Keith de-Code-d

BIKE India’s Adhish Alawani gets into an easy conversation with cornering guru Keith Code and talks about bikes, racing and the Indian experience

Bike India: So, Keith, first time coaching in India. How has been the experience?
Keith Code: Oh, yeah, this has been a fantastic trip and here we are on the last day. Time went really fast. We did two days of school in the first batch – Level I and II. The second batch was three days – Level I, II and III – and I’ve been very happy that the students are taking information so well. Everybody is improving dramatically and showing huge improvement. There are riders who have ridden this track so many times and even they are seeing so many improvements.

BI: That exactly is my second question. Some of the students during these five days have been professional racers, who’ve been racing here for many years, while some others are first-timers at the track. So how has been the variety of students?
KC: Well, what I have noticed over the last five days is that the Indian students – 90 of whom I have known for the last five days, only with maybe one or two exceptions – are very interested in improving. They’re coming to the school for the right reason. They’re not coming here just to ride around the track. They want to make some improvements; they’ve seen that we’ve been able to make some major changes in riding for them to the positive side. And I think that 95 per cent of the students have continued to be more alert, more aggressively interested in improvement. They have become converts now. They know that what we are teaching is good material.

BI: On the international scale what do you think is the potential of the Indian riders?
KC: That’s very difficult to say. We have a lot of guys on small bikes who may look completely different on 600s. Some people don’t get along on small bikes; they ride big bikes better. Some people need to learn the lessons from small bikes, so that they can move up in an orderly fashion up to larger ones. When we go to places like South Africa or Greece, we have, say, 85 per cent of students who have already done many track days. That’s not so here. Students here don’t have that track experience, so it’s just starting off the game. Because of the fact that we have just one track here, because the things are so expensive here, because of the fact that riders don’t have the facilities to ride like that here, I would say that we are starting at, maybe, a little lower level. But then we also have some students who are good and are right up there in a good range already. They are definitely above the middle.

BI: Going back to the history of CSS, how did it all start? What was the driving force behind starting the best school?
KC: Well, there really weren’t any schools back then. Preparations for a race included ‘how you prepare the bike, take the mirrors off’ etc. Very little riding technique was taught. There was nothing defined. There was nothing like, ‘This is one technical point, this is another’. The world was blank. So, while I was still racing superbikes in the 1970s, I started to develop some ideas about training people. I actually started doing that in the off-season from professional racing. During winter I would take a few students and teach them some theory, go through what they wanted to fix. I didn’t know many things then, but I discovered a couple of points that were key points. So when I retired from racing in 1979, I wanted to continue training and generating enthusiasm. That was a blank slate. No track days. So I started the school, I had the vision – bikes, leathers, helmets, boots. I got a lot of help from Kawasaki. They stayed with me for 30 years and so was with Dunlop. The economy got bad and Kawasaki had to withdraw. But then came in BMW and we have these awesome motorcycles called S1000RRs.

BI: You started back in 1979. The bikes then and the bikes now are completely different. Speed has gone up, tracks have improved. Have the techniques been modified to suit these changes?
KC: The fundamental techniques are the same. Now, you can do different things with motorcycles. You can do the same things that you did back then, but the motorcycles now are a little bit of help. However, with the same idea in mind, the bikes can also get you into trouble pretty quickly because they are short and tight. None the less, they have a certain amount of forgiveness in them. Our S1000RR are fantastically forgiving. They have ABS brakes, they have traction control. When we changed from the 600s, which we had had for decades and decades, to the 1,000-ccs, our crashes went down by 40 per cent. And that’s the bike. ‘Cause we put these guys on the bikes that were 100 PS earlier and now they are 193 PS bikes. And it’s safer. So, it’s one of the things that I have said for years and years. It’s not the power that gets them in trouble, it’s not the speed, it’s their mistakes. Mistake – they try to fix it, fix doesn’t fix it. So now it’s a bit worse. Then they try another fix and another fix. It takes several such cycles to crash unless you hit oil.

What I found is that the fundamental techniques remain the same. We have refined them for sure. When I started off I knew a little bit. Now I know a little more. Where everything else goes, I don’t know. Every few months we improve, almost every year or so I find a new way of teaching something. We have schools in Australia, New Zealand and England. We have started two in Spain and Greece. So the amount of information I get back when I want to test something is huge. When we develop a new technique, we go about in a scientific manner. It’s not like ‘Hey, that turned out well for that rider, so let’s use that technique’. No. We wait for a long time, test it, maybe for a year or longer before we can say, ‘Okay, it’s good for stating as theory’.



BI: What’s your pick, MotoGP or WSBK?
KC: I think WSBK. My heroes, for sure, Pedrosa, Rossi, Lorenzo love the equipment, but it’s so expensive that there are not enough guys to fight it out at the top. To me as a spectator, if I want to watch a race, world superbike is better. There are a number of riders, the competition is tighter, they are fast, there is a lot of talent. It’s not like MotoGP, where the top five guys are within half a second with the qualifying tyres and then when it comes to the races, it’s just brrrrrrruppppp, it stretches out. As an enthusiast, it’s WSBK for Keith Code.

BI: Then, WSBK or Isle of Man?
KC: Ah, that’s like chalk and cheese. They are so different. IOM is the real road racing where it all started. There were no racetracks, so Isle of Man is pretty much good. Do I think if it’s insane or not to ride 200 mph bikes on narrow roads over an island with no run-off areas and all, well, ummm, I see it two ways. It’s quite a challenge. I know the feeling of mastering something like that. It’s very satisfying. Everybody goes there to do that. It’s a completely different mindset. I respect it, I appreciate it. And I hope the reasons for what it is, it continues to be like that for all of them go there for that.

BI: From all the MotoGP racers, who is your all-time favourite racer?
KC: It’s got to be Rossi. I respect many other riders – Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood. These riders are incredibly right. They changed racing quite a bit, but nobody has the spirit that Rossi has. He is the reason why MotoGP is alive and well. He is an asshole, maybe, normally, but what he gives to the sport, he has been the biggest asset ever. He has been the most popular rider.

BI: So what do you think is going to 1happen in 2011?
KC: I have no idea. I don’t have a crystal ball. It’s absolutely unknown. As for myself, because Rossi has contributed so much, I would love to see him get onto the Ducati and win the championship. Even if he doesn’t win the championship, I want to see him stand there on the winner’s spot a lot of time. But, by the same token, I want Dani and Jorge to do well too. And I hope that couple of other guys can get up there and compete with them. Will they? I don’t know!

BI: Coming back to the Indian scene, you have heard of Sarath who is going to be riding 125 cc GP? What do you think about him?
KC: Yeah, it’s gonna be a big jump for him from a 150-cc, four-stroke to 125-cc, two-stroke GP bike. It’s like 25 bhp bike here, a 60 bhp there. It’s going be quite different. But I have seen some of our younger riders whose transition from the 150s to 125s has been smooth. They have picked those up pretty fast. But I don’t know him. I don’t know his riding.

BI: What is your favourite race bike?
KC: Well, you know, when I raced superbikes back in the 1970s, the superbikes were horrible. They were weak, the frames were weak. There was a fair amount of horsepower like 140 hp, but those were like big bicycle frames. So we had to do all the modifications on the bike and I did them myself. I was the main mechanic on my own bike. It was not like, ‘I got the frame’. I had to continuously modify something, weld something. It was never perfect. You were chasing the problem all the time and fix it to find another one. We didn’t know much about suspension then. It was a lot of power and horrible handling. So I wouldn’t say that those were my favourite bikes. I had some great rides, but, for me, I think I have had the best time on the 250-cc GP bikes. That was great fun! But then we don’t have them any longer.

BI: One last question. Will you be coming back again next year?
KC: Yes, we intend to come back. No schedule has been set as yet, but we are very enthusiastic about this thing.

Get in, school’s started

Let’s get retarded
Words: Gasha Aeri   
Photography: CSS (Preethi)
The corner is approaching fast, plan the turn, roll off the throttle, brake a little, lean to the side with the bike and bend forward, roll on gas gradually and pin throttle by the exit.

These commands did the rounds in my mind the night before we left for Chennai to attend the second year of the California Superbike School (CSS) in the country. A complete rookie to the world of track days and passion for cutting the lap timings by a fraction of a second, I think these commands were somewhere in my subconscious because of the MotoGP races I had watched on the television. If I had the passion, then the techniques to put that passion in place was what CSS had on offer. There’s a lot of understanding, a lot of learning and even more practice that went in to make the end result possible, but the simple ideas imparted by the trainers to make that possible is the least I can share here.

What follows is a list of 10 steps which made a good rider out of a rookie. If followed correctly, these drills will prove beneficial to almost everyone with a motorcycle and a zeal for learning. So, let’s give some throttle now.

Let’s get retarded
The title comes from the fact that not everyone understands the madness for motorcycle racing and the ones who do fail to crack the Da Vinci Code. But we had the best of both the worlds. The session began with the legendary Pharaoh of cornering, Keith Code, addressing the tribe and giving us the first shock of the season with the words, “We won’t teach you to ride fast”! I felt cheated! But the depth of those words was revealed later. “You’ll get faster yourself,” he said. And sure we did.

1. As Keith would say, “Twist of the wrist”
The first day was like tiptoeing towards the destination, which was later followed by giant leaps. The session began with the Pythagorean theorem of riding: smooth throttle control. I know it is not a big secret, but the results of a smooth and gradual throttle inputs are astonishing. I stand witness to the same. No special advice for straights, but throttle control comes into play in corners. While entering a corner, the throttle must be given off just a little for that apt entry speed. A moderately slower speed at exit means a considerably fast exit. In the middle of a turn, the rider must go back on gas just after he gets into the direction he wishes to go in. The reason for keeping throttle smooth is because a smooth throttle input keeps the bike smooth and stable and that’s what is expected of a good rider. And since we were barred from using any brakes at this stage of the training, smooth throttle just had to become a habit very quickly.

2. ‘Counter steer’ the ship, Captain!
Fancy words, but simple physics defines them well. This is how counter steer works: a little push on the inside handlebar leans the bike down and puts you in the direction you wish to go. Counter steer must then be followed by weight transfer to the respective side and a little lean in order to balance the bike and smoothen the curve. The bike tends to get upright as it is powered. Roll on gas as you hit the apex and there you have a fast exit. Counter steer when combined with throttle control made for a good kick-start to my cornering. Using counter steering, I could turn into the corners quickly and that too without compromising much on the entry speed.

3. Of every nook and corner
Throttle was a friend by now, but corners still looked scary. Our trainer for this drill, Steve, gave an answer to that too. Fix the turn points and attack the corner right on them. Felt easy, as the fear to enter into a corner at a reasonably high speed seemed to be fading away. By now, it got easy to weigh when to ease out on throttle and when you get on gas again with the set markers. Then came the golden words from Steve and life was much simpler than before – straighten the corners. Instead of swaying with the curves, just slice them through the middle and you have a perfect way of attacking the corner at hand. This drill also taught me how to make use of the entire width of the track. It is always a very comforting feeling to have some extra tarmac on the outside and that happens only if the rider makes use of the whole space available to him/her.



4. One step up and ‘two-step’ fast
He isn’t what he is for no reason. Keith, with every exercise of the training programme, pushes the rider a step above and that too in a way that the drill becomes a part of his habit even before s/he realises it. The ‘two-step’ theory is another such example. After throttle control and turning points, this drill called for you to fix the turn point in your mind and then shift the visual focus to apex. To master two-step, the rider must first give gradual input of throttle, counter steering and, most importantly, the points of visual focus. A little goof-up with the focus and the bike follows where you look, which isn’t the right path always. I also got a little easy with swift leans and weight shifts as my body was now working in harmony with my mind. The perfect leaning posture, however, was still to be achieved.

Thus, the drills undertaken on the first day gave a little flavour of what the ideal basics look like and our task for the upcoming days was to get better on those, using some add-on techniques. I could see myself getting smoother and thus quicker.

5. For thy reference
The tips from day one seemed somewhat fading the next morning and the solution for that came handy too. The next drill was about setting reference points near the curves, which may help the rider to get a hint of when before/after the curve must the throttle be played with. Also, the view must always be kept as wide as possible. You never know when a nasty one decides to brush shoulders with you. Techniques on taking quick turns, leaning the bike to just the right angle and picking it up with optimum throttle input were other important drills of the day. After getting familiar with the track and in tune with my bike, I found myself not looking away from my apex in search of the reference points for very long. Instead, an approaching corner and my entry speed gave me a fair idea of when to roll off the throttle, without using any reference points for the same. Doing this gave me a better focus round corners. If one must keep a reference point, it must always be in the same line as the apex in order to avoid any distraction.

6. ‘Three-step’ cha cha cha
An extension to the two-step drill, three-step takes care of the exit too. Keeping in mind the exit line takes care of hassle-free and speedy exit. Also, it lets the rider’s mind proceed from the whole task of taking a corner gradually – from looking at the corner, fixing the apex and then looking where you want to exit. Doing all this before approaching the corner gave me more time and space to execute the turn and thus more speed too! Sounds simple and it is even more simple in practice.

By the end of day two, the drills followed for both the days made me faster round the corners, crisp with the lean, and exact with riding lines. Yes, I was now hitting almost all the apexes and was definitely more confident!



7. Get ‘hook’ed
The last day of the school revolved round riding posture, getting the body in the right position and removing all the errors attached with it. This began with the ‘hook’ turns. Description of a hook turn –  duck down on the bike and push your head and shoulders out in the direction of the curve while keeping the bike stable. Even though I have written about hook turns a little late in our list of 10 steps, it doesn’t take away its importance. For a sharp line, faster speeds and comfortable posture, a rider must always take a turn in the hooked posture explained here. Moreover, the hooked posture gives better aerodynamics to the rider and the bike and thus better supports higher speeds.

8. Shake your booty
One thing we all knew as well as our names by now was that stability of the bike is the most important. Something which cannot be compromised for even that one extra km/h and the easiest way to keep the bike always stable is by pivot steering instead of moving the bike every time. In simpler words, the rider’s tool for a better lean on corners must be following this little advice: keep the thighs and knees clamped to the fuel tank on straights with hands comfortably resting on the handlebar and not suffocating them and the upper half of the body ducked down for better aerodynamics. On corners, the counter steering must come in a way that your waist acts as the pivot, inside knee hunting for the tarmac while the other one still clamping on firmly to the fuel tank. This most certainly keeps the bike stable round corners, makes cornering better, relaxes the arms and upper body and enables the rider to take the best possible line. I realised that every time I sat firm on the saddle, I couldn’t feel myself as a part of the bike and the same stiffness made me nervous and adversely affected the speed. As a result, stiffness and me parted ways for good. Just using my legs as an additional shock-absorber and my arms for steering, I found riding fast becoming a more natural behaviour.

9. An ‘attack angle’ with no defence
Another factor that determines your exit from a corner is the way you enter one. So, attacking the corner at an accurate angle becomes equally important as other steps. The attack angle must preferably be larger for a smooth exit. A tight attack angle generally needs multiple steering inputs in the middle of a curve, not to speak of the anxiety it brings to the rider’s mind. In case of consecutive turns, the exit line of one turn determines the entry of the next one. Therefore, the rider must calculate in his mind beforehand where his chosen line will take him towards the end of the curve and thus enter the next curve in the correct line.

10. One and only
This may not make for a strict practice drill, but it is by far the simplest and the most important thing to keep in mind while riding: be one with the bike. It not only offers better handling and stability, but takes care of that fraction of chance of the bike going against your wishes. However, while doing so, the rider must not forget to sit light on the bike. As one starts accelerating, the bike starts coming upright and then it is left for the rider to make use of the full width of the road, both on straights and curves. A rider, just like a good jockey, just has to steer it. Gripping the handlebar too tight is a strict no-no.

Three days at the Chennai race-track under the sound guidance of trainers from the California Superbike School gave me the determination and strength to test and challenge my limit and, much to my surprise, I discovered that the limit lay far beyond my imagination. Riding a TVS Apache RTR 160 and pushing the bike to the maximum power that I could became possible only because I knew what I was doing and had the technique to rectify mistakes handy. Laps got faster with every passing session and I knew exactly which correction made it possible. From a snail crawling two minutes 50 seconds during the first day’s sessions, the lap timing miraculously came crashing down to two minute 36 seconds towards the end of the school on that 3.7-km-long race-track. Some moments are just beyond any words and that one was the best of them all.

An additional bonus I earned after attending CSS is that apart from being better at the track, I have grown in leaps and bounds as a rider on city roads too. Now that the school is over and further improvement depends entirely upon my practice, I would make sure that I twist the wrist whenever I get a chance!

Riding with a pillion

How To… keep your pillion happy.

First and foremost:
How many times have you come across a pillion wearing just a basic helmet and casual clothing, while the rider is geared in a proper top-of-the line helmet and leather gear. We don’t see any reason to treat your pillion like this because he/she is as vulnerable as you during an accident. So make sure you keep the pillion well kitted out with a good, safe helmet and protective gearing. The same goes for having wet/cold weather clothing available if necessary.

The bike:
All bikes come with adjustable rear suspension. Before going on a ride with a pillion, ensure that you increase the pre-load to compensate for the weight increase over the rear wheel. This will also keep the bike’s steering geometry right by keeping the rear end from bottoming out, apart from keeping a check on the overall ground clearance of the bike. If you are one of those lucky riders to have a bike with adjustable front suspension, then extra preload plus a little more compression damping will help reduce fork dive during hard braking when the extra weight is transferred to the front end. Also let the grab-rail be there. It is fitted there for a reason!

Novice pillions can be nervous pillions. Talk to them and try to relax them. Speak to them about how to get onto the bike without putting the whole weight on any one peg, where and how to hold the grab-rail. Assure the pillion its OK for him to speak up, or even shout if necessary, if they aren’t comfortable with the way you are riding or with the speeds you are keeping. During stops, do talk to them about the same. (Don’t do this!) As a rider, the pillion’s well-being is your responsibility. Stay away from antics like getting the knee down, as this may make the pillion nervous. A sudden shift in their body  could easily lead to a loss of balance.

Explain to the pillion how to shift their body weight, for example, as the rider begins to brake, lean or accelerate. It’s better for them to look straight at you from behind and let it all happen naturally. Do pillions lean with you in the corner? Yes, but just a little. They should lean at the same angle as the bike makes with vertical or just a little more (into the lean). Overleaning or underleaning affect the balance of the bike. The best way for a pillion not to bang into you under hard braking is to grip the tank. But don’t forget to tell them to hold on to the grab rail or to your waist too, in case you are likely to accelerate immediately.

Pillion specific bikes:
Generally speaking, sports bikes such as the Fireblades or the latest Ninjas are not as comfortable as other bikes. They fail to take a pillion’s needs into account. But still, any bike with pillion foot-pegs and a rear seat will be able to carry a pillion, although not necessarily in a comfortable manner. Put yourself in the pillion’s place and you’ll definitely plan more stops for stretching your legs. If you ride often with a pillion, it’s better to take along the passenger while you are out shopping for a bike so that you both can choose a bike which can keep the pillion happy. Also, if the bike has a more flexible engine, it helps as you don’t have to shift up (or down) too much and this protects the pillion from sudden jerks. Among Indian bikes the best equipped from a pillion perspective are the Enfield Bullets, the Hero Honda Karizma and also the Yamaha Fazer. And almost all Indian bikes come with grabrails fitted as standard.

Prudent commutin part ii

This month we continue with some more pointers on how you can be a socially responsible rider

 

Do not park / stop at the exit of a turn / intersection
The exit of a turn or intersection is usually a blind spot for the oncoming traffic. Parking or being stranded at such a spot is extremely hazardous and can lead to an unavoidable accident. In case of a breakdown in such a position on a turn/intersection, it is recommended to have a person stand at the entry of the turn/intersection to warn the traffic until the breakdown scenario is resolved.

Luggage and pillions have their own space
Make sure that you ride with only one pillion and that the pillion is seated on the pillion seat only and not on unconventional areas like the tank or the foot board of a scooter as these can seriously hamper the vehicle dynamics. In some cases, the rider’s vision too is hindered thus proving to be a perfect recipe for an accident. Similarly, luggage too needs to be carried only in the form of a tank bag, back pack or saddle bags not hanging from the handlebars or your shoulders.

Safe braking

Continuing with the basics, this month BIKE India teaches you how to refine your braking skills. Follow our tips on how to brake effectively without losing control over your bike

PRACTICE BRAKING UNDER VARIED CONDITIONS
Braking at curves is more critical than on a straight line. Some experts even suggest to avoid braking in corners. Nonetheless you should be prepared for unexpected circumstances. Losing speed before entering a corner is the safest way. If you ever need to brake midcorner, apply the front brake very smoothly while pushing the inner side of the handlebar. Slowly release the lever again as you reach the desired speed. Throughtout the process, you must keep the level of traction available under check. At curves, speeding vehicles can lose grip far more easily. However, a banked corner allows for safer manoeuvres than the one without it. Take care not to apply and release the brakes instantly as the front end will dip and rebound with a shocking force. Practice effective braking on different surfaces ranging from concrete roads to tarmac to gravel as well as wet surfaces. This will also help you get accustomed to your your bike’s behaviour.
On a downhill section, gravity will not forgive a mistake and you may easily lose control here. It’s better to engage a lower gear and maintain a safe speed. Allow engine braking to do the job. Keep the clutch operation subtle whenever shifting gears.
Practice braking on gravel as well, for you don’t know when you might end up facing such riding scenarios. Many evasive actions lead us to go off the tarmac. Preferably use the rear brake here with a gentle tap on the front one.
Braking becomes easier on uphill roads where gravity works in your favour. Here you can concentrate more on the line you follow and it’s easy to maintain your balance.
Refrain from going hard on the front brake on gravel. A locked front wheel can easily result in loss of traction and your steering ability.
Wet roads mean lesser traction. Don’t go for hard braking unless your bike has a specialised set of tyres. Keep your speed under check and you’ll be safe.
This is one of the worst case scenarios. Oil spill on a road can virtually defy the laws of physics if you ride on it without caution. Simply look ahead to avoid such surfaces. In case you run into this, never ever apply the brakes.

RIDE ON TYRES THAT ARE IN GOOD SHAPE
Tyres and grip play an important role during braking. A good set of tyres will add to your stability. A tyre made of fairly soft rubber compound wears and tears faster but offers very high traction/footing. Similarly, the better the tyre grips, the more effective your stopping competency will be. This is why you need to check your tyres from time to time. In contrast to an easy rider, a harsh or fast rider may have to change tyres more frequently. Note that a groove line running around the middle of a front tyre offers enhanced stopping power without skidding. During the rainys, it is recommended to go for a special set of tyres that have additional anti-skidding grips.

KEEP THE BRAKE SYSTEM UNDER CHECK
While your technique matters a lot, it will go in vain if the brake components of your bike are not in a healthy condition. Remember to check the disc brake oil level from time to time. If it falls below the indicated minimum level, get the fluid changed and refilled with the manufacturer recommended grade. Caution should be taken so that no air bubbles get trapped in the pipe which could dampen braking effect. Check if your rear brake setting feels adequate to your ankle movement. If not, adjust it accordingly. In case you experience a lack of feel from your brakes despite all requisite settings, check the brake shoes and the disc pads. Get them replaced, if required.

SIT TIGHT TO DEAL WITH RETARDING FORCE
Your sitting position largely determines if you can safely reduce speed without losing control. If you need to brake while riding in a straight line, shift back a little and sit securely with a firm grip on the handlebar. In addition, grip the fuel tank with your knees. This way you can tackle the retardation force even under a hard braking screnario. While the rear brake is quite effective at slow speeds, it’s the front brake that works better at higher speeds. Squeeze the front brake lever progressively in conjunction with the rear brake which should be pressed gently to avoid the rear wheel from locking up. Remember to keep the handlebar straight during hard braking.

DON’T GO HARD ON THE REAR BRAKE
Emergencies are followed by panic braking which locks the wheels thus setting you off balance. Remember not to go hard on the rear brake. Practice to gently release and apply brakes successively if the wheels get locked

SYNCHRONISED BRAKING
Progressively applying the front brake with your index and middle fingers will result in effective braking while also allowing a good grip on the handlebar. Follow it by applying the rear brake in sync for added stopping force. Keep your fingers on the clutch lever but don’t apply them while braking and losing speed. As soon as you reach your desired speed, shift gears accordingly so that the engine doesn’t stall.

AVOID ANY MANOEUVRE CALLING FOR A STOPPIE
Without a firm sitting position, emergency braking with the front brake could result in a stoppie. Refrain from shifting too much weight to the front so that the rear wheel remains grounded to aid braking.

Group riding

Monsoon clouds are giving way to clear skies but leaving behind lush green landscapes with seasonal waterfalls here and there. It’s the right time to appreciate Mother Nature before the scene changes. Just the perfect time we reckon to get together with friends and ride by those beautiful mountains, spectacular riversides and breathtakingly picturesque views. Sawan S Hembram gives you some tips on how to ride in and as a group
photography: sanjay raikar

When a few people come forward for a group ride, the motive must be clear – whether it is a leisure ride or the emphasis is on reaching a particular destination. This plays a major role for all other issues associated with group riding. Accordingly, planning the ride becomes easier.

Group riding may involve individuals with different levels of riding skills, experiences as well as mentalities. It’s quite possible that only a few are familiar with the route to be followed. In such case, routes should be discussed beforehand. All riders need to know about checkpoints such as refuelling stops or food joints, etc. If the group is fairly large, it is recommended to split in smaller groups, each with at least one experienced rider and with a sense of responsibility. Sub-grouping may be done according to riding skills so that slower bikers remain in each others’ company. Exchanging cell phone numbers with fellow riders is a good idea to deal with any eventuality. It is also important to discuss beforehand how to deal with any possible crisis.

Once a biker group takes to the road, the state of affairs could become quite complex and chaotic. However, sticking to a previously discussed formation is the best idea. It is always recommended to maintain safe distance from fellow riders. If a rider in front finds a challenging situation and slams the brakes, others behind him should have enough room to react safely. Similarly, formation must be such that all riders get the maximum view of the road ahead. This is easier said than done. Remember, a rider on a bike would cover much less view (due to the helmet) in comparison to a four wheeler and further more, a bunch of riders in front of you could block the entire view of road ahead. A diagonal formation with sufficient gaps in between solves this problem to a large extent.

Another usual occurrence during group riding is that skilled riders with powerful bikes zip ahead fast. Invariably other followers push themselves hard just to keep up. Many a times this results in accidents. Less skilled riders in order to keep up enter corners at high speeds, fail to exit properly and end up biting dust, literally! You can avoid this by looking at the road ahead instead of the taillight of the bike in front of you. If there are sub-groups of faster and slower riders, such occurrences can be completely evaded.

Overtaking becomes another major issue while riding in a group. Adrenaline seekers love to overtake each other often forgetting the whole idea of a joyride. This could translate into a crisis if it involves a large group. It is better to lay out rules regarding overtaking (whether it is allowed or not) for all the riders within a group. Similarly, overtaking other bigger vehicles in a row must be avoided. While the bike in front may instantly react to any critical situation, those closely following it have little chance to do that. Also refrain from showing off while in a group.

Remember to slowdown while passing through populated areas such as towns and villages especially when there is a road sign implicating a school ahead. Even at a reasonable speed, a large group of bikers can be seen as rowdy fellows by others. If passing through populated areas at night, you must use the low beam in order to not blind other oncoming vehicles and locals on the road.

A proper interaction among all the riders results in riding as a group rather than just riding with a group. This will further increase team spirit and the joy of riding. Remember to care for yourself as well as your fellow riders. If have a pillion rider, be considerate to him/her and be extra careful. Don’t forget to wear adequate riding gear and carry a first aid kit. Enjoy your ride.

 

Winter riding

This is the best touring season when a rider may not be able to resist the temptation of going on a long ride. BIKE India tells you how to brace yourself against the chill while riding in cold weather

 

LAYERED CLOTHING
If you are going on a long ride, arm yourself with multiple layers of warm clothes. This way you can deal well with varied temperatures across various places and at different times of the day. Most textile riding jackets come with a detachable inner layer. Use it during winters for added warmth. Inner thermals are a cheaper option to keep you warm inside the jacket.

PAPER IS A GOOD INSULATOR
In case you fall short of warm clothing, grab some sheets of a newspaper and tuck it into your jacket. It acts as an excellent heat insulator and keeps the cold away. Similarly, if you are carrying a back sack along, you may carry it in front of you as a shield. Do make sure the sack doesn’t hinder your control on the bike.

NECK INSULATION
Most riders leave their neck portion uncovered and exposed to the elements hoping that the jacket collar and helmet will provide sufficient protection from the wind. Only after riding in cold weather do they realize that they were wrong. Remember that the main arteries supplying blood to the brain pass through your neck. With constant exposure to cold wind, you might start feeling dizzy pretty soon. Besides, it might stiffen your neck. It’s best to invest in a good quality balaclava. Top end products like the featured Alpinestars balaclava come with a waterproofing layer as well. You can also wrap a muffler to protect your neck.

 


 

GO FOR LONG WRIST GLOVES
The main idea is not to have any parts of your skin exposed. If you have a pair of long wrist gloves, you can tuck your jacket sleeves into it. On the other hand if you wear gloves with short wrist, cold air will enter right into your arms while riding. If the weather is extremely cold, it is also advisable to wear a pair of surgical gloves under the riding gloves.

DRINK HOT BEVERAGES
A cup of hot tea or coffee can certainly help you warm up. They can be a good source of heat for your palms as well. However, they are not the best liquids to rehydrate your body as the diuretrics actually make you urinate more frequently and you end up losing water fast. On the other hand, you can count on hot soups as excellent energy sources as well as rehydration agents. Stay away from drinking any amount of alcohol.

MAINTAIN CLEAR VISION
Besides atmospheric fog, cold weather also results in fogging inside your helmet. This could be disastrous at night and equally disturbing during day rides. Usually you are left with no choice but to open up the visor a bit and let the chilly wind hit your face. An anti-fogging visor is the best solution here. If you cannot lay your hands on such a product, clean both the inside and outside of your existing visor with a mild soap solution such as Colin. Then spray some more of it on the inside of the visor and let it dry without wiping it off. The dried layer will help prevent fogging to an extent.

DEALING WITH FOG
Fog is the worst nightmare of a rider in the winter. If you encounter mild fog, switch on your headlight with low beam. Use high beam and turn on the left indicator if the fog is thick. However, never use high beam during foggy nights as it will further reduce your visibility. Use low beam along with the indicator. Whether day or night, if the visibility level falls significantly, slow down to a speed that is comfortable for you to react in case of an eventuality. If you need to park your bike by the roadside, leave the indicator on so that other approaching vehicles can notice you.

TRACTION ON MOIST ROAD
Mist and fog can often moisten roads and consequently tyres.The probability of loss of traction increases during the wee hours of the morning. This becomes even more dangerous in snowy areas where skidding is common. Preferably go for a set of specialized tyres. Reduce your speed and avoid leaning at extreme angles. For riding on snow covered roads, find sections such as tracks of bigger vehicles on the road that offer better traction and go gentle on the throttle and brakes.

 

OTHER PRECAUTIONS
If the weather is really extreme, take frequent breaks to regain body heat. Temperatures slightly below normal can play havoc if you ride fast. A very important factor called the wind chill factor should never be ignored. As speeds ride, the apparent temperature or the wind chill factor felt on exposed skin due to the wind can surprisingly be very low. Even when the outside air temperatue is around 15 degrees, at 50km/h, the wind hitting your body feels very chilly. Learn to recognize symptoms of hypothermia. Feeling dizzy, seemingly funny mistakes in vehicle manoeuvre, etc. are primitive symptoms. If your shivering stops even when it’s cold outside you must take immediate action to warm yourself up. If you can find a warm place, take off your jacket so that your body can soak in some heat. If riding through a snowy area, make sure that your external clothing is waterproof. You must get rid of any wet cloth inside while riding in cold weather. While we suggest you wear enough warm clothes, you must enusure that the clothing doesn’t hinder your vehicle manoeuvring ability. Don’t forget to carry along high energy snacks including chocolates and rehydrating liquids such as Gatorade.

Prudent Commuting

This month we bring you guidelines on how to be responsible in city environs

You may be the type of rider who would want to keep the speed and lean angles for the racetrack or a weekend ride and would rather be slow while on city streets. Or you could simply be the kind who is not attracted to speed and looks at a motorcycle as a convenient way to travel from point A to point B. Either way, you prefer maintaining slow speeds in city environs. But going slow is not the only way to being safe or responsible. In fact, going slow can be hazardous if not implemented in a proper manner. So this time around we are compiling a few tips on how to be a socially responsible commuter.

Do not use your mobile phones while riding
Use of mobile phones while riding is dangerous as it leads to a lack of concentration on the road and traffic. Some people who do away with the use of a hands free device tend to adopt different techniques of placing the mobile in the helmet or hold it between the ear and shoulder further increasing the chances of an accident. Hence it is recommended that you pull over to the side of the road while not disturbing the traffic flow and completing your conversation.

Restrict use of high beam
In most cities, street lighting is enough for clear visibility at night. Where it isn’t adequate, the headlights of your vehicle as well as the ones around you make up for it. There are very rare situations when you really need to have the bike’s high beam activated in city environs for visibility. These beams can blind the oncoming traffic and can make the oncoming vehicles steer straight towards you, resulting in a fatal accident.

Carry necessary documents
As per the RTO rules, it is mandatory to carry valid documents like your driving license, bike registration and tax papers/smartcard, insurance and P.U.C certificate at all times. In most cities, photocopies are allowed too, however, failure to carry any of these necessary documents may lead to monetary fines.

Be patient in traffic jams
Traffic jams usually happen due to an accident, broken down vehicle or the lack of proper traffic signals at an intersection. It gets worse when vehicles try to slot themselves into each and every inch of space available, thus making the jam even more difficult to declog. The easiest solution is to stick to your lane and maintain enough distance for the vehicles in front to move around and negotiate the jam easily.

Do not ride with objects hanging from the bike
As mentioned earlier, it is not recommended to hang bags or other luggage from the handlebar or your shoulder when riding. Such hanging objects can swing around while riding, can unsettle your balance and can obstruct the view for the riders or drivers following your vehicle. Such objects can even get entangled with the handlebars or rear view mirrors of bikes around you, thus causing an accident. Other such examples are helmets hung around the elbow, open zippers of riding jackets, holy cloth/threads on the handlebars, etc.

 

Give proper indications
While it is one of the most basic rules, most people tend to ignore it in day-to-day traffic. Showing hand signals and indicators while turning is not mandatory only at the license test but also while commuting on the street. Make sure you give proper signals to the traffic with regard to turning, overtaking and any other riding maneuver you are about to attempt. This will not only help the traffic behind you to understand your manoeuvre, but will also avoid chances of an accident.

Stop that noise
Do not unnecessarily honk. Be it a signal turning green or a traffic jam, continuous honking won’t do any good. The traffic will still move at its own pace and hence it’s better to move along than cause nuisance and sound pollution.

Riding-in-the-wet

Don’t let the rains dampen your biking spirit. There’s fun to be had and stuff to be learnt about staying upright in slippery conditions with BIKE India’s wet weather riding guide


BE VISIBLE
Rain hampers visibility on the road while riding a bike to a great extent and makes the task a very risky one. It is not just about you having an idea of what’s where on the road while riding, but you also need to be visible to other riders and drivers to prevent yourself from turning into a hit and run victim. Visibility in low light and hazy conditions can be ensured by checking if your bike’s headlights are working properly. Headlamps, especially the non-halogen type, have a tendency of conking out in wet conditions. To be on the safer side, always carry an extra unit on long distance trips. To ensure that you are visible to other road users, the blinkers and the tail lamp of your bike should function properly. Use helmets and jackets with a lining of radium for easy detection in dark conditions. There is also a probability of mud flying from the tyres of other vehicles, sticking to your bike’s headlamp and deteriorating its illuminating capabilities is very high in the monsoons. Make sure you wipe the headlamp glass frequently to keep the road ahead bright and visible. The same holds true for your helmet visor.

PROGRESSIVE BRAKING
Although the front brake is effective in the dry, sufficient traction is not available at the front tyre on slippery streets. Slamming on the front brakes is a sure-fire way to end up with a seriously nasty skid in a downpour. If you use only the bike’s front brakes, you can lock up the front tyre resulting in a slide. The trick is to use both, the front and rear brakes, at the same time while relying more on the rear brakes. Use your index and middle finger to squeeze the brake lever gradually while simultaneously applying gentle pressure on the rear brake. If you need to brake harder, do it progressively in short incremental steps. Keep in mind that stopping distance increases in the wet compared to dry conditions. Hence, plan further ahead and leave a larger gap between your bike and the vehicle up front.

VISOR AS A HOOD / FORMATION OF MIST
The biggest problem with riding in a heavy downpour is visibility due to rain on the visor. With the visor completely open, raindrops hit your face like bullets making it impossible to keep your eyes open. On the other hand, if the visor is shut completely, your vision is hampered due to the formation of an uneven and translucent layer of water that forms on it due to the deluge. If your visor mounts are tight enough, keep it half open and use it as a hood against the incessant rain splatter.

The humidity in the air increases significantly in the monsoons. While breathing inside a closed helmet, the rider’s warm breath comes in contact with the cold atmospheric temperature and condenses into tiny water droplets that form a layer of mist on the visor. Use an anti mist spray to help reduce the formation of fog on the visor. If there are ventilator slots on your helmet, keep them open. Fresh air will keep the visor mist free. In case your helmet does not have ventilators, keep the visor slightly open to allow air to pass through.

GET A GRIP
Understanding exactly how much grip is available on a slick surface is a primary concern for most riders as the monsoons begin. Keep in mind that the bike’s tyres lose traction in the wet. Since rain water reduces the grip of the bike on the road, ensure that your bike is fitted with a good set of rubbers with grooves that are deep enough to disperse the water. If you ride a high capacity bike and have enough dough, you can opt for grippier, minimum 2mm tread depth tyres but for most commuter motorcycles, tyres with a straight central spinal tread work just fine. It goes without saying that balding tyres are a complete no-no.

 

DON’T SPLASH
Stagnant water bodies on the road are one of the most dangerous areas to ride over. By no means can anyone determine what lies beneath those puddles of muddy water. If you are lucky enough, it can be just a normal patch of grainy, grippy tarmac or there could be a thick layer of algae which would deny any traction to your bike’s tyres. In the worst case scenario, it could even turn out to be a three feet wide and eight feet deep manhole with its mouth wide open to trap you and your motorcycle in it.

At times, there is no other option but to go over such stagnant bodies of water. In such conditions, care should be taken that you don’t splash water all over the place as it has its own hazards. Entering a puddle too fast creates a lot of water resistance. In case you are unable to tackle this opposite force, you might end up losing your balance and falling off the bike. Entering such puddles at excessively higher speeds can result in aquaplaning, depriving you of any and all control and making you fly over the road in no time. Lateral thinking allows us to think of other hazards like a group of rogues bashing you up for anointing them with slush and mud. After going over stagnant water, it is advisable to ride the bike for a few meters with the brakes pressed so that the water dries off from the front disc and the rear drum/disc.

VEHICLE MAINTENANCE TIPS

1. Regular Service
Make sure your bike is well maintained before the downpour starts by getting it serviced. This in turn will prevent any issues from cropping up once it rains. Oil change, carburetor cleaning, chain lubrication and air filter cleaning should be done from time to time for avoiding any kind of basic problems with the bike. Keep a check on all the electricals and brake pads.

2. Check the electricals
The bike’s electricals play a very important part in tricky wet conditions as well as while riding in low light. You should always ensure that the headlamp, the tail lamp and the blinkers are working perfectly. In case of old bikes, reflective surfaces inside the headlamp and tail lamp should be changed since they fail to project a bright beam of light.

3. Corrosion of tank
In case of minor accidents and scratches, the paint from the tank of the bikes tends to chip off. The exposed area from this chipped off paint attracts corrosion and destroys the metal. It is always better to get paint touch-ups done before rains to avoid this kind of damage to the bike.

4. Prevention from rust
The various nuts and bolts that are exposed to air and water tend to rust due to moisture. The use of WD40 spray is highly recommended to protect rusting of bolts. Care should be taken that the metal parts underneath the bike are also sprayed with the WD40 spray.

5. Seat maintenance
The bike’s seat should be checked for even minor cuts. In case there are any, get them fixed as soon as possible. It is recommended that you use a seat cover over the regular seat to avoid direct cuts to the seat. The slightest rip can let the rain water seep in and damage the sponge inside the seat. Once wet, it is quite difficult to dry the sponge thoroughly.

6. Keep it above the water
Be very cautious while riding through deep water. Most importantly, the opening of the exhaust pipe should always be above the water level.

7. Tyre Check
Tyres provide your bike with all the traction and grip required. It is very important to keep a check on the condition of the tyres during the rains. The grip available in wet conditions is less and if the tyre is worn out, then the situation becomes even worse. Make sure that the grooves on the tyre are in perfect shape. Also, keep a check on the tyre tread which should ideally be between 2.0-2.5 mm. We advice you to buy a set of good quality tyres for your bike instead of settling for the cheaper ones.

Don’t run wide!

This month we focus on the most common problem associated with judging corners right – turning in early

 

 

 

Every rider goes through this situation at some time or the other – turning in early, carrying too much speed and running wide. Now if it’s a left hander you are taking, you run a risk of crashing into the truck coming from the opposite direction and if it’s a right hander, you’ll either go off the road into the rough or crash into the barricades.

The cause
It’s difficult to know if you’re turning a bit too early unless you’re a seasoned rider. It’s a mistake most novice riders commit. Carrying too much speed, turning early thinking they’ll have more space and ending up running wide. The first thing one needs to understand is that the faster the speed of the bike, the longer the bike will take to turn. One should know the speeds he’s comfortable at and pick the pace up slowly with experience. By carrying too much speed, you’ll tend to brake mid-corner or roll the throttle off making the bike stand up and run wide.

The methodology
Don’t dip the bike in as soon as you see the road turning. Fix your eyes on the last visible part of the road, take position on the bike, try to go to the extreme left of the road (for a right hander) to increase the range of your vision, assess the corner properly, adjust the speed to your comfort and skill level and turn in only when you are absolutely sure of being able to carry a certain speed through the bend. Some corners are very tricky, they look as if they’ll end after a certain point, but enter them and you realize that they tighten on you even more. A cautious entry with some margin for surprises helps. Remember, for such a corner, if you’ve made a correct entry by being wide while entering it for better vision, the chances of running wide as the corner tightens are much less. For someone who entered too early, running wide is almost an eventuality. The theory of turning in too late may not be entirely correct on a racetrack where you don’t have any hazardous traffic approaching from the opposite direction. But while riding on public roads, the chances of someone going a little too wide on his side of road are quite high. Being on your side of the road, and slightly wide, gives you a good vision plus ensures that you are quick through the corner and power out of it without running wide.

Stay wide, but be on your side
While taking a left hander, use the width of the road as much as possible to ensure better visibility. Do not, however, enter the opposite lane – you may just be in for a surpise. No one expects someone barrelling down from the opposite direction in the wrong lane. While being wide before entering a bend enhances visibility, overdoing it may turn out to be hazardous, especially while taking left handers

Remember
You don’t begin taking a corner when you have dipped the bike in. In fact, it is pretty much the last stage of cornering because you have decided the speed at which you are going to go through the bend and the line which you are going to take. You make any changes to these factors and you’ll unsettle the bike. The process of going around a corner actually begins when you’re about to approach it. You go a little wide, get into position, look into the corner, decide the speed at which you’re going to go round it, decide a line, dip the bike in and go. Practise makes perfect. No wonder, those who ride extensively and are used to taking corners on hilly roads are in a much better position to approach and take these corners at the correct speeds, choosing the correct line. We also suggest that those who aren’t very used to the idea of carrying high speeds through corners, don’t push the bike beyond the limits of their skills. Going 5km/h slower on a given bend is perfectly cool rather than going 5km/h faster and ending up being shaken and stirred. The speed will come naturally as you keep practising but for starters, you should concentrate more on your approach, position and line. If you get it right, you’ll blitz through the corners and never run wide.

Late and wide turn in is the key to safety
Apart from being a hazard to the traffic coming from the opposite direction, and of course yourself, turning in too early and too narrow will make you run wide at the exit of a corner. Make sure you’re close to the edge of the road before taking right handers and turn in when you’ve seen and decided everything