Mountain Roads

George_Tranos_Outside_EdgeThe Outside Edge

by George Tranos

Going around corners is what most motorcyclists live for. If you’ve ever been on a really curvy road and didn’t want it to end, then you know what I’m talking about. When I mention curves, I don’t mean the onramp to the interstate. There are some seriously twisty roads in our area. Thinking about this, imagine mountain passes in the Adirondacks, Green or White mountains. These regions are an immense draw for riders in good weather.

Of course, we are not the only region of the world that has great motorcycling roads. North America has the Rocky Mountains, Appalachians, Pacific Northwest and other great riding locations. Europe is blessed with mountain passes, switchbacks and serpentine roads that bisect the continent. Riding the Alps is a dream that many riders from all over aspire to someday do. Having had the good fortune of riding there, I can tell you that it is all that you could imagine. The Passo di Stelvio in Italy has dozens of hairpins on both sides. It rises to 9,045 feet and has a ski area and resort town at the top that is a mecca for motorcyclists. You see all types of bikes there, with most on a multi-day tour of the Alps.IMG_5556

Riding these types of roads requires skill. Whether ascending or descending the mountain, an off-camber, decreasing radius hairpin turn will make your hair stand on end. It is here that truly skilled riders can hone their technique and have a lot of fun. Those who fear curves should not tread because poor performance can be deadly. Sheer drop-offs, minimal guardrails, stone walls, major elevation changes and gawking tourists can all provide challenges and hazards.

Riding in this alpine environment can have great rewards. Beautiful roads, little traffic and unbelievable vistas make for a picture postcard experience. Add in the challenge of going around turn after turn for miles on end and a serious motorcyclist is in heaven. One of the interesting things about riding in the Alps is that just about everyone is wearing full gear. There are no riders with flip-flops, shorts and beanie helmets. These are serious roads and most riders choose to reduce risk by wearing jackets, armored riding pants, motorcycle boots, gauntlet gloves and full face helmets. One mistake can be extremely costly and protective gear can increase comfort and minimize potential injury.

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Rider skill and training is another area that is taken seriously. Those who ride these roads develop the proper way to go around curves. For those used to only straight, flat roads, the difference can be startling. Up and around, down and back, the roads serpentine on themselves, weaving their way up and down the mountains. Having the ability to read the road, look far ahead and determine the curve, camber and condition of the roadway is a skill that is required for survival.

Basic rider training stresses the go in slow, come out fast method of cornering. That way provides the most safety margin in case the curve tightens or you can’t see all the way through the turn. Setting the proper entry speed becomes paramount and is an art as well as a science. Having hundreds of turns linked together gives a rider plenty of practice getting this right. It is best, however, to have a good understanding of this concept before traversing a seriously twisty road.

Like the racers do at the track, having the ability to adjust your entry speed when entering the curve is a skill that advanced riders use to scrub off speed at the beginning of the turn. This “trail braking” technique allows the rider to initiate the turn while still braking. Traction must be managed so that braking forces are reduced as cornering forces are added. A delicate balance must be maintained in order not to exceed the traction limit of the tires. A good feel for releasing the front brake slowly is needed so the front suspension doesn’t unload too quickly and upset the stability of the motorcycle.

The place to try this for the first time is not on your ultimate alpine adventure. It is best to practice under the watchful eye of a good track day instructor. Once learned, trail braking becomes another tool in your riding skills arsenal. Just be careful to not exceed your riding skills and traction limits and leave yourself a margin of safety whenever your ride. So keep looking for those curvy roads, keep the rubber side down and ride the outside edge!

 

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