A vast majority of motorcycle riders rely on their instincts when riding. The problem with that is, for the most part anyway, riding well or skillfully requires the exact opposite.
I know what you’re thinking right now, “What’s this guy talking about? I’ve been riding for years, and my instincts are just fine.” I know exactly how you feel, because for more than 20 years, I rode on instincts alone — accident free I might add. I had a lot of close calls, but never crashed.
I even considered myself an above-average rider, mainly because most of the people I rode with made a lot more mistakes than I did and had more close calls and more than a few crashes. While I didn’t realize it at that time, I was comparing myself to the worst of riders, not the best. Two things had actually kept me from crashing.
First, I always rode conservatively. Second, I was damn lucky. Riding conservatively is always a good idea. On the other hand, depending on dumb luck is not, because sooner or later your luck runs out. That’s a guarantee.
When I started riding in 1974, there were no training courses. Like most people, the riding tips I got were from experienced riders. Stuff like “Never use the front brake. It will put you right over the handlebars,” or this classic, “If somebody pulls out in front of you, jam on the rear brake and lay ‘er down.” I heard the lay ‘er down tip a lot, including from a guy with casts on his arm and leg. That’s when I began having doubts about “experienced” riders — something didn’t sound right.
Eventually I learned the front brake provides 80 percent of a bike’s stopping force — the exact opposite of what the “experienced” riders had been telling me. I practiced braking using both brakes and found I could bring my bike to a fairly quick and controlled stop by applying both brakes rather than just the rear.
I also found that slamming the brake pedal in a panic situation could lock the rear tire and put the bike into a skid. That’s the perfect example of why your instincts are wrong when it comes to riding a motorcycle. Since most people learned to drive a car long before they learned to ride a motorcycle and, since most people accumulate more miles driving cars than riding bikes, they’re more apt to slam on the bike’s brake pedal as they would in their car.
Don’t rely on your instincts when approaching intersections, either. If a car turns abruptly left in front of you, your instincts are to stare at that vehicle. Since your hands follow your eyes, if you stare at that vehicle, you might inevitably steer right into it. The proper thing to do would be to look for an escape path — something A SKILLED rider would have done automatically while approaching the intersection in the first place.
By now you may be asking yourself how I know so much about riding a motorcycle and many of the mistakes riders make. In 1998, while working as a deputy sheriff, the agency I worked for formed a motorcycle unit. I volunteered to join and was sent to Tallahassee, Florida, to train with the Florida Highway Patrol. The course was 120 grueling hours long. I quickly realized the 25 years of riding experience I thought I had was really one year’s experience repeated 25 times. When I finished that course, for the first time in my life, I actually knew how to ride a motorcycle. While I’d read about proper riding techniques in books and magazines, motor officer training taught me how to use the proper techniques for maximum effect. For more than 60 years these techniques had been taught to police officers. Knowing how to use the proper techniques to the extreme is the reason motor officers are among the top two percent of riders in America. If you don’t believe that, I invite you to visit YouTube and type in motor officer competition or police rodeo.
After completing my training I could spot an unskilled rider right away. In addition, since my skills had improved so much, my confidence soared, making riding even more enjoyable for me. I tell riders if you think riding a motorcycle is fun now, imagine if you really knew what you were doing!
I realized the motor officer’s techniques were so important that everyone who rides should know them. Soon after my initial training, I took the Motor Officers Instructor course and began training law enforcement officers to ride like pros.
I’ll apply other riding and safety tips that I learned from that course in future issues of Motorcycle Bagger magazine. Until then, ride safe!
Jerry “Motorman” Palladino attends bike rallies where he demonstrates safe riding tips. His NEW Ride Like A Pro and Book is available from www.ridelikeapro.com.