A few weeks ago, I was out riding my motorcycle and enjoying what I consider the start of Florida’s best riding season, winter. I was heading to a local biker hangout and found myself behind a couple of other riders: a man on a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic and a woman on a Sportster. It looked like they were headed to the same restaurant. Just prior to getting to this location, there are three stop signs about one block apart. At the last stop sign, you have to make a 90-degree right turn and then a quick left into the restaurant’s parking lot.
As I approached the first stop sign, the guy on the Ultra in front of me made a full stop in the left side of his lane and looked left and right, waiting for traffic to clear. The woman on the Sportster came to a shaky stop in the right side of the lane, about 10 feet behind the guy. She never looked left or right. Instead, she looked only at the guy in front of her. He pulled out when traffic cleared, and she followed. I could hear her over-revving the motor as she slipped the clutch while trying to start off smoothly. She was duck-walking her motorcycle as she tried to get going, still looking dead ahead. It took her so long to get through the intersection that the driver of a car on the cross street without a stop sign had to jam on the brakes to avoid hitting her. At the next stop sign, it was the same story, except luckily there was no cross traffic.
As they approached the third stop sign where you have to make a 90-degree right turn and then a left into the parking lot after about 50 feet, I thought to myself, “This ain’t gonna be pretty.” The guy made the right and quick left and pulled into a parking spot. The woman, though, stopped again in the extreme right part of her lane. This time she looked left and saw no cars coming, so she decided to make the right at the stop sign. Instead of looking to the right where she wanted to go, she looked directly at a car that was coming in the opposite lane. Sure enough, she started heading right toward that car. Just as she was about to cross the center line and collide with the car, she snatched the front brake on her motorcycle. Because her handlebars were pointed slightly to the right, she went down hard and fast. The car swerved a bit and went on its way. I quickly jumped off my motorcycle and helped her pick up hers. She wasn’t hurt but was obviously very embarrassed, as several people in the parking lot also observed the incident. She thanked me, got back on the motorcycle and duck-walked it across the road and into the parking lot. The guy who’d been riding with her was standing there shaking his head.
I then pulled in next to the two of them. I was trying to think of a tactful way to give her a few helpful tips, so I started with, “Just started riding, have ya?” From the look she gave me, I could see my question wasn’t nearly as tactful as it sounded before my lips started moving. “For your information, I’ve been riding for 10 years,” she snapped back. As I began taking my helmet off and trying to figure out how to get my foot out of my mouth, her angry look turned to a surprised smile. She said, “Hey, you’re that guy from SPEED TV.” I nodded and was about to introduce myself when she turned to the guy with her and said, “What’s his name? We watch him all the time.” The guy blurted out, “Motorman.” She then looked at the decal on my tank and said, “You’re the Ride Like a Pro guy!” Then she added, “Now I’m really embarrassed. I’m really a good rider out on the road. It’s just the slow stuff that gets me every time.” With the ice broken, I was able to explain to her how she could prevent the situation from happening again.
Because I’ve seen many riders, both “experienced” and “inexperienced,” with similar problems when turning from a stop, here’s the easy way to do it.
First, if you’re going to turn right at a stop sign, stop in the extreme left portion of your lane at an angle facing toward the right. This accomplishes two things. You’re already facing in the direction you want to go, and because you’re in the left side of your lane, you’ve got 12 feet or more to go straight before you have to turn your handlebars. The more time you have to turn your bars, the easier it is. Next, once you’ve made sure no traffic is coming from the left, turn your head and eyes to the right and look way ahead at the lane you want to pull into. Never look at the yellow line or oncoming traffic. Stay in the friction zone until the bike is going straight ahead down your lane.
You can practice this on a deserted road or, even better, in an empty parking lot. With a little practice using the clutch and throttle and a little pressure on the rear brake, you should start challenging yourself. By that, I mean start making the turn sharper and sharper. Eliminate the start-off angle. With enough practice, you should be able to make a sharp right turn starting off with the handlebars at full lock right from a dead stop. When you can do that, you’ll never have to worry about turning too wide.
About the Author
Jerry Palladino is the founder of Ride Like A Pro, Inc., a company that produces motorcycle instructional DVDs and books. Jerry also teaches classes to experienced riders who want to enhance their motorcycle skills. VisitRideLikeAPro.com.