Bend it like Hugger – that’s my motorcycling challenge

Motoring editor Andy Russell is coached on cornering for his Hugger's Challenge by Andy Micklethwait

Motoring editor Andy Russell is coached on cornering for his Hugger's Challenge by Andy Micklethwaite, road safety officer for motorcycles at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Andy Mickelthwaite

Motoring editor Andy Russell wanted to improve his confidence and skill taking bends on his motorcycle so he took up a Hugger's Challenge.

One of the great pleasures of motorcycling is flowing through bends safely for that great feeling of freedom.

Having returned to motorcycling after a 15-year break, I'm competent through bends but not as confident as I'd like.

At first I put it down to being older and more fearful of falling off even though I'd completed the Norfolk police-run Safe Rider course and an i2i Motorcycle Academy control course so knew the bike was inherently stable.

So I took up Hugger's Challenge – a one-to-one 90-minute training session run by Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex county councils – to focus purely on bend work.


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My observer was Andy Micklethwaite, road safety officer for motorcycles at Norfolk County Council and a former police motorcycle officer, who took me out on a meandering country route to appraise my bend work and, with regular stops, we discussed how I could take the stress and strain out of cornering.

And little things make a big difference – here is the advice to gave me:

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Counter-steering

'Although you understand the physics, you were still unsure about applying it. Everyone is doing it whether they realise it or not.

'The simplest way to understand it is that if you lean into the corner, your weight inevitably goes down through your arm to the bars which will push the bars in the opposite direction that you want to turn, initiating lean through gyroscopic procession.

'Doing it subconsciously and doing it with some intent are quite different though. The benefits of understanding this are huge as, if you misjudge the severity of a bend and go in too fast, it gives you the ability to turn the bike in tighter and lightning-fast by giving a nudge on the bars to tighten up the turn. This will almost certainly be a better solution to escape the problem than by braking mid bend.

'Clearly, all our Roadcraft training and knowledge needs to be applied to avoid entering the bend too fast in the first place but to err is to be human and having a back-up plan is always helpful.'

Gear selection

'It seemed that your main problem was likely to be gear selection and so it turned out. Gear selection is a very common problem with riders that we come across in training.

'There is a temptation, particularly with a large, powerful motorcycle, to let the broad spread of torque pull you through in a higher gear. It will often do that, but nowhere nearly as effectively, or as controlled, as being in the most appropriate gear for the circumstances. There is also a misconception with many riders that they are being 'kinder' to the engine by keeping the revs low and using a higher gear.

'Select too high a gear and the bike will not respond properly and drive through the turn, too low a gear and it will react harshly and nervously to the throttle input. Get it right and it will feel tight, stable and controlled, firing you smoothly out of the bend and on towards the next one.

'Once you had the opportunity to play with the gears and find the 'sweet spot' in the power range on each bend, you reported that everything felt much smoother and more controlled. It certainly looked a lot more controlled and smoother. Slow in, faster out!'

Flowing and fluid

'Every section of road has its own natural rhythm. Once you find it, everything flows and links nicely together. If you try and force the pace there will be a lot of 'throttle and brake' going on and it will feel frantic and 'busy'.

'If you go abnormally slowly, while safe, the ride will feel stilted and it won't flow. Get it just right and it will feel safe, controlled and so much more enjoyable. Big improvements were evident.'

Get a grip

'You need just the lightest connection at the bars, they are not there to hang on to, they are there for initiating delicate steering input. If you need to clamp on, it should be with your knees, not with the bars.

'Sometimes you have tightness in your arms and shoulders - this will be primarily caused by gripping too tightly onto the bars. Loosen up, relax more and put some more 'shoulder and upper body' into the turns to make you feel at one with the bike, flowing into the corner with it rather than steering it like you would with a car. You reported that improved the flow as well. Having done Safe Rider, your position and transition through the bends was good and will only get better with practice.'

Observation

'You know how to read a bend using the limit point but that, in isolation, can develop into a 'tunnel-vision' approach to bend assessment. With the benefit of height and the views achievable on a motorcycle, there is a lot of information that can be gleaned from consistent use of the wider views. It might give you clues as to where the road is going, the presence of farm entrances or oncoming vehicles you may not wish to meet on the bend.

'If you don't develop a habit of looking for the wider view, valuable information may be wasted and some key pieces of the jigsaw go missing.'

Verdict

Hugger's Challenge was informative, informal and fun and gave me a valuable insight into what I wasn't doing right but, more importantly, more confidence cornering.

It really is a learning curve and I now know how to develop and practise my riding skills to get to where I want to be.

Find out more about Hugger's Challenge and access the rider skills downloads:

Norfolk – www.think.norfolk.gov.uk/motorcyclists/training/huggers-challenge or email roadsafety@norfolk.gov.uk

Suffolk – www.suffolkroadsafe.net/motorcyclists/suffolk-hugger/ or email suffolkroadsafe@suffolk.gov.uk

Essex – www.saferessexroads.org/road-users/motorcycling/essex-hugger/

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