Re-edited from OMM Bulletin January 2008
Autumn this year never ends: the calendar reads January 6th but outside, in the rural environment of Trakya, the thermometer reads +13 and the air is balmy and crystal clear.
Sport bikes are not ideal for most of Turkish roads especially in winter, but today is Ducati day and the glorious 916 meets the road off season: Italian twins day on Thrace roads between the Black and the Marmara Sea, drifting toward the Bulgarian border.
Roads, on this European portion of Turkey, are bad: with few exceptions, one faces small and badly paved surfaces with long straights followed by surprising sets of corners, erratic traffic, mud and debris moved in by agricultural machines: the entire scenario is dotted by ugly villages, industrial constructions, unfinished residential projects and the spilling of urban refusal that Istanbul, the big beast of 15 millions, vomits on the surrounding areas. Not a pretty picture but with this weather even Thrace can be beautiful.
The Italian twin will not care: road it is and road must be faced. A briskly pace, picking not only cornering lines but, as important, surface lines… take that corner in style while double swerving around opening holes worth of speleological exploration and menacing cracks at the apex.
The intensity of the ride keeps brain (or what is left of it) working fast and then the real estate motto comes to life: in choosing a property three things are important: “position…position…and position”. Bikes are funnier and faster that a house but position is equally important.
And I do not talk here about “position of the bike on the road”: important but not what comes to mind when body is shaken and, at the same time, stirred. I am talking (and thinking) about position of your poor body itself.
In may year of riding and sharing riding experiences I discover that nothing change your style, technique and results as a correct and relaxed body position on the two wheeler. Get it wrong (so easy) and the ride becomes risky and difficult, get it right and you can relax enjoying a better progression and sharper lines.
Ducati’s are not as famous for comfort and spaciousness: the bike is small, suspensions hard and the position is “sporting”, heavy on the wrists and..denture. In few words, an ideal situation for start thinking about body position.
The bikes talks: take a corner with stiff posture, rigid locked arms, flat feet on pegs… touch a small bump (if you can find a small one)… the front feel vague, the bike head start shaking, the back tire wobbles and the entire process turn scaring.
Here you do not have too many choices but to listen: Volvo drivers take possession of the road, they cut big portions of your lane with nonchalance, happy fathers brake in front of you for no reason other than showing to kids “that red shining bike”, joyous bus drivers slalom between potholes moving, without warning, between English and European lane discipline. You have to stay on your toes.
Positioning the balls of feet on the pegs is the key to keep mobility on the bike: this position of feet gives first of all great sensitivity on what the bike is doing. Furthermore it allows moving the entire body around rapidly and effortlessly. Big hole coming… impossible to avoid it… just press on feet/legs and raise your bum from the saddle leaving the bike free moving under you and absorbing most of the impact. The position is further improved by turning the feet toward the chassis: more leaning angle and better hold of the legs against the bike. The inconvenience of having to move the feet to reach gear and brake levers is amply overrun by the mobility and control advantages.
Balls of feet on pegs also mean better position of the knees locked against the tank. Your legs hold the bike releasing pressure from arms. Knee pressure on the opposite side of the corner helps the control of leaning and steering contributing to a constant and clean line throughout the bend.
Old, but good, bikers used to say that if at the end of a ride your arms are more tired that your legs you still have a lot to learn. True, the entire mission is to keep the upper body, shoulders, arms and hands free of weight/tension to attend the delicate work of steering, braking, throttle control. Sitting on the saddle like you would sit on your favorite armchair is not as good as it sound and this is true for all types of bikes, tourers, choppers, cruisers, sport, trellies.
Besides making your lower back sore after few kilometers, a flat or back hips position may damage the spine allowing all forces from the road to hit without buffer. Moving the hips forward toward the tank and arching the back to the handlebar call all middle muscles (back and abs) to work keeping the entire body stable on the center while braking or accelerating.
Some of my friends, victims of Rossi-mania, spend a lot of time moving around the bike in the elegant attempt to lean and lean and lean till the knee kisses the ground. It is good on circuit but quite useless on road riding: focusing on shifting weight on the saddle takes the finesses out of riding and adds unnecessary work during the crucial moment of cornering. A disciplined and, at the same time, relaxed middle-body position (hips forward and spine arched) combined with a good knees-grip on the tanks is more the sufficient and efficient in keeping bike control throughout difficult surfaces and tight lines. Additionally you can move your head and shoulder toward the mirror on the inside-side of your corner.
Shoulder’s position is the base for relaxed arms and good vision ahead. Tense, up-raised shoulders are always, when riding, a symptom of mental tension and physical discomfort. Shoulders should lean slightly forward continuing the arch of the spine and the tension must be taken out completely. Shoulders must drop down, in a relaxed way, taking tension from arms and allowing the head to rotate freely in order to scan the horizon.
With spine arched and shoulder dropped forward the head position must be raised to reach the extreme limit of the horizon. Not only look well ahead but, more specifically, look at the “absolute limit of view”, the road’s vanishing point.
A tightly comfortable helmet and the correct collar of the jacket must permit free movement of the head without any restriction of movements.
The correct position of the head and shoulders is determined in major part by the position of the arms; this is the point to check and re-align with frequency during the ride.
The objective for the correct position of the arms is to reduce at the maximum the tension on the bars: to this goal arms should be relaxed, with elbows bent and inside. In this way arms operate as an additional pair of shock absorbers buffering the hits coming from the road (see potholes). Conversely tense and locked arms amplify any small movement coming from the road-tires-chassis making the ride erratic and jolting. Tense arms means as well tense grip on the controls: tight gripping hands loose the feeling and the smoothes of throttle control goes with the wind.
Bent elbows allow the lower part of the arm to be in line with the hands and levers facilitating the pushing (steering) of the bar.
A good setting of the levers (to be in straight line with lower arm and hand) not only provides better (easier) steering but also reduces fatigue and the risk of carpal syndrome. This is an easy job that can be performed in all bikes.
Biking is a sporting activity and, as such, requires a good level of fitness: being able to assume and maintain a correct position is the important indicator of the level of fitness. It keeps biking as a joy without pain, permits concentration and vision determining factors of safe biking.
The next time the road hits you and shakes body and bike check your position: better, make an habit to check and relax position frequently during the ride: California Superbike School’s instructor ask the riders to wave elbows, as dancing chickens, in the middle of the corners in order to visually show total relaxation on the saddle.
Play “flapping chicken wings” often and all rides will turn safer and more pleasant.
Now, where was I? That’s right … Position…position…position and keep looking around. There’s always something you’ve missed.