Often experienced motorcycle riders who trade in an old bike for a brand new set of wheels fall prey to an unfortunate set of statistics along with new machines–more motorcycle accidents happen on new equipment than on old faithful rides. Don’t assume that 100,000 miles on your old bike means equally capable handling of your new set of wheels. Instead, take the time to learn some facts about your new motorcycle.
Find a deserted level parking lot with a relatively clean surface if possible. You don’t need bumps, slippery stuff, inclines, potholes, or other defects or obstacles to learn more about your new motorcycle. You need to plan on spending time having fun and getting to know the quirks of the new wheels. Start by doing low-speed circles with your eyes on the horizon and practice until you can do a 360 without putting your foot down and the steering in full lock. This may require some adjustment in the position of the handlebar or the throttle cable to smooth the acceleration action. Follow tight circles with tight figure eights, again without touching your feet to the ground until the bike has come to a full stop. Force yourself to be consistent and precise. This will provide even more understanding of the throttle response in your new motorcycle.
Repeat the previous exercise at higher speeds–both the circles and the figure eights. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your feet off the ground, so you learn the feel of the equipment as it corners correctly and consistently. Varying the engine's speed while practicing these maneuvers will allow you to ride comfortably at highway speeds and in city traffic.
Follow this with learning about the bike’s cornering limits. Learn to accept the grinding noise without flinching when a floorboard scrapes the pavement. A reflex jerk to avoid metal sound on pavement can cause you to steer right off the curve. If you feel more cornering ability is needed, you may need to change the suspension components.
Practice stopping at low speed with a hard stop to learn the traction on the new tires, the sensitivity of the brakes, and how the bike handles with the rear wheel locked. You need to know precisely what to expect in a real-life panic situation, and the best way to do that is to practice a hard, locked wheel stop, especially in a sideways skid. Once you’ve practiced the rear action, learn about the power of the front brake. Be careful not to overdue front brake activity until you clearly understand how much pressure the crucial front brake will take. Again, you may need to adjust the brake controls engagement points or positions to better suit your riding and stopping style.
Now is the time to move your practice skills to the open road. Try to pick a relatively lightly traveled section of road with some open corners to practice cornering at highway speeds. Continuing to practice leaning techniques will help you know the bike's limits in every situation. Use a straight road with painted dotted lines and practice swerving the bike between the gaps on the road. If you can find safe stretches with raised dots for lane markers, you will be able to feel immediately if you miss the swerve. Once again, practice your hard stops at highway speeds in a safe mode. Be aware of the following traffic before hitting the brakes suddenly, and be sure to allow plenty of room in case you overrun your target point.
Each of the exercises above should be repeated while carrying a passenger. Even if you do not carry anyone else regularly, knowing how your bike responds to a passenger is critical in any emergency situation–even in everyday riding. Your motorcycle will respond differently, and you should know what will happen before getting on the open road. Your passenger must understand what will happen so that they don’t panic and throw the motorcycle off balance, causing a serious accident.
Another advantage of going through these exercises at low or moderate speed and varying the load on the engine is that they serve as a good break-in regimen for the engine.
Now that you have your new motorcycle and have practiced the various maneuvers above, you will want to remember that in adverse weather or road conditions, the new motorcycle may not handle the same as your old set of wheels. Take things easy the first few times you ride in the rain or icy situations. If you have the opportunity to practice in different weather experiences, you will have an even better feel for your motorcycle’s handling capabilities.
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