7 Tips for Motorcycle Riding in the Mountains
- Use the front brake! The front brake on a motorcycle holds about 60% or more of the motorcycle's stopping power. Using the rear brake only is like trying to stop a car with only the emergency brake. Riders should practice using the front brake in a safe environment. Using both the front and rear brake will give riders the shortest stopping distance possible, but in a majority of the crashes the riders have not used their front brake at all.
Stopping distances at 50 MPH:
Rear brake only - 278'
Front brake only - 120'
Both front and rear brake - 105'
- Look where you want to go! You will naturally steer the motorcycle in the direction you're looking, so when you're in a curve, focus on the exit of the curve. When you're on a straightaway, focus on the roadway ahead. Pick a spot ahead of you on the roadway and let your eyes "sweep" the roadway from that spot, back to you, and back up the roadway so you are scanning the road for any hazards.
- Understand countersteering and how it works! In simple terms, when you are negotiating a curve, let's say it's a curve to the left, you'll actually be steering the motorcycle's front wheel slightly to the right. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in order to lean the motorcycle to the left, the front tire will be pointed slightly to the right, and vice versa for a right hand curve. The saying is "Push left, go left. Push right, go right." If you want to turn left, push the left handlebar forward, which turns the front wheel to the right. If you want to turn right, push the right handlebar forward, which turns the front wheel to the left. You'll notice the effects of counter-steering once the motorcycle's speeds are above 20 MPH or so.
- Wear your gear! I know Colorado doesn't have a mandatory helmet law, but helmets do work. Over the ankle leather motorcycling boots, leather motorcycle gloves, and leather jackets all offer you the best protection in the event of a crash. Remember, when it comes to motorcycling, it's not IF you go down, but WHEN you go down, so be prepared by wearing your gear!
- Ride your ride! The roadway is no place to push your limits, especially on a motorcycle. Someone may ride faster than you, and that's ok. Someone might be slower than you, and that's ok, too. The goal is to reach your destination safely!
- Keep your head on a swivel! Look for other drivers who aren't paying attention to you. When you're next to a car, stay out of their blind spot and look for those little signs that someone might try to change lanes into you, like a driver checking their rearview mirror. When you're making a turn in front of oncoming traffic, make sure the drivers see you. When you're approaching an intersection, check cross traffic and be prepared to start braking in case someone tries to turn left in front of you. When you're stopped, check your mirror to ensure the car behind you is coming to a stop. Ride like YOUR life depends on it!
- For larger group rides, get in the practice of having an experienced rider who knows the route at the front and another experienced rider at the rear who also knows the route. The front rider leads the group at a reasonable pace. The "sweeper" is there to ensure everyone is accounted for and no one gets left behind due to a crash or mechanical issues. The lead rider should also stop at every turn to allow the group to catch up. Understand hand signals, like when the lead rider points down with either their hand or foot to tell the following riders that there is gravel, debris, or some other hazard on the roadway.