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Stayin’ Safe: Riding Like Heinz

Improving slow-speed stability can be fun. No, really.

This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.
This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.

More than any other skill, riders tell me they wish they had better low-speed control. And no wonder; a bike is unstable and heavy at low speeds. It’s a skill riders want to improve, yet most avoid practice. Why? Probably because we tend to avoid things we hate. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid slow-speed riding altogether.

For me, the trick to developing skills has always been to make practice fun. So, let’s play a game or two. But first, let’s consider the basic techniques of slow-speed riding. Sit straight up with eyes looking to a distant target. Place the bike in first gear, raise the engine rpm slightly over idle and ease the clutch into the friction zone. Once rolling, place your feet on the pegs and apply a little rear brake. Modulate your speed by applying more or less rear brake (no front brake!). Those are the basics of slow riding. Now, let’s have some fun.

When riding with friends, try an impromptu “slow race” at one of your breaks. Line everyone up side-by-side at one end of an open parking lot, all facing the same direction and with sufficient space between bikes. This will be your start line. Pick a finish line a few yards away or so (not too far). On the “go” signal, each rider starts toward the finish, riding as slowly, but as stably, as possible. The last one to get to the finish line wins. The first one there buys lunch.

Once comfortable with straight line slow-speed control, try introducing a game with turns. A favorite of mine is to pick another willing rider and begin riding in a circle together at slow speed. Let the bike lean beneath you as you stay upright. Keep eyes up and looking at your buddy across the circle. As you get more comfortable, the two of you can tighten the circle to challenge each other. End the game by steering out of the circle, away from your buddy.

Then there’s the two-wheeled version of follow-the-leader. With riders in single file, one rider leads the group around the lot, making random combinations of right and left turns and even large circles, while keeping speeds slow enough to require the clutch to remain in the friction zone.

With such games, you’ll spend more time enjoying yourself than being intimidated by the bike’s slow-speed behavior. And before you know it, you’ll be riding like Heinz ketchup: smooth and slow.

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