Pick a Lane, Any Lane
Not too long ago, I received a phone call at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson from a gentleman by the name of Fred Miller about sharing a motorcycle lane story. He was an avid fan of Pittsburgh Rides in the Post-Gazette. He read one of my previous articles and felt that he had to call me and share one of his stories from the road. .
Not too long ago, he was riding behind a motorcyclist who wandered all over the road. The fact that the motorcyclist didn't pick a lane concerned him, and he thought that it would make for an interesting topic.
As I talked with Fred, I learned that he has had some significant motorcycle training. He has been through the Pennsylvania Safety Program and he even hired an independent coach to follow behind him and coach him through a two-way headset as he was riding.
When motorcyclists go for permits, they are taught that the right lane is divided into three mini-lanes. There is the inside (closest to the double yellow lines), there is the outside (closest to the white line) and then there is middle of the road.
A majority of motorcyclists pick either the inside or outside lane and typically stick with it. This is their comfort zone. Then there are motorcyclists who don't have a comfort zone and they travel in the entire right lane and find themselves in potholes one minute, in rumble strips the next, while crossing over the greasy center of the right lane.
You're probably saying to yourself that the motorcyclist who stays in either the outside lane or the inside lane the entire time even through corners is doing it correctly. You would be wrong in that assumption. The motorcyclist who wanders from one side of the right lane to the other isn't doing it correctly, either … but is on the right track.
When you are traveling down a straight stretch of highway or down a straight residential road, it is good to pick a lane and stick with it. This allows other riders or drivers to better read you and anticipate your moves so that they can safely pass you.
In Western Pennsylvania you have to deal with hills, tight corners, blind intersections and exit ramps that don't exactly curve in a consistent circle. This requires motorcyclists to use a larger piece of the travel lane.
This leads to many questions:
• When turning, do you follow more or less in the center of the lane? Do you follow one of the car wheel tracks or do you follow a different motorcycle cornering the line?
• Approaching a sharp turn, do you roll off the throttle, or do you also use the brakes?
• When you need to brake approaching a corner, do you use both brakes, just the rear brake or only the front brake?
Even though the best practice is picking a travel lane and staying with it, we need to take a look at cornering and explore using the other travel lanes on our side of the road.
Different riding schools have different ways to describe the correct cornering techniques. Having a slogan helps you remember the details. One of the most concise descriptions is the slogan “Slow, Look, Lean, and Roll,” according to David L. Hough's book “Proficient Motorcycling.”
When approaching a curve, you want to SLOW down. It's smart to decelerate the bike while you're vertical rather than in a lean. Breaking into the turn with the front and rear brakes pushes your motorcycle down and allows for more traction. You'll also want to hold on to both brakes just in case you discover that the turn is tighter than you expected or if a hazard comes into view halfway around the corner.
Next you want to LOOK and keep your eyes level while selecting a cornering line. When selecting a cornering line, you should not choose the double right line to the left or the solid white line to the right. Try to figure out where the road goes. If the corner takes you left, get close to the solid line to your right. This will give you the maximum viewing for this type of corner. Likewise, if your road takes you to the right, stay close to the double yellow line WITHOUT going over into the oncoming lane. Again this will help you see more of the road ahead of you. Remember “outside-inside-outside.”
When you have the bike slowed down and positioned for the best view and your nose pointed to where you want to go, it's time to LEAN the bike over and ROLL on the throttle. The most accurate way to lean any two-wheeler is by pressure on the hand grips. Push on the right grip to lean right. Hold enough pressure on the grip to get the bike leaned over and pointed to where you're looking, then ease up on the pressure to stabilize the lean.
When you have leaned your bike over to your desired angle, you'll need to ease on the throttle. Not only will it help your speed control, but it will affect your traction, stability, ground clearance, suspension and steering. Rolling on the throttle isn't just for the race track, it's for the laws of physics. Rolling on the throttle helps balance weight between front and rear tires, sets suspension in the middle of its travel and maximizes lean-over clearance. The throttle also controls which way the bike wants to go.
That being said, it's best to pick a lane and stick with it, but to accomplish everything that is required for smart cornering, you need to use more of your side of the road and stray out of your comfort zone.