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 bends are.
...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.