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Loosen Up!

This article courtesy of the Naval Safety Center Smart Ride 2011 Magazine. Please also check out their website, the Naval Safety Center.


You want a smooth ride, but instead, you feel every bump, crack, pot-hole and rock! Shouldn’t the suspension absorb more of that rough ride? Your arms get tired from fighting your motorcycle, even on the smooth roads. Sound like you? Don’t worry. There is a cure for some of your riding ailment, and it doesn’t cost a thing! That’s right, the problem isn’t your bike, it’s you. You likely have something called “stiff arm syndrome.” You got it; all this time the faulty component on your machine was the “engineering nullifier hanging on to the handlebars.” YOU! So what is the treatment?

Loosen Up!

That’s all there is to it. Loosen your grip and relax your arms, especially on the bumpy roads. Yes, your natural reaction is to hold on tighter as more and more road bumps feel like they are trying to fight you. Or maybe you think something is wrong with the bike, because even when you are holding on that tight, the problem seems to get worse.

Well, it will get worse if your arms are stiff. The tighter you hold on, the more you are fighting the motorcycle from making the hundreds of minute corrections it was designed to make. Your motorcycle is an engineering marvel. At least five things affect your bike’s ability to absorb and correct for road surface irregularities. Four are engineered into the machine, and the fifth is the most unreliable, but most correctable system.

1. Front End Rake-The rake (caster) on your fork helps keep your bike riding straight. Because of this steering stabilizing rake, every time you hit bumps, even in turns, the wheel may turn slightly but will return to its center balanced position because the rake makes the wheel want to stay straight. The more rake, the more stable the bike will be. Keep in mind that more stable means more input is required to turn.

2. The suspension system-Your suspension system is made up of shocks. A shock is an input (bump or hole) dampening system made up of two major components. 1. Large weight bearing springs stretch to fill holes in the road and compress on bumps and rocks. 2. Dampeners are hydraulic cylinders that work with the springs to keep them from overshooting center. When a spring overshoots the center at decreasing amplitudes, it’s called the pogo effect. The Dampeners reduce the pogo effect by internally leaking at an adjusted rate. That dampening effect takes place in both directions of movement. When the shock is returning from being over extended, it is called compression. When the shock is returning from being compressed back to center, the state it is called rebound. On many motorcycles, especially sport bikes, there are adjustments for both. In simple terms, your shocks move up and down to compensate for the road irregularities.

3. The steering system-Steering, independent of the rake or suspension system, also corrects for irregularities in the road surface. On a large scale, you can steer away from big bumps or holes in the road. On a smaller scale, the handlebars steer a little each time you hit road irregularities. This affect is even greater the more lean angle you have on the bike. (Note: some motorcycles, primarily sport bikes, have steering dampeners. These dampeners are needed to compensate for the lack of rake on the front forks. With so little rake, the steering overcompensates and can cause wobble.)

4. Tires system-Tires are less noticeable because they are so obvious. The tire acts exactly like an independent suspension system. The rubber acts as the dampener and the air in the tires acts as the spring. Additionally, the traction the rubber provides on the surface controls the tires’ movement through steering. If you have ever ridden on a bicycle with solid tires (no air) you know exactly what we’re talking about. On a solid tire, you feel every bump and the over-responsive steering can provide for a pretty wild ride.

5. The nut behind the handlebars-The most variable component on your bike that influences the ability to correct for road surface irregularities is you, the guy or gal behind the handlebars. The engineering features included in items one through four can be overcome simply by you preventing the machine from making millions of minute corrections. You are fighting your motorcycle if you are holding on too tightly and not allowing the corrections to take place.

From now on, let the bike work for you. Remember that your job is to control the direction and speed of the bike. Let your bike do its job of making all of those road irregularity corrections. You simply need to loosen up!