Riding Right: Low-Speed Riding Techniques

Maintain smoothness and control at parking lot speeds

By George Tranos, MSF Instructor

Many riders live for the open road. They revel in the freedom that traveling on a motorcycle provides. However, highways and byways are not the only challenge for a rider. When the ride comes to an end, you still have to park. It sometimes is the low speed riding that can trip up a rider.

There are many things that you can do to strengthen your riding skills at slower speeds. These basic techniques should be practiced regularly until you feel as comfortable at low speed as you feel during normal riding.

The first, most important thing you need to do whenever you are riding is get the big picture of what is going on all around you. Once you are aware of the hazards and obstacles, you can then assess the situation and decide what you will do.

If you are comfortable with your bike and have performed the maneuver before, it will be easier. In fact, the more you practice these skills, the better you’ll get and the more comfortable you’ll become in all your riding.

Balance and control at low speed is more difficult because a motorcycle is inherently more stable the faster it goes. Slowing down to a walking speed, the gyroscopic effect of the motorcycle wheels is reduced. You can and should turn the handlebars at low speed to change direction. Before you do so, first turn your head. This simple act of turning your head makes the whole maneuver easier.

low speed riding techniques
Look where you want to go the author practices low speed weaves.

Some speed is desirable but too much speed will widen your turn. Use your clutch and find the friction point; this will allow you to go slower yet still maintain enough momentum to keep moving forward.

When making a U-turn, turn your head, turn the handlebars and counterweight the motorcycle. Counterweighting allows you to use your body weight to counteract the weight of the motorcycle. The motorcycle leans and you stay upright or lean to the outside of the turn. If you can, you might want to shift your weight and move your butt to the opposite side of the motorcycle. Remember to turn your head and body in the direction you want to go! Then turn the handlebars almost all the way to the stop. It’s best not to be right on the stop as you have more room for adjustment.

While you are doing this, depending upon your skill and the motorcycle you are riding, you may want to use the friction zone (clutch and throttle together) and/or also drag the rear brake. Using the throttle, clutch and rear brake simultaneously is one of the best skills to develop to ride slowly with control. This technique will allow you to maintain speed without wobbling, maintain forward momentum and go as slow as possible.

Try to keep your knees in and squeeze the gas tank. This will provide an additional measure of control. Avoid using the front brake at very low speeds; you don’t need the extra braking power and it’s more important to maintain good throttle control so keep your whole hand on the throttle!

Smooth throttle application is important. Practice going as slowly as you can and, without the clutch, try rolling on the throttle very slowly. Do this until you get smooth. Try it in second gear at slower speeds. You’ll be surprised how much better second gear is at low speeds as the motorcycle becomes less jerky. After you’re good in second, try it in first gear and repeat.

Whenever you can, practice U-turns, circles and figure eights. Mastering these basic turns will give you confidence to handle any parking lot or slow speed situation. Set up a little course with cones or chalk to do some low speed weaves. Make it fun to practice and you’ll find yourself enjoying your slow speed tune-ups and looking forward to them. Slow speed riding practice will sharpen all your skills and make you a better rider.

About the Author
George Tranos is a New York State and MSF certified instructor, and a freelance writer. He is also the vice president of Big Apple Motorcycle School. Visit BigAppleMotorcycleSchool.com to learn more.

Related Articles
Getting Comfortable With Your Motorcycle
Mastering the Head and Eyes Technique
How to Make the Perfect U-Turn
What is the Friction Zone?

6 thoughts on Riding Right: Low-Speed Riding Techniques

  1. I love these articles. I have just been needing to practice more on my slow speed riding. I wasn’t sure what gear is the best for slow riding and you just answered my question. I do practice figure eights in a parking lot by my house and it really helps with turns. I have not maneuvered the u turns yet, but your article helps me feel confident about making u turns. With more practice I will be good to go. Thank you!

  2. When I first got my bike in 2006, I would ride down to the high school parking lot and practice my starts and stops then I would practice my turns between the rows. It really helped me gain more confidence with my turns and handling the bike.

  3. Beware of sloping pavement as in driveways or roads. If the surface is not flat and level, the bike can and will act differently without warning during slow moving manuvers. Just got back from Yosemite National Park in California. Rode with my group two days on the most enchanting and beautiful twisty roads even. Love the open road!

  4. Thank you for the rider tips. I've been riding two years and slow-speed turns are still my nemesis. They should spend an entire day in the MSF on just this stuff. It's one thing doing it on a Honda 250 in class but it's a different story with a 700-pound bike and a busy highway. Yikes! I've been known to go a mile out of my way to avoid a slow speed turn or u-turn. These articles are wonderful. I print them out and carry them around with me.

  5. This reminds me that the curves, turning and U-turns are areas I need to practice in a parking lot. Thank you. These articles are great and help build the confidence of, “I may be new, but I can get there.” Took MSF course in Feb 08; bought H-D 1200L in Feb 08; have more than 500 miles on it to date. Lovin' every minute!

  6. Ride Like A Pro DVDs are like having your own private riding instructor. After the MSF course I was looking for more instruction and that's when I discovered Jerry “Motorman” Palladino. We (husband, son and I) go down to an empty parking lot with orange cones, measuring tape, chalk and the skills booklet and we take turns practicing the skills. It really helps to learn these skills in a safe environment first and then you can take them with you when you ride the roads.

    My husband was surprised by how much he was learning by doing the skills practice with me. He says he has a much better feel for the maximum lean angle of his Kawasaki Nomad 1500. We are looking forward to more parking lot practice this summer. I tell everyone about the Ride Like A Pro videos and I'm glad you are also recommending them.

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