Riding Skills Series
Part 2 – Throttle Control
You’ve turned into the corner at what seems to be the correct speed, yet you’re still going wide. You tap the front brakes but the bike stands up and now you’re heading into the grass.
This time, you slow down even more for the same corner. The bike doesn’t go wide anymore but it feels sluggish in mid-corner. The front feels like it’ll wash out at any time and the whole bike feels like it’s going to just topple over.
Next to countersteering, throttle control is another important aspect of motorcycle control.
The motorcycle is sensitive to every form of rider input, regardless if that input is correct or otherwise.
When the lights turn to green and you slam open the throttle, the bike bursts forward in acceleration. You feel that your body and weight of the motorcycle (let’s add them together and call it “load”) are transferred to the rear, while the front tyre becomes “light.” The reverse is true when you brake, you feel the load being pitched forward onto the front suspension and wheel.
Here’s a secret: Pro riders have always exploited these chassis dynamics to their advantage.
The motorcycle slows down naturally in any corner (if you kept the throttle off or stay on steady throttle) due to the centripetal force trying to pull the bike to the outside of the turn through its centre of gravity. Hence, if the throttle stays off for too long, load will start to transfer to the front wheel, causing the front tyre’s contact patch to expand (called “tyre deflection”).
When that happens, the bike will feel sluggish and hard to turn, sending the bike to the outside of the corner. In extreme cases, the load can overwhelm the grip of the tyre and cause it to slide under, resulting in what’s called a lowside.
So what do you do?
- Look for your desired cornering line and apex before you turn in.
- Once you’ve turned and the bike’s heading to the apex, crack open the throttle slightly, and keep rolling it on in a smooth and even manner.
- As you clear the apex, start lifting the bike up while adding more throttle;
- Roll the throttle all the way when the bike has stood up completely.
As note to No. 2 above, if the bike runs wide when you crack open the throttle, it means: 1) Too much throttle; and/or 2) Too early.
The above steps are part of what Keith Code calls Throttle Rule No. 1. It goes like this, “Once the throttle is cracked open, it is rolled on smoothly, evenly and continuously, throughout the remainder of the turn.” Repeat that to yourself everytime you ride until it sinks in and becomes second nature.
It essentially means that once you open the throttle in a corner from a closed position, you need to keep rolling it on. No on-off maneuvers, no slamming it open suddenly, no chopping it off suddenly.
Additionally, it doesn’t mean that you should only reopen the throttle before the apex, at the apex, of after the apex, but more accurately, as soon as possible.
An early throttle application balances out the bike’s dynamics, by keeping excess load off the front tyre. You will find that it’s actually easier to steer through when you turn the gas on.
Besides that, we often hear new riders asking which cornering line is the best. While there’s a certain line around a racetrack or the road, the best line is essentially the one that follows the Throttle Control Rule No. 1, as in the line that allows you to get on the gas as soon as possible.
Another aspect of throttle control which cannot be overemphasized is how it controls traction.
Again, that has to do with weight transfer. Remember that keeping the throttle closed for too long will load up the suspension and tyres unnecessarily. On a racetrack, you will find the competitor in front pulling many meters away from you. Also, you may find your tyres overheating to soon. On the road, it could even become dangerous.
Opening the throttle has the effect of lifting the bike up, consequently extending the suspension and unloading the tyres. This results in the suspension and tyres being able to do their job more effectively in soaking up the bumps on the road. A fully loaded suspension and tyres will be overwhelmed by the bumps and cause a loss of traction.
Another aspect of throttle control is managing a seemingly out of control motorcycle when it slides. You know, you’re flying through a corner when the tyres suddenly threaten to slide into the countryside.
What do you? Chop the throttle?
As with Throttle Control Rule No. 1, if you chop the gas, load will be transferred onto the front tyre. The contact patch spreads out, causing the bike to slow down drastically. Next, the rear tyre unloads even more, causing it to slide around faster and harder, resulting in a “lowside.” Or worse if the sliding tyre suddenly finds grip and flings you over the top, known as the dreaded “high side.”
Again, the answer lies in how you control your right hand.
The best bet is to countersteer on the outside handlebar to lift the bike up slightly (to reduce lean angle) and roll off the gas. An advanced technique, if you learn motocross, is to actually throttle up when the bike slides.
Why? Because the motorcycle is actually looking for a stable position when it slides. Just remember to not panic, apply Throttle Control Rule No. 1 and ride it out. Do you see Rossi going off the gas or turning it on when his bike slides and wobbles? Look closely and you’ll see he’s actually opening the throttle.
In conclusion, learn to open your throttle earlier to help you turn better. Think of throttle as a control interface, rather than just an on/off switch.