Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with
hairpins (a new occasional series)
One of the questions I'm regularly asked via the website is how to
deal with hairpin bends in the mountains. They're not actually all
that tough once you've figured out the right technique but if you
get it wrong, things can get a bit messy.
Hairpins are all about "slow in". Like any bend you should make sure
you get the speed adjusted upright before you start to turn, because
upright you can still give them a firm squeeze if you are going a
bit too fast. There's no run-off if you are facing a cliff and if
you over-shoot the other way you'll be needing a parachute. So it's
particularly important when going downhill you are confident with
the brakes, but it IS possible to enter hairpin too quick going
uphill too! It's a good idea to practice using the brakes firmly
before you leave, particularly if you are going to be two-up and
loaded with gear.
Between hairpins try to get the best view you can, looking either up
or down, partly to see where the road actually goes and to judge how
tight the bends are, but also because you might spot other vehicles
like coaches or lorries which might need a lot of road in a hairpin
and are best avoided.
Particularly going down hill, you need to give yourself time to pick
your line and set the bike up to turn tight, so get on the brakes
early and positively. Get your gear selection done early. Going
uphill, you'll need to get the power back on whilst still upright to
drive through - if the engine feels like it's about to bog down,
slip the clutch rather than try to change gear mid-turn because the
bike will stop dead - don't forget that the steepest part of the
turn is usually half way through and on the inside of the turn.
Take the widest entry line you can that is safe, and don't turn in
too early - like any bend, an early turn-in tends to push you wide
on the exit. You need to follow the outside of the corner and only
turn into the hairpin when you can see up/down the next straight. If
you are apexing a hairpin mid-turn, you are cutting into the corner
way too early - misjudge it and you'll be running wide with no
margin for error.
Don't put the power on hard too soon. Though you need to turn uphill
on the power, too much too soon will push you wide. Get the bike
upright and pointed where you want to go, and only then twist the
throttle. You may need to have the back brake on going downhill to
stop yourself running wide on the exit before you switch to positive
acceleration. Try to minimise gear changes - it's one thing less to
do - let the engine rev and you'll get good drive going up and good
engine braking going down.
Couple of other tips...
...if you are nervous about hairpins, getting the first few wrong
will make you nervous about the next few. So take your time to get
the first ones right.
...don't follow the rider in front, but ride your own ride. If you
copy the guy ahead and they get it wrong, so will you. You'll also
have a poor view.
...don't try to outride the locals. They'll know where the nasty
...watch out for buses and trucks. They'll need a lot of room to
turn, particularly on narrower roads. Keep well clear and give way
by stopping well back from the bend if necessary.
...remember you're dealing with bends. That means polished surfaces,
rippled tarmac and fuel spills.