May 12, 2006

Road blocked

I was out for a motorcycle ride with some people and one of them told me, over beer later, that he nearly had a crash. Because he came round one mountain road corner to find a rock the size of a helmet sitting on his line. He said he didn't know he made it around that. So I thought I post up some ideas about what to do in that situation.

First, don't look at it. A rock in the middle of the road should be treated like cleavage (borrowing this bit from Seinfeld, sorry). You get a sense of it and look elsewhere. This is important. Whether you like it or not, whether you realise it or not, target fixation does happen. Look at it and you probably will make contact with it (does not work for cleavage and girls. Well, at least it doesn't work out well for the looker, er... you). So where do you look? Look where you want to go. If you want to go around it, your eyes should zoom in on the new line that you need to take.

Second, what is your level of commitment? If you're riding a road you don't know, our man was, you should not be committing to any corner hundred per cent until you can see the exit. No exceptions. If you do know the road (my experience says you need to ride five or more times before you can), commitment levels can be higher. A full hundred per cent commitment works only at the race track. Which is an environment that rewards that kind of riding, and has physical precautions and safeguards (you hope) should you run out of tarmac.

Third, so you've come upon something in the road, and let's say it spans the road. That means there, basically is no going around it. In that situation, the one thing you do not do is arrive on top while still on the brakes. You want to give the front suspension a fighting chance of absorbing as much of the shock as possible.To do that, you brake as hard as you can, as long as can, but you must actually cross the say, tree branch, with the throttle opened, front suspension fully expanded. Dirtbike manuals say, wheelie over it. Momentum helps. If you don't have enough momentum, your rear wheel may not cross the log and you could get stuck. And find yourself flipped over the handlebar as inertia carries you over. Or worse. So, you need to consider how much you need to slow down. One factor in that might be where in the corner the obstruction is. At the apex? You need to keep the speed low, so you don't run wide, for instance.

Just like the front suspension, you need to give the rear suspension a chance too, right? For this, you need to roll off the throttle as soon as the front wheel is past the log. If you're agile, you should already be standing, now would be a good time to move your weight forward and 'lighten' the weight on the rear wheel.

Fourth, now that you have cleared it. It would be responsible of you to do what you can to remove the obstruction. Again, if the corner is blind, remember that a motorist coming around may not see you, or the obstacle in time. So be careful.

Fifth. Suppose the obstruction is not a log, but a hole, then what do you do? Surprise, the answer is almost the same. You still want to slow down a bit, but be accelerating when you cross it. If you're on the power, the front wheel should skim past the lip and cross right over without even a jar (the front suspension will expand once the road surface falls away). Stand up. For the rear suspension, unless you're going really quick over it, will expand and catch on the exit lip of the hole. This will result in a fairly large spike which you can dampen better standing up.

Sixth, in either case, before you apply the throttle/brakes drastically, it's always good to check who is behind you. If he has not seen the log/hole, he won't be expecting you to brake that suddenly. So give him some sort of warning before you grab one of the controls.

Seventh, this sort of obstruction can cause a crash. So you're best fully kitted out - helmet, jacket, gloves, boots and pants. Since we cannot predict where these obstructions lie, you might as well wear them everywhere. I do.

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