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Easy Does It

I do not presume to be a good enough rider to give riding tips to MD’s readers, in general. Nevertheless, after hearing that Jean-Michel Bayle may come back into American motocross racing this year, and after taking Freddie Spencer’s riding school (which we reported on December 15, 2000), I wanted to pass along a basic technique that all great riders find important.

It is a simple enough technique, but requires a certain level of confidence in the rider. The technique is to take a very light grip on the handlebars.

Many years ago, when Bayle was racing in the United States and consistently beating our best, someone in a position to know demonstrated to me how lightly Bayle gripped his bars. Traversing rough and irregular terrain at high speeds, this motocross/supercross star barely held on to his bars. The best example I could give is holding a soft sponge without compressing it. His pressure on the bars was that light. At the time, I simply couldn’t believe it, but I later understood it was a key to great riding practiced by more than just Bayle.

Freddie Spencer talks about doing the same thing while roadracing. Like Bayle, and many other great riders, he is primarily holding onto the bike with his legs. Freddie can demonstrate this by taking his hands off the bars mid-corner, with his bike at full lean on a race track.

Now, I don’t suggest you go out and try these techniques immediately. When I taught my wife Kim how to ride, I got her to gradually take a lighter grip on the bars. One technique I used was to take her to an empty street in a new development with no parked cars or traffic. There, I had her gradually work up to removing her hands from the bars completely in second gear at about 40 miles per hour. I made sure she was on a bike that was very stable (not twitchy), and she learned that most motorcycles tend to go straight without any rider input. By learning that the bike could be ridden safely with her hands completely removed from the bars (again, don’t try this except under controlled circumstances where you are confident you won’t create a risk to yourself or others), she naturally learned that only light pressure was required when her hands were on the bars.

So here is a summary of my riding tip (actually, Jean-Michel’s and Freddie’s, but I’ll take credit for it). Connect yourself to your bike by gripping it with your legs, not your hands. Your hands gently guide the bars, with an emphasis on “gently”. Sudden or abrupt steering inputs are rarely necessary, even when racing a motorcycle. This technique will not only make you a better rider, you will feel more confident and in control of your bike. You will also be less fatigued after a ride, because fatigue frequently results from gripping the bars too hard.