by Nick Ienatsch (Lead Instructor at Yamaha Champions Riding School)
“It depends” is the answer, now, what’s the question? We were making the simple joke observing riders initiating the first steps toward competent MC riding. My friend Jon Taylor, master instructor, was using the “It depends” so often that a rider made T-shirts for us with the answer across the front.
In this article Nick Ienatsch, American motorcycle racer, writer, and top motorcycle riding instructor explain why “Answers to ride better and faster are not absolute and instant. Riding instructors often reply to questions with “It depends…”.
Nick’s book “Sport Riding Techniques”is one of the most illuminating manual for “Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track” and it should be on the top of the list for a translation and publication in Turkish.
For a taste of this knowledge and experience, I decided to post this brief essay.
“We want instant, precise answers to our questions. What time is the meeting? When do you open? How far is Denver? What’s the speed limit? Who’s coming to the party?
We ask questions to gain knowledge, form plans, and make decisions; we go to a riding school with questions that will increase our safety, consistency, and speed. The instructing team at ChampSchool is incredibly motivated to answer all questions, but there are very few times when an instant, precise answer is correct.
Could we give a quick answer? Yes. And those answers are out there, but the push at ChampSchool and in these columns is to give you the general understanding and then add specific actions… I don’t feel there is a single key ingredient to riding excellence; instead, there’s a revolving set of priorities that each rise to the top depending upon the situation. And in those priorities is the realization of how adjustable we must be in our approach to riding. It’s why so many answers at ChampSchool begin with, “Well, it depends…
“Where should I release the brakes.”
- Instant answer: Just before the turn-in point.
- Better answer: Release the brakes when you are happy with your speed and direction. Because we add lean angle in a linear fashion—we don’t flick it, we can trail off brake pressure in a linear fashion. We will often use our brakes into the corner to control speed, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch. It’s called trail-braking and the bike is designed to be trail-braked.
“When should I accelerate?”
- Instant answer: Accelerate through the corner.
- Better answer: An accelerating motorcycle will open its radius, so that means we can’t seriously increase our bike’s speed until the corner begins to open up. We can use a little bit of throttle mid-corner to hold our speed and radius—called neutral or maintenance throttle—but since acceleration pushes our bike wide, we need to wait until the corner begins to open before we accelerate.
“Why did I lose the front and crash at the entry of turn 3?”
- Instant answer: You got in the corner too hot.
- Better answer: A few things could have happened. You may not have looked into the corner early enough, so that put you late to the brakes. You might have been smooth to the brakes initially, but then didn’t build serious slowing pressure. You might have jumped off the brakes too early, giving up your speed control, steering-geometry control, and front-tire contact patch control. You might have added lean angle or brake pressure too abruptly.
“Why did I lose the back and crash at the exit of turn 1?”
- Instant answer: Too much throttle.
- Better answer: Rear grip is made up of lean angle and throttle. You overwhelmed the rear tire with too much of either one: too much lean angle for that throttle setting, or too much throttle for that lean angle. But most of the time it isn’t the amount of lean angle or throttle, it’s the abruptness of one or the other. When you have the bike driving off the corner and quickly dip it to tighten your radius—instant loss of grip. Or you have the bike in the corner and snap on the throttle; not necessarily too much throttle, but definitely too quick—the tire didn’t get loaded.
“What can I do to keep up with my friends on Sunday morning?”
- Instant answer: Man up, twist the throttle harder; you probably need a litre-bike.
- Better answer: Riding beyond your comfort limits on the street serves as a warning sign of impending disaster, so don’t ever feel pressured to keep up; ride your own ride. That said, most riders’ eyes move too late and too slowly. On your next ride, look to your future sooner, scan back to your immediate path, and then look to the new future again. Jump those eyes out and back; seeing things earlier will increase your comfort levels at any speed. Riding discomfort is always tied to low, slow eyes. And secondly, practice your braking often … Much of your discomfort comes from your lack of confidence in controlling your speed, so make a plan to use your brakes more because brakes control speed, steering geometry, and front-tire contact patch. Mastering the brakes, being able to stop hard in an emergency, being able to trail-brake, and being able to stop mid-corner are game changers and confidence builders.
The examples are practically endless, but I hope you see my point: Our endeavour is not math. It’s not “brake here,” “turn here,” “accelerate here”—and if you’ve been trying to ride a motorcycle in that way—in that confined, rote, predetermined way—this column should help you step back and see the adjustability that all the best riders possess.
The nuances could appear to be mystical to the initiate, but a riding instructor’s job is to establish baseline understandings with everyone interested in riding. When we lead students around Inde Motorsports Ranch, those laps have little to do with the follower’s lap time at Inde and all to do with the follower’s ability to adapt their inputs to any road they ride. If this was math, we’d all run the same lap times and everyone would get the trophy. Surviving the unexpected on the street—or winning on the track—it’s the rider who applies the right inputs who succeeds.
Great motorcycle riding is an ever-adjusting dance between road, rider, and machine. At the core of that dance is the rider’s understanding of grip, weight transfer, speed’s relation to radius, smooth initial and final inputs, getting direction, sober riding, ATGAT (All The Gear All Time), vision, mental focus, and always learning from mistakes.”