How Do You FEEL Your Motorcycle?

Tips on knowing when to react and feeling how to ride your motorcycle.

As soon as the bike is leaned over, roll on the gas. Waiting for it to “feel” settled wastes time.
As soon as the bike is leaned over, roll on the gas. Waiting for it to “feel” settled wastes time.©Kevin Wing

Most riders take a moment to feel how their bike is settling into the corner before getting on the gas. That moment is loaded with not-to-be-ignored perceptions and sensations like feeling the bike’s stability; suspension and chassis compliance dealing with the road; feeling for traction; being aware of the deceleration; checking the direction of travel (line); and gauging lean angle. All these are active and beg for a portion of our attention—and we wait to respond with the gas.

Instinctually, that moment we take to feel the bike seems like a safe, logical, and natural part of riding. The problem lies in the fact that it can last a second or two. Time equates to distance traveled and is further compounded by our body’s reaction lag once satisfactory feel is achieved. Getting back on the gas after braking seems quick enough, but it’s at least 0.5 second, or three bike lengths, at a mere 30 mph—or 12 lengths at 120 mph, on top of the wait-to-feel time.

To convert your turn entries from reaction time into what I call action time, you’d need to be perhaps a second or more ahead of that moment you burn “getting the feel of it.” Bluntly put, instead of waiting for the bike to give you permission to roll on gas, you stick to your plan and do it. Running by plan, the job becomes easier. Contrary to our instincts, there is suddenly plenty of time and attention to spend on the bike. Overcoming the urge (and the barrier) to wait for confirmation from the bike is a major stage in any cornering enthusiast’s development. Converting from reaction time to action time means eliminating the wait-to-feel step. Put yourself and the bike into full control by having a predetermined action-time plan and an ironclad decision to, as in this example, get back to gas.

Put yourself and the bike into full control by having a predetermined action-time plan and an ironclad decision to get back to gas.

My own action-time breakthrough was on a 250 GP bike in turn three at Willow Springs. The turn is flat on the entry and picks up a comforting 10 degrees or so of banking as it goes uphill. I was working out quick-flicking the bike into it while increasing entry speed but hit one of those frustrating “walls of improvement.” My effort level and anxiety were on the rise, but there was no improvement in lap times.

Thinking it through back in the pits, I realized that I had been waiting to feel that moment of “traction/line/lean and speed security” as the bike hit and settled into the banking. I was waiting for confirmation. It had become part of my “plan.” It had become a point of timing for getting back to the gas.

My action-time plan was simple: Start the roll-on the instant I had the bike snapped over, about 1.75 seconds sooner than ever before. I tried it and it worked. The difference in speed, feel, and stability was startling. Setting the plan and converting to action-time opened up a new world of throttle and bike control.

Prior to this, I would have rattled off a list of benefits of waiting, like how that feeling of security the banking offered was a satisfying sensation; that I was getting a lot of feel from the bike and tires; that the positive feedback was comforting; that it gave me a point of timing, a structure, a sequence, and a plan to ride that turn; and that I knew what to expect.

It was definitely rich with satisfying perceptions but complicated and slow. I had a self-created reaction-time barrier. Plans based on reaction time are all as flawed as this one was.