We should all be students of the art of Good Riding because no matter how many miles we’ve put under our wheels, we always have more we can learn.
Here are a few things I’ve learned, both through formal instruction (Lee Parks Total Control, etc.), reading, and a lot of personal practice. Much of this advice is a repeat of what’s already been said, but the fundamentals can’t be overstated:
1. Look through the turn, both with your head and eyes. Even if your head maintains a fixed position, if your eyes are wandering you will still unconsciously point the bike in that direction — giving you a ‘weaving’ turn.
2. Practice one technique at a time, in a controlled environment, before you move onto another technique. Spend a day doing nothing but concentrating on your head and eye position through corners. Exaggerate it. Make it become muscle memory. Then, on another day, focus on having relaxed hands (no ‘death grip’) and arms, etc.
3. Practice panic stops. Find a straight stretch of road or parking lot, get up to various speeds (starting slower then increasing in 10 mph increments) and then stopping as quickly as you’re able without breaking the tires loose. Get good at this. Get good at knowing the traction limits of your tires. Get your body used to how the bike feels. Get good at applying increasing pressure on the brake controls rather than abruptly grabbing a handful of brake lever.
4. Practice dodging manuevers. When you see a patch of gravel or some other obstacle, your natural instinct is to look at it. On a motorcycle, ‘target fixation’ determines that what you look at is what you’ll hit. So practice looking at the free space to the side of obstacles. Go for a ride, and at a very reasonable speed, spot objects or even shadows in the road, and then shooting for the safe space next to it instead of the thing itself. Get good at latching your eyes onto the safe path, not the dangerous object in your way.
5. If you find yourself tensing up in corners, you’re probably doing something incorrectly. Do you have a death grip on the handlebars? Is your back killing you when you get home? Is the arc of your turns wavy? That’s a sign you’re probably looking around with your eyes or moving your head (or looking too closely in front of the bike and not far enough through the turn). Get an experienced rider to follow you and give you pointers if you’re having a hard time figuring out where you’re going wrong.
6. Above all, practice makes permanent. Identify correct technique, then practice that until it becomes muscle memory. If you practice incorrect technique, the fact that you’re ‘practicing’ is actually counter-productive and just reinforces bad technique.
Every time I ride, no matter what the circumstance, road, bike, or destination, I am mentally aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it … I’m practicing. Every ride is a practice session of one kind or another. If it isn’t, my mind is elsewhere and I should be at home in front of the TV, not on a motorcycle.