How To Save A Motorcycle Slide

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How To Save A Motorcycle Slide

Photo by Zoltan Kobli

You’re accelerating when, suddenly, the rear wheel loses traction and steps out. Wet leaves, manhole cover, melted tar snake or just too much throttle. What can you do about it? Here’s how to save a motorcycle slide.

1. Do Nothing

That’s right, nothing. Don’t react. Nine times out of 10, the bike will simply correct itself. If you allow it to. If you close the throttle too quickly, you run the risk of the rear tire regaining traction too quickly, potentially causing a high-side while also shifting the motorcycle’s weight balance forwards, exacerbating the slide itself. If you counter-steer too much, you risk over-correction. Believe it or not, but a bike’s trail will actually cause it to naturally steer into a slide for you. And if you hit the brakes? Well, applying the front brake would likely cause the sliding rear to overtake the front wheel and applying the rear would likely lock that tire, cutting the gyroscopic stability it lends the machine and thereby increasing the odds the bike will end up on the ground.

2. Be The Cheetah Tail

Channel that scene from The Matrix. You know, the one with the spoon. Just here you turn your body into the tail of a cheetah. The big cat uses its long, heavy tail as a counter balance, helping it change direction quickly and to retain stability during extreme maneuvers. If you’re hanging off the bike, allow it to move around freely underneath you while you hold your body relatively still. This helps the bike “find” the right direction to go in.

3. Be Gentle

If you do anything, do it gently. Sometimes, modest deceleration will bring things back into line, but this transfers weight off the rear wheel. Others prefer acceleration, which transfers weight rearwards. The general theory being that, unless you hit zero-traction ice, you have some grip and some ability control the bike’s steering, speed and angle of slide, despite the spinning rear wheel. But, controlling a slide with the throttle takes a deft touch and lots of skill, which requires practice.

4. Look Where You Want To Go

Don’t focus on the ditch or the oncoming truck, look towards the corner’s exit, where you want to be. This works for all riding situations you may find yourself in, but if the bike is moving around underneath you, it becomes doubly important. Consciously force yourself to focus on where you want to be and your subtle body movements in response will help the bike find its way there.

5. Practice

Want to slide-proof your riding? Go practice doing it. Any old dirt bike will do, allowing you to practice slides at a fairly low speed in a much safer environment than on the road. Want to go further? Try flat track racing. That’s about the lowest-cost form of motorsport there is and about all you do is slide. That’s how MotoGP greats like Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi practice, too.

Job done!

  • Dave Day

    Don’t chop the throttle… it’s instinct to let off the gas when you find your rear end sliding unexpectedly, but you must learn train this urge away because chopping the throttle will cause a highside crash.

  • Guest

    Ride it out and slide **** LIKE A BOSS!

  • RyanO

    Ride it out and slide that **** LIKE A BOSS!!!

  • DrRideOrDie

    Great advice. I was on my way back to the office after a brief afternoon excursion to South Mountain PHX. As I was taking a right a little briskly I saw a smooth manhole cover dead in my path. Luckily I usually hang a quarter-half cheek off if I’m hustling on the street. First front tire slid out, then the rear. I was up on the balls of my feet and felt the bike do a little wiggle as I maintained throttle. Bike sorted itself out and I was still on my way, with a fun experience behind me.

  • Jack Meoph

    I was lucky in that I rode dirt for many years before street, so breaking the rear loose, even after decades of not riding in the dirt, is a non-event for me. I almost always go with #1. 99% of the time, it’s the road, not my riding that is the problem, and once past the problem (tar snake, dirt, water, etc.) the bike lines back up.

    It’s when the front starts sliding, that’s when it gets tricky. Ask the front to do too much, turn and brake while leaned over, and it will put you in the corner. The stock tires on my wife’s Kawi 250r Ninjette are just garbage when it comes to taking any type of front end load. I find myself sliding the front on that thing too many times for my comfort. But, I’m a cheap bastige, and I’ll wait until this set needs replacing, but I’m going to get tires with some grip to replace the OEMs. I can’t wait for that. The little 2fiddy will take corners at speed that I can not do with any of my other bikes. It’s a hoot on the twisties.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37sl4YI-aYE

  • Deeds

    I survived a pretty knarly slide the other day leaving work. Tires were cold, as was the road, and I was a bit too liberal with the throttle in my post-work weekend-inbound glee. Everything happened so fast, that I didn’t really have the reaction times necessary to chop the throttle, so I just kept on it. Having close calls like that and walking (riding) away knowing you did the correct thing is very satisfying. I had a huge grin my my mug the whole way home.

  • John

    I did that, but it was because of a 10mph logging truck with its rear lights out and I was going 70mph. Thankfully, my VT500 was born to slide and recover. And that no one was coming in the opposite direction over the top of that hill. All I basically remember is letting go of the brakes and it righted itself.

    • Rob M

      My first bike was a VT500. Loved that thing. Cheap, but remarkably fun. Wish I had it still.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmetoconnell/ Emmet

    Watch for metal grates in construction zones, especially when wet. I was with a few riders on a straight road when we passed over a large steel cover going ~30mph. Rider in front of me went sideways and highsided, I kept a steady throttle when the rear end stepped out, but luckily straightened out. Guy in front was okay, just shaken up.

  • Filip Lewicki

    The do nothing approach definitely saved me from a nasty high side. Coming home after work towards the end of summer on a very wet and rainy day. Came out of a traffic circle and felt the rear step out (should have put on new tires by this point honestly). I was already slightly hanging off the seat, so I kept the throttle as it was, and dropped my upper body a little more. Bike straightened out, but was still aggressive enough to lift me off the seat and I stood right upon the foot pegs.

  • Ryan Carman

    The only time I’ve ever had issue was going from dirt/mud to Tarmac. Keep in mind the shoulders of the tires will be dirty and less grippy.

  • runnermatt

    “Trust the bike.” I learned that from Mountain biking, granted a Mountain bikes 26″ wheels quite a bit bigger and the bike itself is a lot lighter, but trust the bike it and its big gyroscopes know what they are doing. Once I learned that mountain biking I stopped crashing except for two scenarios; 1) I panic and forget to trust the bike, or 2) I’m too tired physically (time for a 5 minute break).

  • Gordon Pull

    MOAR THROTTLE!!

  • mms

    Oooh earlier this year i had a both wheel slide (oil on the road, rain just starting, in a corner, cold tires) on a 700 lb bike, ended up hanging on like superman with my feet flailing out behind me. Not sure how I didn’t crash, because all i remember was the face of the guy driving his car in the opposite direction. COMEDY GOLD.

  • Mr.Paynter

    I’m definitely of the “Do Nothing” school, I’ve had the tail step out a few times and in that split second of just trying to smoothly ride it out it usually steps back in to line!

  • Clint Keener

    I hit tar snakes while riding on GMR this summer. I slid the front and back on numerous occasions and did nothing each time. It was as much fun as it was scary.

    • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

      I hit about a half mile of fresh tar snakes this past summer on a little back road. I had ridden this stretch of pavement dozens of times previously, but with the addition of the snakes, it sucked out loud. Both ends were squirming around underneath me.

      I was fairly sure I was going to dine on asphalt, but managed to ride it out at a much slower pace.

  • HammSammich

    Rolling off the throttle when my Bonnie broke loose on some gravel is what caused my high-side a few years ago. Since then I’ve broken the rear loose a few times, and the “Do Nothing” approach has always worked.

    • James

      How fast did you roll off?

      • HammSammich

        It happened very quickly, so I’m not honestly sure how rapidly I rolled off the throttle, but I do remember consciously thinking “Don’t touch the brakes,” and “be gentle.” I was coming out of a left hand turn in 1st gear and hammered on the thottle, probably going about 20-25mph. On my Bonneville, 20-25mph in first puts the engine revs up pretty high, and almost any reduction in throttle induces engine braking. I assume that led to the rear regaining traction too quickly, but it may have been that I was past the point of recovery in this situation and the only other alternative was to low side. Fortunately, I was wearing good gear and only ended up with two sprained wrists, some bruising, and the wind knocked out of me…

        • mms

          I did that years ago too, on a Ninja ZX6R, pulled into a gas station at about 30mph and really much too suddenly got off the throttle when i noticed the driveway was all gravel. The next thing i remember is sliding feet first. Bike needed a new turn signal and I needed neosporin up the middle of my back, where my jacket slid up around my armpits. What a rush though, I was laughing hysterically for about 20 solid minutes afterwards and had to be given ice cream and sat down in a corner.

        • Kaspar Lau

          Wow what kind of insurance plan is that that covers motorcycles?

  • Eric Shay

    What always happens to me is 1. Bike squiggles around 2. I try to remember what twist of the wrist said 3. Event is over 4. Remember to be more smooth.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Mystery School.

  • Slacker

    Got hit by a car a few years ago. He pulled right into me and I hit the throttle hard before he hit me. He hit the back end of the bike, slid the back end as he broke off my saddlebag, right turn signal and registration plate holder… looked where I wanted to go, kept on the power and I kept the bike up. The kid pulled over and was more scared than I was. :P

  • Justin McClintock

    I’ve had my bike step out of line on me a couple times. Most just really, really minor stuff I knew was coming (small slice of ice across the road on the morning commute kinda stuff….not a big patch). But once I did have the rear really step out taking a right hand turn. I dunno, maybe there was oil or coolant on the road. Hard to say. Rear end kicked WAY out left. I don’t know if it came from years and years of sliding cars around or what, but I just kept it right where it was…no acceleration, no deceleration, nothing. Just like they said in #1. Bike slowly brought the rear end bike in line and took off. Probably looked like I did it on purpose, despite me damn near shitting my pants during it. At least everybody else at the intersection got a good show!

  • Afonso Mata

    You know that time you’re lanesplitting and that oblivious driver changes lanes like 3 cars away from you and you panic brake?
    Quite often the back wheel steps out because it lost traction due to the painted lane boundaries (dunno how to call it in english).
    It has already happened to all of us lanesplitters.

    On this particular situation, the “cheetah tail” technique is the best way to go (and it pretty much saves me every time). Let the bike slide freely and it’ll find traction again when it steps out of the paint back into the tarmac.

  • Donnie Byers

    Nearly bit it this morning on my way to work. Was making a left away from an intersection and hit the throttle RIGHT ON a narrow moisture spot from the rain last night. My bike’s rear end got squirrelly FAST while I was leaning over. I stayed on the throttle, though, and the rear eventually hooked up again and I rode away with a new perspective on leaving intersections. lol.