As motorcycles become ever more advanced, with improved handling characteristics and the capability To achieve greater speeds, Ian Kerr says riders need to ensure they hone their skills to keep pace with the changes, rather than just rely on technology to ensure their safety.
LAST month we looked at how technology was taking over, not only on the grounds of safety but to the point whereby the average rider has no idea how their machine works. New riders probably do not understand the physics as to how a machine actually corners or remains upright etc. Roll centre, centre of gravity, mass centralisation are just terms best not looked at in too much detail by most riders in case one shows their ignorance.
It is an oft quoted fact that motorcyclists make the best car drivers. One of the reasons for this is that we are exposed to the elements and the perceived risk due to being mounted on a single track vehicle that can easily fall over when certain limits are exceeded. This exposure actually heightens senses that non-riders may have not previously thought about and bikers use most of them to ensure a safe passage along the highways and byways of this green and pleasant land.
For instance, the thinking motorcyclist who is concentrating on the task in hand will smell diesel long before they see it on the road and be able to take early avoiding action. Alternatively, they will be able to cross it bolt upright, rather than being cranked over if they cannot totally avoid it. The end result being of course, that it is not as dangerous as it could have been!
Such information can be learned the hard way, but a safer way to gain it is to undergo training from experts who can help long before the ‘University of Hard Knocks’ comes into play. Training comes in many forms and is a very difficult subject to broach with any rider or driver who has ‘survived’ for a large number of years since passing their basic government-run driving test.
‘Survived’ is in many cases the best word to use and if most of us are brutally honest, we have all had ‘moments’ in our riding career that we are either not proud of, or consider ourselves lucky to have got away with! Statistics show that 99 per cent of all crashes and collisions are caused by rider/driver error, leaving just one per cent down to mechanical failure.
Certainly in the bike world, machine malfunctions are very rare and given that a motorcycle can only do what the rider lets it, then it is the rider who constantly needs updating at the same pace that bikes are. Technicians get a yearly update on the new technology used on the latest bikes as well as a refresher on existing knowledge to allow them to work on the new generation of machines more efficiently and so should a rider.
To put in perspective, it is not that long ago that a 1000cc bike would just top 120 mph, now a 600 will push the 160 mph mark under the right conditions. Talk about top of the range litre plus sports bikes and you are close to the double ton, if not passed it in some cases!
To go with these speeds the manufacturers have up-graded braking systems, suspension set ups and so on and in some cases, thanks to technology, made the bike ‘almost’ uncrashable. Add into the mix increased grip from tyres, rates of acceleration and machine response from rider input and you have road machines that are more than a match for some GP bikes of a few years ago.
But how many riders acquaint themselves properly with the capabilities of a new bike, find out how hard they can brake, how to set a bike up correctly and so on? The answer is that very few will go and get help when they get a new bike. They will just jump on it and accelerate off towards the horizon at a faster rate than before – perhaps with a new set of leathers on, but without a retune of their riding skills.
Any training, whether it is on or off road, helps us to understand how a bike reacts and behaves under certain conditions. If the machine’s dynamics are understood properly and a rider learns what a sliding tyre feels like on a green lane for instance, it can help them deal with road situations like spilt diesel, which could stop them over-reacting and falling off when it is encountered on the road.
However, when all is said and done, you also need a few pointers to assist with your road riding, which is where, for the vast majority of us, the yearly mileage is clocked up.
A friendly word giving advice on how to deal with various hazards, created either by weather, road engineering or by other road users, could help you deal with similar situations more efficiently and safely in the future.
When talking about any form of advanced riding or training it is often forgotten that the most important factor is the motorcyclist themselves. Any rider needs to have the correct mental approach to be able to perform at a high level and even a highly trained one needs to be in peak condition mentally, as well as physically.
We read continually about personal trainers in the world of sport and wrongly assume that it is only the physical well-being of their employer that they are looking after. The reality is that they also work on self-confidence and help the person to prepare mentally for the task in hand. So a correct mental approach is paramount to both learning advanced skills and also putting them into practice on a daily basis. If you need convincing, look at Valentino Rossi’s approach to mentally beating riders long before the race itself – by convincing them he is unbeatable!
Safety does not have to mean slow and boring either. Anticipation and increased forward vision (brought about by training) can mean not having to brake as often, so you maintain higher average speeds over a given distance. So when considering a new bike also think about getting some additional training to brush up on existing skills and maybe learn some new ones to go with it. After all, complete confidence in your bike and yourself and your riding ability means a more enjoyable and, above all else, safer ride every time!