Posted On 22 Mar 2024
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This entry is part 11 of 30 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#25


I was one of half a dozen on Skillmaster’s inaugural Newcastle one day ‘Upskilling’ course; both sexes and all sorts of experience/inexperience and a variety of bikes from cruisers to naked street bikes to massive tourers. Mine was a naked 650 v-twin.

The course was held, of course, on a course. In this case, a bitumen surfaced go-cart track. It was ideal.

A relatively short circuit on the side of a gently sloping hill, it had a good surface, plenty of tight turns with varying degrees of camber and with a couple of double apex corners. By use of some witches’ hats, our tutors Paul and Patrick were able to plot out a route which met the needs of the day.

First we had a sit-down tutorial, complete with PowerPoint displays and a white board. Then, after checking and adjusting various brake, clutch and gear levers on our bikes we headed out to practice turning. The three most important lessons of this part of the day were:


This was not news to me. I’d been taught it 40 years ago when learning to drive. In fact, it doesn’t only apply to cornering. I remember being taught to “watch the horizon” when driving on country highways. Of course, having been taught it once, doesn’t mean I was in the habit of doing it. I wasn’t. I find it quite counter-intuitive. Most people (and certainly I) tend to look at the road some medium distance ahead of the bike. That is, our gaze tends to travel with the bike a few, or a few tens of, metres in front of it. This was precisely what we were told not to do.

The way Paul taught it, you had to fix your gaze on the point of the road where you wanted to be when the turn ended.

This took a fair bit of concentration.

So, for example, if you entered a 180° corner with no trees or walls obstructing your view, you had to start the corner with your head turned 90° across your shoulder and your eyes fi xed on the point where the corner ended. At times, this meant you were fi xing your gaze well and truly behind your shoulder.

You had to ‘keep an eye’ on the road surface and the margins of the road with your peripheral vision only.

As I say, for me this is not natural; and even though I’ve been practicing it diligently since doing the course, I still find myself reverting to old ways. The trick is to trust the bike and the road surface. It turns out that they will stick together even if you’re not staring directly at every square centimeter along the way!


This is also something I had come across before and had forgotten.

Essentially, it’s the practice of keeping your upper body upright while cornering rather than leaning with the bike.

I learned to ride on a mate’s early ‘70s Honda TL125, going up and down steep banks of dry creek beds and using the river banks in much the same way as a skate boarder uses a half-pipe. Doing that, it was natural to turn the bike by pressing your knees against the tank and pushing against wide handlebars. So, if I wanted to turn to the left, I’d pretty much push the bike away from me to the left. The result was that the bike leaned but I didn’t. More often than not, I’d be doing this standing up or, at least, with most of my weight off the seat.

After I got my license, I graduated to road bikes and I was taught to do the opposite. That is, to lean with the bike and, indeed, to lean further than the bike. This made sense – or so it seemed to me. Travelling together, the bike and I are one body of mass. The more my weight was being used to turn into the corner, the less the bike itself had to lean.

Paul teaches that my former practice is the better one, even on the road and even at speed. Instead of leaning your body into a corner, you push (not turn) the handlebars into the direction you want to turn. The bike will do the rest.


Now, this was new to me. It involves simultaneously using the rear brake, the clutch and the throttle. As a teen, I had been taught that to ‘ride the clutch’ was a motoring sin. Now I was being taught it was a virtue; and, boy, doesn’t it make riding easier when you’ve finally got ‘permission’ to do it.

Among other things, it gives an extraordinary ability to balance the bike at extraordinary low speeds.

That said, it is still a skill which has to be learned and practiced. Paul does this through some very slow riding exercises: Figures of eight, witches’ hat chicanes and the like. As Paul accurately pointed out, most riders look their most uncomfortable and ride most clumsily when trying to do a U-turn. I know that I find doing tight U-turns on, say, a large cruiser one of the hardest aspects of motorcycling. This lesson is just what you need to overcome this discomfort.

Also, this skill is particularly useful when lane-filtering. Keeping various cars’ mirrors clear of the bike’s handlebars or mirrors at sub-5 km/h without putting a foot to the ground may not turn any heads but it sure feels like you’re in charge.

Throughout all of these lessons and practice sessions, Paul and Patrick were watching our arms and shoulder for rigidity. It’s remarkable how easily you stiffen up when concentrating on something new or difficult. Again and again – and despite every effort to remember for myself – either Patrick or Paul would point to me (thankfully, not only me) and flap their chicken winged shoulders to tell me to relax.

In the afternoon it was speed time.

In particular, lessons and practice on emergency braking and emergency obstacle avoidance. Unfortunately, I had to miss out on this. I was familiar with the theory – set up the transfer of weight to the front and then squeeze smoothly and as firmly as the circumstances permit. It was a pity I couldn’t practice this on the day. It’s easy to say that emergency stopping is something which can and should be practiced frequently; but who actually takes the trouble to do it on public streets? I looked on as the others practiced some hard braking on the race track with an instructor watching them.

It looked like fun.

I’ve been riding for about 35 years. I should have done a course like this at least a couple of decades ago – about the time my bad habits were becoming entrenched. Better late than never, though.

A bit of bad luck

The session started on time – of course, I mistimed my trip and arrived a bit late.

We were being taught how to use our rear brake gently – of course, my disc was warped.

We were being taught how to ride slowly and smoothly with a constant drive tension on the rear wheel while braking – of course, my chain had a tight spot.

We were being taught how to slip the clutch while braking – of course, my clutch was slipping a bit without my help.

We were doing tight turns, chicanes and figures-of-eight – of course, I had a 24 hour bug which made me very queasy. In fact, I had to sit out the last session.

But it was still a highly valuable day.

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Australian Motorcyclist Magazine is Australia's leading motorcycle travel magazine.
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