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Moving on up

I see it all the time, in fact just about everyone I teach does it exactly this way. They come to grips with their 250cc learner’s bike, they are able to throw it around with gay abandon and then they move up to a 600cc sports bike or something similar and it all falls apart.

Often they can’t even get it to turn properly for them it’s that bad.

The reason is that most 250’s are smaller and easily man handled around, in fact some of the skills you later need to turn a bike or change gear etc are very hard to learn on a smaller bike because they are so light and easily thrown about. It comes as a shock to the newbie and the confidence is often flattened for a while whilst they return to the learning game when they thought they would be in the riding with more power and speed game.


They are not alone though, this same thing happens to Dirt riders that convert to the road, cruiser riders that move onto a sports bike or for that matter sports riders that move onto a cruiser.

Every bike you ride will force you to learn new skills and employ old skills in new ways to get the bike to do what you want it to be doing. They each stop you in their tracks and make you think “I really don’t know how to ride this thing very well”.

Understanding the fundamentals of how bikes handle is the key to working through this stuff. You can sit on a cruiser and feel its weight distribution, feel the way the steering is slow and the suspension soft and you know you are going to have to work in a different manner to the way you used to work on a sports bike. If you understand the fundamentals you can work out, quickly how to modify your style so it will work with the cruiser, you can see that a slack steering angle combined with soft front suspension will mean that use of the front brake will affect the steering a lot more than a sports bike as the “trail” changes much more dramatically. You’ll work out that the front brake needs to be used more gently and that usage within corners can be a terrifying event. But you will also notice much more weight on the rear wheel and longer wheelbases meaning the rear brake starts to become more powerful and useful for controlling your speed.

A new rider will find it a big surprise when they get onto a bigger bike and find that it really doesn’t want to turn, like their smaller bike would. They probably don’t have the knowledge at the time that would allow them to work out why? But a little advice will have them moving right along soon enough.

A bigger bike has a lot more power to push through the back wheel and so the difference between the back wheel size and the front wheel size is larger. This is because of tread walk and keeping the bike balanced throughout a turn, but it also means that if you are running your bigger bike with less throttle or in much higher gears you won’t generate enough tread walk on the bigger back tire and it won’t want to turn or hold a line like you are used too. The cure is to use lower gears and more throttle not less (go in slower, come out faster while your learning J).

The other thing is that at any moderate open road speed a smaller bike is often fully working in top gear and certainly you won’t want to be using more than one gear change. But the bigger bike may not be anywhere like that; often it could want to be 3 gears lower!! So you can see how a step up can be a learning experience!!!

But then that is what it is about, learning. I’ve been riding for in excess of 38 years and I’m still learning. Every time I ride a new style of bike or a different style of riding I am learning new things and moving my skills forward.

Riding my Supamotard I learn to keep my weight over the front wheel, use the front brake very progressively and the rear aggressively. When in a hurry I pivot the rear around the front as I slide into and out of corners in a manner I could never get away with on a sports bike.

The skills I learn there make me so much more skilled on the rear brake when I transition back on to the sports bike though, the thing I never use that much becomes a hugely welcome mid corner deep braking tool. I learnt to move my weight forward as I transition from front brake to rear mid corner and if the back gets slightly out of shape, I’m ready and balanced.

Riding the dirt bike, after the road bike I have a much more refined ability to keep things smooth and balanced, instead of the thrash and dash I used to apply to the dirt bike as it bounced along. Keeping the bike and more importantly me stable slows things down whilst I get faster.

Smooth open and flowing lines on the cruiser work best and you are forced to plan further ahead and slow down your reactions. Moving back on to the sports bike I find I am doing the same but at much higher speeds, slowing down my transitions and seemingly giving myself more time to react.

Each and every opportunity you get to ride a different bike in a different way is going to teach you a wealth of information about how to ride better in every situation. Break it down, analysis it, work out why you need to ride differently and bring those skills to every other ride you do.

Variety is more than the spice of life, its the joy of learning. The newbie’s that are stunned that they can’t turn that shinny new 600 are just beginning a journey that will make them technical riders of excellence if they pay attention to WHY it needs to be different.

So there is a lesson here, in fact a number of lessons.

The first one I guess is ride as many different bikes and types of bikes as you can and ride them enough to master them. It will teach you more than you could possibly imagine whilst also increasing the joy you find in your riding.

The second is when it’s obvious that something is not working, even if it has worked in the past, focus on WHY analyse the issue and try to find how you can modify the technique so that it does now work.

The third is not to be disappointed when you suddenly find It no longer works like you thought it should. The new rider moving up onto the bigger bike is a classic example. It could be easy to be disappointed and disheartened. However you have actually just been presented with a new way for your riding to improve and your enjoyment to increase, because we all love succeeding against a challenge.

So when it comes to moving on up to your next bike, learn an even bigger lesson, the joy of riding different bikes. Up skill yourself!!