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Motorcycle Riding Tips and Techniques to help YOU become a Better Rider

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I may write a bunch of bumf below on what works for me. But let me just point out clearly this is one person's view. More conventional wisdom provides really solid advice like this:

Focus on things that prevent crashes:
- keeping space to stop if your path is blocked
- creating a buffer from hazards
- responding to hazards by slowing down, and
- good gap selection.

(Edit, see for the RTA's view)

The following article provides more detail of these concepts:

Edit 3: 8/07/11 Added specifics to item 14 plus two new first section items, all as marked in purple.

Riding skills - which are really about "head skills" and preparation - I figured its time to write down some of what I have learnt, I hope sharing this is helpful. These tips are what some 53yo bloke that is no slouch on 2 wheels thinks really matters, learned from some 250,000km riding mostly sports tourers, or their earlier derivatives (which was “everything” you could clip an occky strap to!), in 35+ years riding. You yourself can make the biggest improvements to your riding enjoyment and safety, FOR FREE. All you have to do is to decide you want to! Put your own interpretation on the tips below and make them useful for you, but please do take something with you from this lot:

Riding Tips and Techniques
(Note: I considered various ways to prioritise these and gave up, so they are just listed in “no particular order”)

* The biggest change I made to surviving terrain issues was to switch to “safe, safe, safe” as my way of picking a path through the problem, it sounds simple but was a massive change from the “target fixation” that comes from trying to avoid the hazards. Practice on some patchy road that is not dangerous and focus on the areas next to the problem bits, and that will help a lot when real issues arise.

* How you feel and the physical condition you are in REALLY MATTERS, figure out how to “self-check” and regularly run down the unspoken internal check list to keep a good connection between what is going on and where you are at. If I'm not SURE, even 'though I may not quite know why, I take extra precautions which has included stopping right now - to catch my breath. Concentration is King, if you have ANY reason to doubt yours act accordingly.

* The Golden Rule of Motorcycling on the open road is “Stay In Your Lane”. If you are going out of it for any reason, including laziness, this is a percentage game and it will catch up with you. If you are riding quickly through tight corners ANY slight errors in your preferred lane positioning are the first clue that you are near your fatigue limits. Actually this is a big red flag and you need to slow down, a lot, RIGHT NOW. If you routinely cut corners it might be safe enough but you mostly lose this excellent self-checking tool.

* This business of getting really scared mid corner happens to everyone, and few realise it is mostly about cutting the apex. Everyone thinks they go through corners faster by making them the least radius, which comes totally unstuck if there is an obstacle (car or post, or pothole) mid corner as you have to straighten up then turn much sharper than what is "normal" for you and you can easily get caught with your body mass on “the wrong side of centre” which is a scary sensation indeed as you need to really “push steer” the bike down to sort it, but most likely you will run wide. Wider entries with nothing more than your head hanging outside the lane makes it easy to do any small adjustments needed and improves vision.

* The other part of mid corner scares is about understanding how to control the bike. Once you are in the corner normally you have nothing to do, grip is relaxed and you are just enjoying the exhilaration. If you have gone in “a bit hot” or are suddenly unsure about what you are seeing then gentle rear braking and gripping the tank with your knees does a lot to "tighten up" the bike and make it feel better. If you have gone in “really hot”, the instant you realise it start feather braking both wheels and increasing pressure as you stand the bike up and do maximum braking for a short while then release and tip in, you WILL make it. Every time! But you then have to make very sure you learn the lesson that took you there! For example getting "punch drunk" winding it on mid corner can present a problem at the next one if you get a bit "caught in the moment" - there are warning signs you can figure out then recognise if this is "a trap" for you.

* Practicing avoiding obstacles, sudden turns and bad conditions when they are NOT needed is a REALLY USEFUL way to get the reflexes pre-programmed. When you have (not!) avoided a few phantom roos you will know how good this is to do! If you are going to hit an animal don’t swerve. On a bigger bike hold it dead straight and ride out the impact with no throttle or braking and every bit of you locked to the bike (stiff arms, knees virgin clench locked on the tank, legs sucked in, back hunched if have a pillion). On a small bike do the same but accelerate just before impact. For more details check out:

* A mid corner twig / branch can be very slippery. Ideally you will stand the bike up and hit it square on, as you would for any hazard where you have the advantage of size and momentum. But often mid corner that is tricky and they are too long to dodge, so flick the bike as if to stand it up but don’t – it will still be leaning but relatively “weightless” as it “pendulums” over the stick, you will still get a wobble but nothing like the certain metre sideways shift and likely spill if you did nothing!

* Getting off your seat is cool on a race-track, it doesn't belong on the road because the disconnect of mass between you and the bike makes it really difficult to handle mid corner bumps and maintain your path. "Half a cheek" is as far as you can safely go. Ever.

* There is no such thing as “not my fault” – that means you didn’t keep an escape route in mind as second nature and were not paying sufficient attention to what the traffic around you was doing. Watch their wheels not their eyes. Practice formally selecting an escape route for if “this car does this or that one does that” on a regular basis, until this is just something that happens subconsciously. A SMIDSY at law might be their fault, but in reality at least 2/3 the blame is yours for not seeing it coming, and another 30% for not developing your avoidance skills to the point you can miss them - leaves 3% to blame the driver - because they were ALWAYS going to do this, you just didn't know which one! (SMIDSY = Sorry Mate I Didn't See You)

* The MOST IMPORTANT skill you can have as a motorcyclist is to know where you’re “at” – and not be suckered or intimidated into going outside of that. A good motorcyclist has way more respect for another motorcyclist that DOESN’T know how to push a bike to scrape than one that tries and runs wide even a small bit. This means practicing getting over your ego - yes YOU!

* Pushing the comfort zone a little bit at a time when there is plenty of space / time to make mistakes is a great way to expand what you can do, then pull it back 10% or so and do that with ease - all day long if you like. Consciously do this over a long period and you will be amazed how much better you get at (and out of) riding your motorcycle.

* We all have an internal "angle of lean", and hit it like a brick wall. If you can find a safe place to deliberately go past that point (swoop at it) on good open road you will find the bike is good for it and you will get a LOT more confidence if you sometimes need to turn sharper. As you lean more, tilt your head the max to vertical without rolling your body up, and move your feet so just the ball of the inside foot is on the peg (yes, EVERY corner). If the bike hits a mid corner bump and scrapes it will be OK, you need to expect it so you are too as it will happen. Death to Chicken Strips!

* Scanning the road ahead makes a big difference to how comfortable and confident you are riding on it. For a while physically look between “the vanishing point” and a few metres in front of you by actually moving your eyes up and down. After a while you get to just watching the breaking point with a quick flick to scan the road and heightened peripheral vision awareness.

* No matter what situation you find yourself in point the bike to where you need to go to get out of it. Usually this will get the desired result as modern bikes are much better than most modern riders, but if not well you were stuffed anyway and will only have improved the direction you were heading in! But don’t be afraid to try as often you will succeed. Practice sudden changes of direction when there is nothing to avoid, it will "lock in" the reflexes for when you do need them. Do this in corners and straights and in different conditions and surfaces. There is a fair bit to learn here but it can be really useful at times - and has certainly saved me from a few prangs over the years when "sudden manoeuvres" have been the only real option!

* You will know that you are a competent rider when the bike in front is blocking your view of the road rather than helping you know where to go. If you are not there yet check if you are doing "balls riding", ie "because the fellow in front can I must be able to too". To an extent this may seem to be true, but the REAL difference is the ability to handle "matters arising" at the particular pace set - how well you are placing your bike on the road is the screaming giveaway for if you are outside your “zone”, or just a couple of competent riders having a nice ride. Be really aware of this as so many people get sucked into mistakes and you need to KNOW this will not be you. There is also the risk of pressuring the rider in front - same deal in reverse. It comes back to that ego thing, deal with it...!

* Being in a good frame of mind is far more important than most people realise. Riding angry or upset etc will reduce your judgement, not by “a bit” as most people think, but more like 5 to 10 times whatever “normal” is for you. It can be done, but you need to be really strong about telling yourself to “keep a lid on it X”. After some gentle riding the brain focusing thing happens naturally, you will calm down and your abilities will normalise, so expect this – not that you start out there, capleesh?

* If you are worried about taking on a big ride and arriving safely the reason you will be OK is because you will “get this 200m right” followed by the next 200 and so on. You KNOW where your boundaries are and WON’T go outside them – simple huh? And it works for thousands of km, the trick is being aware of what a boundary is for skills, endurance, changed circumstances etc - but the right mindset will get you there safely!

* If you are having a prang there is a time to jump, and you only get one chance – it is when the bike is about to stop – so psyche yourself up to do it. When you aren't having a prang! If it is sliding stay with it and let it wear away, it will cost the same to fix.

* Any time something goes wrong or a near miss happens there is ALWAYS an important lesson for you to learn, and usually this will require some time for reflection and true understanding not just brushing it off as a “lucky escape”. If you have survived it you MUST do this. We make a lot of mistakes as a motorcyclists, but how we process them going forward is where the real survival skills come to the fore – and “luck” isn’t something to count on as we make our own “luck”.

* Some of the stupidest things known to mankind follow the utterance of the words “Watch This”. Don’t go there! If you need(?) to show off, practice the trick calmly, away from an audience and build it up over time. Take “mono’s” for instance, a boot full of revs will easily send you off the back, but a gentle tap on the clutch while rolling slowly with medium throttle will, over many attempts, help you develop a really robust feel for balance, height and wind effects. On a racetrack of course!

* I remember learning to ride more smoothly and quicker by singing at the top of my voice in my helmet. Scary for little native animals, but very helpful to “get your brain out of the loop” and just let things flow with a clear head. This is fine as a training technique and I still use it to "settle" and "centre" myself, however I assure you there is a point where you want every bit of brainpower focused on the task at hand – this is at “hit the FO button” pace and needs high levels of fitness to go with it – which none of us has so that personal self checking thing becomes really important if you go anywhere near here…. (FO = Fast Operation of course, in really tight terrain so you stay under that all important speed limit, not xxx off or whatever you were thinking!)

* In an unexpected slip it is possible to save the fall by kicking the ground hard with the inside leg, it has saved me a couple of times in roundabouts where fuel spills have occurred plus on other occasions when unseen loose gravel patches occur. I would not suggest practicing this as it is something I learnt early on with dirt bikes, and I know the "hydraulic shock" that your leg gets is unpleasant for 30 secs or so. While this may save a certain fall, you have to be really quick once slipping starts to have a chance of pulling it off (like under half a second but can be done), and one is then likely to be heading in an unplanned direction with other issues arising. So it is an uncertain technique and not much use over about 60km/hr, but three times that I clearly remember it has kept me upright with only a scare, and once at about 80km/hr kicking the well disguised powdery gravel left me upright but secondary issues lead to a sub 10km/hr fall.

* Wet weather is a fantastic time to really concentrate on learning to ride smoothly. Riding the length of the Putty Rd from Sydney to Singleton at a reasonable pace in pouring rain at night, then back roads to Newcastle, did more to improve my smoothness on a bike than any other thing I have done. Not most people's cup of tea, but once you accept the situation it is really quite uplifting to do this. One thing about wet weather is that normally traction is about 80% of dry weather, except for wooden bridges, moss, new paint, tar strip sealing, etc which are all treacherous. I have found it useful to "traction test" uncertain road surfaces by hard acceleration in a straight line, typically in second gear - it is surprising which bits of road are actually slippery, and which aren't, often not you would expect!

General Issues and Aspects

* For pillioning tips see here: which was published in Australian Road Rider magazine # 59 (May/June 2010).

* You can only teach yourself so much. Even the most experienced riders get a lot of value out of undertaking formal training. I personally am a fan of the Stay Upright courses (, but I am sure that any of the others around will also make a really useful difference to your riding. Just going along to a track day and experimenting on the same corners is also an excellent way to gain confidence in a relatively safe environment. If the thought is a bit scary see, be assured you WILL be OK - in fact it will be the best thing you have done in years!

* Buying the right bike for where you are at helps a lot. You won’t be able to pick up head skills if you are continually getting the beejeezus scared out of you by having the wrong bike. If you’ve made a purchase mistake you are better off to deal with it than “get stubborn”, you will feel much better about it in the long run, just get your ego out of the equation!

* Having the right riding gear is really helpful to how you feel when riding, check out for useful tips. Personally I love these jackets (full zip out arm and torso mesh panels for all seasons) and (summer mesh) for full protection when needed (I have tried them both out!) and excellent air flow for daily use. More info at:

* Having a fog free visor is really important if you go anywhere in cooler weather. Pinlock inserts are great (, breath guards / nose covers help a lot but aren’t for everybody, and stick-on Hyper Optik inserts are good too (be careful to install them to not catch/rub and not have a strip in your vision above them; replace regularly as the “auto-tint” only lasts a year).

* If you have a flat you need a flat tyre kit with a hand pump style CO2 cartridge dispenser, and the tools to take your wheels off if that fails. Or at least NRMA membership. If (um when!) you get a flat without any of these you will find out what a big deal it is!

* Some learned motorcyclist once said "One's Enjoyment on a Motorcycle is Directly Proportional to the Square of the time spent hard on the Throttle Stop" Try it, it's true! From about mid-corner. The bike doesn't go much faster than on 2/3 throttle, but there is something about "wringing its neck" that is very enjoyable-ness producing! Way out of proportion to the actual time spent doing it, just another cool part of "the human condition"!

So Please pick though the lists above and work on one item at a time. As in formally think about it and how it applies to you, and what can you do differently as a result - then practice that thought process while you are out on your bike, not in the lounge room in front of the PC or it won't sink in! I'm sure I will have left stuff out, please remember it needs to be a blend, they are not really "stand alones" although that is how you actually need to learn them, ie one by one. But all this stuff needs to "go in" and then some. It is the best form of "life insurance" there is. All suggestions to improve these lists are appreciated, I will edit it to suit.

Edit 1: 29/06/11 General edit to add items, organise better and reduce some of the "bumf" – may  still need to try harder with this last bit.....?
Edit 2: 1/07/11 Reworked most second section items plus minor edit to clarify some first section items[/list]


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