Rider Skills | Looking For Traction On and Off Road

 Image: Coach Ramey Stroud

Image: Coach Ramey Stroud

Coach Ramey Stroud says that finding and using available traction is a critical part of riding. If you’re riding off-road or on the street, you need to understand how to find that traction. And in this episode Coach Ramey teaches the skills required to get the most from your motorcycle and become a better rider.

About: Coach Ramey Stroud operates a world class motorcycle training centre from his 60 acre ranch in Oregon. He's a former desert racer, rally and enduro rider, has completed several IronButt events. He works with professional racers and endurance riders, as well as adventure riders.

Website: http://ridecoach.com


Interviewer: Jim Martin | Guest: Coach Ramey Stroud | Photos: Coach Ramey Stroud

This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released April 12, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.


Jim (Narrate): Today, we have another one of our exclusive Riders Skills episodes. And for this one, we have Couch Ramey Stroud; world renowned rider trainer. You know, in my mind, a big part of getting better at something is understanding the mechanics or concepts behind it. That is what I like about the way Couch Ramey Stroud teaches. He starts with knowledge, he teaches the underline concepts about something, and then he teaches us how to do it. So this approach makes it easier to learn, and then when you get out there riding on your bike, if you have trouble mastering the skill, you can sort of think things through because you already understand why you’re doing it. Not just how to do something. I think that old adage applies to this, too. You know- give a person a fish, they have a meal. Teach a person to fish, and they become better riders. Or something like that anyway. I’m Jim Martin, this is Adventure Rider Radio. Stay with us- we’ve got a good one for you. 


Jim: And now for our Rider Skills segment; here is Coach Ramey Stroud. Coach Ramey Stroud, welcome back to Adventure Rider Radio. 

Ramey: Oh, thanks for having me, it’s good to be back. Right now I’m looking out the window, and it is sunny, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud in the sky. I think we ought to go out to the shop and get the bikes, and go for a ride, and talk about this stuff on the trail. 

Jim: Exactly. What are we doing inside when there’s a riding day out there?

Ramey: Exactly. So, alright. I’ll make the sacrifice for you. 

Jim: Well, I appreciate that. Today we’re looking for…what? We’re looking for traction, aren’t we?

Ramey: Yeah. Traction is kind of an interesting subject because everybody thinks they know what it is. But the reality is a lot of us don’ think about managing it. So today I think’s going to be kind of a fun topic. Because, we can talk about all the different ways that we can influence traction on a motorcycle. For acceleration, and breaking, and most especially, for turning. 

Jim: Before we lose anybody who’s listening, and thinks, oh no, I don’t want to hear about traction…give us some examples on the difference of understanding traction to not. Like the places where it would make all the difference for us. 

Ramey: Well, let’s say that we’re going down the trail, and we have a deer or something jump out in front of us. And all of a sudden, we go to the front break, and the front forks compress, just before the front wheel starts skidding. One of the things that we can do is change our body position a little bit. So that we can prevent that skid, come to a stop, and miss the deer. So when we talk about traction, we’re also talking about control function and body position. In other words, how to ride the bike efficiently and safely. 

Jim: So same sort of thing if we’re coming down a steep hill. Our body position can make all the difference of either (in some cases) in making it or not. 

Ramey: Well, making it on two wheels or on the side of the bike sliding down the hill.

Jim: Right. And two wheels is what we want.

Ramey: Yeah, we’re working on it. I think it’s going to be fun. So don’t worry about this idea of traction being too technical, because we’re going to do everything we can to make it real life. The kinds of things you can do to make your riding more fun, and safer.

Jim: So where do we start with this when we’re looking for traction?

Ramey: Well, let me ask you a question- what is it?

Jim: Traction is…resistance between two objects, I guess. Friction really, between two objects.

Ramey: Sure. And, in the sense of motorcycles, it’s the tires being pulled by gravity down in to the riding surface. But- gravity. That’s the part I want to talk about for just a minute. So, let’s assume for a moment (like, Elon Musk just sent a Tesla up into space) that you’re on your bike, and you’re riding it out in space. What do you weigh?

Jim: Nothing.

Ramey: That’s correct. You have mass, but you have no weight. So let’s say you ride a little closer to the earth, and you get into the gravity well, and it starts pulling you down through the atmosphere. You don’t have weight until you actually touch the ground. So in other words, you’ve got to have full contact with the tires into the ground, with this weight pulling them together. So weight management is what traction is all about. Now, if we’re talking about the bike just the way it’s set up, weight management is generally referred to as weight bias. The full weight of the motorcycle is carried by two tires. How much of that weight of the motorcycle is carried but the front, and carried by the back? On a race bike, we want to set it up where it’s 50/50, as close as we can get. And then, at that teeter-totter point at the front and back, is about where our footpegs are. But, most of the bikes aren’t there. For example, BMW 650 GS- they’re a little bit tail heavy because the gas tanks under the seat, and the design of the bike. The teeter-totter point is behind the footpads. Anyways, why does this make any difference to us? Well, let’s say that on that 650 GS, I’m looking for acceleration traction (in other words, I’m rolling on the gas). If I’m heavy in the back, I’ve got better traction to go forward. I also have better traction to use my rear brake. But my front end under acceleration might be a little light, and so I don’t have maybe quite the steering I want. I’ve got what’s called under-steering. I might be able to push the front end a little bit with that bike if I’m on the gas too much, and I’m trying to turn. So, I want to be able to move some of that weight forward while I’m riding, and I can do that with body position. So weight bias can be influenced by control function or by body position. One other thing that we can’t control is also the pitch of a hill. If we’re going down hill, there’s a weight shift forward to the front. If we’re going uphill, there’s a weight shift forward to the back wheel. That we have to compensate for with body position. So, weight bias is-

Jim: What causes the weight shift?

Ramey: Gravity. In other words, the support force under the motorcycle, going downhill, is slopped down towards the front wheel. So the front wheel will get heavier than the rear will. That’s one of the reason thats the back brake is so easy to slide going down hill. And then the opposite of course going uphill-the front end gets light. So we tend to lose steering. We’ve got tot come forward in a more aggressive riding position to try to get that front end back down on the ground. Also to help up to stay upright on the bike. That we’re not hanging onto the handle bars because we’re falling over backwards. But we’re going to get to that. So, today we’re talking about weight bias, and we need to colour that picture in a little bit more. I’d like to do that by saying that there are three centres of gravity on a motorcycle. Do you know what they are?

Jim: I do. It’s the motorcycle centre of gravity, the riders centre of gravity, and then the combined mass centre of gravity between the two. 

Ramey: Exactly. And gravity tends to work down through that combined centre of mass to pull the motorcycle into the riding surface. So our ability to move that combined centre of mass around not he motorcycle is the same thing as our ability to move weight forwards and backwards, and left and right. So the way that we do that is we move our body on the bike, and ultimately influence where that centre of mass is. There are four basic riding positions that we are going to talk about in a little bit. Just a preview; seated, neutral standing position that I call scout, and accelerated uphill position called the attack, and then a downhill braking position. And, each of those are to be able to influence weight on the motorcycle.

Jim: Okay, so what we’re really talking about here I guess is, moving around on the bike. Moving our body around on the bike to control the bike better. Like, in a very simple sense. 

Ramey: Sure, to change the amount of weight that pushing a particular tire into the ground. Let’s give a real world example. So, you’re sitting on your bike, and you’re pulling away from a stop, and you’re rolling on the grass…it’s a good day, you’re feeling great, so maybe your rolling on the grass pretty aggressively. If you have telescopic forks, what are they going to do when you roll on the gas?

Jim: Extend.

Ramey: Yeah. The front end gets light. And if you really whack it on, the front wheel come off the ground. 

Jim: Depending on your bike, of course.

Ramey: Well, that’s true. That’s true. So, the idea is that we’re experiencing the front end getting light- meaning less weight. So if I continue to roll the gas on, and keep the front end light, I’m not going to have as good of steering. If I’m in an off-road surface that maybe is a little bit loose, it’s going to be a lot easier for me to push the front end, or tuck the front end and fall. So I need to come forward with my body to push the front end back down, to compensate for the acceleration. Now, do you know why the front end gets light?

Jim: Torque. 

Ramey: Yeah. Well, it’s the torque of the rear wheel, at the tire, at the ground level, that’s pushing the bike forward. But the centre of the mass of the bike and rider, the combined centre of mass, is actually higher than the rear wheel, and forward. So what happens is, that centre of mass wants to stay in place. What I’m talking about now is Sir Issac Newton and his law of motion; that objects at rest stay at rest, except when interrupted by a net external unbalanced force. So that’s kind of a technical thing.

Jim: Okay, just in case you’re a lover of science, and you want to hear that again, I’m just going to play that again. Hang on.

Ramey: What I’m talking about now is Sir Issac Newton and his law of motion; that objects at rest stay at rest, except when interrupted by a net external unbalanced force. So that’s kind of a technical thing. But basically, objects at rest stay at rest. So your bike at a stop wants to stay at rest, but the rear wheel is accelerating under it, and forward. It sets up a rotation at the rear axel. In other words, the whole bike wants to rotate. And, as it rotates, the front forks extend, and then when you get to full extension of the forks, if you’re still accelerating, then the front wheel wants to come up off the ground. And so you just did a wheelie with your right hand.

Jim: Which can be great for some things. I mean, there’s times that you want that. If you were going over a log for instance, you’d want to lighten up the front end. If you’re maybe running through sand, you might want to lighten up the front end. 

Ramey: Absolutely. So this is just one of those tools in your riders toolbox. That, because I understand a little bit about centre of mass, and weight, and acceleration, I can place my front wheel wherever I want to either with body position, or control function. But let’s reverse it for a moment. Let’s say that I’m going down the road, and I need to slow down or stop for a turn that’s coming up. Issac Newton’s law of motion, first law of motion, also says that objects in motion stay in motion except when interrupted by a net external force…unbalanced external force. So, you’ve got this mass of the bike moving forward (and we commonly call it momentum, technically it’s inertia), and now we’ve got a braking force of our front wheel and the tire. So the braking force is going backwards under the bike, while the mass of the bike which is higher, is still going forward. It sets up a rotation like a wheelie, only this time it’s around the front axel. So now the rear wheel wants to come up off the ground into a stoppie- which is sometimes called a nose-wheelie. And so, if we still want to apply the brakes, we’ve got to compensate with out body by going backwards into a braking position, and try to move out body back over the rear of the bike, and keep that rear wheel planted into the ground. Otherwise we lose steering control because we’ve pushed the front end too much into the riding surface. We’ve also lost rear brake.

Jim: Now, these type of movements that you’re describing here- these will make a big difference for the average rider, right?

Ramey: Well, every rider who tends to ride a little more aggressively, or off-road where you need to be a little more aggressive in some of the surfaces that we ride on, but if your’e a road rider, and just very very conservation, you need to be aware of these things fort control function, but your’e probably not going to be moving your body around as aggressively as off-road riders do. So if you’re just riding the highway, and you’re just going down smiling and happy, you’re not going to be needing to move your body around quite as much. But if you’re a dual-sport rider, or an adventure rider, that’s trying to get down a rough trail or tough road, you’d better know this stuff- because you’re probably going to be on your side if you don’t. 

Jim: And the thing is with bikes, dual-sports in particular or adventure bikes, is- yes, they’re made to do some off-road, but there’s a lot of things you’re fighting against. One mainly being that they tend to be very large and very heavy in comparison to a dirt bike. So you’re got to use sort of all of your skills to make this thing perform in an off-road situation, or technical situation. 

Ramey: Sure, and if you don’t have those skills, then you tend to work way way too hard, and you’re going to be picking the bike up a lot. So, I don’t know- it seems to me that to take the time and learn some of these things, and practice them, just makes the quality of life so much better on a motorcycle. You’re out there having fun instead of picking it up all the time.

Jim: So before we get into talking about actually moving around on our motorcycles, I sort of want to go back to something that you mentioned just a minute ago- you said ‘riders toolbox’. I think that’s a really good point that you make by using that term- riders toolbox- in that there isn’t just one way, as they say, to skin a cat. 

Ramey: Well, the metaphor that I use is a roll-away toolbox. You go out to my shop, and you take a look at my toolbox, and it’s about 5 feet tall, and 6 feet wide, and it’s got drawers everywhere. It’s just…overtime I see it, I smile. Because, when I’m working on a bike, if I need a wrench, I can go over and pull a drawer open, and there’s a drawers of open ended wrenches. The next drawer are closed end or box wrenches. The next drawer is combination wrenches, and the drawer after that are the ratchets. In other words, I’ve got a lot of different tools that I can use to take a nut off of a bolt. Well, the metaphor/the visualization is skills are exactly the same way, and there are a lot of ways to ride a bike in different situations. For example, a turn. I can do a seater turn, or a standing turn. I can do a slow-speed counter-balance turn, or a high-speed counter-steering turn. I can carve the turn where both wheels are tracking together, or I can step the rear end out. If I’m really going fast, I might do a two-wheel drift through the turn. I mean, there are so many different ways to do a turn that if an instructor ever says to you, you have to do this turn in this one way, for me that’s a red flag. No. There’s so many different ways that you can get a turn done, that it’s got to be for that particular situation. You just pick the right tool, and make it happens. So the riders toolbox is a skill-box. Everything that we’re trying to do is to give you a bigger and bigger toolbox so when you’re out there you have a lot of different options. 

Jim: Okay. What’s next?

Ramey: Well, we’ve already got a pretty good start. This idea of momentum and inertia is a really important part of managing traction. So let’s go to standing up on the footpads, going from a seated to a standing position, and then we’ll building to more aggressive riding. First of all, we want to really emphasize that our primary connection with he motorcycle is from the waist down. That we’re using our boots, and our inner leg, and our knees to be able to connect with the motorcycle in order to take some of the tension off our shoulders and arms and hands on the grips. In other words, you’re not hanging onto the motorcycle for dear life. Now, once in a while, in a tough situation-yeah, we’re going to hold on more aggressively. But most of the time we’re trying to keep relatively soft hands on the grips os that we have great steering and control function. Very smooth throttle, and very smooth clutch and friction zone, and very smooth front braking. So, primary connection from the waist down is an important thing thing for you to be thinking about. The next thing to think about is, everything on a motorcycle, all the body positions, start form being what I call gravity neutral. So if you were to take a string and put a weight on the end of it, or like a carpenters plum-bob, the string is a fall line of gravity. So if I’m sitting on my bike, I kind of want to be gravity neutral to start with. Then I can start to respond to the forces of acceleration or braking or turning from that basic position. So, soft hands, and gravity neutral are my starting point. Now, for moving around on the motorcycle in a seated position, I’m fairly limited because I can basically only move from the waist. But, it’s surprising how many people don’t do that. What we do in training is we’ll take the bikes and we’ll put them up on a centre stand, or up on a box, and we’ll say; okay, take your hands off the handlebars and kind of put them out to your side now. And, what can you touch on the motorcycle with your hands? Can you touch your headlight? You’d be surprised how many people can’t go forward without falling. To touch their headlight, or their number plate. So we emphasize that lower body connection, and a little bit of core tension, and pretty soon they’re up there with their hands on their number plate. Then we do the same thing; can you rotate around and touch your taillight? Can you come off to the side and go down and touch your left foot-peg? These exercises help us really emphasize our connection with the motorcycle. The next thing we do is we go from a seated to a standing position. I watch the guys and the ladies, and you’d be surprised how many of them pull themselves up with their arms and shoulders. And I guess for me, that’s probably the number one mistake that I would say that most off-road riders do. The way that we kind of correct that/improve it, is we use the analogy of a chair. Let’s say that, instead of sitting on a motorcycle, you’re sitting on a chair. Now stand up. And, people stand up, and I say, okay, sit down. You just did that without pulling yourself up with the handlebars. How did you do it? A lot of times people will kind of think for a minute, and scratch their head and say, I don’t know- I just did it. I say; okay, let’s break it down a little bit. Do you notice that just before you stood up, you leaned forward (or I call it fold forward), and you brought your mass, your centre of mass, from over your butt, to over your feet, and then you used your legs to go up. Try to get up out of a chair without that old. The reality is, in the classroom, they can’t do it. That as long as your centre of mass is over your butt, your legs are just going to push you backwards. It’s the exact same thing on a motorcycle. When you’re sitting on the seat, before you go vertical, you need to fold forward, get your mass over your foot-pegs, and then use your legs to go up. You with me? You got the visualistics?

Jim: Yeah, I do. I was just going to say, just to sort of re-emphasize why this is so important, about not pulling yourself up with the handlebars, in case anyones wondering- well, what the difference? It’s that, anytime we pull on the handlebars, anytime we hold on for dear life as sometimes happens, you lose a lot of control of the motorcycle, don’t you? You lose control of steering, first of all. You become this wooden figure sort of mounted to a bike, holding on for dear life.

Ramey: Yeah, you mentioned steering…most of us have a primary hand, like we’re right handed. So sometimes that tends, that shoulder/that arm, tends to be a little stronger. And so a lot of times, when I see people going from a seated to standing position, the bike will kind of turn right because they’re pulling a little harder with their primary hand. 

Jim: Right.

Ramey: The other thing that’s really tough is, if you think about how the throttle works, we roll it on to us. And, a lot of times people pull themselves up with their hands, they inadvertently roll the throttle on. And the bike accelerates, and basically it’s squirting out form under them, so they’re forced back, and as they fall back, they roll the throttle on even more. I think some folks call it the whiskey throttle. I call it the wild throttle problem. That if, our primary connection is through our hands and our shoulders as we pull ourselves up, then we’re setting up that throttle problem. So we want to get away from that. We want to use our lower body connection, we want to fold forward, use our legs to go up instead of our hands, and protect our ability to control the motorcycle.

Jim: So, back to what you were saying. We fold forward, and we stand up. That puts us in the scout position?

Ramey: Yeah. The scout position is…we build it form the foot-pegs up. But one of the things that, before we talk about building the position, we practice this idea of going form seated to standing with the bikes standing still, engine off. We’ll put them on a side stand, or on a box, and I’ll ask the folks to just put your arms out at your side, and just stand up. And, it takes a little while to get it. But, standing still int he garage or in the shop is such an easy way to experiment, and an easy way to practice. And then eventually, when you can go from seated to standing on your bike, just as easily as you can getting out of a chair, then it’s time to hit the key, and clutch out. But, most people don’t do that. They’re trying to learn to stand up while they’re bouncing around some field someplace, and they’re not having a good time. The static training makes it so much easier. Please don’t underestimate the value of doing it in your garage or out in a parking lot on a trip or something.

Jim: That’s a really good point, and it’s easy to do. So something that is definitely worth while. What’s next?

Ramey: Okay, so when you’re standing on the foot-pegs in a neutral position, scout position, we try to evaluate how we’re doing from the foot-pegs up. We start low because we want to emphasize that lower body connection. And one of the first things I want to do is ask you, which way are your toes pointed? Why do you think that would be important?

Jim: Well, I know that you’re supposed to keep your toes pointed slightly in. I’ve always assumed part of it was catching things, but also- it turns your knees in to the tank so that you’re quicker to get your knees up against the tank, or a better angle.

Ramey: Sure, because the lower leg works in the same plane. The ankle and the knee work in the same plane. So if you were just standing on the ground, and your feet were foot-peg width apart, and you just rotated your body 90 degrees to the right, or 90 degrees to the left, you’d feel a pretty good pull in your knees. One of the things we want to do is practice lifting our heels up off the ground a little bit, and pivoting on the balls of our feet. Which means it’s important sometimes, if we’re going to be mobile on the bike, to bring our boot back on the foot-peg so that we’re on the ball and not on the arch of the foot, just in front of the heel. We want the toes to be straight ahead because of the knees, and a lot of times we’ll look on somebody’s bike and we’ll see that their leverage adjustments for brake and gear shifter are really messed up. That they’re not adjusted for the kind of boots that they’re wearing, and that they sit most of the time, or that they stand most of the time. So we’ll take a few minutes, we’ll adjust some levers, and get their feet much more mobile on the motorcycle. And much more efficient, as far as being able to grip the engine cases with the insides of their boots. From there, we work up through the inner leg, and we’re looking for contact with the motorcycle there. Sometimes it’s not a good contact, because the design of the frame, or some of the equipment on the bike, but we’ll do as good as we can. And then ultimately we’re interested in where the knees are touching the bike. When you go from a seated to a standing position, knee position changes. It’ll generally come back and up. And if you think about when you stand, how you’re between the knee and the hips go, it makes sense. You can visualize it pretty easily. But when we’re standing, we need to have some flection in our knees. That allows us to absorb some good bump energy. But a lot of times, people don’t have very strong legs. So they tend to stand too tall. They lock their knees. the problem with that is, if you’re going along in the rough, and you happen to hit a bump, the suspension is not going to absorb all that bump energy. Some of it’s going to come up through the foot-pegs, it’s going to bounce you up into the air, and off of the foot-pegs. And if it’s a hard hit, it could even through you over the handlebars. So the idea of locked legs is okay if you need to rest, but do it on a relatively flat smooth surface. When you get back into the rough, you need to flex your knees. And then we move from the knees back to the hips, and of course they’re up off the seat. But we’re interested in core tension. The idea is that if you’er totally relaxed in your abdominal region, your upper body’s not very stable. So one of the things we want to do is, just tighten it up a little bit. They way that you can do that, is to visualize somebody grabbing you by the top of your head/your hair, and just kind of lifting you straight up. When you do that, try not to use your legs. Just try to do it with core tension. What you’er doing is your recruiting some of those abdominal muscles, especially the psoads, and your’e just getting a little bit more stable at the hips and at your core. That allows your to be much more aggressive in terms of going forward or back or left or right on the motorcycle. 

Jim: You had a really good example where you talked about standing up on the ball of your feet, and then also using a 2x4. It’s just interesting, when you think all that through, of how what you’re really doing with your bike when you’re standing up like this is you’re extending the suspension as well, aren’t you? So the suspension will take a certain amount, and then your legs become part of the suspension. 

Ramey: Oh, absolutely. I mean, today’s technology is fantastic. I mean, you just look at how much travel the forks have, and the rear shock, and how the dampening works. It’s amazing what we’ve seen over the last few years. But the reality is, the suspension’s not 100% effective. There’s always going to be some bump energy that the suspension doesn’t get. And, it’s going to come to you up through the frame in the motorcycle. And so, you can use your lower leg, your calves. Inside your calf is a muscle called the soleus, that’s a pretty good shock absorber. Between your knee and your hip, you’ve got your quads in front, your hamstrings in back, and your gluts, your butt muscles. Those are really good shock absorbers. By the time that bump energy gets up to the base of your spin, it’s pretty well gone, because you’ve absorbed it down low. The idea is to protect your spin, and then all up {?} your neck and your head, from that bump energy anyway you can. 



Ramey: Well, we’re working our way up in the standing position from the foot pegs. The next thing I’m interested in is your back. So, a lot of people will kind of have a rounded back towards the front of the motorcycle, and their shoulders would be closed. First of all, it doesn’t look very comfortable at all, and turns out, it’s not a very athletic stance either. So one of the things we’re interested in doing is to open your chest up a little bit, which means bring your shoulders back. A real simple way of doing that is to just pinch your shoulder blades together a little bit. I’m not talking about a lot, maybe half an inch or an inch. Just some tension. But as you pinch your shoulder blades together,  then your’e going to notice your shoulders coming back. All of a sudden now, your’e able to hold your arms up much more efficiently because you’re using the broad muscles of your back instead of the rotator cuff and the smaller muscles in front. So, if I’m riding all day long, then it’s going to be a lot easier for me to keep my arms up. I’m not going to have to hang on to the grips because I’m using those big muscles in my back, and not those small muscles in front. So it’s just one more technique or trick that allows me to be more efficient on the bike hour after hour. And at the end of the day, there’s still me smiling, instead of sore. So the back. We’ve worked our way up to back and shoulders. Now we’re going to think about our arms. The deal is that, I want to have my elbows up. Because it allows me to be much more mobile with my upper body, and to be able to let the bike move around under me, because I can push and pull easily with my arms. Now, when I say push and pull, I’m not really saying use a lot of muscle to push, or muscle to pull, but rather, I’m letting the bike move under me, and I’m letting the bike sort of pull my arms along. Or as the bike come sup in front, allow me to pull my arms back. And then the bike do the work, and I’m just kind of following it and controlling it. So, I call that the plane of control. And I think one of our other sessions we’ve spent a lot of time on, so I don’t want to spend too much time here. But the idea is that scout position, that I’m trying to find an athletic posture that allows the bike to do what it was designed to do. And, i’m basically in a neutral, energy efficient position, that allows me to focus on control and having fun, and not working so doggone hard. 

Jim: So basically, fi you were to look at a rider doing this properly as they go along, I guess the rider would be almost holding gone position as the bike went up and down whatever terrain you’re going through. The rider almost wants to glide along as if it wasn’t connected to anything. 

Ramey: Yeah. Now that’s the neutral standing position, the scout. But that’s not always the way it is. A lot of times we have to compensate for the forces of acceleration, or the forces of braking, or going uphills, or going downhills. So we need to then have some options, some other skills in our toolbox, to be able to handle that with a lot of control and not too much effort. So, let’s talk about acceleration for a moment. If you think about it, when you roll on the gas, and the rear tire’s starting to push the bike forward, and the front end’s getting a little bit light, the bike is trying to accelerate under you. You mass is an object at rest, and it’s trying to stay behind. The bike’s acceleration under you, and so it feels like we’re being thrown backwards. Well, actually, the bike is becoming what the physicists call a reference frame, and this accelerating forward under you. So that’s when we really tend to grab the handlebars, and hang on. We really don’t want to do that for the reasons that we’ve already talked about. So I need to be able to compensate for that acceleration. And, the way I do that, either seated or standing, is, just before I roll on the gas, I fold forward into what is going to be the acceleration. I can compensate for the bike moving forward by me getting forward first. I’m not talking about too much time, it’s a split second. But just before I roll on the gas, I’m going to fold forward in what we call the attack position. We’re going to attack the acceleration. We’re going to attack the terrain. We’re going to move forward. Sometimes aggressively, sometimes not. But the reality is, we always need to compensate for acceleration. The other thing we use the attack position for is if we’re standing to ride and we’re moving pretty fast. Maybe we’re up in third, fourth, firth, even sixth gear. There’s a pretty good wind blast onto our upper body. We call it parasitic drag. It’s tending to push us backwards off the bike. And with wind blast, most people are compensating through their hands or upper body. We can use the attack position to fold forward into the wind, and then ultimately find that perfect angle where the wind is holding our upper body up, and we’re not using our legs quite as much. It sounds kind of weird, what I just said, but when you try it, and you feel it, ti’s kind of like- oh, this is cool. This really works. But, you can’t really write about it on a page or talk about it here. You gotta feel it. But once you get it, it’s like- oh, I want more of that. This is really cool- that I’m folding forward into the wind blast, it’s kind of holding me up, that my legs aren’t working too hard, and it’s kind of soft hands. And, I want to do this more. Let’s keep doing this all day long. the other thing that the attack position is really good for, is going uphill. Now, remember we talked about gravity neutral, and the seated position, and then the scout position. If I’m going uphill, is there still a gravity neutral position?

Jim: Yeah. As you start to fold forward, there’s going to be a position there where you’re going to have it balanced.

Ramey: Exactly. Now, it may be that, depending on the pitch of the/how steep the hill is going up, you’re whole body may need to come forward. That your knees are coming forward on the gas tank, and that you’re folding. But you’re getting as much as your body forward as you can. On a really steep hill, you may look down, and you may be able to see your number plate or your headlight lease- your’e that for forward. Obviously if you’ve got a windshield, that’s not going to happen. It’s going to limit the attack that you can do. But your’e whole body is moving forward into an attack on some really steep uphills. And the benefit of it there is, I’m not falling off the back of my motorcycle. I don’t have to hang on with my arms. And I’m pushing weight down o the front tire so I’m not losing my steering. I’m creating traction on the front end by coming forward. In training, one of the thing I do as a coach, I just kind of visualize- what would that rider do if they took their hands off the handlebars? And if it’s clear and obvious that they’d fall over the back, off the back of the bike, they’re just not attacking aggressively enough for that particular hill. But the reality of it is, once you get it, then the hills become much more efficient, more fluid, and they’re a lot more fun. The same thing we’ll be talking about in a minute, only in reverse, is the braking position. Okay, so let’s say we got over the top of the hill, ad now we’re back down on the flat. It was so much fun, we want to turn around and go right back down that hill. So, a couple of things to think about, because we’re talking about traction. I’m going to talk about braking traction for a minute, and then I’m going to talk about downhill. So when we’re on the street, how much of our braking force and from the front brakes, and how much of the braking force is from the rear brake? You ever read anything about that?

Jim: Well, sure, and I guess that depends on the rider when it comes to motorcycles. Because in most cases we have independent operation of our front and rear brakes. But I mean, most of your braking will come from the front, in a panic stop, or a hard stop on the street. And I would think…over 80%.

Ramey: Well, that…the numbers are kind of up for discussion. But, a while back there was a pretty comprehensive study called the Hertz study, that ultimately came up with the conclusion about 70% of our braking force comes from our front brakes, and about 30% form the rear. Now, that was on the street, in good traction. What if we aren’t on the street, but we’re in poor traction on the dirt? We do the heavy front braking, we use front brake as our primary. So now we’ve got this braking force up, forward, down at the contact patch of the tire. Where’s the mass of the motorcycle, and what’s it doing while we’re braking?

Jim: It’s going down. As long as your front tire’s getting traction, it will be going down slightly, because of the compression of the forks. 

Ramey: Okay, so, that’s the effect. The mass of the motorcycle is probably between your legs, down just below the seat. And that is higher and back than the contact patch of the front tire. 

Jim: So you’re talking about rotational force, is that what you’re referring to here?

Ramey: Yeah, it’s kind of a rotational force. But the front tire, down at the contact patch is going backwards (that’s the friction force of the brake), while the bike still wants to go forward. It’s an objection in motion. That mass is up higher. Generally it’s between your legs, under the front part of the seat, and the gas tank. But the idea is that, it wants to go forward, so normally we’d worry about a stoppie. But, offload, we’re not always right up and down. So, if there’s a little bit of a lean, then it tends to bring the back wheel around to the left or the right, and sets up kind of a slide, which in turn set sup kind of a crash called tucking the front end. So, off-road, this idea of the front being the primary, it doesn’t always work. So generally, we start to visualize the rear brake as our primary brake, and our front brake as supplemental. That’s to keep the bike as stable as possible in poor traction. So the way it would work then is, I’d step on the rear brake, I’d stabilize the bike, and then I’d add front brake as I needed. That keeps the bike going straight ahead, settles the suspension, it’s got a lot of benefits. So on-road, front brake is primary. You generally go to it first, and then add rear brake. Off-road, rear brake is primary, and then you use front brake as supplemental. Anyways, I can affect my braking forces with the body position on top of the bike, as well as the sequence of control. So, anyway, now we’ve turned around on the top, and we’re ready to go back down the hill. One of the things we’ve really got to think about, is controlling our speed as soon as the front wheel drops over the hill. What a lot of people think about is…well, they get going, and they say, oh, I’m going too fast, I’d better brake. Well that’s too late. You’ve got to control your speed from the top, and we’re using our rear brake as primary, so we’re applying it first, and then we’re using our front brake as supplemental, as we need to. But as we’re going down the hill, there’s a weight bias transfer, simply because of gravity. The front wheel’s getting heavy, and the rear wheel’s getting light. So we need to push our body back into a braking position. And the limit of our braking position is the length of our arms. We don’t want to go back so far that our elbows are locked. Just before our elbows are locked, so we’ve got a little inflection, is about as far rear as we can get. We can go lower, and sometimes even though we’ve got tension in our legs, our butts touching the seat. The idea is to get as much of our rider mass, our dynamic weight, back onto the rear tire to push that tire onto the ground, to use our primary rear brake. As we’re going down the hill, if we need to, we’ll add a little front brake. But as soon as we start pushing the front end, then we’ve gotta get off that brake, because we’re going to go down if we don’t. The idea is that we’re thinking about traction as we’re going down the hill. And, we’re managing traction with body and control function. Ultimately, the steepness of the hill and the terrain is going to control our success. Sometimes we get in a little over our head, but that’s a different class. 

Jim: And also the confidence thing, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s just having the confidence to go ahead. You may have the skills, or at least the basics of them…having the confidence to push yourself to keep going. 

Ramey: Yeah, that’s for sure. But, that’s the value of practice and just getting out there and doing it and doing it and doing it. There are a lot of times where people just want to jump on a bike, and they go out with their buddies and they’re having fun…and they’re not really thinking about skills. Sometimes you just need to get out there by yourself, and just stop, recall that picture in your mind- what it is you’re trying to do, and why your’e trying to do it- and then, in a pretty controlled situation, just practice over and over and over. The ultimate goal of these things that we’re talking about- body position and control function- is becoming automatic. The idea is, I’m going to make the bike an extension of my body. I don’t have to think about this stuff, it’s just going to be automatic. And then, I can really have some fun. 

Jim: So just to do a little recap if I can here, what we’re talking about is getting ourselves understanding what a neutral riding position is. And then, understanding how we can modify our position on the bike to maintain traction, or to change traction, as we need it. And, understand that we want to do it as we’re riding.

Ramey: Yeah. Maintain traction because we’re compensating for physics. We’re compensating for this idea of inertia. Taking us forward, or holding us back. Once we put all these things together, it’s just like a no-brainer. It’s just so simple. But in the beginning, it’s kind of like, ugh, this is tough. Well, stick with it. It’s going to be okay. Because, once you get it, it’ll be there for the rest of your life. And ultimately, it will become automatic. The quality of your riding will just…it’ll go through the roof. And when you go on these trips, you’re not going to be working as hard, and you’re going to have a lot more fun. So, think it through. Do you’re homework. Put in the effort now, because it’s going to pay off big time later. 


Jim (Narrate): Coach Ramey Stroud. You can find out more about what he does by visiting his website, www.ridecoach.com.



Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin

*Special thanks to our guest: Coach Ramey Stroud http://ridecoach.com


This episode of Adventure Rider Radio is made possible by listener support and the following SHOW SPONSORS

Max BMW: www.maxbmw.com
BestRest Products: www.cyclepump.com
Green Chile Adventure Gear: www.greenchileadv.com
Motobriiz: www.motobriiz.com
IMS Products: www.imsproducts.com


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