Slow Control Riding On Motorcycle
Motorcycling isn’t just about the thrill of speed and going fast. It’s also about the finesse of riding slowly under full control, and the ability to handle your machine at walking pace or slower.
Riding slowly is often overlooked and this skill is not practised. Mastering slow control can be one of your greatest assets as a motorcyclist, it significantly enhances your safety, precision, and confidence. Not to mention the worst fear of all, dropping your motorcycle.
In this article, we’ll explore the many facets of slow control, its importance and how it changes when you’re carrying a passenger or extra weight.
Let’s begin this journey towards becoming a slow control expert.
The Essentials: Clutch, Throttle and Rear Brake
Slow control is a harmonious interplay between the clutch, throttle, and rear brake.
When the clutch is released to a certain point it is often referred to as the ‘biting point’ or ‘friction zone’. This is the point where your clutch begins to engage and your motorcycle starts to move (like when pulling away) and is where slow control resides.
Also known as feathering the clutch and subtly balancing the throttle within this friction zone gives you the control to manoeuvre at low speeds. If slowing down, the throttle should be turned off, but if the clutch is being engaged a small amount of throttle is necessary to prevent the bike from stalling.
Complement this with gentle application of the rear brake if the bike does not slow down sufficiently when pulling in the clutch. Some riders advocate dragging the rear brake which can also provide stability in certain situations.
Together, these three controls form the basis of slow control riding. Other skills are required too, they include vision, feel and balance.
Slow Control Manoeuvres
Slow control is crucial in a variety of situations. It is needed to navigate traffic jams when filtering and car parks, to tackle tight manoeuvres and U-turns.
Here, slow control is your best bet especially when filtering. Keep your clutch at the biting point to control the motorcycle’s speed, a good saying is – In to slow, out to go. This refers to the direction of the clutch movement in conjunction with what you want the motorcycle to do.
If required, lightly press the rear brake to slow down. The rear brake can also be used to aid stability if the bike starts to wobble. However, using this method requires extremely sensitive clutch and throttle control as the bike may stall.
This method of dragging the rear brake must be practised in a safe environment first. The bike is trying to be ridden forward and stopped by braking when using all three controls. A preferred method is to use the throttle and clutch to move forward and keep momentum and pull the clutch in and use the rear brake to slow down.
Avoid abrupt stops and starts by using the controls aggressively and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front when following traffic.
The same applies in car parks as it does in heavy traffic. If there is not a lot of space to manoeuvre or it is congested, slow control techniques are needed.
Use slow control to navigate between parked cars or other motorcycles if using a motorcycle parking bay. It is generally safer to park up backwards so that you are ready to pull away when you return to the motorcycle.
This will mean that you will have to use manual handling skills to push the bike backwards into a space. Or if the camber is in your favour (down hill) you can stay on the bike and guide it backwards whilst sitting astride the saddle and paddling backwards.
Also stay alert for pedestrians, people opening car doors suddenly without looking, and drivers looking for a parking space without considering other traffic.
When executing tighter turns, look where you want to go. Vision is key to being aware of the severity of the turn. Riders get this wrong because they look down at the floor and lose balance.
Remain calm and composed with a good posture, head up and look into the direction of travel. Once the bike is moving, continue to use the biting point and steer the bike into the intended direction.
Try to keep your body upright for balance. Remember to maintain a steady throttle and use your rear brake if the bike feels like it is running away from you. You can also dip the clutch slightly to take away the drive.
U-Turns are one of the biggest fears for motorcycle riders. It stems back from when they learned to ride and pass the motorcycle test.
The problem here is that once a test is passed, the majority of riders do not practise this skill. The old saying – ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it’ is true.
The same applies for the U-Turn as it does for tighter turns. Keep your head up for balance, use the clutch bite to control the speed and use the rear brake if you need to slow down.
You must keep your head up and look in the direction of travel but this time you must be aware of the road situation before attempting a U-Turn on the road. Carry out the necessary observations and life saver glances before committing to the turn.
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Impact of Additional Weight
Adding a passenger or extra weight changes the dynamics of your motorcycle, affecting balance, braking, acceleration and slow control.
When carrying additional weight, the motorcycle will feel more sluggish. It will feel completely different and the bike becomes a little bit more top heavy when carrying a passenger.
Adjust your slow control techniques accordingly by increasing the distance you allow for stopping, starting and manoeuvring.
Practise slow control manoeuvres with the additional weight before venturing into traffic.
When carrying a passenger good communication is key. Inform them about getting on and off the bike, holding onto your waist or the grab rails and they must avoid sudden or erratic movements. This can destabilise the bike when riding slowly.
Tips for Mastering Slow Control
Slow control can be challenging, but here are some tips to improve the skills:
Practise means Perfection
Just like any other skill, slow control improves with practise. Start in a controlled environment, like an empty car park and gradually challenge yourself with tighter turns.
Learning and understanding how to control the motorcycle at slow speeds is key to development. Take extra training if you know you are struggling. There are certain skills that need to be mastered to eliminate any problems you may have.
Tension in your body can disrupt your balance and make the bike feel unstable. Keep your grip light, your arms and wrists relaxed and your eyes on the horizon.
Looking down at the floor just in front of the bike is common and is one of the reasons riders get anxious. Losing vision means you will become erratic on the controls, this has a detrimental effect on the machines control.
Always plan your path ahead, especially in tight spots and slow traffic. This allows you ample time to execute your slow control manoeuvres safely and smoothly.
This means having better vision and posture. The problem with looking down at the floor is that you arrive at the location where you are looking. This has an adverse effect on slow control and means you will lose balance and react suddenly if the bike feels unstable.
Fast, quick or aggressive application of any of the controls is a result of not thinking far enough ahead as panic sets in and causes problems. Again, education is key and practise makes perfect.
Mastering slow control is about understanding the subtle feedback of your motorcycle and responding to it intuitively and precisely. It’s a journey that requires patience, practice and an awareness of your bike’s responses (this is known as feedback).
As you hone your slow control skills, you’ll find that your riding becomes smoother, safer, and more enjoyable. It doesn’t matter where you are, you could be in a busy bustling city centre, a challenging off-road trail or practising advanced manoeuvres. All have one thing in common, you must be in complete control.
Take the time to practise and master slow control. It’s a skill that will pay dividends throughout your riding journey, offering a sense of good control and feeling of being at one with your motorcycling.