Novice vs. Veteran: 8 Best Ways To Improve Your Motorcycle Riding Skills


Categories: How To, Skills

Whether you're heading out for your first MSF class or your leathers wear "93" on the back, the act of riding a motorcycle remains fundamentally the same. Let's look at the basic skills and break out how you can get better, no matter what your riding experience. It's the eight best ways to improve your motorcycle riding skills.

The most powerful component on your motorcycle takes time to master and, because it's so important to safety, is worth taking a little extra practice time to stay fresh on.

Novice: Find a big, empty parking lot and work up from low speed. Riding along at 15 mph, progressively squeeze the front brake lever until you feel the front tire on the verge of locking up or the rear tire lifting off the ground. You may dump the bike in this process; crash protection is always a good idea. Once you can confidently achieve maximum braking force at 15 mph, move up to 20, then 25 and so on until it's a skill you can reliably employ at any road speed. Don't expect to master this or any other skill in a single day, competent riding takes time.

Veteran: When was the last time you used your bike's max braking force? Remember what it feels like? Bought a new bike recently? Have you taken some time off to hibernate? Go put in a little of that same parking lot practice, keeping this skill sharp may one day save your life.

Shifting Gears
What may seem simple and basic rapidly becomes and dance using both hands and feet if you want to achieve genuinely fast riding. Whether you're a veteran or novice, your goal is smoothness.

Novice: Tried a clutchless upshift yet? It's easier than you may think. While accelerating (not riding at a constant speed or decelerating) sneak your left foot under the shift lever and apply a little upwards pressure. Whatever it would take to select a gear if the clutch was pulled in. But, don't pull in that clutch! Instead, hold that upwards pressure with your foot and quickly close the throttle a little bit. The gear should slip home, at which point you should get back on the gas. Practice until doing so is smooth, seamless and takes no mental effort whatsoever.

Veteran: Whether you've already mastered the rev-matched downshift or not, it's something you need to practice. While braking for a corner with two fingers on the front lever, quickly pull in the clutch, blip the throttle, select the lower gear and pop that clutch back out. If you get it right, the shift is fast and doesn't break the rear tire's traction, allowing you to downshift more aggressively, later in the corner. Sounds easy, but it takes nuance and experience to nail it every time, so practicing is a great idea.

Lane Splitting
That most natural act of the motorcyclist can also be very dangerous if you don't apply skill and experience. Getting better at it will save you time while making your riding much safer.

Novice: Try it! Find a long red light in town where cars tend to back up in two lanes or more, then try and approach it just after it turns red. Carefully pick your way to the front of the queue, quickly calculate the time remaining on the red and, if there's enough, squarely plant yourself in front of one of the lines of cars, claiming your rightful territory. Once that feels natural, work your way up to more complicated splitting scenarios; just keep the pace of progress slow, this is a difficult skill to learn and one that has dire consequences should you make a mistake.

Veteran: Improve your ability by baking practice into your everyday splitting. Can you make it all the way home without touching a foot down? Can you do it without clipping a mirror? Without being taken by surprise even once or while reciting the age, sex and hairstyle of every driver you pass (keen observation skills are a must). Actively try and get better every time and it's a skill you'll keep sharp.

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