Outside Edge Feb. 2018

By George Tranos

We ask new riders, what are the primary differences between riding a motorcycle and driving a car? Obviously, most of us know the answers. You have less protection as there are no bumpers, doors, crumple zones or airbags! Riding makes you more vulnerable to the weather and to injury. Motorcycles have two wheels, and as single track vehicles, need to be balanced to ride. As a result, they are inherently less stable than a car.

Riding a bicycle is a prerequisite to riding a motorcycle. If you can’t balance a bicycle, then you’ll have a real hard time with a motorcycle. The slower you ride, the more balance is required. As a motorcycle speeds up, the gyroscopic stability of its wheels takes over. This keeps the motorcycle upright and increasing speed makes it more difficult to turn. This is why riders have more difficulty at slow speeds in limited space maneuvers.

So what’s involved in this balance thing? Are some people just better at it than others? Can you improve your balance skills? Balance is complicated because it relies on many systems including your muscles, eyes (vision), inner ear (vestibular system) and brain (proprioceptive system). Strengthening your core muscles will result in improving your balance and preventing back and other pain. It will also help improve your endurance which will allow you to spend more time riding your motorcycle before you become uncomfortable. Improving your balance will also have lifelong benefits to help prevent injuries from falling. Falls can create fractures and other injuries as we age.

A simple thing you can do to improve balance is to try to balance on one leg. Try moving the leg that is off the ground to other positions. Add upper body exercises like biceps curls while balancing. Make sure to switch legs to equalize muscle toning on both sides.

Vision plays a big part in balancing. It’s a lot harder to balance with your eyes closed. Try just closing your eyes and standing still. Add the one leg balance while you keep your eyes closed. You’ll be surprised how much harder this is! Be careful when trying this at first and make sure you are in a safe area when doing so.

Walking (or running) is also good balance training. Any exercise that employs balance such as skiing, skating, bicycling, skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, etc., will improve balance and stability. Yoga or Tai chi (a form of movement training) have also been shown to improve balance. The Mayo Institute says that, “any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, such as walking, can help you maintain good balance. But specific exercises designed to enhance your balance are beneficial to include in your daily routine and can help to improve your stability.” They have a list of balance exercises that you can try at www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multimedia/balance-exercises/sls-20076853

 

While lifelong athletes generally make very good motorcyclists, anyone can become a better motorcyclist by improving their balance skills. If you’re not yet a rider, riding a bicycle or participating in other sports that utilize good balance will improve your ability to learn to ride. Working on balance skills will help you be a better rider and has the side benefit of preventing falls and maintaining independence as we get older. Practice as if your life is in the balance!