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.
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.