An in-depth guide towards riding fast and safe on the road with your bike.
Lighter and faster with every passing year, modern superbikes rock, but getting the best out of them without ending in the railing or undergrowth needs some serious skill. Here are the basics to help you master the art of riding fast and safe on the road.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Just because you’ve been around that corner 500 times doesn’t mean there isn’t something hazardous on the apex today. Wherever you’re riding, try to use your imagination, always expect the worst, and you’ll live to be 100. Get complacent and there is every chance that one day you’ll get bitten hard.
If you’re new to 1000cc sportbikes, then roads you think you know can suddenly become very unfamiliar, and this can lead to nasty consequences. The biggest difference between big sportbikes and the rest of the two-wheeled food chain is the speed, and more specifically the speeds they can get you to in a blink of an eye. Obviously really, but it’s amazing how many seemingly smart people fail to notice this and then find themselves upside down in some drain wondering where it all went wrong.
Normally this is on a corner, or more precisely, next to the corner they’ve just exited in an undignified manner because no matter how fast their bike can propel them between corners, there is a limit to how quickly their abilities can actually get around the curve. The way to avoid this is to give yourself time.
Many people ride in halves between corners. They’re either accelerating or braking, when what they should be doing is riding in thirds. You accelerate, then plateau at whatever speed is suitable for the pace you’re riding and the conditions, and while you’re there, take time to absorb what the road and surroundings are telling you. From here you move smoothly into the next braking phase when it comes along.
The key to riding fast and safe on the road, not to mention survival at speeds, is all in your head. It matters not how fast your bike is because if your brain can’t keep up with what is going on, you’re basically going to get into trouble.
You’ll know when your brain can’t manage because not only will it feel like you’re a passenger in the Millenium Falcon on the hop to light speed, but you’ll also be tense, chopping on and off the throttle and brakes and riding much like you did when you first started riding. The difference is you’re now poised to make 180kmh mistakes rather than 80kmh ones.
The way to chill out is to back off, not to hang on for grim death thinking you can hang through on hope and good fortune. This doesn’t have to be by much, but enough to let you read the road you’re on and to build a picture of what is happening not just in front of your wheel but way beyond, as far into the distance as you can see.
Reading The Road
Reading the road you don’t know is seen by many riders as a black art, but it is not so tough if only you knew where to look. This is also an essential skill when it comes to riding fast and safe on the road.
Open up your vision beyond what’s immediately ahead, scan around to the sides and deep into the distance and you’ll find information on what the road’s doing everywhere.You’ll need to see everything clearly if you intend on riding fast and safe.
The thing to remember is that on a litre-class sportbike, this conveyor belt of information can be rushing by at an alarming rate. Something that is, for a split second, over there, will very soon be right here – and then just as quickly it’s gone. If it’s too much to take in, then you’re going way too fast. Back off.
The list of clues telling you what’s happening is almost endless, but the bottom line is you’ve got to work them out for yourself. Open up your vision, stay loose, and you’ll be amazed at what you see. Build up your own abilities by heading out for roads you don’t really know, then talking yourself down them as you go, running through what you can see and what you’re doing about it. This may sound a bit mental, but at 80kmh who’s going to hear you? Get on with it then.
Make A Plan
Riding fast and safe on the road requires proper planning. We’re not talking about merely phoning your friends and seeing who fancies a blast, but planning as in working out what you’re doing as you’re doing it.This is also essential at riding fast and safe on the road.
It ties in with your observation and commentary, and simply means working out how and what you can see will affect what you do. Position, speed, gear, is all you need to apply whenever anything comes up that causes you to change course, speed or both. It could be a car, a busy intersection or simply another bend; either way you’ll need these three things sorted to manage whatever it is.
Let’s start with position, what you want is maximum vision at all times, so if there’s a left hander coming up get as far to the right as you can for the best view around; if it’s a right hander, head to the left. If there is traffic ahead, don’t get to close – you can’t see anything stuck behind a lorry. Don’t be afraid to use your head, literally, and stick your neck out for a better view. Always be constantly jockeying for the position that allows you to see as far ahead as possible.
You’ll also want to give yourself maximum chance of avoiding anything untoward, so if there’s road works, RnRs, shops or cars parked to the road side, put some space between you and them. Always be aware that most road users are ignorant of the performance at your disposal. While you may be used to your bike, other’s won’t realise just how quickly you can get from where they first see you to where they currently are.
Use both sides of the road if you can see it’s clear ahead and there are no solid white lines. Don’t be afraid to use the entire road to improve your vision, increase your safety, or for the shortest route between two points.
Next comes speed and gear, and these two are much simpler; don’t arrive at hazards so fast that you become part of them. On a big bike, keep the revs around half mast to give yourself the choice of shutting off for engine braking, or winding it on for proper acceleration. It’s all too easy to have a big sportbike shaking its head and pitching back and forth on its suspension if you get big handfulls at off throttle at high rpm. Much better to use a higher gear and less rpm to keep the bike steady and be more in control.
Let’s assume you’re heading for a right hander, you’ve read the road, you’ve got your position, speed and gear sorted and you’re ready for attack. Now what?
Stay out wide until you can see the corners exit, even if this means starting the corner and staying on a wide line, because fast road cornering is about maintaining maximum visibility, then as soon as you can see the exit, take the shortest line between where you are and where you’re going.
Because your braking was sorted long ago and you’re already in the right gear, all you have to do is wind the gas on progressively with a smooth twist, while feeling for grip from the tires before catapulting yourself on to the next set of bends, congratulating yourself on a job well done as you go.
The number one cause of accidents nowadays are riders getting corners wrong, they come in too hot, or they think they are, they panic, hit the brakes, the bike stands up and then they get target fixation on the nearest solid object – normally a tree or a light post on a right hander or an oncoming car on a left – and the result’s are rarely pretty. The sad part is nine times out of ten the bike would have made the corner, it was just their head that couldn’t manage it.
It’s a particular problem to riders of 1000cc missiles unfamiliar with the eyeball compressing acceleration available at the twitch of the wrist. All horsepower does is join corners together. It doesn’t get you round them any quicker. Get carried away on the straights and it’s all too easy to find yourself starring in the panic scenario described above.
My advice is to don’t give up. These bikes are better than most of us, so even if you feel you’re heading in too fast, you probably aren’t. Look at where you want to go and not at what you’re worried about hitting, stay off the brakes once you’re turning in, lean into the corner and look round it.
One key to not getting into trouble in the first place is to use the vanishing point – the point where the two sides of the road converge as you look into a corner. If it moves away as you go in, it’s opening up, if it moves towards you, it’s going to be tight. Don’t rely on this as your only way of sorting a corner, but as an extra tool in your box and will come in dead handy in some situations.
Another problem riders face in cornering is by turning in too early. It’s a common problem, people don’t want to overrun the turn, so to be on the safe side they turn in early. But this causes them to run wide, which leaves them off the power for longer, slows them down and interrupts the flow. Get this right and you’ll ride safer and faster.
Normally with newfound pace comes new issues, mainly in the shape of overtaking. Failed overtakes are a big accident area. Normally riders fail to see car drivers turning right all the time. The best way to keep out of harms way is to avoid overtaking near any turnings and watch driver’s heads and hands as you approach – even if they don’t indicate they’ll move before they turn if they’re going to.
Try to keep some distance to what is in front of you. You’ll get a much better view and be able to make a far better overtake. Try to avoid tailgating whatever’s in your path, avoid panicking them into doing something untoward and thus avoiding an accident from happening.
The best part though is that on any major sportbike you care to mention, you also have the firepower at your disposal to lay waste to anything and everything in your way. All you have to do is use your head as hard as you use your bike and not only will you get ten times more out of it, you’ll still be riding faster than ever by the time that cutting edge rocketship you’re on now has long since been rendered slow and obsolete. Don’t you just love progress?
Putting It All Together
Riding fast and safe on the road not really rocket science, and much of this write-up covers ground we’ve been over in some form or other on previous occasions. It applies to riders of all bikes, not just 1000cc missiles, so hopefully we can all take something away from it.
The key to it all is to think about what you’re doing, all the time, and the faster you’re riding the harder you have to think. Getting the most out of a modern sportbike is more about having the restraint and the respect for the machinery, to know how much power not to use, and having the guts to admit there’s far more performance available than you and I can ever competently or safely put to use.