's no guessing. That's a value of training, by the way. I know for sure that I can stop a bike quickly and safely from very high speeds because I did it just yesterday. How many can say that?

But I'm rambling, again.

Sometimes during the runs, I'll let the speeds creep up. A few stops were at 80 mph. So far so good. That's when I had my brain flash, if you will.

What about a hundred miles per hour? Isn't that a magical number? Say it with me. A hundred miles per hour. The magical "ton". Not that I'd ever ride that fast on the streets, mind you. Well, there's always the chance that I'd be passing somebody and roll a little more throttle than I intended. You know how some of these bikes respond so quickly. However, if I WERE to suddenly find myself at that speed, could I execute a maximum straight line braking maneuver without crashing?

Come on, don't tell me you never wondered about it. I mean, wouldn't you just like to know? I suddenly had this powerful urge to find out. Did I mention that this ST doesn't have ABS?

Let's find out. I start my run. Normally, on a straight piece of pavement like this, a hundred miles per hour would seem like a whole bunch of fun. I'm getting a little uneasy for some reason. There's a bit of burning in my cheeks. My stomach knots up some. I take a deep breath and try to relax. No guts, no glory, I shout in my helmet. A hundred isn't much more than 80. The speedo needle doesn't even move very far.

The cue cones are coming up fast. It's time. I tell myself "shake the hand". In case that doesn't mean to you what it means to me, I'll tell you. That's how I describe to students how they should apply the front brake. It's like a handshake. You grasp their hand then firmly, but smoothly, apply pressure. I squeeze and press while tap dancing on the shift lever. Speed's scrubbing off nicely when I suddenly feel the bars start their own dance. They're dancing to a song with a funny sounding squeal to it. The front tire is sliding.

Here's a picture of the skid mark.

I'll show you another angle in a bit. As we've been trained and train others, I instantly recognize it and let go. Then reapply. The bike and I come to a stop upright. The skid mark is about 35 feet long. That seems like a long ways. I guess it is, but there's another way to look at it.

Here's the other angle.

You can see the mark right down the middle of the photo.

I really can't say how fast the bike was going when the skid started. I was at a hundred when I started braking. The skid happened shortly after I applied the brakes. About 25 feet after the start cone. You can just see the bottom of the cue cone at the top of the photo. I'd estimate the speed to be around 60 or 65. Maybe a little faster. At 60 mph the bike is covering 88 feet per second. The length of the skid mark gives me a reaction time of just under a half second. Remember, I knew ahead of time where and when I would start braking. You can also bet I was VERY tuned into the front tire. So I was ready to react as instantly as possible. We don't have that luxury on the streets when we're surprised, obviously. And, too, this was just an estimate on speed. My eyes were locked onto the horizon. Staring at the speedometer while doing a quick stop like this is pretty poor technique!

I'd like to point out that skidding the front tire was not a failure. Sure, the best technique is to achieve the shortest stop possible without sliding either tire. Life on the streets on a bike is not perfect, by any means. There are just too many variables. Knowing what to do is important. Knowing what to do if the first plan goes awry is just as important. The ability to recognize and properly react to a front wheel skid is vital. A successful rider needs to be rigidly flexible when it comes to reacting to changing circumstances. At the end, the bike and I still achieved a quick stop in an upright position from a hundred miles per hour. I sort of consider that a success!

The upshot? Now I know for sure. I've been there and peered over that edge. Some may call it brave. Some may call it foolish. Before anyone reaches a verdict, though, please remember this. We are professional riders and trainers. I speak for all of us when I say we've all paid our dues. We pretty much live on bikes. We've spent countless hours training and honing skills. We've all seen thousands of students, from beginners to those who ride for a living. We're intimately familiar with how bikes react in all kinds of situations.

For me this was just another step forward from a place I'd been many times before. So the skid mark on the pavement was the only skid mark on the scene, if you know what I mean. This would be a good time to issue the standard warning not to try this at home.

Still, though, every rider should ask themselves the same question.

"Wouldn't I just like to know for sure?"

It doesn't have to be ( and shouldn't be ) at the same level. What about lower speeds? Wouldn't you like to know you could actually swerve, brake, or otherwise properly execute an emergency maneuver at actual riding speeds? The only way to know is to actually do it. So go to professional training or practice prudently on your own. Some day you'll be really thankful you did! Because then you can say,

"I know".

Miles and smiles,



Anonymous said...

One of these days young Dan who will not age gracefully will skid and not stop quite so adeptly.

Mind, said skid mark could be used as part of a training exercise to show some of these constables it can be done but should really be done ONLY in controlled conditions.

Sort of thinking of the next airplane to land on that strip and the pilot wondering what airplane skids with only one wheel!

As to the feeling of Sophie all over again, I can relate. Have been preparing the Goldwing for pickup by the new owner. Sat in the saddle for a bit, and tears came to my eyes. Yes it will be sad once Beastie has left my ownership however it is an era of my life that is rapidly coming to an end.

And I might add, may well stop reading certain blogs; have already eliminated many of them.

No need to punish myself further
and not being able to ride. Maybe in another lifetime, but not now.

Maybe one of these days I'll venture to the west coast of Oregon
and wander in on one of your courses. Stranger things have happened.


Learning to Golf said...

Great idea to practice emergency stops. One thing I have noticed when doing it is the bike does something different almost every time. As a rider if you're not ready for it to surprise you, you could be in serious trouble. Looking at the horizon is something I forget to do because I tend to look at the object I'm stopping for. I will work on that.

Dave said...

Glad your back.
You have me beat by 50 mph : )

I have been working my way thru Ride like a Pro DVD
An some parking lot practices I have seen on You tube.

I left a nice skid mark when I took the MFS ERC this spring.
Kept it straight An got a big grin an nod out of the instructor.
Thro I am cheating a bit on a scooter your using both hands for braking easier to keep things smooth
Instead of one hand an foot


Anonymous said...

Last night on the way home i took a short detour through the suburbs.

Ok, i was scooting a little, about 80km/h in a 60 zone. When i registered the stop sign WELL hidden behind a tree. Lines on the road were virtually invisible too.

Stop NOW is about all the brain could scream, and maximum pressure on both brakes was applied.

Exactly as you say, training and practice and skills must all come together in one clean stopping manoevre. I noticed my head lifting, body held up, knees tight. The front wheel came close to biting(about 40km/h), gently relax front brake and stop ... i had about 2-3 metres to spare.

All of these things i did were trained, and practiced, i didn't think, just let my body do what it knew how to do.

The smugness i felt at stopping neatly wasn't deserved, as i gave myself a helluva fright too!!


cpa3485 said...

Lots to learn about your post today. Your comments about always being ready for the 2nd option are poignant. Cool skid marks. You do things on a cycle that are somewhat amazing to me.

Dean W said...

Thanks for the compliment. I don't often work on "fast" for it's own sake- I work on being smooth and getting the bike to go where I want it to; once I"ve got a rhythm, faster just happens. Funny how that works...

A couple of the riders in my group were having ABS issues at the airport- they'd pull on the handle, ABS would cycle once or twice, then it'd give up and let the wheels lock. The first time it happened made me glad the rider had eye protection on, to keep his eyes from bugging out of his skull. Coming down from 70mph takes a couple seconds, and there's actually a lot of time to think, especially when your brain goes into overdrive because things have gone kind of pear shaped.

No motor officers were harmed in the making of that tale, though a couple got a bit of an adrenaline rush and had to work a lot harder than their classmates. (Dan's group had the bike(s?) that didn't have ABS; I bet that guy on the Kawi was tired when he got done with the braking drills!)

I guess the moral is: ABS is a tool. Use it, but be prepared to fall back on skill if the tool breaks.

Hopefully you'll have Elvira back for the next one. If so, I might want to trade rides for a couple passes at the quick stop and compare stopping distance and feel. Elvira's ABS is supposed to be "new and improved" from Bongo's.

Yes, I named my bike Bongo- after the one-eared rabbit in Matt Groening's "Life in Hell" comic strip. Long story involving a collision avoidance maneuver that only mostly worked.

Any pilot landing on that piece of tarmac is going to have to explain why he missed the runway... we were on the taxiway. ;-)

AZ Harley Dude-
Every pass is different. In my group a couple of the riders were whining about the bikes dancing around on tar snakes. My thought was "this is the best it's going to get; if you ever have to do this, it'll be tar snakes, paint lines, gravel, road kill..."

Some of the officers in my group were still looking at their speedometer as they started braking, and kept their head down all the way to a stop. Once we got them to get their eyes up, the bikes moved around a lot less.

I like the idea of the "Ride Like a Pro" videos; a lot of people I talk to that have used them seem to feel and look much more confident on bike control, and that's always good, and the exercises seem to put some emphasis on "where you look is where you go".


It's true most if not all officers do lots and lots and LOTS of cone work- low speeds, in parking lots, looking very close to where they want to be- right in front of the bike. This is great for cone drills, but will bite the rider that uses it at faster speeds. Make sure you learn to look further ahead when you're out on the street.

Dean W said...

FWIW, here's a link to a aerial view of the track we used:

14 turns, 0.6 miles. I did ~60 miles on Monday. That doesn't sound like much, huh? Only 100 laps... 1400 turns. Before lunch.

Lucky said...

Perhaps the anxiety you felt wasn't because you were pushing the envelope, but simply because you didn't yell "Oh [insert your favorite curse here]!" before grabbing a fistful of brake.

Unknown said...

Glad you had "fun" at your class. I remember my first time squealing the front tire. On a CB750K, Doing 50mph, leaned into a left hander going down the Gallatin canyon (US 191) north of West Yellowstone Montana. Oh, and I was trying to dodge a deer at the time. With my soon to be wife on the back. :) It did get my attention though.

Dave T

Young Dai said...

I suppose only you and your laundry will know the length of the other set of skid marks you left that day !

Re the cone work; there is a Motor Officer on the other side of the Country in PA who blogs under 'bettermotorcycling' who has recently made very similar points about the benefits and dangers of cone work in his blog as your reply to Dave above.

Most tellingly that being able to u-turn in 16ft can lead to a false sense of security unless these skill are linked to a riding strategy that maximises hazard perception, road positioning, and acceleration and braking sense when out playing in the traffic.

R.G. said...

foolish..brave? Most people I would vote foolish but in your case it would seem to me the next logical step in honing your skills.

kz1000st said...

Good story, but as someone has pointed out, for the older crowd like myself, keeping a sharp eye out for danger helps avoid throwing out the anchor with such alacrity. I guess if you're a Highway Patrolman high speed is a way of life, but I'll take living at 60 to 65 mph, thank you. It doesn't tax my reflex center as critically as 100 mph.
Hope you get the Yammy back soon. I know the feeling of a missing family member. Had one down for a month with broken valve springs.

Steve Williams said...

Wait a minute.

I remember being chastised by someone a couple years ago when I was practicing high speed stops with the rear wheel locked to see how things handled. I didn't realize that the proper technique was to lock the front wheel!

Darn it! How could I miss that. All this time I have been endeavoring to keep neither wheel from locking...

As always, you are the supernatural rider! *grin*

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

redlegsrides said...


very interesting article! Although I had to read it a couple of times before my tired brain registered that the motorcycle did NOT have ABS!

I classify this posting in the helpfulness scale as high as the one where you described techniques when riding in high winds. Thanks.

Being a rider with both an ABS-equipped motorcycle and an older non-ABS motorcycle I've first hand experience with panic stops on both. At least with my 1150RT, the ABS works wonderfully, specially in "high stress" I have to stop right fricking now situations. I just apply the brakes smoothly and keep increasing the pressure till I smoothly stop. Granted, I've not had to try that from 100mph as I try to be minimally law-abiding!

On my non-ABS motorcycle, I'd learned that I had developed a real bad habit with my ABS equipped bike of not using the rear brake pedal as much. You can't do that, as you know, on such motorcycles. It was an eye-opener when my first "hard stop" on her resulted in conditions I'd rather not repeat. No one hurt but it could have happened.

Your posting is a good reminder to all to practice this stuff under controlled conditions in order to "know what one's bike will do".

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Irondad (Dan):

So I took your challenge. I got the bike up to 100 miles per hour, but before I could execute the test, there were blue lights in my mirrors and a cop behind me.

He was pissed. I told him what I was doing, but he insisted that a supermarket parking lot was not the place for this sort of activity.

I will try again next week. There is a slightly smaller parking lot at a church next door to a Dunkin' Donuts. I figure the cops will be too distracted to interfere with my experiments then.

Fondest regards,
Jack "r"
Twisted Roads

Conchscooter said...

Coming off at 45 is plenty for the middle aged rider. performing a swan dive at 95 might actually piss off my wife. I got stopped doing 64 in a 45 but that was in the car (I am so bored, every day on four wheels). I talked nice and got a written warning. at 100mph the trooper might have been less patient.

irondad said...

My goal is to out in a dashing manner and not hiding from life! Some of the officers made their own skid marks so they didn't need mine.

As to discontinuing the reading of blogs, I would miss you here but you need to do what you need to do, as they say.

Arizona Harley Dude,
Just keep saying "Eyes up!"

I really appreciate your attitude on training. It will benefit you in ways you can't predict right now.

Take care,


irondad said...

Thank you for sharing that. It's an example of what I've been preaching. Practice keeps motor skills filed in a quickly accessible place. Like you say, the body then knows exactly what to do.

Always have a plan B and even a C if you can! Thanks for stroking my ego!

Your comment has some wise words. Interestingly, at least two officers were trading off on the Kawi. The department is waiting for their new ST. I'm amazed we didn't have any front wheel skids on that bike. Especially since it had a sort of "iffy" tread on it. There were some glorious rear wheel skids, though!

Elvira is back. She will be up there at the end of the month. You're welcome to ride her.

I did the same amount of miles. Tough duty, huh?

You're so right. I forgot my Warrior yell! I made up for it when the front tire started to slide, however.

Take care,


irondad said...

David T,
I had a 900 of the same vintage. Thank goodness we now have vented rotors. Stopping those things in the wet was interesting.

Glad you survived the deer thing. And the girl still married you? She must be pretty special.

Young Dai,
You sum things up pretty accurately. Riding is about successfully combining a variety of skills into a complete whole.

Take care,


irondad said...

Thank you for the statement. As you say, what I do is based on years of building. So I don't look at it as foolish. I wouldn't deny that there's a bit of "crazy" in there, though.

You get the point exactly. Best to prevent, not react. A lot of a motor cop's life seems to be drag racing. Quick acceleration and quick stops. High speed stopping isn't an everyday thing. However, it's like the old saying.

You never need it until you need it, then you REALLY need it!

I'm happy to say that Elvira is back home.

See the next post for your reply.

Thanks for the compliment. As you say, good habits will transfer. ABS or not, we need to smoothly use both brakes. The hard part is remembering which bike we're on and paying attention to the front wheel accordingly!

Take care,


irondad said...

Jack Riepe,
Yours is the continuing saga of my life. Right thing, wrong place. Don't let them get you down!

Wives seem to hate missing paychecks and sitting by hospital beds, don't they?

It's okay if your butt is in a car because we know your heart is on two wheels. We still claim you. Just try to behave, okay?

Take care,