As much as some people hate to admit it, we’re not all god’s gift to motorcycling. Only a fool would call even the top MotoGP stars ‘perfect’ riders. No, we can all improve our riding game and there’s always room for improvement when it comes to bike control, body position and all that nonsense. But how do you improve it? How does one go from being a mediocre rider, to a good rider? Well there are a bunch of options, but here are five sure-fire ways for any of you that want to develop your skills on two wheels and improve your riding, to do just that.
Get Some Training
If you want to improve your road riding, there are a handful of ‘Advanced Rider’ training courses all over the country. There are courses run by the Institute for Advanced Motorcycling (IAM), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), and the Advanced Rider Scheme (ERS). All the courses have different ways of doing things (and different ways of taking money off you), but aim to have roughly the same outcome; to improve your riding and make you a safer rider on the road.
All the advanced rider courses will see you riding with seasoned motorcyclists. They’ll keep an eye on you and help iron out any bad habits you have, replacing them with good ones. You’ll probably hear them rabbiting on about IPSGA, an acronym which stands for Information, Position, Speed, Gear, Acceleration. It’s (putting it very basically) the order in which the text book says you should do things, when you’re riding. There are other things that Advanced Rider courses drum into you in an effort to make you a better rider. And they must work too, since quite a few insurance companies will give you a discount on your bike insurance if you’ve completed a recognised course.
Ride Different Bikes
Riding a variety of bikes is a great way to experience how different bikes feel; from the way they handle to the feel of the brakes and the characteristics of the engine. It’s easy to spend years riding the same bike that perhaps feels a bit weird. Maybe the brakes are crap or it doesn’t go round left handers very well. Some might think that that’s just what bikes are supposed to feel like. It can often take a spin on a different bike to realise stuff like that.
Different bikes give you the confidence to ride in different ways. They let you push yourself in ways you might not on your own bike because it just doesn’t ‘feel right’. Riding a bike that is setup completely differently will give you an appreciation of how well your bike is set up. Or how badly it’s set up. You’ll realise what it’s good at, and what it’s not so good at. That’ll give you scope to improve and work on your riding, as well as the set-up of your bike.
I know it’s not easy to lay your hands on an array of bikes. Some folk are lucky enough to have a garage full of options, but plenty of us only have the one to ‘choose’ from. But if you have any friendly mates, they might let you take their bike for a spin. And all the dealers have demo bikes that they’d be happy to hand you the keys to (you might have to pretend you’re in the market for a new bike). Of course you could always chop your bike in for something different. You might love your bike, but you might find something else you love even more, if you tried it.
Ride in The Wet
Nobody likes being cold and wet but if you get wrapped up in decent gear, that shouldn’t be an issue. Apart from having to contend with a steamed up visor and soggy pants, riding in the wet can actually be brilliant fun, and you can learn a ton of stuff. As soon as the grip disappears, you simply have to be a better rider to stay on your bike. And let’s face it, most of us rise to the challenge, don’t we?
Every rider input, whether it’s braking, turning or opening the throttle, needs to be as smooth as can be, in order to minimise the risk of succumbing to the conditions. You’ve got to concentrate a hundred times more when the road is wet. And not only to keep everything smooth, but to eyeball every inch of tarmac to make sure your tyres are taking the optimum line through it. If you can take that smoothness and that concentration to your dry weather game, there isn’t a shred of doubt that it will improve your riding. Not only will you be faster, you’ll be safer, too.
This is one of the best ways to improve as a rider, so much so that plenty are calling for a section of off-road riding to be included in the UK road bike test. Every road rider can learn something by riding on dirt. Whether it’s building the confidence to control a bike should either one of the wheels, for whatever reason, loose traction (and we all know that there are a million reasons why that can happen on the UK roads), or honing the art of power sliding your way into literally any woman’s (or man’s) underwear.
We’ve all encountered gravel, diesel, horse shit and all sorts getting between our tyres and the tarmac, and it’s usually when we least expect it. What do most people do when that happens? They panic and then crash… unless they’re seasoned off-road riders; they won’t panic, they’ll just style it out. Almost every skill that you learn when riding off-road, from body position, to throttle control, would benefit a road rider. Especially when conditions are less than ideal. Having the confidence to ‘go with the flow’ and let the bike do its thing beneath you without grabbing a handful of front brake, or just panicking and throwing the thing on the floor, will, without a shadow of a doubt, improve your riding.. And one that enjoys his (or her) bike a lot more, too.
Ride on Track
Plenty of bike accidents on the road could be prevented if the rider had a better idea what his bike was capable of. Ok, we all know that idiot car drivers are to blame for plenty of the bike crashes on the road, but if you can manhandle your bike off it’s bonnet-bound trajectory, everyone’s a winner. But to do that you need to know exactly how hard you can pull the brakes; how tightly you can turn, how far you can lean, how much grip your tyres have got etc. etc. etc.
Unless you’re riding like a twat, you won’t learn what the limits of them things are on the road. In fact you shouldn’t really be getting anywhere near the limit, unless you have to. Until you get on track that is. When you’re on a track, not only will you learn your bike’s capabilities, you’ll learn your own capabilities, too. And with every lap of every session of every trackday, you’ll get better and better.
Once you’ve learnt to ride fast on track, road riding, even at a decent pace, will be easy. You’ll be well within your comfort zone with plenty of breathing room should anything unexpected happen. If you’re riding on your limit and a car pulls out, you’re going to hit it. After a bunch of trackdays, your ‘limit’ will be way higher than anything you’d (sensibly) do on the road. So next time that car pulls out on you, chances are you’ll be alright. You might even have time to flip them the bird.