lessons from msf course
I haven't posted here all that much, though I lurk through all the naked threads and have gotten a lot of good info and met some fine friends. My recent posts have been about going fast, but I've wanted to write this safety post for awhile now.
Before I started riding, I took a local msf course. It taught me a huge amount, but with no riding experience, it was difficult to tell what was important. Now, after 30k commuter miles in 3 years (la freeways and canyons) and a few costly mistakes, a few of the messages really stick out as critical now (though I didn’t know they would be at the time).
First, ABOVE 18MPH, ITS BETTER TO SWERVE THAN TO BRAKE. It's just that simple. When you’re riding, and something happens in front of you, your instinct may be to grab the brakes. But above 18mph (according to msf statistical analysis) you stand a better chance of surviving by trying to go around the obstacle than by trying to stop before you reach it. (Putting this strategy into practice also requires that you always have an out, or somewhere to swerve to. Which is another critical point. But continually keeping track of your outs won’t help if you just grab the brake when something happens). Once you start thinking this one through, it makes perfect sense… but I’ve never heard the point spelled out explicitly anywhere except for the msf course. Turning it into instinct has allowed me to save my own life. (I think this exact scenario has cost some board members some skin and motorcycle parts recently…)
Second, KNOW HOW TO HANDLE THE REAR BRAKE. The rear brake is a critical tool - I use mine almost as much as the front (though in a completely different way). Many new riders are told to stay away from the rear brake altogether (which isn't terrible advice). But I have not seen much discussion of how to react if you do get into trouble with the rear brake (as is likely to happen when someone who is not very experienced with the rear brake grabs it in a panic situation).
One critical piece of info about the back brake, which i have not heard anywhere else except in my msf course, is that if you do lock up the rear, DO NOT RELEASE IT until the bike has come to a stop. Stand on it, keep it locked. Once you lock the rear you are committed to stopping. This is because when you lock the rear it will slide out of alignment with the front. If you release it while the bike is still moving, the rear will regain traction while still misaligned with the front. The result will be an uncontrolled highside. (i think this exact scenario has happened to several board members recently...)
When you realize your rear is locked, your instinct is to release it. But this is dead wrong... we practiced this in the msf course (which i highly recommend). Find a safe area, and then slam on the rear at a reasonable speed (about 10mph should do the trick). You'll see what it feels like when it locks, and you'll get used to holding it on in that situation instead of releasing it.
That being said, I've experienced another sliding-rear situation that must be handled differently. Several times during spirited riding I've been approaching a turn under hard braking, and I've felt the rear start to come around. When this happened I had a big handful of front brake, while applying moderate rear brake. The rear started to slide out to the side as it got light because of the hard front braking. What saved my ass in these situations was MAINTAINING PRESSURE on the rear (not releasing, which would cause a highside, or increasing, which would commit me to locking it up and coming to a full stop) and EASING PRESSURE on the front (which put more weight on the rear, and caused it to start rolling again, still under moderate braking). This is not really a locked rear situation, since there was not enough rear brake pressure to lock it when fully weighted. And it's not a rear-release highside situation because the rear brake is still applied… this allows the rear to settle back into line smoothly.
The caveats are that you need to ease pressure on the front smoothly (a quick release will drop the rear on the ground and probably cause a highside), and that you need to have room to ease off the front brake without going off a cliff or running wide in the turn (which means not riding above 90% to begin with when commuting or canyon riding).
I've ready many various comments here about folks not using the rear brake on the 919 (or any motorcycle for that matter). I guess that is legitimate, but if you’re intention is to not use the rear brake at all I’d say you should just take it off the bike. Otherwise, you’re still likely to stomp on it in a panic situation, and without practice you won’t know how to control it. (Plus, that caliper and caliper mount add up to some significant unsprung weight…)
Just my $0.02...