SETS, TRANSITIONS and comfort levels.

We talk alot about SETS and TRANSITIONS on this site. So what exactly is a SET or for that matter a TRANSITION?

Well your bike sits on two big pogo sticks, suspension front and rear. But then that sits on tyres which have movement in them and above all this is a human body that if not controlled will be wobbling all over the place and all of this means that your bike, if not ridden with this in mind will be very unstable and rather confidence robbing rather than inspiring.

Choreography is where we first introduce the concept of SETS and TRANSITIONS

How can one rider go so fast and confidently through corners or over a bumpy road and you’re struggle to do so because the bike is moving around and you feel so uncomfortable? Is he just braver than you? or is there more going on?

The answer is more going on, you bike is effectively not stable because you are not making it stable. Whereas the faster rider most probably is.

Trust me if your answer to this is to just be more brave.. it will end badly. A mantra you should always ride by is “HOW FAST DO I GO, AS FAST AS I FEEL COMFORTABLE”, your job as pilot, is to make it more stable and comfortable, to go faster more relaxed, not with more courage.

This is where SETS and TRANSITIONS come into play.

Ok… imagine, for an instant, that you have taken the spring out of a pen and have it squeezed between your finger and the desk, compressing it slightly. Even do this if you like as an exercise. Whilst your finger has very light pressure on it, the spring will be very unsteady and looking for a way to get out from under your finger at every chance. But if you apply more pressure it will get easier and there will come a point where the spring is solidly jammed between your finger and the desk.

Your suspension is like this, put a little pressure on it and it will move freely with every input, either from you or the road and each time it moves it will change your geometry and also your body position a little. But put it under pressure and the suspension will become firmer and start to resist being moved by small bumps on the road or even the affects of your poor body control on top of it. This is a set.

A very good example of this is to complete this exercise: Find a wide and flowing corner, then ride through the corner doing the following things and feeling how easy it was to hold a line, how stable the bike felt and very importantly, how confident you felt.

  • First, Ride through the corner so that as you enter the corner you can start to accelerate, then accelerate all the way through the corner. You might need to slow down your entry speed to allow this.
  • Second, Enter the corner at a comfortable speed but then pull in the clutch, close the throttle and coast around the corner
  • Third, Ride into the corner and as you go through the corner, at a sensible speed, gently open and close the throttle, just a little.
  • Lastly, ride through the corner, closing the throttle but leaving the clutch engaged so that you are engine braking all the way through the corner.

So which one felt more confident? Which scared you silly?

I bet, In fact I know, it will be the one that had a constant SET throughout the corner, so the first one because it has a constant corner set and progresses evenly to an acceleration set as you depart the corner.

So what is a SET? A set is a state where you bike is compressed onto its suspension and is stable, A SET is usually one of the following:

  • Acceleration SET
  • Braking SET
  • Cornering SET

In turn; An acceleration SET is when you move the weight of the bike back onto the rear wheel and provide a constant acceleration to keep the rear suspension and tyre under pressure. As soon as the bike settles into this position you will feel confident and stable. A Braking SET is the opposite and as soon as the bike has settled with its weight compressing the front suspension with constant pressure on the brake it will be settled and stable. A cornering set occurs when you enter a corner and both suspension and tyres compress and the centrifugal forces create a constant pressure to keep the bike pressed into the road.

Now the first one, An acceleration SET we all know and feel, the second, A Braking SET, most of us will have felt (there might be those that do not have a good braking technique and have not felt it), but the third I often get students that just don’t understand this one at all.

The reason is that they have not learnt how to hold a constant curve, throttle and SET. A corner SET is very easy to disturb and move into a TRANSITION.

So what is a TRANSITION? Well pretty much everything else. A TRANSITION is those bits in between. SETS, those bits where the bike feels unstable and uncomfortable.

Imagine you are accelerating out of a corner, HARD coming out onto a straight, you are in an acceleration SET and the bike feels good, solid, you feel like you can dance and it won’t upset the bike, its SET on a mission, The front wheel might be light, might even hit the occasional bump and deflect but the bike doesn’t care, all the weight and power are going through the back wheel, its a solid acceleration SET.

Then you get to the end of the straight and you ease off your throttle , the moment you do this the bike feel soft, even a little uncomfortable, if the entry to the corner has braking bumps you might even feel very uncomfortable. You have entered a TRANSITION. You start to apply the front brake and quite quickly the bike gets stable again, the weight transfers to the front and enters a Braking SET, the harder you brake the more stable the bike feels, even your stiff arms (hopefully not, if so go read front brake) don’t upset the bike until you are really getting hard on the brakes. its stable. But you have a corner, soon you will have to let go the brake and turn the bike……

As soon as you do the bike feel slightly unsettled again as you turn in, again you have entered a TRANSITION. As you get into the corner and the bike squats into it, it gets stable again, you are on the throttle (remember the exercise above) and its good, feels good, you moving about on the bike, upsets it, but not as much as you thought.

Then you accelerate out of the corner and start the whole thing over again, this one is a gentle TRANSITION because you already have slightly more weight on the rear and its a gentle transition back onto the Acceleration SET.

So TRANSITIONS are those spaces between SETS.

Your job as a rider is to get your bike through a TRANSITION as fast as possible and make sure you don’t upset it as you do so. For instance, the TRANSITION from braking to cornering can involve me moving my weight from ontop of the bike, bracing myself to hanging off the side and if I do this whilst I am in the middle of the TRANSITION I am asking for trouble, my body weight and potentially pulling on the bars will seriously upset the bike and affect my confidence.

So I get myself into a position where I start my braking already hanging off the side of the bike, using my inner thigh to hold me onto the bike. This way I am comfortable braking, I don’t need strength and have less chance of upsetting the bike, but even more importantly as I let go the brake and turn the bike I just need to allow my upper body to relax off the bike and there is not jerk or sudden movement, no pulling myself around on the bike during a sensitive TRANSITION.

It also means I can settle into my corner SET quickly and easily, meaning I am more comfortable and faster. BTW, a word about corner SETS they are very easy to upset, change the throttle, the body position, the steering (other than. tigthening or deepening) and you’ll spark a TRANSITION and don’t even think about the front brake (See Rear Brake for uses here). A strong turn point using counter steering will also allow a fast TRANSITION and a strong SET. (See: The Handle Bars)

SETS and TRANSITIONS are the hallmarks of a good rider, getting from one SET to another as fast as possible and with strong Touch Points to keep your body under control. This will have a massive impact on your comfort and remember…..

“How fast do we go, as fast as we are comfortable to”


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