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Downshifting and such



I'm a track school driving instructor for cars and have pretty much defected
to bikes gradually over the last 8 years.  I've been to a couple track
schools for bikes and, while I've figured out that, at 56, I'm too old to be
the fastest guy out there (risk vs. reward), I've got the fundamentals down


There is a lot of risk-reward calculation that has to constantly go on in
your head when you ride twisties.  You also have to train yourself to look
in the right places.   The temptation to take in the scenery on twisty roads
on a bike is not safe at any speed, so just abandon those thoughts and ride.
You WILL get in trouble if you spend too much of your attention on the flora
and fauna.  


Just ride and work on your technique.   As technique improves, risk will
become lower and the risk/reward calculations will allow you to ride a more
sporting pace without riding unsafely.   You need to maintain a good safety
margin for the unexpected on public roads, no matter how desolate they seem
to be.   Things like surprise pavement changes, potholes, road-kill and the
odd surprised oncoming vehicle who doesn't expect anyone else to be on the
road either can and will throw you off your game if you don't position the
bike correctly on the road, pay attention to your sight lines and find the
right gear prior to each corner.   


I've had 3 RTs, an 1100, an 1150 and I'm now riding a 1200.    I use this
rule of thumb when I start riding an unknown set of twisties.   I look at
the speed marker for the turn.   If the first digit is a "1", I downshift to
1st gear for the turn. ("Oooh, I never use 1st gear. I don't like
downshifting to 1st. waa, waa, waa." Learn to blip the throttle enough to
match revs.  You need a little more to get into 1st smoothly, but it can be
done and it's easy once you "get" it.)  If the turn marker says "20mph" or
"25mph", I downshift to second.   If it's "30 or "35" I use 3rd gear etc.
This is not a hard and fast rule, but it's easy to remember and it's a good
place to start.   In some states, the turns are marked very conservatively
and I can use 4th gear in a 35mph rated turn.  I have been on some roads in
WV where 2nd is right for a 30mph turn.  But this is a good rule of thumb to
use.  I've never wanted to be more than one gear higher or lower than that.


The track school guys say you should enter a turn with the engine at about
75% of red line.  That's 4900 RPMs for a 6500 red-line bike. I think this
works better for a sport bike with a 10,000 or higher red-line than for an
Oilhead.  You should be at higher than half of red line, 4,000 to 5,000
depending on the bike, when you enter a turn on an Oilhead or Hexhead.  


How come?   Engine braking is the main reason.   You absolutely don't want
the engine "pushing" the bike through the whole turn and you don't want to
be applying brakes, front or rear, in a turn.   (There are advocates of
trail braking, rear wheel braking and other fine-edge techniques out there.
Please save these for another thread.)  Engine braking is a great tool that
allows you to not only modulate speed, but change the bike's line mid-turn
without upsetting the chassis.   You don't need a lot of modulation of the
throttle.  Smooth little adjustments up or down will have a nice effect.
The bike will seem and will be a lot more in control.   Yes, it will make
more racket.  No it definitely will not hurt the engine.  They're made for


I was lucky enough to go on an Edelweiss bike tour a few years ago.  "High
Alps Adventure".  This is the most twisty-intense tour they offer.  If you
followed the ride leader through long, technical mountain passes, you might
see a brake light from his bike once or twice in an hour of riding.  The
rest of the time, he used the gearing to adjust speed, uphill or down.   


On this trip, learning to use the gears is really a survival technique
because you're riding 3 to 6 mountain passes per day with very short
transits between them.   Using your brakes all day really wears you down.
You get panicked when your technique is choppy.  Braking always throws the
bike's suspension out of whack.  Then, you spend the rest of the turn
recovering.  The people who did not have a good time on this trip were the
ones who did not understand these techniques.  I had a ball. 


Get your shift done before the turn. Get 98% of your slowing down done
before you tip the bike into the turn.   When you enter a turn in the
correct gear, you control the turn.  When you don't, the turn controls you.


The other reason to be in the right gear is that you want to roll power on
after the apex of the turn and power smoothly out.   If you have too high a
gear, the engine is out of its power band and you can't find the power you
need for this.   


There is a ton more to learn, like positioning the bike in the lane, apexing
the corners, site lines, target fixation etc.   Any one of these concepts
might save your bacon some day.   They're fun to learn and practice.
They're definitely worthwhile.   Lots of literature and videos are available
to teach the concepts.  Once you grasp them, you decide how and where to
apply them.  Knowledge is power!!!   





Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2007 18:20:36 -0700

From: Mike Eyre <meyre74@xxxxxxxxxxx>

Subject: Re: oilheads-digest V4 #87


By the sounds, it seems as if you're off the power and in the wrong gear for
a whole lot of those turns... correct me if I'm wrong, but the fashion of
the day when I was through the schools was downshift and get

*on* the gas coming out of the corner, so as not to find yourself in need of
throttle and power mid corner due to an oncoming whatever when you suddenly
need it. Am I out of fashion???