Mid-Life Rider

rambling through mid-life on motorcycles

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Book Review: Total Control by Lee Parks

March 10th, 2008 · No Comments


Total Control

Lee Parks. Motorbooks 2003, Paperback, 192 pages, $26.95

If you buy just one book on motorcycle riding technique, this would be the one to get. It’s clear, well written, and well illustrated. More importantly, it tells you the good stuff. Starting with “traction control.”

Lee is a “motorcycle entrepreneur.” I don’t know how else to describe him. He writes books. He makes fabulous gloves. He teaches teachers to teach his philosophy of riding (I’m an initiate). He probably does some other things as well, but you get the idea. Being a committed motorcycle junkie doesn’t make his book worth reading, but it’s not a bad start. To save you looking him up, here’s what he has to say for himself . . .

Riding since the age of 12, you could say I have motorcycling in my bones. My greatest joy is sharing the motorcycling experience with family and friends. This passion eventually led me to work in the motorcycle industry.

I started racing in 1984 on the frozen lakes of the Midwest with an RM80-based ice racer. Since then, I have participated in just about every form of road and off-road motorcycle competition, and recently earned my first national championship in the 2001 G.M.D. Computrack WERA National Endurance Series in the Lightweight class. I also earned the #2 plate in the 1994 AMA 125GP nationals.

As the editorial director of Motorcycle Consumer News and Auto Restorer, I had the privilege of scientifically testing hundreds of motorcycle and automotive products, often to destruction. This taught me a great deal about materials, production and quality. I now put that experience to work in every product I design and market.

Looking for a new challenge, I founded Lee Parks Design in April 2001 after spending more than eight years as a professional motojournalist. My mission is to create innovative products and services to help riders achieve “better living through motorcycling,” and help companies better serve their customers. This site is the first step in that direction with a few, select, state-of-the-art items.

There. That takes care of that.

The whole of the book can be summed up in the first sentence of the first paragraph: Riding a motorcycle is really an exercise in traction management.

The book is organized into five sections.

  • Chassis Dynamics
  • Mental Dynamics
  • Body Dynamics
  • Machine Setup
  • Rider Setup

Different people will be drawn to different parts of the book. I’ve read more than a few so some of the content was very familiar to me.

The bits that you should be extra attention to in my mind are these . . .

Steering Technique

I would start by memorizing and then practicing this until it’s second nature.

It is my ardent belief that when cornering, you should use only your inside arm to steer. This includes both pushing and pulling when appropriate.I recommend this because it’s extremely difficult for both arms to put reverse inputs into opposite ends of the bars in precise unison while simultaneously allowing enough “give” in the steering for gyroscopic precision to do its thing. (pg 21)

Suspension

If you don’t know the your suspension basics, this is a good place to start.

Line Selection

Good general advice and excellent drawings of proper lines in the real world.

Throttle Control

I am completely and totally convinced on this one. I use this technique whenever I’m not just poking around town.

After mastering rolling on and off the throttle slowly and smoothly, the next step is to transition back and forth with the brakes. This time, as you slowly roll of the throttle, roll on the brakes. This means you will be applying varying levels of throttle and brakes simultaneously. This may sound strange, preposterous even, but you will be amazed at how this settles the suspension, keeping the bike from pitching forward and backward. (page 63)

I have written about this technique in all my ride reports. For example, here’s a snip from a ride down the Oregon Coast.

The road across the Tillamook forest is brilliant. It darts briefly across farm country and then shoulders its way up and into the woods like some mythic wisp beckoning the hero onward, onward.

I watch the air temperature reading out of the corner of my eye on every approach. The road is shaded as far as I can see and the pavement is still wet from the drenching last night. 48 degrees on the gauge is reassuring, but not conclusive. I don’t press. I look for good lines and move my body off the bike to keep the FJR as upright as possible. I trail the front brake in combination with a live throttle to take up the driveline slack and take out the hitch from right off dead throttle. It’s all about being smooth and I am.

Braking

Lee is a believer in using both brakes. This is hardly a unanimous position amongst riders yet alone racers (very few admit to even knowing where to find the rear brake). I know that on my FJR, the brakes are linked so I’m always using them both in some combination. On Ducatis and Aprilias, the rear brake is for decoration. It does nothing and feels like you’re pressing on wood. Here’s what Lee has to say.

Remember, anything that abruptly interferes with the suspension can cause a significant loss of traction. For this reason, it is important to apply the brakes simultaneously and as smoothly as possible.

Applying both brakes simultaneously will help stablize the chassis and keep it from pitching forward too quickly. (pg 73)

Body Positioning

If you have no experience with “hanging off” the bike, read this chapter more than once. It’s an eye opener. That thing you may have seen racers do on TV is something that all riders need to know how to do. I’ve seen guys do it on dirt bikes (on the road) and Harleys.

The basic idea is to get your mass inside the centerline of the bike before and while it’s leaning over. Not to worry. Unless you chop the throttle closed and coast to a halt, nothing bad is going to happen. Only good stuff actually.

Lee describes ten steps. It feels like a lot to remember when you’re reading it, but with just a bit of practice, it comes naturally.

  1. Reposition the foot (get your toes out of the way so you don’t scrape them). On a cruiser, this isn’t important.
  2. Pre-position the body. This is where the action is. Get at least your upper body inside the vertical centerline of the bike. If you’re riding a standard or sport bike, get a lot more than that over to the inside (looking at pictures helps right about now).
  3. Hold the bike upright by pushing on the outside grip. So if you’re going to go right, your body is off to the right side and you’re now pushing on the left grip.
  4. Find your turn point. Most riders don’t do this. They just sort of go around the corner. Instead, you want to pick a place to turn in and wait for it.
  5. Look through the turn. This is MSF 101. While doing that, definitely scan your line to make sure you’re not missing anything.
  6. Relax the outside grip. I think about “releasing” the outside grip. The feeling is that of the bike dropping into the turn. The first time this happens, it can feel pretty weird. The last thing you want to do right about now is chop the throttle. Maintain some forward thrust please,
  7. Push the inside grip. At this point, if you have your weight to the inside, the bike will be heading off in a whole new direction. Now you can see why you want to find and wait for your turn in point. If you need more turning, this is when you add some counter steer. Gently. Sometimes this feels to me like pulling the bike down to me.
  8. Roll on the throttle. Roll means be smooth with it. Your bike is still leaned over so you’re splitting traction between turning and going.
  9. Push the outside grip. This will pick the bike back up. Keep rolling on the throttle as you do.
  10. Move back to neutral. That’s you and your body back in the center of the bike.

Suspension Set-Up

For many new riders, adjusting the suspension seems worse than witchcraft. Assuming you have a bike that allows for some adjustment, this chapter steps you through everything you need to know to do it properly. You’ll need your owner’s manual, two friends, a tape measure, a piece of paper, a pencil, and a couple of hand tools. It’s helpful if you still remember how to multiply and divide.

So go buy it

There is additional content on gear and some other bits and bobs. Lee spends several chapters on the “mental” aspect of riding. I like these chapters least of all. Not that it’s not important. Read my blog to see how much I think about the mental aspect of riding. It’s just that I find other ways to manage my concentration and attention more useful.

Not wanting to end on a down note, let me go back to where I started. This is an outstanding and useful treatise on how to properly ride and control your bike. It applies to any rider riding any type of bike on the street. Better still, take the class.

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