I Think I’m Losing Control!

The subject of motorcycle control is often discussed when an accident has occurred and it usually is described as: “He/She lost control and crashed” or “They lost control because they were going too fast” etc, but in reality what do we mean by motorcycle control?

I suppose an appropriate place to start would be with an obvious definition:

‘To ride a motorcycle by using a series of control inputs to successfully complete a journey without having an accident’

Well, we can all relate to that, but maybe we could expand this further:

‘To ride a motorcycle by using a series of control inputs to successfully complete a journey without having an accident and not to cause an accident and not to make any mistakes that either temporarily or permanently make the rider lose control of the motorcycle’

Could we go further still? Well, we could keep adding to this to cover many aspects from steering, braking, acceleration, speed, cornering, etc 

However, what we’re really talking about is: ‘Remaining master of machine under changing variables’

A question that is asked a lot amongst riders is: “How long have you been riding?” The answer is usually something like: “I’ve just passed my test…A few months!…A few years! etc. However, these answers are usually referring to when someone first got on a motorcycle or moped/scooter, but it could be argued that a rider’s training really started the day they were born, with general learning, cognition, motor skills, balance, crawling & walking, running and riding bicycles, etc.

Over recent years more information has been made, and continues to be made available on riding techniques; braking, steering, cornering, etc which is very useful but has this ‘flooding of information’ caused some confusion or even apathy amongst some riders.

When first learning to ride a motorcycle, the rider is given information and shown skills which when practised provide the rider with a certain proficiency to be safe and pass a test. During the early learning phase the rider uses the ‘known’ (previous life experience and skills – whether they know it or not) which helps them to learn the ‘unknown‘ (the new riding skills, rules of the road, etc)

Depending on where you live in the world, there will be different criteria to gain a motorcycle licence and varying rules on what type of motorcycle you may ride regarding engine size and power, according to age, experience, etc. However ultimately after the first learning phase is complete, in whatever manner that is performed, the rider has a ‘certain proficiency to ride’ The question is does the rider maintain that proficiency or do they ever improve their skills.

After many years of dealing with motorcycle accidents it became apparent that either they are caused by over control or under control, i.e. the rider failed to make the correct control input and crashed or another road user failed to make the correct control input which led to the crash which led to the rider not being able to correct in time to avoid. A correct control input is not just a reaction to when something unexpected occurs, but it is also the series of inputs that lead up to a situation occurring.

Over recent years there has been a whole host of television programmes that have shown us how to build motorcycles and with constant reference to ‘Rake & Trail’ and any internet search will yield a whole library of opinion on steering and counter steering, braking, suspension settings, motorcycle geometry, etc. There is also the influence of motorcycle racing coverage and the emergence of the ‘track day’ I for one have long advocated recurrent training and further or advanced training to either refresh skills or learn some new ones.

Some riders may have been familiar with these technical terms and many others not. However, the question we should ask is: have they been understood and applied to real world riding and what is the basis of motorcycle stability and the control of it and in reality do riders consciously consider these terms and techniques when riding?

I suppose my point is that; it is all well and good having this extra information but if it is not applied to riding and practised by a rider or most importantly misunderstood, then it becomes worthless and worse still potentially dangerous! 

I sometimes get the impression that the motorcycling media have provided so much opinion and information that it has clouded the subject and we as riders may have lost sight of what is really important. 

Should riders simply focus on the basics of riding, practice those skills, learn by and share experiences, learn practical ways to improve their riding?  Above all, ride within ones own skill limit to stay in control, stay safe and really importantly…enjoy the ride!

Many years ago I was made aware of KISS! – Keep It Simple Stupid! 

By keeping things really simple and uncomplicated, we are able to be much more effective and efficient in performing a particular task…in this case riding a motorcycle!

Whilst it might be fascinating for some to learn about static and dynamic instability, gyroscopic effects and steering geometry, etc, in reality all we really need to do is be master of the controls so that we can be safe and enjoy the ride. We need to manage our speed and be aware of situations that are likely to make us crash and most importantly how to avoid those situations.

I suppose in this, we do not become the most technically skilled or the most technically informed rider, but does that really matter as long as we ride safely and get home in one piece!

Keep It Simple Stupid! has been the mantra I have applied to many things I do. I do not class myself as an expert rider, or even claim to have bundles of technical knowledge stored inside my head, but what I do is constantly practice the simple things and try to make my riding uncomplicated and above all I always know where my limits are. If I’m trying to learn something new or practice a newly learned skill, then I always use small building blocks and gradually add on each time.

So far it’s worked for me!…It may work for you!

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