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Comfort And Stability

Keith Code

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Stability has always been the underlying target for motorcycle improvements: frame design and materials, suspension technology and adjustability, tire construction and compound upgrades; seat shape, tanks, handlebars, footpegs; even engine improvements like better carburation, black box ignitions, etc., result in smoother power delivery and enhance stability.


Similarly, every valid riding technique ever dreamed of, including all of what we teach at the Superbike School, once perfected, results in improved stability. A good technique improves stability, a bad one reduces it. For example, an uneducated passenger who counter-leans causes instability. Riders who themselves counter-lean in corners generate the same sort of instability; good throttle control improves stability and of course bad throttle control reduces it. On any type of bike, in any kind of riding, improved stability is the yardstick by which any technique or technological improvement may be measured.




Our current line of research at the school focuses specifically on a rider's stability on the motorcycle. Where riders lack the necessary stability to easily and comfortably control their bikes we now have a full array of drills to correct it. No matter how good the bike is, a rider's own instability can spoil it.


There are two predictable results to any form of rider instability: (1) control is reduced because the rider feels uncomfortably disconnected from the bike and (2) the bike itself tends to become unstable.


In order to take advantage of design upgrades riders need some understanding of how they affect the bike's stability. Something as simple as knurled metal footpegs that grips the boot's sole is a huge improvement in maintaining stability compared to rubber covered pegs, if the rider understands its use. That solidly positioned foot can help enormously in critical cornering situations.




If riders were able to maintain stability on the bike 100% of the time, what would be the result? An improvement of course. But motorcycle riders have a tough situation because they have to sit "on" the seat. BY comparison, a Formula I car seat cradles and locks the driver into a stable position. Lap times would be considerably slower and the cars would be very tiring to drive without them.


For bike riders--considering how unsettling it can be--rider/machine stability matters even more. Whether it is a low speed, parking lot situation or a wide open 6th gear sweeper, rider stability is desired above all else. Riders know when the bike feels stable and like it. Essentially, to the rider, stability adds up to comfort on the bike. A working definition of comfort is: CONTROL WITH A MINIMUM OF EFFORT.


By firmly cradling the driver, that Formula I car seat MINIMIZES the amount of physical EFFORT he would otherwise use to stabilize his body and allows for precise CONTROL of the car.


Motorcycles aren't built like that. For us, the common choice for stabilizing ourselves on the bike, the bars, is the wrongest possible. It requires more effort to control and the machine will always become unstable.




Under mild street riding conditions stability on the bike isn't a problem, it's only when riders begin to push themselves that stability issues arise. Spirited riding is generally accompanied by more speed, a notorious rider-excitation element. Extra speed combined with a series of corners often exaggerates any instability because rapid changes in direction are required.


In a series of corners like esses, riders who hang off are usually up, off the saddle at the moment they switch from one side of the bike to the other and are trying to steer the bike. Are they stable on the bike? Not really. The limited amount of contact on the footpegs and the handlebars is relatively unstable and there is a strong tendency to pull their body over using the arms and the handlebars. This invariably creates unsettling head shake especially under acceleration. RIDER INPUT Instability can often be mis-identified as too much speed or bike handling problems. Yes there is a handling problem but it's not the bike. A rider's own stability is the key issue here. As demonstrated by many top riders, staying in a tuck position is very efficient as the rider can use his legs to move around on the bike instead of strangling the bars.


Anyone can advise you to relax. But riders can't relax if they are improperly located on the bike. All you really have to do is sort out the moments when you are fighting the bike and this whole thing resolves. In any situation where a rider finds himself out of sync with the machine and its angle and direction you will also find this tendency to be tense and the motorcycle will be unstable.




When riders look uncomfortable on the bike they are uncomfortable on the bike. You can see it in others and feel it in your own tense riding situations. Liking right turns better than lefts is one of the classic situations. What does the rider look like on the bad side? Uncomfortable. If they don't like tight turns, what does it look like? Uncomfortable. If they don't like high speed turns, what does it look like? You know the answer, you've probably been there.


HOW THE BODY REACTS The muscle structure of the body reacts to danger. These reactions have only one mode of operation--fix the threatening situation NOW. In its effort to fix it now, the body is directed to recruit and tighten any available muscle to prepare for a potential injury. Stiffening the arm while putting out a hand to break a fall is a classic example. Classic because it usually injures if not breaks the extended body part. Any reaction causes tension and the tension has many forms.




One form it takes is fear of leaning over with the bike. Instinctually, we like to remain upright/vertical or lying down/horizontal. Very little day to day experience has anything to do with leaning over very far--vertical and horizontal are "safe" to the survival instinct and its reaction. Angles between vertical and horizontal are not.


Along comes the motorcycle in our lives. Riders readily adjust and not only tolerate the necessary lean to corner their bike but quest for the genuine thrill they get from it. That thrill is the result of challenging the survival instinct. It is exhilarating to challenge these instincts. For everyone, spirited cornering is a tight rope walk, balancing the fear against its pleasurable sensations.


SURVIVAL INSTINCTS What everyone has to deal with are their survival instincts which have their own built in reactions to situations. These reactions are deadly as they force a rider to react with non-optimum riding situations. I call them Survival Reactions (SRs). Seven of these SRs were identified in the "A Twist of the Wrist, Volume II" book. This subject of rider stability and body positioning is the eighth.




Finding your way to comfort at the lean angles you need for the speeds you'd like to run is a satisfying goal. How would your riding be if all of a sudden you could comfortably achieve max. lean on your bike? Comfortably. How would it impact your cornering speeds: your sense of safety; your sense of confidence on the bike? Greatly.


As a rider's lean angle approaches their discomfort zone the twist and stiffen reaction increases; the bike's handling capabilities decrease and some form of instability takes place. Defeat the stiffening and twisting reaction of the rider and you have a new motorcycle, capable of far more than you may have ever dreamed.




In a fast series of corners you have to expend considerable effort to flick the bike side to side and it can result in head shake. There isn't any alternative, in order to turn the bike it does require effort be put into the bars. The effort is appropriate--when and how it is being applied often is not. Look at it from the perspective of timing and you'll greatly improve your understanding of stability.


Let's use a three turn esse situation where you would be hard accelerating and quickly turning the bike several times.


What would it be like if you were fully in your next comfortable riding position before you had to change the direction of the bike? In other words, you are hung-off left, going left and you get over into your full hung off position on the right (while the bike is still going left), just a moment before you needed to turn it right. Compared to a rider who was up off the seat and tugging on the bars, this would either dramatically improve or completely eliminate any head shake. So what are we saying here? How and when you attach yourself in a stable position to the bike has an enormous effect on its stability whenever you are riding aggressively.




At the Superbike School we have observed that 9 out of 10 riders begin their hangoff at exactly the moment they are turning into a corner. This makes the rider very busy and most often accounts for some turn entry instability as the rider is moving around on the bike while turning it in and is often using the bars as a leverage point.


On one level it makes sense to do it this way. Using the whole body to push the bar feels secure. As the butt and body are shifted over you see the inside arm stiffen up. The rider is more or less throwing his whole body at the bars. This creates a partial substitute for actually being stable on the bike. The problem which results from it is these riders must tighten their bodies and that usually counter-leans them to the bike.


While it can be done that way you'll notice that most pro riders hangoff and are stable on the bike way before the turn. This allows them to assume their position and be in unity and harmony with the bike as much as possible.




The question is, how do you stabilize yourself? There are many different riding styles. Fans can often recognize favorite riders by their body language. What is that language saying?, "This is how I lock on and remain comfortably stable."


Odd circumstances can occur from various forms of instability. While racing I recall one time where my helmet and head would rattle so much I couldn't see clearly. It would happen at the end of a straight, as I was untucking out of the bubble. It disappeared the moment I'd figure out a way to comfortably secure myself onto the bike. As I said before, riders who look and feel uncomfortable are uncomfortable, mine was no exception.




In the end you have to figure out, or get some help figuring out, how to lock onto the bike. That can be tricky simply because of the survival instincts attached to it. But once you figure out a comfortable and stable position it opens many doors and provides solutions to just about any aggressive riding situation you can think of. Experiment with it and see what you can find, there will be a BEST position for you and it will help. If you get stumped, we can help.


Keith Code copyright 2001, Keith Code, all rights reserved. Permission granted for reprint to CSS, Inc. web site, 2001

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