November 11 2010 by Jason Fogelson
If you ride a motorcycle, you probably like going fast. Even the most laid-back cruiser goes from zero to 60 faster than most sports cars, so your need for speed can be fed at every stoplight. But in most situations, smooth trumps fast. In fact, smooth comes before fast in the list of skills you should be concentrating on in improving your riding. And, best of all, smooth leads to fast, so you don't even have to choose between the two.
I'm not a fast rider by nature. I actually kind of enjoy tooling along at the speed limit, relishing the ride and taking in the sights and sounds of the road. I firmly believe that the best place for speed is on a track or closed course, not on a public road. Safety first.
I don't get to ride on tracks or closed courses very often, but I still want to constantly improve my riding. So I work on smoothness.
Every time I get on my bike, I concentrate on smooth inputs. I pay close attention to throttle application. Even when starting off from a dead stop, I don't snap the throttle wide open. I gently apply throttle, smoothly rolling on the gas while I let out the clutch just as smoothly, increasing throttle as I feel the transmission grab. I pay attention to how the bike responds, striving for a seamless departure from a stop, without any wheel spin or tire chirp. Every stoplight becomes a learning opportunity, as I coordinate throttle and clutch to deliver smooth departures.
The same exercise applies in reverse, when slowing and stopping. I don't release the throttle suddenly; I gently roll off. I don't pull in the clutch with a jerk; I squeeze it to the handlebar in one smooth motion. I apply the hand and foot brakes smoothly, visualizing a foam pad behind each lever as I feel the calipers closing against the discs. I make sure that I don't come to a lurching stop, that I gently glide to a standstill.
On corners, I make sure that I modulate my entry speed, choose my line carefully and keep my eyes high as I swoop through the turn. I try to choose a line so that I won't have to adjust mid-turn, so that I can groove through a corner in one smooth motion, letting the bike lean and return upright naturally. I get back on the throttle as I approach the corner exit, smoothly rolling on the gas as the bike pulls back to vertical. I visualize a glider, swooping though the turns with ease, and I try to emulate that smoothness.
The funny thing is, the smoother my riding gets, the faster I become. I realize that I'm not holding up traffic through curvy sections of the road, even when I'm riding a fully loaded touring bike. Riding smoothly helps me to relax while I ride, with none of the frantic feeling that trying to go fast can invoke.
I suggest that everyone try to ride more smoothly, and practice every time you saddle up. You'll be surprised at how great it can feel, and how quickly fast will follow.