Navigating Slippery Bends as a Motorcyclist: A Comprehensive Guide

As motorcyclists, we often dread coming across loose gravel, sand, or a slippery patch in the midst of a curve. The key to becoming a skilled rider lies in being alert and consistently aware of our available traction. Here, we’ll discuss how to approach this challenging situation best.

The Intricacies of Traction

Revisiting the concept of traction is essential. Remember Amontons’ Laws of Friction? The first law asserts that the frictional force is proportional to the applied load, while the second suggests that this force is independent of the apparent contact area.

In simpler terms, these laws tell us that our grip is weight-dependent, not reliant on the size of our contact area. As an illustration, consider placing your hand lightly on a table.

Sliding it should be a breeze. But what happens when you exert weight on your hand? Suddenly, sliding becomes challenging, underscoring the role weight plays in grip.

To apply this to a tire, an unweighted tire is easy to slide, but when weight is applied, movement becomes harder.

This principle is also crucial for slowing down. To stop effectively without losing grip, we must allow sufficient time for the bike’s weight to transfer onto the front wheel.

How to Respond to Slippery Curves

When you encounter a slippery patch, like sand, gravel, or even water, across the road, it’s crucial not to make abrupt movements.

Let the bike continue its course, and keep your fingers crossed. Ideally, though, we should aim to avoid this situation by either steering clear of the slippery patch or, at least, not being at a steep lean angle when we traverse it.

There are three possible actions we can take.

  1. Deviate from our path to bypass the slippery patch.
  2. Adjust our trajectory to cross the slippery patch with a minimal lean angle.
  3. Halt before we reach the slippery patch.

We need to position ourselves on the cleanest and most visible part of the curve to achieve these.

When cars navigate a curve, they lean the opposite way, with weight distributed on the outer tires. This weight scrubs the road surface clean. Consequently, entering a corner from the outer side can help us avoid slippery patches.

Dealing with Slippery Surfaces: Acceleration vs Slowing Down

There is a prevalent belief that the safest method to ride through a curve is to slow down before the turn, then either maintain a steady throttle or accelerate through the entire bend. But what happens when we encounter a slippery patch during acceleration?

Most riders instinctively want to slow down. We could either straighten up and brake abruptly, hoping that we have sufficient grip and road to halt, or we can transition from throttle to brakes while leaning.

The latter option requires gently rolling off the throttle and onto the brakes to allow the bike’s weight to shift onto the front tire, thereby preventing a slide.

However, many riders crash during this transition due to a rushed sense of urgency. The result? Overloading the front tire and falling.

Alternatively, suppose we are trail braking into a corner, doing most of our braking before the turn and easing off as we lean into the bend.

When we spot a slippery patch, we only need to reapply brake pressure gradually. As we were already on the front brake, the bike’s weight is already on the front tire, saving us precious time and space.

Let’s consider a scenario where we don’t spot the slippery patch in time. A rear tire slide can result in a high-side crash if we’re on the throttle or maintaining a steady speed.

This means the rear tire slides over the slippery patch, grips again when it hits the clean pavement and causes a violent crash.

If we’re gently slowing with the front brake, a slide would result in a less violent low-side crash. In this scenario, we might not be able to stop in time, but at least we would have managed to reduce our speed somewhat before encountering the slippery patch.

The Best Defense: Slowing into the Bend

What we aim for, fundamentally, is to afford ourselves the most options when dealing with unexpected scenarios. Accelerating when the path ahead is unclear can be risky.

Even when riding conservatively, it’s easy to miscalculate a turn or fail to anticipate a car pulling out from an unseen driveway.

The optimal strategy for handling a slippery patch in a bend, or any unforeseen obstacle, is to avoid it altogether. To do this, slow into the curve until you can see your exit and confirm it’s clear.

You can practice this strategy by walking alongside your bike and gently squeezing the brake lever. The slightest pressure can help transfer weight onto the front tire, provide more grip, aid the bike in changing direction, and offer more options to slow down further if we come across a surprise in a bend.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve encountered in a corner? How did you navigate it? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

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