WRR55: Using Visual Cues while Riding in the Mountains

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This past holiday weekend my friend John and I got together for a ride up to the mountains. We decided to meet up in Charlotte at Cars and Coffee, a monthly gathering of rare and exotic cars and car enthusiasts. I had never been before, so I was curious to ride up there and check it out. Afterwards we planned on heading up to the mountains, so I went ahead and pulled my 1 piece AGVsport Leather Suit out of the gear closet. I may have looked a little goofy walking around this car meet with leathers on, but that’s okay – I wanted the protection for the spirited riding I knew we’d be doing later in the day. Thankfully the weather was very pleasant.

We hung out at Cars and Coffee for about half an hour, saw some nice machinery, but we were ready to hit the road and find some curves. We hit the interstate for a few miles then peeled off and jumped onto some scenic 2 lane country back roads. Before too long we were seeing the blue outlines of the blue ridge mountains off in the distance.

The first real curvy road on this route is quite challenging in several ways. First of all, there a ton of blind corners on it, and several of the corners are decreasing radius – where the corner gets tighter after you are already in it. Even worse, the pavement is quite rough in spots, and there are sections where large amounts of sand, gravel, or dirt have been spread over the road. For these reasons, you really can’t push too hard on this road. I still find it pretty fun, but by the end of it John wanted to pull over and shake it off. All it takes is getting spooked once in a corner – think you are going to run wide – even for a split second, and it can really throw you off your game. While we were stopped we talked about judging corners as you get to them, and what are some good practices.

There’s a lot more to this than you might think – and thinking is at least half the battle when it comes to riding on twisty mountain roads. You see, we all have very similar built in instincts that can completely take over in the moment. If we see something that we perceive as a threat, we naturally don’t want to take our eyes off it. We focus on it to make sure it isn’t going to hurt us as we assess how to deal with the situation. The major problem with this instinct, is as you should all know – you go where you look! So when you stare at the gravel in the road, or the guardrail, you’re going to head right for it. Re-training your brain to not do this can be a challenge, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

When I approach a corner, I first set myself up on the appropriate side of my lane – in the outside of the corner. I use whatever is on the side of the road in my peripheral as a gauge for how fast I’m going – forget your speedometer, this is all about feel (and remember, you’re trying to look in the right places). Now here’s where it gets tricky: when the road is open and you can see through the corner, it’s pretty straightforward, but MANY corners up in the mountains are obscured by trees, elevation, or the side of the mountain itself. You have to estimate how tight the corner is, judging by how much of the corner you can actually see. A good rule is: if you can’t see all the way through the corner, slow down a little more than you think you need to for that corner. This speed will be faster for some than others, but really it comes down to being comfortable. The moment you start getting nervous, you’re going to get stiff – and stiff riding is always bad riding (and often, leads to crashing). There’s an old adage in the motorcycle world that is SLOW IN, FAST OUT. This is fantastic advice, as it leaves enough on the table to make adjustments for the unseen or the unknown. If you enter a corner at 10/10th’s and it tightens up on you, or there’s gravel, or a branch in the road, or a car or truck in your lane – then you will more than likely either crash or best case need a new pair of underwear. For the street I try to limit myself to 8/10th’s riding, leave a little in reserve so I can tighten my line or comfortably slow down while staying in my lane if I have to.

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Right before I get to the turn, I have evaluated how tight it is, as well as if there’s anything in the road that I need to avoid. This is accomplished by a quick sweep of the road with my eyes. After you enter the corner, you need to look as far through the turn as you possibly can. For most turns, this is the corner exit. If it’s a tight switchback or hairpin, then look as far through it as you can until you see the exit. Maintain this throughout the corner, but be conscious of what is in your peripheral vision. If you see gravel, sand, or some other instruction, DON’T LOOK AT IT. Simply look where you want to go and avoid it.

These techniques have to be practices over and over in order to become second nature. Remember you are going against your natural instinct to look at a threat. Force yourself you look instead at the part of road that you want to take – and STAY LOOSE. Relax – if you ride over a bit of gravel and you are loose on the bars, the bike will wiggle and slide, but you’ll more than likely come out OK (as long as you aren’t pushing to the very edge already). Ride stiff and afraid and you’ll put yourself in the ditch in a hurry.

Weekly Rides with Reuben are uploaded every Wednesday. Be sure to subscribe and ride along every week!

WRR53: Riding the Mighty Kawasaki ZRX

I’ve had several requests over the past few years for more information about my ZRX, which has been featured in quite a few of our WRR videos as well as other product tests that we’ve done. So, I guess it’s finally time to pay homage to what is the Mighty Kawasaki ZRX.

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I’ve had my ZRX for about 5 years now, and that was after patiently saving and waiting to get exactly the one I wanted. When I had first laid eyes on a ZRX it struck a chord with me – I knew I had to have one some day. I’m sure most of you have had that happen. You see that bike and it’s just YOU. The ZRX is everything I want in a motorcycle. It is capable of long distance rides in comfort (compared to a supersport), and yet it’s capable of fairly high paced riding in the twisties or even track duty. Heck, a team a ZRX at Pikes Peak last year! Then there’s the torque – oh the glorious torque. This is probably one of the most well known traits of the ZRX, if you twist the throttle you better HANG ON. The ZRX makes it’s peak torque at 5500rpm, with nearly half its rev range left to go, it just pulls and pulls and pulls and… well, you get the picture.

Jack of all trades, master of none is definitely a very apt quote for describing the ZRX (as well as many sport-standard bikes). It’s certainly not the best sportbike, or the best touring bike, or the best drag racer – but you know what? It’s pretty darn good at all of them. And what’s really great about it, is you can modify it to suit your individual needs and purposes that you desire. I went several years with my ZRX as my main form of transportation. Continue reading WRR53: Riding the Mighty Kawasaki ZRX

WRR52: Dodging Thunderstorms on a Motorcycle

Sometimes you just can’t avoid the rain… Those of us who ride rain or shine know that if we take the bike to work in the morning, we are rolling the dice with mother nature – especially in the summertime when thunderstorms can pop up in the afternoon, regardless of what the weatherman predicted.

I recently found myself in just such a situation. The clock crept closer to 5pm. A peak out the front door yielded an up close and personal view of some very dark clouds coming in. I pulled up the radar, and sure enough, storms were headed this way from the South and the West. I have to head North for the ride home, so I quickly donned my riding gear – a mesh motorcycle jacket, Kevlar lined riding jeans, and summer mesh gloves, and headed out the door. If I ride fast enough, maybe I can beat the storm, I thought. If you do get caught in the storm make sure you have proper rain gear on board.

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Heading up the highway I could see the dark clouds off to the left and behind me in my mirrors. A wall of dark grey reaching down from the sky till it met the ground. Weaving through traffic, I knew it’d be close. Finally within just a few miles of home the roads turned wet. Road grime kicked up all over my once clean bike. My knees were soon wet from the spray of cars driving ahead of me. Then the drops started to fall. Small at first, a light sprinkle. Soon they grew in size to big fat summertime raindrops – thankfully still thin in number.

I tested my traction by giving the bike a fistful of throttle in first gear. Just a small amount of wheelspin to let me know it’s not quite as good as dry pavement, but still a heck of a lot better than it could be. Just a mile or so more to get home, and get home I did. Surprisingly not too soggy, I pulled off my jacket and hung it on the doorknob of the garage where it could dry, ready to face the road and the elements another day.

WRR50: Cornering on a Motorcycle

One of the primary differences between driving and riding is how you navigate corners. While that might sound obvious, the actual physics behind how a bike corners are important to know.

We know that motorcycles change direction by leaning over onto the smaller circumference of the side of the tire, allowing you to track around that corner using steering and throttle inputs. But how do you get into that lean in the first place? Counter-steering. If you have taken the MSF or been riding motorcycles for a while you should be familiar with that term, but if you aren’t – don’t worry, you are already doing it whether you realize it or not. Counter-steering is basically turning the bars in the opposite direction that you want to go. Turn the bars to the left while at speed, and the bike will lean to the right and actually turn right. This “backwards” way of steering is very confusing to some people, in fact I’ve met riders who just flat out don’t believe it even though they’ve been riding for years.

A simple experiment you can do next time you are out riding: simply push on one side of the bars and notice that your bike turns in that direction. There you have it – simple as that.

Obviously there is a lot more at play than just how you actually steer. The MSF recommends a very good sequence to get in the habit of using around every corner: Slow, Look, Press, Lean, and Roll. As you ride, you need to analyze each corner as you approach. How tight is the corner, how clean is the pavement, can you see all the way through the turn or is the corner exit blocked by trees or mountainside? Before you reach the corner, you should have your corner entry speed set, and the proper gear selected. Another good mantra is “Slow in, Fast out.” You can always accelerate out of the corner, but come in too hot and you could find yourself in a tricky situation.

The next rule is LOOK through the corner. Always look where you want to go. Use your peripheral vision to continue to sweep the road immediately in front of you for debris or gravel, but your focus should be on the corner exit – or as far through the turn as you can see. Experiment with this. Try turning your head extra far, really exaggerate – you might be surprised at how your bike naturally tightens up the corner. This is a CRITICAL skill to develop – so don’t take it lightly.

PRESS. As we already mentioned, this is how bikes actually initiate the lean and “turn in.” Press on the bar in the direction you want to go. Press left, go left, press right, go right. You can also pull on the opposite grip to apply even pressure – most people do this without even thinking about it – but it’s still good to know what is going on. photo corner1.jpg

LEAN. This doesn’t need much explanation – but once you are in the turn you will use bar and throttle inputs to maintain your lean angle around the corner. Some corners tighten up, some open up, and sometimes you’ll find a surprise mid-corner. If this happens, just remember to LOOK where you want to go – NEVER look at what you want to avoid. Instead, look for your escape route or your best line. Likewise, never, ever look at the side of the road because you WILL run off it. I’ve seen many riders hit a guardrail because it scared them and they looked at it (and subsequently, rode right into it). photo corner2.jpg

ROLL. This is the FUN part. Use your throttle to accelerate through the corner. Remember most bikes have larger rear tires than front, and more grip is available at the rear. Rolling on the throttle transfers weight to the larger rear tire, stabilizes the suspension, and helps you keep your line. On many bikes it’s easy to over do it, so use that throttle judiciously – and feed more in as you are able to stand the bike up upon corner exit.  photo corner4.jpg

So that’s it! Those are the basics of getting around a corner on a motorcycle. Granted, that’s a very basic explanation. There are many more things at play such as your body position and more advanced techniques to learn such as trail braking or needing to shift mid corner. Follow the above until you are very comfortable taking corner after corner, and keep studying and practicing. Above all, have fun! Cornering on a motorcycle is one of the best feelings in the world! photo corner3.jpg

WRR48: How to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle (smoothly!)

20140521_145448Probably one of the most intimidating aspects of learning to ride a motorcycle for the first time is learning how to shift and using the clutch. In this video we demonstrate proper techniques for both learning how to ride as well as more advanced techniques for shifting smoothly.

If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, then you need to know a few basic concepts before you hop on. Almost all motorcycles use a standard, or manual transmission. If you have driven a car with a manual transmission, you have a bit of an advantage, but there are some key differences. The first difference is obvious: you use your left foot to shift the gears and your left hand to operate the clutch. The second difference, is the motorcycle’s transmission is sequential – all that means is you have to shift the gears in order 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1 and so on. Shift down by pressing down on the shift lever, and shift up by sticking the toe of your boot underneath the lever and lifting up. You should feel a solid click with each shift.

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Shifting into Neutral

The first thing you’ll want to do when you hop on is find neutral. Most bikes have a green light, sometimes with “N” or “Neutral” on it that you’ll want to look for. Neutral is typically located between 1st and 2nd gear. First step is to click all the way down until you can’t shift anymore. This should have you in 1st gear (you’ll want to verify if this is true for your particular bike before you get started). If the lever feels very notchy or doesn’t want to go, try roll the bike back and forth just slightly to free up the gears. Once you are all the way down in first, apply a small amount of upward pressure to the shift lever, until it clicks into neutral. If your ignition is on, the green light should come on. Some bikes can be a little finicky, and may go right to second. If this happens, go back to first and try again – don’t worry, it happens to everyone.

Finding the Friction Zone

Now that the bike is in neutral, give the clutch lever a few squeezes, just to get the feel of how hard it is to pull the lever. Some bikes are more of a workout than others. Now go ahead and hold the clutch in all the way, and get the bike started. Many bikes require that you hold the clutch in, and some don’t if you are in neutral, but it’s a good habit to be in anyway. Continue holding the clutch in, apply the front brake, and go ahead and click the lever down into first gear. The bike may clunk or even lurch a bit (that’s why you want to hold the brake). Now, with the bike idling, you can start to find the friction zone. This is where the clutch is beginning to engage, which gets the bike moving. If there is one thing you remember, it’s that if you pull the clutch in the bike will NOT continue to accelerate. If you get overwhelmed or start feeling like you’re loosing control, the first thing you do is pull in that clutch lever. So, back to riding! With the clutch in, hand off the brakes, and the bike in first gear, s l o w l y let the clutch out until you start feeling the bike pull you forward just a bit. You may also notice the engine rpm’s drop a bit. Take note of how far you needed to let the lever out before anything started to happen. This is the friction zone, where the fun starts!

Getting Underway

Now that you’ve spent some time rocking back and forth a little bit, it’s time to get going! You are going to simultaneously give the bike a SMALL amount of throttle, while smoothly releasing the clutch lever. The key here is to be SMOOTH with the clutch. If you let it out too fast, the bike will either stall out or it may take you for a wild ride if you are giving it a lot of gas. So concentrate on letting that clutch out slowly – all the way. A typical rookie mistake is to get right to the friction zone and then think it’s ok to just let it out all at once. That is incorrect! It will make for a very jerky ride.

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Shifting Up and Down

Once you are comfortable starting from a stop, the rest is relatively easy. Upshifts consist of pulling in the clutch, letting off the gas, shifting up, then simultaneously getting back on the gas and smoothly letting the clutch out. This requires a lot less precision then starting from a dead stop. Downshifting is a little more challenging, as the engine will be slowing you down more and more each time you shift into a lower gear. Again, the key is to be very smooth with the clutch. Downshift 1 click, then slowly let the clutch lever out. You’ll feel the engine speed rise and the bike slow down even more. Not being smooth here can lead to a very jerky feeling, and can even cause a crash if you are shifting mid corner (not a good idea to shift mid-corner while you are still learning). A more advanced technique to smooth downshifts is blipping the throttle. This is simply giving the bike a little “blip” of throttle between each downshift. The goal is to get the engine up to the rpms it will need to be at for the next lower gear. Get it right, and you’ll have nice, smooth downshifts. The real trick is applying smooth braking pressure while you blip the throttle. And the only advice I can give you is practice practice practice! One last piece of advice: If you think you may have accidentally shifted down more than one gear (ie. two clicks at the brake lever before you let the clutch out), ALWAYS go back up a gear. Being in a gear too high isn’t that big a deal, but downshifting into 1st when you think you’re going into 2nd can get very precarious.

We hope you found this little tutorial useful. Remember to subscribe to our channel. Weekly Rides with Reuben are uploaded every Wednesday!