Compartmentalisation & Practice -
the key to learning new skills
If there are two messages that I hope come over from these tips,
don't be satisfied, push on and learn new skills
practice, practice and practice again
Improving technology has put safer bikes in our hands, but they are
also a lot faster. Traffic density is increasing daily and the roads
are ever more dangerous - the average rider needs every bit of help
he or she can get to get safe fun from his or her machine. We've all
seen someone perform a manoeuvre better than we can, and wondered
about their obvious skill and how they came by it. Read books, talk
to mates, attend riding courses, learn from your own mistakes, don't
be afraid to ask for help if you have a riding problem - in short,
understand there are always new skills to learn, new ways of seeing
situations developing on the road and thus always something you can
do to make yourself a better and safer rider.
Most people who ring me up or e-mail me about a course mention that
they have one or more specific problems. Cornering is the most usual
problem out on the road, though many are unhappy with slow speed
control or with braking. Quite often, they have read something about
the technique but haven't managed to grasp the practical side of the
theory. Reading the "how to corner" article in a magazine is one
thing, doing it whilst riding is quite another.
One of the most tricky techniques for both novice and not
infrequently, experienced riders to master is the U turn. On the
other hand, I get messages from riders who say: that we don't need
to do a U turn on the road - we can compromise and do what we KNOW
we can do - we make a three-point turn or get off and push the bike
round. There is nothing wrong with that, it's safe and sensible.
Very sensible if you have ever cracked a fairing on a slow speed get
However, those same skills are vital when it isn't feasible to get
off or back up - like when the turn you have just taken into a side
road turns out to be a lot sharper than you expected, filtering
through heavy traffic when the gap you were aiming for suddenly
disappears and you have to make a car-avoiding swerve or if you are
riding a bike with restricted steering lock - the skills required
are the same, and it makes sense to master them.
By far and away the best method of improving any aspect of your
riding is to break the manoeuvre down into its component parts and
to work on improving them one at a time in a logical order - it's
the way virtually all learning processes work. The key to to
skill/confidence enhancement is compartmentalisation - a progressive
building block approach.
Whilst there are some body weighting, clutch, throttle and brake
skills needed to complete a tight turn, nothing is beyond the newest
rider - in other words profound bike control skills are not really
necessary - but a considerable amount of confidence in both the
rider's skills and the bike's abilities is required.
One way you can try to learn to corner better is by charging into
corners faster and faster until you scare yourself or fall off, and
to a large extent this is how most riders used learn to ride - I
know I did!
However, there is a major problem with this approach (aside from the
very real risk of killing yourself). How do you know what you are
Taking a corner can be broken down into a whole series of skills,
both mental (reading the line, judging braking distances etc.) and
physical (use of brakes, countersteering, throttle control etc.).
What have you done to your riding technique to enable you to get
round the corner faster? Was it better braking? More lean angle?
More throttle? A better line? And when it all goes pear-shaped, what
was the problem?
Many skills are interdependent but must be learned in the right
order. Going back to our U turn example, you need to practice
clutch and throttle control
looking through the U-turn
posture and counter weighting
Clearly it makes no sense to try to balance a bike slowly round the
U turn if you haven't learned to control the throttle, clutch and
In a bend, it makes sense to make sure you can work out the real and
potential hazards of the corner before you do anything else, and to
be able to approach at and carry on through the turn at safe speed.
Few riders who have trouble with bends have realised that their main
problem is either entering too fast or failing to anticipating
danger and having to brake mid-turn - if you don't get the speed
right on the way in, nothing else will go right all the way through
Then and only then, should you start to work on reading the line and
steering through it. When you are confident you can stop or steer
yourself out of trouble, you can start to work on carrying more
approach speed, braking later and more firmly, carrying more corner
speed and lean angle and accelerating harder on the exit.
Some riders have problems believing in learning skills in this way -
but every decent training course from CBT to Keith Code's California
Superbike School does the same - start with the basics, master them
first and then move onto the more complicated bits.
Think about what you are doing and analyse the results. When your
riding becomes untidy and you find that you are starting to make a
mess of things, go back to basics. You may well find that you need
to go full circle and start back at square one - but you'll often
end up at a higher level.
The final point is practice. If you accept that you can improve your
riding through learning new techniques, you should accept that
practice is worthwhile because it tends to convert what could be
difficult into what is relatively straightforward through
improvements to skill and confidence.
Keep speeds low and work on one skill at a time until you are happy
you've got the hang of it - then and only then move onto the next
Don't try to improve lots of skills at the same time - there are too
many variables for you to be able to work out just what it was that
made that corner or U turn work (or not). Even if you think you can
figure out what works and what doesn't, remembering to do everything
at once is too much until you become comfortable with the techniques
So, schedule some time on a regular basis and go out and think about
your riding, give yourself a goal - a specific part of your riding
to improve - and then practice, practice, practice.