Tread Envy | CODE BREAK

Keith Code's tips to help you start scrubbing away those chicken strips

Riders know that tires with the sides nicely scrubbed in, rather than worn flat in the middle, are evidence of…what, exactly? More experience? More adventure? More fun? Rear tires ridden right out to the edges, with that well-worked, textured pattern etched into the rubber from deep leaning and hard acceleration, garner secret admiring glances and plainly communicate one thing—this rider has some brass. Freud might have called this condition "tread envy."

While I'm not partial to the term "chicken strips," it is evocative: no one wants to show up sporting chicken strips, and those who have eaten theirs away often exude a rooster's pride. Riders with the chicken-strip stigma all have similar questions: How do you know when the rear tire will slide out? What are the signals? They just want something to crow about, some physical evidence that they, too, are having more fun.

Aside from bragging rights, achieving a feel for accurately gauging lean angle and traction is a critical safety point. If a cornering situation demands more lean angle than you can safely deliver, you become road bait. Alternatives include running off the road or into oncoming traffic, or in-corner braking, which can work with practice but takes time and tends to be a panic-reaction, increasing the possibility of crashing. The ability to use all the available lean angle expands your options.

Answers to the traction question vary according to myriad technical riding skills; in addition, there are mechanical aspects that can be adjusted to help improve your read on lean and traction. One tip is to soften the suspension, especially at the rear, so you aren't feeling every distracting bump and ripple in the pavement. That feedback alone can make a rider wary of approaching traction—and lean—limits. A plush 30–40mm of sag when you are seated on the bike is a good place to start.

Using "track" tire pressure settings can improve traction feedback, too—tires sometimes transmit better grip signals at lower pressures. I've seen good results running popular sport tires between 28–32 psi (cold). Be aware that lower pressures might not be suitable for high speeds, and always check with the tire manufacturer to find what is the usable range for your tires and conditions.

Keeping a light grip on the bars is essential, too. Gripping the tank with your legs stabilizes your lower body, so you can relax your torso, shoulders, and arms. The ground looks further away in a full upright position, so stay as low on the bike as possible. Pointing your chin where you want the bike to go works better than tilting your head to level the horizon. Most humans can tilt their heads up to 35 degrees, but you'll have to lean farther than that to scrub off chicken strips.

If you can't trust your sense of speed, you won't trust your sense of lean. Learn to gauge your entry speed as a pro would, by feel, not by looking at the speedo. As your sense of speed improves, so will your confidence in leaning over. Focus on achieving a progressive—not aggressive—throttle roll-on through the corners, in order to maximize traction and bike stability. Then work on cornering grip, not drive grip. No heroics: Save the hard exit drives for later.

Naturally, practicing these techniques at a racetrack is best. If you only ride on the road, choose corners you are familiar with. The smoother the better; the tighter the better too, because it keeps speeds to a minimum. On many tight, twisty sections of road you can achieve strip-erasing lean angles without exceeding the posted speed limit.

Many riders have no idea how far they are actually leaning over; they feel perilously close to maximum lean when they aren't. Here's a simple solution and a way to chart your progress: Mark a couple thin chalk lines along the edge of your strips, next to the scuffed rubber. When these disappear, chalk again. You are progressing toward becoming a rooster—and an overall safer rider.

This is what a “chicken strip” looks like. The ability to ride your tires right out to the edge isn’t just an ego advertisement; it can also save you from a crash. Photo credit: Zack Courts