Motorcycle Safety & Driveability/Gravel in corners
Thanks for a great and complete answer. I do find myself cautious in slippery, sandy, gravelly conditions---not overly so but I'm definitely on guard. Just wondered if you knew some magic bullet (heheh) that might help.
Guess what? I have your book! Ordered from Amazon but haven't had time to read it yet! Pretty good coincidence, eh? I wish I was closer---I'd take your seminar.
Thanks and best of luck. Maybe I could ask you another question some time!
I would like to ask you about gravel in corners: specifically, how much gravel does it take to be a factor in sliding? I feel like I may be overly careful rather than reckless, even a few pieces of gravel gets me nervous even though I don't "think" it will do much, I seem to take those corners slower than I need to. I don't want to find out the hard way! I once saw on a website (Doc Wong's riding clinics) that they recommended weighting the outside peg in gravel---what exactly does that do? Is that recommended? Also, what about when there's no grave but a layer of construction "dust"? Not deep, just enough to color the road and make it look dusty brown---how much traction is compromised?
I'm 53 and currently have a ZX-9R and a ZRX1200R---I'm not inexperienced, but I definitely ride better in dry, gravel-free pavement and in corners that I can see through (as opposed to blind corners). I would like to get better when there's a bit of grave---just don't want to find out the hard way! Thanks for any tips!
Blue, good questions. After several pucker moments this year (we play in rural Wisonsin on sportbikes) I myself have been struggling with the same questions lately.
There are no absolutes. Every gravel type, the distribution of it across the surface, size of the spill, and shape of the spill is different. The tires play a part as well.
The first trick, as you probably well know, is to place yourself into the gravel as carefully as you can. (After avoiding it altogether, of course.) Many times there are swipes cleaned from previous traffic. Aim for those. Other times when traffic permits, you can use the shoulder or oncoming lane.
Either way, your goal is to either avoid the gravel completely or get your speed and lean angle down to a level that will not break traction. Again, there are no absolutes, every situation will be different. Gravel is usually no risk at 1 mph and no lean angle. For every 1 mph you add to your speed, and every 1-degree of lean angle you add because of the added speed, your risk goes up.
"Slowing down more than you need to" is the safest bet--don't worry about what other people think. Riding right on the edge of just enough/too much is risking a crash. It is absolutely no different than the risk of riding after drinking, thinking you've drank "just enough" to still be safe. When it turns out that you've crossed over the very fine line into "too much," you're risking a crash.
Any sort of testing of the limits puts you at more risk. You have to be willing to take that risk to do it. If crashing is not acceptable to you, you have to be happy slowing down more than you need to.
As you evolve you will get closer to that edge without much added risk (experience! confidence!) but there's really no reason to ride that edge unless you're racing. And I'm SURE you're not racing on the street. Again, don't worry about what anyone else thinks. Ride your own ride, because the only one who'll get hurt is you.
The first thing to remember is that once you're in the gravel, there's not much you can do about it except ride it out. Approaching the gravel, get your speed and lean angle down as much as possible, decide whether or not you think you can make it and then either:
A) Look through the corner to the turn's exit, keep your eyes off the ground and on where you HOPE to be, open the throttle a little and say a quick prayer or
B) decide there's no way in hell you're going to make it,
pick a place to crash in the ditch, straighten the bike up, brake hard right up until the gravel, and say a quick prayer. (Sometimes you'll get lucky and keep the bike upright, but the odds are generally slim.)
What I'm saying is unless you have a perfect landing area/runoff room, your best bet is to do your best and ride that thing out.
There. Now on to other stuff.
I'm not sure about counterweighting. I was just thinking abou that this morning, actually. I've been riding lately weighting the inside to reduce lean angle, but it occurs to me that doing so actually adds shearing forces to the contact patches which could break traction in gravel, wet conditions, etc. It may be better to counterweight to get more of the forces "down" towards the ground, rather than across towards the outside of the turn. I may have to investigate this further, but I think counterweighting might be a good defensive measure. It makes sense on paper.
I run cornering seminars once or twice a year here in Minnesota on a tech college driving course (truck drivers, cops, EMTs, fire fighters, etc. all learn to drive on them.) It's basically a closed-off track free of gravel, pedestrians, cars, etc. so we can work solely on cornering skills. It is a boatload of fun--17 turns in about 0.8 miles. Anyway, lately I've been thinking of doing something like this with gravel in the corners, so people can test their limits and improve their skills in a safer environment. Running purposely through sandy or gravely corners might build necessary confidence and technique to deal with it in the real world.
Hope this all helped.
PS You like this answer you should check out my book, Ride Hard, Ride Smart (Amazon, et al.) I deal more with mental techniques than physical, but if you're serious about your skill and safety, it's a must-read.
Thanks for buying my book! Winter's a better time for reading anyway.
I wish there was a silver bullet. I've now sparked off a heated debate on another forum about the best technique, some saying leaning in (weighting the inside peg) and some say counterweighting. There are good arguments on both sides.
Seems like the consensus is leaning in will lower your probability of a slide in the first place, but counterweighting will help you control the slide better and is less likely to cause injury.
Those who slide intentionally (flat track, supermoto, etc.) counterweight. Those who don't intend to slide hang off on the inside. I still can't figure what's best. Probably for random sandy spots you're better off to hang inside.
Feel free to keep in touch if you have any comments or questions about the book. You can get me at email@example.com.