By September 28, 2010

Random Motorcycling Tip #20: How to Avoid Dropping Your Motorcycle at a Stop

There’s a “Wives’s Tale” among motorcyclists that everyone drops their bikes. Dropping one’s bike is a primary reason that lighter, small bikes are recommended to beginners. I agree with this, but I also think that not learning how to control a motorcycle at low speeds on a light bike can mean big trouble when a cyclist upgrades to a heavier machine. I got away with a lot of bad low speed riding habits on my 425 pound Yamaha FZ6 that proved near-disastrous on heavier bikes.

A lot of my riding friends have dropped their bikes lately. Their experience is all over the spectrum: one friend is new to motorcycling; one has been riding for years. The latter’s bike weighs almost 700 pounds, and he’s hurt his back twice lifting his bike back up. He even knows a special righting technique for his model, but still, it’s 700 pounds lifted by a dude with a bad back. My FJR weighs about 650 unloaded, so I am not interested in dropping mine, either.

Here are a few techniques and tactics I employ to ride without dropping my bike.

  1. Keep the front wheel straight.

    Out of all of the tips, this one is the most important. This is harder than it seems, particularly when you are new and get nervous about coming to a complete stop. There is a natural tendency for your “strong side” to dominate the handle bars at low speed, and this turns the wheel.

    Practice keeping your front wheel straight when coming to a right- or left-hand turn. New motorcyclists, particularly those with a lot of driving experience, try to turn the front wheel in the direction they want to turn. For example, my first friend dumps his bike routinely at stop signs when he’s turning. He cranks the wheel too far and down he goes.

    Instead of turning the handlebars, try coming to a stop where your bike is facing the direction you want to turn, but the back and front wheels are still in a straight line. You don’t have to line up more than 10 or 15% of the direction you want to turn. Let the bike’s momentum do the steering for you once you start to move again.

  2. Watch where you put your feet.

    Friends of mine have dropped their bike when a foot (or in rare cases both feet) slipped out from underneath them. Try to evaluate where you are going to put your feet as you prepare for a stop. There are some obvious things to avoid — road debris, pools of liquid, uneven pavement — but some things are less obvious, like reflective painted surfaces on rainy days or lawn clippings.

  3. Squeeze the front brake just a little tiny bit.

    This seems counter-intuitive, and will really cause a problem if you haven’t kept your front wheel straight, but squeezing the front brake at the last moment helps me a lot with smooth stops. Give that front brake lever a gentle hug about a half second before you put your feet down. Don’t grab it like a hot chick passing by.

  4. Tighten your abs.

    Motorcycling is a physical endeavor, which might explain why my overweight, out of shape, hurt-back-history friend has dropped his bike four times now. I engage my core muscles right before a stop, including my lower back. I do this to stabilize myself for when I put my feet down. This allows a little bit of shock absorption upon contact, but enough support that my body isn’t limp and causes my weight to shift the bike around.

    Tightening your core also helps me from putting uneven weight on the handlebars. My posture is good, my hand pressure is even, and my body is ready for contact with the pavement. My bike stopped wobbling at low speeds a lot once I started doing this.

    You don’t want your whole body to tense up or hold your breath here. Imagine that you are bracing for a punch, but don’t tense the rest of your body. Give it a try right now. If you can do it without flexing your legs, arms, or neck you are good to go.

  5. Are these tips a guarantee against dropping your bike? Probably not. One of the things I find attractive to motorcycling is its honesty. You can do everything possible to prepare for an incident, and some crazy shit may literally cause your downfall some day. It’s a good life lesson — anything could happen at any time. In the meantime, practicing and using my tips might help your bike from getting sleepy and taking a nap.

    Keep the shiny side up!

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Posted in: motorcycling

2 Comments on "Random Motorcycling Tip #20: How to Avoid Dropping Your Motorcycle at a Stop"

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  1. Lorie Jaramillo says:

    I’m new a riding and I was searching for a tip to help me overcome being nervous when I come to a complete stop. I do well when it’s a sudden stop but those slow stops seem to get me evey time. I have a tendency to stop way to short of the line at a red light or stop sign and when I do stop it’s not smooth are sharp. It’s wobbly and so I get nervous I’m going to drop my bike so I plant my feet before I’ve come to a complete stop.

    I’m going to get on my bike tomorrow and ride to work and I look forward to trying out the tips you listed. Thank you

  2. Lyrael says:

    Thanks heaps for this. I’ve dropped my brand new 600CC bike twice now (probably due to learning bad habits on the 250), the first time I didn’t have knobs on so it cost me pretty bad 🙁

    From my experience, #1 and #4 I think were my downfall. Also as someone who’s dropped their new bike, get knobs put on. Just do it. It’s the difference between a scratch on the corner of your mirror and $3,500 worth of damage.