Friday Fives: 5 Skills to Practice for Safer Riding

by on May 15, 2009
in Friday Fives, Riding Tips

When I took my skills test to get my license, I didn’t understand why the entire test was based on slow-speed skills. After riding awhile, I finally figured it out: It’s not about whether you can go straight down the road and shift the gears – almost anyone can learn to do that. It’s whether you can control the bike, evade obstacles, and be safe in high-traffic or large-crowd situations that makes you a really good rider.

So, having brushed the chip off my shoulder regarding the importance of slow-speed maneuvers, I thought I’d share five skills you can practice that will help you feel more confident on the road, more in control of your bike, and overall a better rider. I’ve also included at the end a few links to websites that have good practice guides if you want more tips or more exercises to practice.

1. Right-hand turn coming off a stop.
Why it’s good to practice: It’s easy to go too wide, into an oncoming traffic lane.
Your goal: Keep your bike confined to the correct lane as you make your turn.
Tips: After checking for traffic, look ahead to the point where you want to end up – NOT into the oncoming lane and NOT at the yellow line in the middle of the road. Don’t apply the front brake when making your turn or the bike will go down.

2. Left-hand turn coming off a stop.
Why it’s good to practice: It’s easy to go too wide, into the opposite curb, when turning onto a two-lane street.
Your goal: Keep your bike in the correct lane and away from the curb as you make your turn.
Tips: After checking for traffic, look ahead to the point where you want to end up – NOT at the opposite curb. Don’t apply the front brake when making your turn or the bike will go down.

3. Starting from a stop on a hill.
Why it’s good to practice: You don’t want to stall the bike or roll backwards into cars behind you when it’s your turn to come off the stop sign or red light.
Your goal: Smoothly pull away from your stop without killing the bike and with less than a foot of roll-back.
Tips: Find a low-traffic, hilly neighborhood to practice in if possible. Slowly release the clutch til you feel it grab, then give just enough throttle to move the bike forward. Also practice this by turning right or left off the stop by combining with the tight-turn tips above.

4. Sudden Stops.
Why it’s good to practice: You need to get a feel for controlling your bike in a quick stop.
Your goal: Come to as quick a stop as possible without skidding or locking the brakes. 
Tips: Practice with a riding buddy so they are on hand to help if you go down or get hurt. Find an empty parking lot for practice. Ride straight, getting into second gear. Then “suddenly” apply both brakes with even but firm pressure. If you do lock the brakes, DO NOT immediately release them or you’ll be thrown high-side or low-side off the bike

5. Riding in a tight circle or Figure 8.
Why it’s good to practice: It will teach you to really control your bike, make tight turns successfully, and that “looking where you want to go” really works.
Your goal: Ride in a continuous ten-foot-wide circle or in a nicely-formed figure 8 with ten-foot-wide loops.
Tips: Watch instructional videos such as the Ride Like A Pro series to see how it’s done. Look where you want to go – looking across the circle at a point directly opposite you should take the bike in a nice tight circle. Feather your clutch for speed control; use the REAR brake, not the front. 

Here are a few other resources:

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4 Responses to “Friday Fives: 5 Skills to Practice for Safer Riding”
  1. Michael says:

    Great article. I can appreciate your third point on starting from stop on a hill. It takes a bit to get the maneuver down. I once had a full dresser Harley Davidson Ultra Classic on a hill. When I didn’t go forward properly the motor died, and I began to roll backwards. When I tried to roll backwards and than point the bike back toward downhill, I lost balance and tipped the bike.

    Those kinds of things keep us humble. Only one person witnessed the comedy of errors. It kind of hurt when he laughed.

  2. Great tips. Of course you know that I’m strictly passenger material but I passed it on to the big guy. My Friday tip of the day is to shop the Harley clearance sales. I got a pair of boots today for $25! Woot!

  3. Janet says:

    Michael, thanks for dropping by and being willing to share your experience. I would be furious at myself if that happened to me, which would affect my ability to think clearly and solve the problem. Tipping aside, I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve killed the bike and had traffic waiting behind me. I have to make a conscious effort to shut them out and really focus on my task.

    SMB – YAY for you on the boots! I found a neat pair at a swap meet here in Feb., also $25… it’s fun to find a bargain! (PS – pillion riders welcome here, so never worry about leaving a comment – I’m glad to hear from you!

    – Janet

  4. kathy says:

    No matter if we’re new or seasoned riders, being able to ace slow speed maneuvers gives us confidence and that confidence makes us safer riders.

    On my very first ride on my first bike, I headed out to just take a spin around my neighborhood. I had been around the block many times in the car and it seemed pretty tame – until I got to the stop sign at the top of a small rise where I had to turn left. Oops – down went the bike. My friend who was there to encourage me didn’t laugh out loud, but I could see the grin in his eyes as he helped me right the bike. That was almost five years ago and now I can negotiate almost all low speed moves. Ride Like a Pro is a great video and helped me a lot. I’m planning to take one of his classes this fall when the Florida heat cools a little.

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