If you are a new rider or maybe even an experienced rider, you might have heard people talk about how important being a smooth motorcycle rider is. So you are curious how to achieve this. Perhaps that’s what brought you here, or maybe you just saw the title and clicked on it purely out of curiosity. Whatever the reason, here you are. So let’s answer the question, how to ride a motorcycle more smoothly?
In order to ride your motorcycle more smoothly, you need to work on how you use the throttle, clutch, brakes and steering. Basically any inputs you send to motorcycles need to be fluid, continuous and smooth. You need to try to plan your inputs well in advance by scanning down the road for hazards and changing road conditions. The more time you give yourself, the easier it is to stay relaxed and calm with your inputs. This allows you to avoid last minute jerky or aggressive moves.
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to it, read on to find out more.
What is smooth riding on a motorcycle?
Simply put it is the action of controlling your motorcycle in such a way that everything is deliberate and doesn’t upset the handling of the motorcycle.
This can be something as simple as paying attention on the road and anticipating the actions of motorists on the road, lowering the number and frequency of close calls or emergency maneuvers you have to perform.
To the more advanced things like working on how you take corners and shift gears. It all adds up to an overall smoother riding experience.
How to ride a motorcycle more smoothly?
Before working on being a smoother motorcycle rider, you need to practice the basics first. There’s no escaping the basics.
So if you are completely new, take this into consideration before you try some of these techniques. You need to learn to walk before you can run.
That said here’s what you need to do to be a smoother rider:
1. Master the clutch.
Learn to love the fraction zone, it’s your friend. Mastering the clutch will do wonders. Everything from faster smoother shifting, to better control during slow speeds.
By using the clutch correctly, you can easily regulate your speed during slow speed maneuvers or lane splitting.
You don’t even need to roll off the throttle, keep the throttle constant. Then just slip the clutch in and out of the friction zone. Trail the rear brake a little and “Bob’s your uncle”.
One great advantage is you don’t have to worry about the bike surging forward unexpectedly if you give it a bit too much throttle, the clutch will smooth it out. Mastering the clutch is really key to being a smoother rider.
2. Drag the rear brake.
If you live somewhere that allows lane splitting or filtering, then if you are not already doing this, you are making your riding much more difficult.
If you have a larger or heavier motorcycle, slow maneuvers and lane splitting can be a bit tricky. This is especially true when you are lane splitting.
Trying to nudge and squeeze your way through the maze of car mirrors. If you are not dragging the rear brake, this becomes even more difficult.
Dragging the rear brake evens out and smooths the power being delivered by your engine. This prevents that surging or lunging you might feel when performing slow maneuvers.
It’s pretty easy to do, just get your foot on the rear brake and apply just enough pressure that if you pulled the clutch in fully, you would start to slow down.
I’ve noticed that I’m a lot less wobbly and feel more confident in the balance of the motorcycle when I do this at low speeds.
3. Easy on throttle.
As you accelerate, the weight distribution of your motorcycle starts to shift towards the rear of the motorcycle. This shifting is what causes the surging feeling you get when riding.
Normally this sensation is perfectly fine and can actually add to the enjoyment of riding. Provided of course, you smoothly, evenly and continuously roll on the throttle.
However if you are rough with the throttle, it is anything but. Your goal when using the throttle, is to roll it on or off in a continuous, smooth and controlled manner.
Don’t just chop it or crank it in a turn. Chopping or cranking the throttle causes the weight to shift quickly, which upsets and changes the steering geometry.
In a straight line, this doesn’t really matter unless your front wheel comes up, but mid turn, while leaned over is another story. It’s not a good idea and will probably result in a crash.
It can even cause you to run wide in the turn. Instead, your goal when using the throttle is to try to upset or shift the weight of the motorcycle as little as possible.
That doesn’t mean you have to be slow on the throttle, just be smooth and continuous.
4. Look down the road.
It doesn’t matter what the road conditions are, you should always be scanning as far down the road as possible for hazards, as well as assessing the road conditions ahead.
This will allow you to better plan your speed, get ready for that sweeping curve coming up, select a better lane position or let you know well in advance when you need to slow down and stop.
Planning ahead for things like this, you avoid last minute maneuvers and it cuts down on small things becoming a major problem. Resulting in you being much safer and smoother rider on the road.
5. Slow down.
It can be easy to get swept up in the fun and excitement of riding your motorcycle. But if you want to have a smoother ride, slow it down a bit.
Not only will this improve your fuel efficiency, it will also give you much more time to react to road conditions.
This lowers the amount of times you have to quickly squeeze that front brake. Resulting in a smoother experience.
6. Find a relaxed body position.
I’m not saying you gotta be all laid out like you are sitting in an easy boy recliner. You still need to mentally focused, but your body shouldn’t be all tense and cramped up.
Instead you need to find a relaxed and comfortable position on your motorcycle. One that also still allows you to properly control and handle the bike.
When your body is more relaxed and comfortable, it becomes a lot easier to be fluid and smooth with your inputs.
Think of your motorcycle like a mirror, it reflects your actions back to you. So if you are calm, relaxed and smooth with your inputs, your motorcycle will also be relaxed, calm and smooth. The correct body position allows this to happen.
7. Brake earlier.
Instead of waiting for the last possible second to stop for that stop sign, try to start to slowing down earlier, give yourself more time to come to a full stop.
Again, this comes back to the relaxed mentality. You need to slowly and gradually increase the braking force when you are braking.
So give yourself more time to do this. It will help you have a smoother ride, but also if you get into the habit of gradually increasing the braking power, then when the time comes that you do need to quickly stop, your mind and body will be well trained to do so.
Your muscle memory will kick in and you will gradually increase the braking power until you stop. Hopefully preventing a crash.
I can’t stress this enough, get out there and practice. Your daily commute is not practice. Sure it’s saddle time, but to really improve your skills and develop smooth controls, you need time in the saddle set aside for purely practicing and developing a specific skill.
While practice might not seem like it will make you a smoother rider, it will. Even if you are doing the most basic of maneuvers, consciously focusing on doing that specific maneuver as smoothly as possible will help a lot.
Use this time to focus on nothing else but the inputs you are sending to your motorcycle. Work on your clutch, braking, throttle.
Nobody is 100% perfect, there is always room to improve.
If you cannot set aside a whole afternoon once a week to do this, try to get 15 minutes of practice here and there. Maybe before a ride or on the way home from work. Or even during your lunch break, there is time if you make the effort.
If you do, not only will you become a better and much safer rider, you will also become a lot smoother.
9. Assess your performance.
This helps a lot, I actually used to do this when I played sports as a kid, I just carried it over to motorcycle riding.
When you get home from a ride, go over some of the key points during your ride. I prefer to focus on what I need to improve or what I could do better.
Like anything in life, improvement comes from fixing the problems, not patting yourself on the back for things you are already doing well. So when you are thinking about your ride, was there a point that really sticks out? Something that you wished you had handled differently or done better?
If you are like me, maybe you had a lapse of judgment or focus during your last ride, that almost caused your motorcycle to wash out under you.
Whatever it is, think about that moment and what you could have done better or smoother to prevent it. Then take actions to prevent it from happening again.
10. Stay alert.
Just because you should be calm, relaxed and smooth with your inputs, doesn’t mean you should chill like you are on the beach while riding.
It’s actually the opposite, mentally you need to be 100% on each and every moment you ride your motorcycle.
While your out riding a motorcycle it is not the time to think about anything but the task at hand. There is a lot you need to do and think about when riding.
Staying alert and focused allows you to better anticipate dangers and problems before they effect you.
If you pay 100% attention, you are less likely to make a stupid mistake, like only noticing a stop sign a few meters before it’s on you. You don’t want to slam on your brakes at the last second.
Don’t let something sneak up on you. Pay attention, be focused and have a smoother ride.
11. Take a class.
While parking lot practice and saddle time is great, it doesn’t replace the benefits of taking a class.
Whether you are new and need a basic course, or a more advanced rider looking to take it to the next level, find a class near you and take that class. The skills taught will make you a much smoother and more proficient rider.
12. Learn to blip the throttle.
For some riders downshifts can be a bit tricky. Especially for new riders who are just getting used to how a motorcycle works.
For many riders when they first get their license, they are taught to downshift without blipping. Basically they chop the throttle, select a lower gear then roll on the throttle while letting out or dumping the clutch.
Not the best or smoothest way, and if done incorrectly it can cause the rear tire on some motorcycles to lock up. Causing a skid or hop.
There is a much better way. This is done by blipping the throttle. It’s pretty easy to do and with a bit of practice you’ll wonder why you ever did it any other way.
Just pull in the clutch, give the throttle a quick blip to raise the RPMs another thousand or two, then select a lower gear and let the throttle out. If done correctly you won’t even notice that you changed gears.
13. Skip the clutch for up shifts.
As good as blipping the throttle is for smoother down shifting, that’s how much smoother up shifting without the clutch is.
Whether or not it causes damage to your motorcycle is a heated debate, with both sides having strong arguments.
But there is no arguing how much smoother it is. To do it, get your toe under the shift as if you were about to change gears.
Apply some gentle upward pressure, not enough to make it shift. Then roll off the throttle and increase the pressure gradually until it slips into the next gear. Then roll back on the throttle. Smooth as silk if done correctly.
14. Two fingers on the brake lever.
Keeping two fingers on the brake does two things. First, it lowers the chance that in an emergency you’ll grab a fist full of front break.
Secondly, it allows you to keep better control of the throttle. Both of these things will help you be a smoother rider.
15. Use two fingers on the clutch.
Much like the brake lever, you don’t need to use four fingers to engage it. (Maybe if your clutch is really heavy you need to use force when stopped at a red light, but usually you don’t.)
Using only two fingers will allow you to maintain better control of the handlebars. Meaning you are less likely to slip or jerk the bars when performing a maneuver. Resulting in smoother inputs and a smoother ride.
16. Don’t ride when pissed off.
If you ride a motorcycle when you mind is not the right place, you tend make choices and take actions that you normally wouldn’t. So don’t do it.
You are just going to be too aggressive and rough with the controls on your motorcycle. Even if you don’t actually notice yourself doing it, you will unconsciously do it.
So if you are pissed off, don’t just storm out of your house or apartment, hop right on your motorcycle and rip down the street. Instead go for a walk around the block. Cool your head off, then think about riding.
17. Counter steering.
Anytime you make a turn when you are travelling over 20mph or around 30kmh, you need to use counter steering. Chances are you are not even aware you do this. While this doesn’t seem like this can make you a smoother rider, it can.
Lots of riders want to get the bike leaned over as fast as possible, that’s fine. But in order to achieve this, they stab or jerk the handle bars violently.
Then to stop it tipping too far, they stiffen up, get tense and hold a rigid and tense pose like a statue throughout the turn. Not what you want when smoothness is your goal.
A better way is to focus on being fluid and consistent with the amount of pressure you apply while pressing on the bar.
If you need to lean the bike over quicker, no problem. Just start off lighter, then quickly and progressively increase the pressure until the motorcycle is leaned over and going the direction you want. Don’t stab at it or jerk it.
If you do this when cornering, you’ll start to notice a difference on how smooth your cornering will become.
One thing lots of riders fail to notice is that with many motorcycles, once you have leaned the motorcycle over in the turn, you can let off the pressure on the handle bar.
It will not straighten until you tell it to. This can go a long way to making your ride a bit more comfortable if you spend a full day hitting the twisties.
18. Respect your limits.
We all have different skills. Some skills I might be better at. Some you might be better at. Know what your limits are.
If you are not ready for the twisties, then don’t go ride the twisties.
If you know that after 3-4 hours of riding, you’re not 100% focused anymore or are less tuned into the ride, then ignore your buddies who are trying to talk you into a 7 hour road trip through mountain roads.
Always respect your limits. If you don’t chances are you’re not going to have a smooth ride.
19. Listen to your passenger.
If you are riding with a passenger, listen to their feedback. They will notice things you might not even notice you are doing.
When you ride, you get used to your own riding style. Short fast stopping, frequent lane changes, quick acceleration. You quickly get desensitized to it and it becomes the norm.
But a fresh set of eyes, or someone who only occasionally rides with you, will quickly notice these things. So listen to them, don’t just flat out dismiss their opinion and feedback.
Chances are it’s actually pretty valuable and will probably make you a smoother rider.
It’s interesting when you go over the list, you start to notice how many of those points will also make you a safer rider. Almost like safety and being a smooth rider are intertwined or linked.
Staying alert, slowing it down a little, taking a class, respecting your limits and practice all play a key role in being a safer rider. So maybe the lesson to be learned here and the key to becoming a smoother rider, is in fact to simply work on being a safer and more responsible rider.
There was a lot to learn here. I hope you enjoyed the post and learned something that will make you a better, safer and smoother rider. Until next time, keep the shiny side up and happy riding!