Slow Speed Control

By Brian P.
June 8, 2004

Maneuvering a motorcycle at low speed (<5 mph) is a skill that even many seasoned motorcyclists find challenging. As speed decreases, a motorcycle becomes more unstable to operate. A good measure of a motorcyclist’s skill is to observe his/her control skills in low speed situations like in parking lots, traffic, and in performing low speed turns.

An important technique to increase stability at low speed is to maintain a controlled flow of engine power to the rear wheel. The key point here is the CONTROLLED application of power going to the rear. Let the engine work for you to increase your stability and control. There is a fine line here, however. Too much power transfer, and although you may be stable, you will not be able to control where you want the motorcycle to go. Too little power transfer and you will lose stability and control.

One of the most important fundamental skills required to operate a motorcycle with control, is effective use of the clutch in the “friction zone”. The friction zone is that range of clutch travel, beginning when the engine just starts transmitting power to the rear wheel, to just before the clutch is fully engaged. It’s a finesse skill which takes time to master. If a rider has problems with stability and control at low speed, it can most certainly be attributed to improper (or lack of) use of the friction zone.

Some riders seem reluctant to use the clutch lever at any time other that when shifting or stopping. This is common to beginning riders and even to some more seasoned, whether it’s from lack of habit or from belief that “slipping” the clutch will accelerate wear. The fact is, motorcycle clutches are constructed differently, they are expected to be slipped in operation. Regardless, use of the clutch and friction zone is a habit which must be acquired through use, and a skill which can only be mastered through practice.

Another important element in slow speed control is the principle of Visual Directional Control. You are most likely to go where you look. While riding slowly in a straight line you can improve balance by keeping your head and eyes up. When turning at low speed, crank your head to where you want to go at the completion of the turn. Don’t forget to keep the head and eyes up, and resist the temptation to move your head back and forth between where you are, and where you want to go. This will most likely be accompanied with a change in handlebar position and loss of directional control. Also in a slow speed turns you may want to use Counter Weighting to improve stability. To counter weight shift you weight to the outside of the seat in the direction opposite to that of the turn, with increased weight on the outside peg. Now, putting all of this in practice for a slow speed turn, a typical series of actions might be to; counterweight, crank the head, turn the handlebars and coordinate the use of the clutch (in the friction zone) and the throttle.

Slow speed control skill, while challenging, is something you can improve upon through application of the techniques just discussed and by lots of practice. With your new found skill will come confidence in knowing you are more prepared to handle the rigors of riding in traffic and the challenges of maneuvering in confined spaces. It’s just another step you can take to reduce your risk while riding. Keep the shiny side up!

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