Back when I used to race a Yamaha TZ250, I developed a habit of always having one finger resting on the clutch lever. If you examine photos of riders on Grand Prix bikes, you’ll see that many did the same. This is not because we slipped the clutch on the way out of a corner as motocross riders do; it was more of a preventative measure to allow us a better chance of surviving an engine seizure.
Two-strokes make their best power at lean air/fuel mixtures, but this also puts them at the risk of a piston seizure due to the detonation that often occurred if the engine tuning was a smidge too far over the edge…and a piston seizure usually results in the engine locking up solid, meaning a locked rear wheel. And if that happens in a corner, you can imagine the results if a rider wasn’t able to pull the clutch lever in time.
But long before I raced a two-stroke, I made a habit of keeping one finger on the front brake lever when I rode on the street. The reason is simple: it allows me to react that much quicker to the front brake — the most effective brake on a motorcycle — if I needed to suddenly slow for a road hazard. Think about it: at just 50 mph, you are traveling at more than 73 feet per second, meaning that cutting fractions of a second off your reaction time can be crucial in the difference between a near-miss and a collision. Instead of being able to immediately apply the brake, precious fractions of a second are wasted releasing your grip on the throttle and reaching for the brake lever.
Granted, the front brakes on most modern sportbikes are strong enough to provide enough power for very aggressive braking with one finger (if you can’t generate enough braking with one finger, you can try resting two fingers on the lever, although that requires a little more dexterity with your right hand, and I’ve found it tiring after long periods). And there’s another benefit to this technique: it prevents you locking up the front wheel with a panicked grab at the front brake lever that could result in a crash.
I also ride with my foot over the rear brake pedal for this very same reason. It not only cuts reaction time (picking up your right foot and finding the rear brake pedal takes even more time than reaching for the front brake lever), but it also allows a better modulation of the pedal pressure to prevent rear wheel lockup in a panic-braking situation.
Another technique that has saved me countless times on the street is mentally planning escape routes as I ride. It may sound complicated on the surface (“How can I look around and imagine escape routes while I’m paying attention to traffic?”), but with experience you’ll find that it becomes easier and takes very little attention from your riding. And I’m not talking about some elaborate plan that takes you all the way to a stop; I’m referring to just avoiding the imaginary hazard that jumps into your path.
The biggest benefit of mentally planning escape routes is that when an incursion into your path does happen, you’re not only prepared for it, but the chances of you target-fixating on the hazard (the main obstacle to avoiding a collision in most traffic accidents in my opinion) are greatly reduced because you’ve already visualized the situation. When you are taken completely by surprise, it’s very easy to target fixate on the hazard because your mind quickly focuses on the threat first to determine the situation. With the scenario already put together in the back of your mind, your thought process — and hopefully your control actions (you have practiced emergency countersteering and braking at some time, right?) — becomes streamlined to the point that you’re already “ahead” of the hazard…basically the same sort of technique you’d use to tackle your favorite twisty road or racetrack.
It may sound a bit cliché-ish to tout mental and physical preparedness before riding a motorcycle, but when it come to riding on the street, your survival may depend on it. SR