Riding Skills 101

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Surface Attraction

A while back I read a research paper that examined just where road users actually look. Guess what? Motorcyclists looked at the road surface more than drivers. That surprised the researchers but was predictable because it's the friction between tyres and road surface keeping bikes shiny side up. The level of grip we have impacts on our ability to accelerate, brake, steer and lean so it's not surprising that we pay the surface a lot of attention. Nevertheless, it's important to understand why some surfaces are barely ridable in the dry whilst others give near race track levels of grip in the wet.

Perfect surfaces are the exception rather than the rule, but still riders are caught out and panic when they see a dubious surface mid-turn. Why? Because we need time to react - spotting a problem already under the front wheel is too late.

Scan ahead then anticipate if the surface gets better or worse - a change of colour or visible line across the road often warns of a change, and though they look the same, two surfaces may have very different grip. Anything shiny is probably slippery. It makes sense to follow the Survival Skills advanced rider training approach by planning for the worst before we discover the hard way.

Slippery access covers are found around bends and junctions - don't brake on them, aim to steer round rather than over. A shiny line could be a tar seam - like glass in the wet. Bumps and slippery surfaces together spell caution - beware cats-eyes when overtaking and paint markings that don't follow an ideal line.

Discoloured patches could be wet patches, gravel, potholes or polished surfaces. Mud and gravel will wash downhill after rain and accumulate at the bottom of hills. Loose chippings will be pushed to the centre and sides of the cars' tyre tracks - do we want to brake on those?

Irregular streaks are often fuel spills. Petrol is as slippery as diesel but evaporates quickly. If you smell diesel slow down and search! Guess where you'll find it - near filling stations, bus depots and industrial estates, on roundabouts and long fast bends.

Watch out for shellgrip - it's a high friction surface laid near pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, and sometimes on bends too, but rarely far enough round to get the bike upright again. Take advantage of the extra grip mid-corner and we'll hit the less grippy surface still banked over - a recipe for a slide.

Don't forget rain! After a prolonged dry spell, all surfaces will be extra-slippery.

Things we can change are tyres, suspension settings and - attitude! Super-soft track compounds just don't work on the road. They don't warm up and don't like rain. Hard track suspension settings don't allow the bike to follow road irregularities. Stick to road set-ups and road compounds, but even then we need to take some care. Modern tyres have excellent grip but can fool us into pushing too hard - our tyres can only deliver the amount of grip that the surface offers. A super-grippy tyre will have more more traction over wet metal access covers or on diesel. And once the bike starts sliding, it may well panic us into grabbing the brakes and having a crash that shouldn't have happened!

So beware overconfidence. Don't ride too fast for the conditions, keep back and don't follow the vehicle in front. Just because the Land Rover made it round doesn't mean we will too!

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

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