Smooth is Fast: Benefits of Being Relaxed While Riding

Story by Misti Hurst// Photos by Misti Hurst
May 1 2009

We ride because we enjoy the freedom of the open road. We ride because we love the feeling of being a part of the environment, with the wind in our ears and the endlessness of the sky. And we ride because of those moments where the sensation of riding fast is a lot like flying and where movement is all that really matters.

Speed is a remarkable sensation. With speed comes adrenalin, excitement, fear, adventure, and challenge. It is one of the main reasons why we purchased our motorcycles in the first place. We like to go fast!

I’m not saying that we all desire to go Rossi fast, take up racing or to blast by every other rider that we see out on the open road. Fast is that sensation of moving quickly, taking off from a stoplight, feeling the pull of the engine as you twist the throttle a little harder exiting a corner on your favourite country road, or rushing ahead just to feel that blast of air against your visor. We love a taste of speed.

For a lot of people though, trying to ride fast, or faster than what they are normally accustomed to, tends to produce a rough ride. They go from the smooth, fluid motions of riding at a comfortable pace to the awkward, jerky motions of someone who is fighting with the machine. They also tend to lose the relaxed posture that is common with riding at a comfortable pace and become stiff and tense.

As most of us know, when we purposely try to accomplish something fast we allow ourselves to become tense, whether it is swinging a golf club, typing or playing an instrument, we fuddle it up. You have to relax and concentrate on being smooth and fluid, and suddenly the golf ball is flying further and faster than ever before. The same thing happens while riding.

I’ve had a lot of discussion with riders about whether or not you can be fast and smooth. People commonly think that if you do something smooth it has to be done slowly, however, smooth simply means: free from difficulties or problems and to move fluidly without jerks. In my opinion, the only way to ride faster is to execute each control action smoothly and to remain relaxed throughout the ride.

Take throttle control for example. Throttle control is the action of rolling on the gas in order to accelerate and to stabilize the bike. Perform this action roughly with a jerky hand and the bike bucks and wobbles and becomes unstable. You can still roll on the gas quickly, but with a smooth fluid motion that will not upset the bike. As Keith Code says, “Once the gas is cracked on, roll it on continuously, smoothly and evenly throughout the remainder of the turn.” As you get more and more comfortable with this action, you can begin to roll on the gas faster and faster while still maintaining a smooth transition from off the gas to full throttle.

The same holds true for hard braking. Most people can brake relatively quickly while still remaining smooth and controlled with the actions. Bring up an emergency situation where you have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting something and suddenly that action becomes tense, jerky and out of control. Can you brake hard and fast for an emergency situation and still remain smooth with the controls? Certainly.

The key lies in teaching yourself to remain relaxed and in understanding that motions done fast can still be done smoothly. Instead of manhandling the brake lever and jerking it toward the handgrip, work on fast but progressive motions. Get on the brakes immediately and hard, but pull the lever evenly and smoothly the entire way through. Don’t squeeze harder at the end of the motion and try to maintain relaxed elbows and a relaxed back. Practice being quick and smooth with the controls will help to reduce your stopping distance. Squeezing the tank with your legs will help you keep a relaxed posture throughout the entire execution and your stopping will become more graceful and efficient.

Another area where smoothness is a key to riding fast and safe is in steering the motorcycle. In order to get a bike to lean from one side to the other you need to utilize counter-steering. Basically, counter-steering is the action of pressing on the left bar in order to make the bike lean to the left, and in pressing the right bar to lean to the right.

There are many benefits to getting the bike leaned over as quickly as possible. The main one is that the faster you get the bike leaned over, the quicker you can get on the gas and stabilize the bike. Also, if you are lazy with the steering and lean the bike slowly over throughout the entire corner, you have more chance of running wide at the exit.

However, I often notice that while coaching riders on getting the bike turned quicker, their motions go from being smooth and even to being jerky and rough. As they try to turn faster they end up stabbing at the bars and hitting them with tense arms and forceful movements that make the bike tip suddenly to one side. Then they tense their arms and stiffen up to prevent the bike from “falling over” and the entire motion looks rough and hectic.

In order to get a bike turned quickly while still being smooth, you need to press on the bar harder and quicker but progressively and continuously. Again, this can be practiced in a parking lot. Start by doing a series of S turns like you normally would and focus on pressing the left bar to go left and the right bar to go right. Try to bend your elbows and press forward on the bar instead of down, then let your body go with the bike. You should notice right away that it takes less effort to get the bike turned and that the bike will respond better and turn quicker.

From there, work on pressing the bar a little bit faster while not being jerky with the motions. You will be able to get the turn done progressively quicker while still being smooth.

Another important part to remember is that you do not have to continue to press the bar throughout the entire turn. This is somewhat counter-intuitive to a lot of people. Once you have the bike on the lean angle you want and you begin to roll on the gas, you can release the pressure on both bars and the bike will maintain that line until you counter-steer out of the turn. Again, what we are aiming for is a quicker control action, but one that is smoother overall than how it was being done before.

Keep in mind that some bikes will react a little bit differently in corners, but for the most part, a well maintained, well tuned bike will maintain a stable and predictable line without the need to continuously press on the inside bar, or steer it through the entire corner. Press the bar to get it turned quickly and then release all pressure. In other words, relax and let the bike do its thing.

Smooth and relaxed equals faster and safer riding. I tell the students I coach at the California Superbike School to be like good passengers on their own bikes. Most people tell their passengers to sit still and do nothing. These same people would benefit from their own advice. Do as little as possible on your machine and execute the control actions with precision and as much smoothness as possible. You will be rewarded by a safer, more spirited ride.

Be like water, fluid and soft and be one with the machine. Pour out the motions, let them flow from one to the next and enjoy the ride. MMM

Love your ride! Misti

Misti Hurst is a motorcycle racer, an instructor and a freelance writer.

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