Riding rough has the potential to put you on your head, as BMW World Superbike racer Ruben
Smooth is good. Smooth moves, smooth handling-it's all something to strive for, and life on a motorcycle is no exception. The end goal of all experiences on a bike should be smoothness. Mix that idea in with being fast, safe and in control and you've got the essence of a perfect ride-something to strive and work for. Indeed, most riders feel that if only they were smoother, they'd become better, quicker and safer.
The problem? That assumption is more complicated than it sounds. In order to expand on the idea, let's analyze the elements of smoothness on a bike, from the hardware to the combination of actions that make a bike go steady, go fast or go home.
There are six parts on your motorcycle you need to be concerned with-the Hardware of Smooth: 1. Handlebars; 2. Throttle; 3. Front brake; 4. Clutch; 5. Shift lever; 6. Rear brake.
With those six controls, there are 18 actions a rider must master-the Actions of Smooth.
The combination of any of these controls and actions changes-or influences changes-in the speed and direction of the bike. Take each of the following points and, using a 1-to-10 scale, grade yourself by asking, "What degree of control do I have over________?" The resulting numbers will be your IQ of motorcycle riding: your SQ, or Smoothness Quotient.
1. Throttle: The initial transition from off to slightly positive.
2. Throttle: Rolling on toward full throttle.
3. Throttle: Rolling off toward completely off.
4. Throttle: Modulating the throttle-less to more or more to less as in controlling wheelspin.
5. Throttle: A quick blip on/off for a downshift or off/on for a clutchless upshift.
6. Brakes: The initial lever pull or pedal press.
7. Brakes: Increasing lever or pedal pressure.
8. Brakes: Reducing pressure.
9. Brakes: Modulating pressure to adjust speed or add resistance as in slow-speed maneuvering or trail-braking.
10. Clutch: Pulling the lever in.
11. Clutch: Letting the lever out.
12. Clutch: Modulating the lever as in slipping it to start off.
13. Bars: Applying pressure by pressing and/or pulling on them.
14. Bars: Releasing any applied pressure or pulling action on them.
15. Bars: Sequential pressure and/or pulling on the bars, as through S-curves.
16. Body Position.
17. Gear change: Clicking the shift lever up.
18. Gear change: Clicking the shift lever down.
The first 15 combinations have a very wide range of adjustment. It's the volume you crank into any one of them that affects your Smoothness Quotient-e.g. twisting the throttle; changing brake lever pressure; quick-flicking the bike or turning it easy; gradually slipping the clutch or quickly engaging it; and so on. The possibilities for making errors and being rough are nearly endless. The combinations leading to smooth are far fewer.
Some very simple combinations are not only rough but patently dangerous. Pulling hard on the front brake while pinning the throttle will result in a crash (unless you're trying to do a burnout). Rolling on and off the gas in a turn is rough. Shifting with the gas going on or off too much is rough. Flicking the bike from side to side while grabbing the front brake is rough.
In contrast, some very complex combinations give great results. Simultaneously using the rear brake, clutch, gas and steering for low-speed maneuvering allows for excellent control and stability.
Number 16 is Body Position. Poor body position has a high potential for creating disharmony between the bike and rider. There are only a few positions that create optimum control and connectedness with the machine. Numbers 17 and 18, related to gear changes, can only be done quicker or slower, but even they can miss the mark because two other controls, the clutch and throttle, are usually involved.
Next time you're on your bike thinking of all the smooth moves you'd like to make, think about your Smoothness Quotient and work on upping your score.