One of the least fun things to do on your road bike is to go slow but having your bike under control at very slow speeds is definitely a skill… and a skill that should be learned and practised often. Various manoeuvres require this invaluable, steady type of control, e.g., U-turns, getting caught in peak hour traffic, riding uneven surfaces, steep driveways.
Even experienced riders aren’t always the best at this, so for those just starting out and those like me who have been riding for eons and could do with the odd refresher, here’s something to practise.
To perform these techniques in a relaxed head space, find an empty car park or something similar where you can comfortably ride about 50 metres without having to turn.
Are you familiar with the Friction Zone? If not, it’s an important feeling, to be familiar with. It’s when the clutch is barely released, where you feel the bike start to creep forwards, without any assistance from the throttle; that is the friction zone or slipping the clutch. Technically, only a fraction of power gets to the back wheel to set the bike in forward motion.
When the clutch is completely pulled in, there is no movement; you’re in gear, the engine is at idle, no forward motion. When the clutch is fully released, there’s forward motion as the power makes its way to the rear wheel.
The control for the friction zone is all in the clutch. Start with the bike in first gear, holding the clutch all the way in. Without using any throttle, release the clutch ever so slowly until you feel the bike start to move forwards… there’s a little bit of give with how far the clutch is released before stalling or going back into complete neutral, so have a play and see what works best for you. This exercise is to get you managing and understanding the feel of your bike at a more intimate level.
That fraction of power from the friction zone is enough to have you moving forward to perform slow manoeuvring in 1st and 2nd gears. If you’re now sweet with all that, here’s something to practise.
Feet should stay on the foot pegs whenever the bike is moving; having your feet dragging along the ground is super dangerous and should be avoided. We are on a road bike here, not out in the scrub. Learning the go-slow technique will help keep your balance, so keep feet on the pegs until you are at a complete stop.
- Head up and eyes looking where you want to go…
- Get the clutch into your comfortable friction zone, adjusting the speed, for this practise exercise, using the clutch only… no throttle required.
- If you need to, apply a little pressure on the rear brake for balance, keep looking straight ahead… keep that slow speed happening in the friction zone, adjust as you need and practise until you can do it without losing your balance or putting your feet down.
See how slow you can go; it’s actually a bit of fun having slow races with your friends, seeing who gets to the finish line last. You know, mostly I can slowly pull up behind vehicles at the lights, or in heavy peak hour traffic by using this method in 2nd gear. With the clutch fully pulled in, I usually still have enough balance for a complete stop, without putting feet down, while waiting for the traffic lights to change.
Now you’ve accomplished slow manoeuvring, you’ll ace these U-turns. As before, get the head up and those eyes looking where you want to go.
A little side-track here… one of the most basic and important skills to excel at is to always look where you want to go. This needs to come naturally so it’s not even a thought process… it’s imperative for your survival because there will be times where you may swing too wide on a corner, or the wind may push you toward a guard rail or an oncoming vehicle; many different scenarios requiring split-second, decisive action. There’s no time to think, only time to act! Instinctively looking where you want to go and keeping that focus is a lifesaver!
OK, back to it! Find some line-marked car park bays, flat surface, away from any troublesome kerbing, clear of gravel, sand and other obstacles, roughly four bays wide. Take note of the area you will turn around in so you are totally confident there is nothing you can run over or slip on. You don’t want anything to distract you or entice you to look down.
- Indicate and turn your head as far as possible to the direction you are turning and pick a spot where you want to go. Do NOT look down, you’ve already checked the area over so there’s nothing in the way and the width is sufficient. Keep that head up, eyes focused on that spot.
- Sometimes a little brake while doing a U-turn helps with balance control; I usually have my foot hovering over the brake pedal just in case. If you’re still learning how to control your bike, just try using the rear brake, applying a light, steady pressure, just enough to offer slight resistance, as you don’t want to stop. Note: using a front brake when doing slow manoeuvres with some bikes can have you off balance and the bike can go down, so stick with the rear brake until you are more confident controlling your bike.
- Counterweighting in a U-turn leans the bike in tighter and assists with balance. It is not completely necessary but try it with and without to see what works best for you. There are a few different ways:
- Lean your shoulders slightly towards the high side of the bike, that is the outside of the U-turn where the handlebar is the highest, or
- Put weight on the high side peg, i.e., if doing a right U-turn, add a little weight onto your left foot peg. (Please note this is only a slow manoeuvre technique, not for riding the twisties around your favourite mountain range.)
- Shove about half a bum cheek off the high side of the seat, in addition to pressure on the high side foot peg. This is probably for the more experienced but fun to play with and give a teensy bit of throttle as well; you can get the U-turn tighter and tighter.
Start off inside the four bays and tighten the U-turn down to two bays. If you have crash bars on, then you are likely to be more confident, as it’s common to drop the bike when learning and even experienced riders can come unstuck with a U-turn. The more you practise though and put your own feel into it, the more second nature it will become.
Slow manoeuvre and U-turn summary
- Feel your Friction Zone…
- Keep head up and always look where you want to go…
- Smidgen of rear brake, if required…
- Counterweight for U-turns.
If it makes you feel more confident, remember each bike is different: higher, lower, heavier, lighter. Practise at every opportunity so when you need it, it’s a no-brainer. The smaller and lighter bikes are the easiest to turn, so if you’re still on your L’s and concerned your heavier and longer bike is too hard, consider lessons with a qualified instructor and use their bike to fine tune your technique, prior to the practical exam.
Remember, even the most experienced riders sometimes drop their bike doing slow manoeuvres and U-turns.
These are suggested guidelines only. The best way to learn the finer techniques is through a licensed instructor in your area.
Some YouTube vids for you. This one from Fast Eddy, Moto Jitsu is a good one to watch, especially for the counterweight technique. He also gives a good explanation of the friction zone, slipping the clutch. And if all else fails, hey he’s kinda nice on the eye…
But if you want to learn how to do one-handed, no-handed or front and back one-wheel U-turns, take a squiz at this!!! ⚠️ professional female stunt rider⚠️
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