Riding Hacks: Downshifting

Tips for becoming a better rider

By Gigi Pridmore

When it comes to learning to ride a motorcycle, I have to admit I have been blessed. I got to know Reg before I ever learned to ride. Our first day spent together consisted of an airplane ride in the morning, and a motorcycle ride in the afternoon. Once we were together more, it was the track. My first 500 laps were on the back of a 3X AMA Superbike Champ. To me, watching from pillion, the throttle, the clutch, the brake, the sound of the engine, the giddying acceleration and ridiculously late braking I likened to watching a concert pianist grace and make magic with the keys. What a rush! When Reg was in the classroom, I’d jump on the back with Jason. Who was better? Back in the 90’s I’m not sure there was any difference on those VFR750s.

The visual I was given was one of how a motorcycle should look, feel and sound. It was smooth and synchronized and it was perfection. For me, learning to ride, the learning curve – the trial and error was only in getting there. I didn’t have to figure out what was important.

Smooth Matters. There are a lot of phrases over the years that got my attention, but maybe the most memorable was from Nicky Hayden during a track walk at Sears Point: “How fast I get into turn 2 depends on how smooth I can make my downshift”.  How smooth

Matching Revs. When you close the throttle and pull in the clutch to downshift, the RPM drops dramatically but the rear wheel has no idea what’s going on. It’s happily humming along at speed. Kick it down a gear and dump the clutch and when the engine and rear wheel hook back up, the rear wheel locks up and it’s seriously un-coordinated. The bike is trying to tell you “stop this!” I do this on my dirt bike, usually without even using the clutch, just matching the revs. In the dirt, the tire is free to spin and it adds to the fun. But on the asphalt it’s a different story.

Now if you’re a really good rider, a racer and have perfect control while the rear wheel is wildly spinning on the asphalt, more power to you. In all those laps as a passenger, I saw a lot of downshifting and when a really good rider is late braking, the clutch, brake and throttle are moving together at a dizzying speed. But that is not where most of us are and getting it right starts with planning ahead. If you want to be a better rider, let’s put the horse back in front of the cart and get the sequence for smooth in order.

Plan Ahead. To make those downshifts smooth and seamless, I learned long ago (on the back) that planning ahead matters. For simplicity sake let’s say we’re on the track and we’re in 3rd gear going maybe 80 mph or so and we need to slow for a corner.  Before I get to the corner, I have planned my entry speed so I need to go down a gear. As I approach, while my revs and speed are still up (I have not yet closed the throttle), engine and rear wheel are in harmony, I lightly disengage the clutch, pulling it just enough to do its job. In synchrony I click the gear shift lever down one (still have not closed the throttle) and gently feed the clutch back in. This is basically one quick motion. The rear wheel and the engine now smoothly go to a higher note as my revs go up to match speed. With higher compression as I roll off the throttle now the bike responds with confidence to slow my speed for the corner. A little (or a lot of) brake, into my turn and back on the throttle. Planning that corner a little earlier just made that turn sweeter than ever. Did you notice I braked after I downshifted? Did you notice I had this all done before I began my turn? I’ve freed up my concentration on making that turn smooth and on the gas.

Blipping. In the example we’re not talking about blipping, just matching the throttle. The reason to blip the throttle is to match the revs with the speed to effectively do the same thing. It also sounds pretty cool. It’s especially useful if you have let off the throttle and your revs have dropped below rear wheel speed. It takes practice to do it smoothly and if your timing is off ie: blip before the clutch is disengaged, the bike will lurch. But practice in a large empty parking lot early on a Sunday morning or even statically imagining the timing can be a useful process.

On the Street. When you’re on city streets and running between traffic lights, style and early planning look a little different. In traffic your planning should include keeping the revs a little higher using lower gears for engine compression, and have your hand perched with fingers ready to brake. But on the open road or in the twisties, this plan ahead works well. You see the curve ahead and you smoothly downshift one (or more) to give you control for deceleration and acceleration as needed. When Reg and I are on the street two-up, if something comes into view, like an intersection with a car waiting for us to pass, or anything that might make him think he may have to brake, the first thing he does is downshift. It allows for control with the throttle and the rider and the bike are ready for what comes next.

There are many factors that will amend the process, especially where good experience and even trail braking come into play (and that’s a hack for another day). More than one downshift will also add another level of planning and skill to work on. But if your downshifting needs some help, it helps to make new habits to replace old bad ones – stop putting the cart before the horse. Plan ahead and make it smooth.

Slipper Clutches. Some of you have slipper clutches. To us, not being able to have exacting riding technique can really make bad habits feel like a comfortable old pair of slippers. Maybe they won’t get you today or even tomorrow because your bike takes skill out of the equation. If that’s you, we challenge you to add some spice to your life. Listen to your engine and transmission. Challenge yourself to be a better rider.

Using your engine in this way is a very confidence inspiring way of riding. Practice control and good technique and you will become a smoother, safer rider. Hope to see you at the track!

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A New CLASS is Born

When was the last time you were pursued by 40 motorcycle cops, lights on, sirens blaring —  and never got a ticket?  Well, it happened to me.

Actually it was at Streets of Willow at the first ever Motor Officers Advanced Training CLASS. Nearly a year in the works with myself and Lt. Ti Goetz of the Hawthorne (CA) PD and it turned out to be a really big one for the books. A most rewarding experience for me and for each officer in attendance.

Motorcycle Cops do a lot of training, but I have come to find out it tends to be generally low speed parking lot training. We’ve all seen how well they can turn those huge bikes in tight situations. Great control and it has a definite place in around town traffic situations.  But when the call comes in that gets the throttle twisted hard, those skills are not as useful. The HPD recently lost two Motorcycle Officers in the line of duty. For that reason they are particularly interested in more training.

Enter the CLASS advanced riding curriculum with our focus on control and technique. Having taught advanced street riding on racetracks for decades, it turns out the CLASS program is perfect for a Motor Officer’s needs.  Last year Lt. Goetz and several of his team from HPD joined us for our Labor Day CLASS at Streets. After a day on the track with my team and our standard format, they were over the moon about how much it helped their high speed riding. The planning for a school dedicated to just Motorcycle Cops was born.

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September 22, 2016: The desert morning dawned as beautiful as ever and as the cops arrived, each parked their big white steed in a long line along the pit wall and through the paddock. As they de-biked it was all business, not the usual frivolity of a school morning. Sign in and tech inspection came to a close and the riders meeting began. My instructors, myself included, each wondered what we were in for this day.

classroom375As the morning wore on, the ice thawed in the classroom, while from on track I was getting reports of some good listeners and progress being made all around. By lunchtime the officers were bubbling with how much fun they were having and more importantly to me, how much they were learning. I enjoyed watching the harmony develop between the officers and the CLASS Team.

After a fantastic barbecue meal compliments of the Hawthorne PD, the officers all played along and got on their police motors to stage a mock chase around the track. Lights on sirens full blast, it was a spectacle and I’m sure all of Rosamond wondered what the hell happened west of town! But it was a lap of solidarity —  it was a lot of noise and a lot of fun, something you don’t see every day. Afterward it was back to business and the “real riding” commenced once more.

We taught and rode all day long and I’m happy to report not one incident. My highest respect goes out to all the officers for their prior training and their ability to listen and learn. After a day on the track with them, that respect got even higher. But what was exceptionally rewarding to me was to hear how much the riders appreciated the school and how much they felt they learned over the course of the day.

With anything new it’s important to know whether or not we’re hitting the mark. My curiosity was satisfied and I was honored to receive some feedback including:

“While all of us ride for a living, riding well is a perishable skill. Your class forced all of us to remember the basics, to apply control and discipline in our riding, and to truly focus on the many skills and techniques necessary to enjoy a long career in what can often be an extremely dangerous profession. That we were able to practice these skills and techniques in the unique environment of Streets of Willow, in our own gear, with our own police bikes, truly made it a worthwhile experience. I know that no one left the track that day without a sense of accomplishment, increased confidence, and a firm belief that they had dramatically improved their riding skills. Coming from seasoned Motor Officers, that says a lot about the quality of both your CLASS as a program and your instructors in general.” Lt. Ti Goetz, Hawthorne PD Traffic Division

And this: “ You and your team were so down to earth and accommodating. I had no idea from the time I showed up, who you were or what you had done until halfway through that day.  Everyone was just so modest and kind. I can’t say enough about how pleased and happy me and my group of officers are.  I’m not kissing up, it was just that great of a day.  I only have fifteen years on a bike and most of that in enforcement.  I’ve had as many if not more pursuits than any of my partners and wish I had these skills before now.” Deputy Bruce Frazee, Orange County Sheriff’s Dept.

But you’ve got them now mate and I hope to help you continue to grow them and keep you and many more Motorcycle Officers safer in their daily work.

Several more events are in the planning stages for 2017 and we’re looking forward to continuing a CLASS schedule that includes the usual schools, as well as some specialty schools for Motorcycle Cops – the guys and gals who ride on to serve and to protect. Details on 2017 Motor Officers Advanced Training can be found here.

And next time you’re being pursued by a cop on a motorcycle in SoCal, pull over. They might have just finished my Motor Officers Advanced Riding  with CLASS.

cheers,

Reg Pridmore

allt8

Thank you Bob and EtechPhoto.com for the riding shots!

Never Again

It happened to me, it could happen to you

By Gigi Pridmore

You’ve probably heard it said “All the gear, all the time.” And we think, “It’s so hot,” or “I’m not going far,” or “Really? I’m not a racer.” I know, I’m guilty of it too. At the track, I’m dressed in leathers; well made, protective, sponsor-plastered, red, white and blue Zooni race leathers. I even wear a back protector, a top-of-the-line pair of Sidi boots, a new SHOEI helmet and a pair of Held Titan gloves. When I ride in the dirt, I’m wrapped-up like the Michelin man (with respect to Dunlop, they don’t have a man). I don’t want to crash, but if I do, I don’t want to get hurt. I’m ready to ride!

But on the street I have mostly been, “Most of the gear, almost all the time.” Until that beautiful, sunny February day.

Reg and I had met friends at the Rock Store for breakfast and were having an enjoyable Sunday ride. We ran into Jay Leno there that morning and had to get the picture! Heading home, two-up on our Honda CB1000R, we came around a blind, slightly downhill right-hander on Mulholland Highway. Scattered across the road was sand. Not just a little sand, deep sand, as if someone had put it there on purpose. From my pillion position, I was looking through to the right of Reg’s helmet and my very first thought was “That’s sssss…”—and I was on the ground sliding. The front-end tucked so fast I couldn’t complete the thought! I was on my back thinking, “OK, this isn’t so bad, hopefully I’ll stop soon and not hit anything.” Thankfully I came quickly to a stop without further ado.

Cool. Reg was up, now I needed to get up to warn the other riders behind us (my ‘CLASS instructor’ mentality went into action). But it was very hard to get up, and once I did, I was having severe trouble walking. Friends behind stopped and Reg and our doctor friend Dean helped guide me to the side of the road to sit down. I was starting to go into shock.

The reason for the injury? When I came off the bike, I landed on my knees. My new blue jeans were ruined and I was bleeding. I couldn’t look, but my knees—once my best feature—now had deep divots in them full of sand and gravel. In addition, my femoral nerves had gone into shock and my knees and legs didn’t want to work at all. The bike was hardly damaged and not really realizing it, Reg said, “OK lady, let’s get back on and ride home.” I said, “You can ride, I think I’ll catch a lift.” Then Reg’s knee started to swell (the bike had landed on it and he was bleeding too). An ambulance ride was our best option.

So we created the scene, and what a scene it was. CHP and fire trucks and really cute firemen/paramedics were assisting us. Bicycles and Harleys and everything in between were slowly threading their way through the mayhem, gawking. Thankfully we had our sense of humor about us. And then we were unceremoniously pushed into the ambulance and taken to the hospital emergency room. Did I mention it really hurt? Neither one of us had anything else wrong with us; our protective gear (of which we wore all, except for the jeans) had done its job. All of this—plus several months recovering—because we had on blue jeans and not our riding pants with knee armor. Those were home in the closet.

And that’s why I’m on the soapbox. We know a lot of motorcyclists and I could tell you story after story about riders getting hurt because they weren’t dressed for the crash. And often it was just something so close and innocent as to be within a mile of their home or work. Accident statistics point out that most crashes happen close to home, so a short trip is no excuse to skip the riding gear. I talk to a lot of people who need to get gear to attend our school—because gear is a requirement. And the conversation usually goes something like this:

Student: Well, I have a jacket and a helmet.

Me: OK, great. Is it a motorcycle jacket and does it have armor in the elbows and shoulders and does it fit well? You know if you go down you want the padding the stay in place. Is it made of quality materials like good leather (not all leather is the same) or Carbolex textile? Does it have quality abrasion resistant materials like Kevlar? Now you need some good motorcycle pants, good boots, good gloves. Oh, and how’s your helmet? We recommend it be five-years old or newer and undamaged. Some other things to think about: Are the stitches well-done of quality thread? Are the seams hidden or are they right in the spot that will get worn away as you’re sliding down the road in a crash? Is the armor CE approved? Don’t just trust that if it says ‘motorcycle gear’ it’s quality. Use your brain, research, and be proactive in choosing good riding gear.

I don’t really go through that extreme interrogation, but these would be the things I would be looking for if I were buying. If the rider is super-inquisitive, I’ll give ’em all I’ve got.

Student: Well, can I rent something? I’m not a racer.

Me: Possibly, but let’s talk about your gear first. You know, I would really recommend (yes, now I’m meddling) that you get some quality clothing to ride in, even on the street. Let me tell you about riding in blue jeans…

Actually, I haven’t told that story too many times, but occasionally…

They often tend to resist and I know it’s partially from ignorance, partially from rationalization (I’m not going to crash today), and partially from wanting to get away with the lowest investment they can in gear. “A back protector? No way! I don’t race!” Let me tell you about my street riding friend who went down on the road after hitting something slippery in a sweeping turn. He slid back first into the curbing on the other side of the road and was extremely grateful that he always slipped his back protector on under his well-made textile suit. And he’s never been on a racetrack in his life.

I also mention that when it comes to gear, you get what you pay for. If you say the $59 or $79 cheaply made jacket offered by the local motorcycle chain is better than nothing, you’re right. But when it comes to your safety, do you really want to settle for “better than nothing?” Or would you rather walk away glad that you invested some hard-earned dosh in protecting yourself from the “what ifs?”

When it comes to tech inspection at CLASS, we have a wide-variety of gear that we’ll allow. But keep in mind, we also mention this in our liability release—you sign that you are comfortable that your gear will be adequate. We can’t police the world. So get yourself armed with some good information about what’s available and what’s best, and remember that you get what you pay for. Whether you go for leathers or textile gear, be proactive in choosing good-quality gear.

What about helmets? Is it a quality helmet like the Shoei that I wear? Does your helmet fit properly? After almost every crash I’ve seen, we look at the helmet and note that this guy or that gal would have had some serious facial damage without their full-face helmet. How much is your head worth? Updated standards and new technology mean that newer helmets are better and safer than old ones. And safety standards such as SNELL exist for a reason. How much is your head worth? I say mine’s worth a lot, so I pay for a really good Shoei helmet.

Boots: In a crash your feet can get flung far and wide or land under the bike or hit something else. A broken ankle will likely be a lifelong reminder of that day. I know because I’m married to an ex racer—there are a few injuries he still lives with daily. But remember, it can happen on the street as well as the track.

Gloves: I love a great pair of gauntlet gloves with armored knuckles and wrist guards and seriously good kangaroo skin, among other things. And they are not cheap—because they are well made of good-quality materials. I have seen people wearing soft deerskin work gloves at our schools, or motocross gloves that are cloth and made for dirt, not asphalt. Let me ask you this: Do you need your hands tomorrow? I need mine. I’m wearing the best gloves I can find.

Since the crash, Reg and I have only ridden on the street a few times. The reason is that I haven’t taken the time to get adequate pants to go with our good jackets (those pants in the closet now look marginal to me). Believe it or not, the times we have gone out we have worn our CLASS leathers! Oh yeah, we get some looks, especially in the restaurant 🙂 As we get further from that fateful day, it’s easy to think, ‘these jeans will work.’ STOP! Don’t do it. I learned from this experience, and I hope I can spare you some pain and aggravation with the lesson learned.

GRgearStory

Footnote: Reg and I are super excited this year because in May we’re heading to England and the Isle of Man for a motorcycle adventure with 15 of our closest friends. The good folks at TourMaster have lined us up with some nice protective, waterproof motorcycle clothing. Held USA has us fitted us for some excellent new waterproof gloves, Sidi has our feet warm and dry with their Gore-Tex street boots and SHOEI has us stylin’ and well protected in new X-14 helmets. Thank you very much to these fine companies.

 

Holding You Close: Some Advice on Two-up Riding

    What makes a good two-up rider? First is a sense of caution and respect for
your companion. You need to assess your passenger. For some people, a ride
on the back is very exhilarating. They enjoy the speed factor. For others, it
can be very scary. It’s your job to gauge this before getting under way, by asking
your rider about their experiences and preferences.
    One of your most important responsibilities is to keep your ego in check.
Never try to impress your passenger or condition them to your accustomed
speed. Not only is this dangerous, but they may never want to ride with you
again (or with anyone else, for that matter). Being a responsible two-up rider
also means accounting for the added weight and its effects on turning and
stopping. Since the total package has more mass, you’ll need to apply the
brakes harder and allow more stopping distance. You’ll also need to educate
your passenger about the various methods of holding on. If you’re carrying an
unfamiliar passenger, make sure you get used to their movements and effects
on the bike. Fatigue is another issue to be aware of because two-up riding can
really wear you out due to the added weight, so moderate distance and saddle
time accordingly.
    You should get the bike off the side stand or center stand and be comfortably
seated with both feet down and the front brake on before allowing anyone to
get aboard. Settle in and give the word OK to board. A tall passenger may be
able to swing the right leg over the bike and put both feet on the passenger
pegs simultaneously. A shorter rider will need to stand on the left peg and
swing his or her right leg over, and for this you need to be well braced with
the left foot down and the bike straight upright. The passenger should put a
hand on your back or shoulder for balance while climbing on. Both of you
should give a thumbs up or verbal OK when ready to get underway.
    On the track or for sport riding, pillion riders should:
Reach around and place the hands on the tank.  This way passengers can support themselves under any braking conditions rather than forcing you to support them
with your arms. If they cannot comfortably reach around to the tank, they should
push on the small of your back during hard braking. Gigi also squeezes with her
knees to hold her back under braking. Don’t have them push on your upper body,
which requires that you support them with your arms and affects your use of the
controls.
    Squeeze with the elbows, squeeze with the knees.   Those passengers who are
able to place their hands on the tank should squeeze the operator’s torso with
their elbows under acceleration. This will help keep them planted in the middle
of the saddle under hard acceleration. Those riders who can’t reach around to
the tank should simply grasp the operator’s waist under acceleration.
    Use proper foot position.  Passengers should keep the toes up (not pointed
down) and the balls of the feet on the pegs. This ensures that their boots
don’t touch the ground in corners (for aggressive sport riding), and provides
a good foundation for weight shifts and moving around in the saddle. (Riders
aboard cruisers or big touring bikes with footboards needn’t pay attention to
this.)
    Look through the corner.  Passengers should keep their eyes level with the
roadway, turn their heads, and look through the corner–just as the operator
does. This is critically important, as it directly influences body position,
ensuring that the operator and passenger move in unison. It all starts with
the eyes and head! Work together.
     Don’t be a wet sack. Being a passenger at a sporting pace isn’t a passive
role. No daydreaming, please. The passenger needs to be an active part of the
rider/machine combo, and not daydream.  Many passengers on Honda Gold
Wings and other large touring bikes might contest that last point. In fact, some
pillion riders see nothing wrong with taking a nap back there in that big old
armchair. In my opinion this is a dangerous practice. Snoozing riders on the
back will negatively affect handling–especially at a sporting pace. They may
also endanger  themselves in the event of a quick stop or evasive maneuver.
This doesn’t mean they can’t relax and enjoy the scenery. But at all times,
passengers have a responsibility to be an integral part of the package. This
also includes traffic and road awareness.
    Passengers should also take care not to distract the pilot with a constant
refrain of “Look at that!” This type of distraction could cause an accident.
    As we Spring forward in 2016, I hope these tips help to encourage pilots and
passengers to enjoy the ride together. Ride safe, think fast.
Cheers,
Reg