The street is not the track - It's a place to Pace
Two weeks go a rider died when he and his bike tumbled off a cliff
paralleling our favorite road. No gravel in the lane, no oncoming car
pushing him wide, no ice. The guy screwed up. Rider error. Too much
enthusiasm with too little skill, and this fatality wasn't the first
on this road this year. As with most single-bike accidents, the rider
entered the corner at a speed his brain told him was too fast, stood
the bike up and nailed the rear brake. Goodbye.
On the racetrack the rider would have tumbled into the hay bales,
visited the ambulance for a strip of gauze and headed back to the pits
to straighten his handlebars and think about his mistake. But let's
get one thing perfectly clear: the street is not the racetrack. Using
it as such will shorten your riding career and keep you from discovering
the Pace. The Pace is far from street racing - and a lot more fun.
The Pace places the motorcycle in its proper role as the controlled
vehicle, not the controlling vehicle. Too many riders of sport bikes
become baggage when the throttle gets twisted - the ensuing speed is
so overwhelming they are carried along in the rush. The Pace ignores
outright speed and can be as much fun on a Ninja 250 as on a ZX-11,
emphasizing rider skill over right-wrist bravado. A fool can twist the
grip, but a fool has no idea how to stop or turn. Learning to stop
will save your life; learning to turn will enrich it. What feels
better than banking a motorcycle over into a corner?
The mechanics of turning a motorcycle involve pushing and/or pulling
on the handlebars; while this isn't new information for most sport
riders, realize that the force at the handlebar affects the
motorcycle's rate of turn-in. Shove hard on the bars, and the bike
snaps over; gently push the bars, and the bike lazily banks in.
Different corners require different techniques, but as you begin to
think about lines, late entrances and late apexes, turning your bike
at the exact moment and reaching he precise lean angle will require
firm, forceful inputs ant the handlebars. If you take less time to
turn your motorcycle, you can use that time to brake more effectively
or run deeper into the corner, affording yourself more time to judge
the corner and a better look at any hidden surprises. It's important
to look as far into the corner as possible and remember the adage,
"You go where you look."
The number-one survival skill, after mastering emergency braking, is
setting your corner-entrance speed early, or as Kenny Roberts says,
"Slow in, fast out." Street riders may get away with rushing into 99
out of 100 corners, but that last one will have gravel, mud or a
trespassing car. Setting entrance speed early will allow you to adjust
your speed and cornering line, giving you every opportunity to handle
We've all rushed into a corner too fast and experienced not just the
terror but the lack of control when trying to herd the bike into the
bend. If you're fighting the brakes and trying to turn the bike, any
surprise will be impossible to deal with. Setting your entrance speed
early and looking into the corner allows you to determine what type of
corner you're facing. Does the radius decrease? Is the turn
off-camber? Is there an embankment that may have contributed some dirt
to the corner?
Racers talk constantly about late braking, yet that technique is used
only to pass for position during a race, not to turn a quicker lap
time. Hard braking blurs the ability to judge cornering speed
accurately, and most racers who rely too heavily on the brakes find
themselves passed at the corner exits because they scrubbed off too
much cornering speed. Additionally, braking late often forces you to
trail the brakes or turn the motorcycle while still braking. While
light trail braking is an excellent and useful technique to master,
understand that your front tire has only a certain amount of traction
If you use a majority of the front tire's traction for braking and
then ask it to provide maximum cornering traction as well, a typical
low-side crash will result. Also consider that your motorcycle won't
steer as well with the fork fully compressed under braking. If you're
constantly fighting the motorcycle while turning, it may be because
you're braking too far into the corner. All these problems can be
eliminated by setting your entrance speed early, an important
component of running the Pace.
Since you aren't hammering the brakes at every corner entrance, your
enjoyment of pure cornering will increase tremendously. You'll relish
the feeling of snapping your bike into the corner and opening the
throttle as early as possible. Racers talk about getting the drive
started, and that's just as important on the street. Notice how the
motorcycle settles down and simply works better when the throttle is
open? Use a smooth, light touch on the throttle and try to get the
bike driving as soon as possible in the corner, even before the apex,
the tightest point of the corner. If you find yourself on the throttle
ridiculously early, it's an indication you can increase your entrance
speed slightly be releasing the brakes earlier.
As you sweep past the apex, you can begin to stand the bike up out of
the corner. This is best done by smoothly accelerating, which will
help stand the bike up. As the rear tire comes off full lean, it puts
more rubber on the road, and the forces previously used for cornering
traction can be converted to acceleration traction. The throttle can
be rolled open as the bike stands up.
This magazine won't tell you how fast is safe; we will tell you how to
go fast safely. How fast you go is your decision, but it's one that
requires reflection and commitment. High speed on an empty four-lane
freeway is against the law, but it's fairly safe. Fifty-five miles per
hour in a canyon may be legal, but it may also be dangerous. Get
together with your friends and talk about speed. Set a reasonable
maximum and stick to it. Done right, the Pace is addicting without
high straightaway speeds.
The group I ride with couldn't care less about outright speed between
corners; any gomer can twist a throttle. If you routinely go 100 mph,
we hope you routinely practice emergency stops from that speed. Keep
in mind outright speed will earn a ticket that is tough to fight and
painful to pay; cruising the easy straight stuff doesn't attract as
much attention from the authorities and sets your speed perfectly for
the next sweeper.
Straights are the time to reset the ranks. The leader needs to set a
pace that won't bunch up the followers, especially while leaving a
stop sign or passing a car on a two-lane road. The leader must use the
throttle hard to get around the car and give the rest of the group
room to make the pass, yet he or she can't speed blindly along and
earn a ticket for the whole group. With sane speeds on the straights,
the gaps can be adjusted easily; the bikes should be spaced about two
seconds apart for maximum visibility of surface hazards.
It's the group aspect of the Pace I enjoy most, watching the bikes in
front of me click into a corner like a row of dominoes, or looking in
my mirror as my friends slip through the same set of corners I just
Because there's a leader and a set of rules to follow, the competitive
aspect of sport riding is eliminated and that removes a tremendous
amount of pressure from a young rider's ego - or even an old rider's
ego. We've all felt the tug of racing while riding with friends or
strangers, but the Pace takes that away and saves it for where it
belongs: the racetrack. The racetrack is where you prove your speed
and take chances to best your friends and rivals.
I've spend a considerable amount of time writing about the Pace (see
Motorcyclist, Nov. '91) for several reasons, not the least of which
being the fun I've had researching it (continuous and ongoing). But I
have motivations that aren't so fun. I got scared a few years ago when
Senator Danforth decided to save us from ourselves by trying to ban
superbikes, soon followed by insurance companies blacklisting a
variety of sport bikes. I've seen Mulholland Highway shut down because
riders insisted on racing (and crashing) over a short section of it.
I've seen heavy police patrols on roads that riders insist on throwing
themselves off of. I've heard the term "murder-cycles" a dozen times
too many. When we consider the abilities of a modern sport bike, it
becomes clear that rider techniques is sorely lacking.
The Pace emphasizes intelligent, rational riding techniques that
ignore racetrack heroics without sacrificing fun. The skills needed to
excel on the racetrack make up the basic precepts of the Pace,
excluding the mind-numbing speeds and leaving the substantially larger
margin for error needed to allow for unknowns and immovable objects.
Our sport faces unwanted legislation from outsiders, but a bit of
throttle management from within will guarantee our future.
THE PACE PRINCIPLES
Set cornering speed early.
Blow the entrance and you'll never recover.
Look down the road
Maintaining a high visual horizon will reduce perceived speed and help
you avoid panic situations.
Steer the bike quickly.
There's a reason Wayne Rainey works out - turning a fast-moving
motorcycle takes muscle.
Use your brakes smoothly but firmly
Get on and then off the brakes; don't drag 'em.
Get the throttle on early
Starting the drive settles the chassis, especially through a bumpy
Never cross the centerline except to pass
Crossing the centerline in a corner is an instant ticket and an
admittance that you can't really steer your bike. In racing terms,
your lane is your course; staying right of the line adds a significant
challenge to most roads and is mandatory for sport riding's future.
Don't crowd the centerline
Always expect an oncoming car with two wheels in your lane.
Don't hang off in the corners or tuck in on the straights
Sitting sedately on the bike looks safer and reduces unwanted
attention. It also provides a built-in safety margin.
When leading, ride for the group
Good verbal communication is augmented with hand signals and turn
signals; change direction and speed smoothly.
When following, ride with the group
If you can't follow a leader, don't expect anyone to follow you when
you're setting the pace.