YOU’RE IN A LOCATION THAT’S NEW TO YOU, AND THERE ARE BIKES EVERYWHERE.
You need to take things slow, but how do you maintain control with limited space and at minimal speeds? Read on for our top tips
Ray Petry, a certified Harley-Davidson® riding coach, outlines a multi-step approach to manoeuvring slowly in tight spaces. It starts with riding slowly in a straight line; then learning to balance the clutch, throttle and rear brake; finding ‘full lock’ turning the handlebar; and finally leaning the bike into the turn while shifting your weight to the outside.
Straight and steady
Start by riding slowly in a straight line, with your head and eyes facing forward (not down at your front tyre). “Don’t look down or to your left or right too much,” Petry says, “because you’re going to destabilise your head, and that’s going to disrupt what you’re trying to do.”
Practise keeping a steady throttle while feathering the clutch and rear brake to keep moving forward at a slow, steady pace. A light touch on the rear brake is key.
Once you become proficient at riding slowly in a straight line, without having to ‘row’ on the handlebar or put your feet down, then you’re ready to start turning.
Ready, set, lock
The next step is riding slowly while turning the bike with the handlebar in the ‘full lock’ position – that is, turned to the left or right as far as the bar will go. The concept of ‘countersteering’ (turning the bar in the opposite direction to initiate a turn) doesn’t apply when you’re travelling below 5-7mph.
“In this case, it’s direct steering,” Petry says, “so you’re actually going to turn the handlebar in the direction you want to go, just as you would a steering wheel on a car.”
The point of this exercise is to get a feel for how far the handlebar will turn and what the limits are. Maintain a steady speed. If you feel like the bike is going to tip, release the rear brake, ride out of it and start again.
A human counterweight
Finally, to decrease your turning radius as much as possible, you’ll have to lean the bike as far as you can. That requires using your body as a ‘counterweight’ through the turn.
At higher speeds, your body naturally leans into the turn with the bike. If you’re doing it properly, your torso essentially stays in line with the frame of the bike. It happens by itself, and you don’t have to think about it too much. At low speeds, the leaning is more deliberate.
“Turning the handlebar all the way to one side will result in a smaller turning radius, but the smallest one is when you lean the motorcycle all the way over, as well,” Petry says.
For smaller riders, effective counter-weighting might require moving around a little and shifting your weight on the seat. For most people, however, it may only require keeping your body vertical (to the ground) as the bike moves back and forth beneath you through the turns.
Taking a course is the best way to learn these skills and become a better rider in close quarters. But whether you take a class or teach yourself, diligent practice is the real key to improving.
An empty car park is ideal. If you learn the width of the parking spaces, you don’t even have to set up any cones. Most spaces are around 2.5m wide, so two together make a good target width for a tight U-turn.
Because it can be both mentally and physically draining, it’s best to practice in short stretches, maybe 20 minutes at a time. Take little breaks now and then, to let your bike cool down and to relax your body. Shake out your hands, take a few deep breaths and let your pulse get closer to normal.
Everything in its place
Finally, remember that this type of riding is for specific real-world situations. Don’t make a U-turn in the street just because you can. That can be dangerous.
“These skills are really for navigating congestion off-street,” Petry says. “When you get to a rally and the street’s closed and there are a lot of moving motorcycles, or you’re riding into a crowded petrol station. Any time you’re leaving the public roadway but are still having to ride in a very congested and complex situation, that’s where it’s really helpful.”
Special thanks to Ray Petry and Harley-Davidson UK for bringing us this great article for our readers!