Power Riding

Update 14May06 : Added section on gear changing. Added some books to read.

So you know how to ride a bike eh ?

But maybe you know less than you think. Everytime you see another chap overtake you with non-chalant ease, you wonder how. Evertime you race with a friend he seems to go faster than you. Everytime you ride in traffic, you always seem to get stuck behind the slowest moving car. Evertime you try to go fast, you have to brake.

Seems something you can relate to… read further.

DISCLAIMER : If you firmly believe in speed is not for you, or that you only want to follow traffic rules, dont read any further. Also, if you do read below this line, I am absolved of all responsibilities of any kind of damage you may cause while trying these out.

Now, before I write any further on this – a little of bragging, as to why I can write this πŸ˜‰ . Ever since I started riding – with my CBZ all my friends with faster bikes seem to be perplexed as to how I can go faster than them. Evertime someone drags with me on the road, no matter how hard they try, usually I am there – right next to them – a botheration … how come he is still sticking to me???

A few years back, I could not have answered the question ‘how?’. But, being involved with bike groups, I have identified the terminology and the processes that enable one to go fast, and thought that on this boring friday afternoon , to give you a good dose of these! Hopefully this will improve your riding skills (and maybe driving also)


Get a proper bike. By proper I mean something which is in good running condition. Tyres should be good . The engine should not misfire. The brakes should grip and not make squeaky sounds. Bike should have rearview mirrors, and working horn and headlight. Wear proper clothes ( should cover your skin, which you may end up leaving on the road). Wear a helmet with a good clear visor. Wear boots and not chappals.

To go fast, you need to go slow

I read this somewhere on some site on zen. But since I translate almost everything to bikes, this seemed quite apt to riding.

What this means is that you need to slow down and analyze your riding. First get the hang of how to ride well at slow speeds and then utilize that to go fast. And the way you do this is … to ride without brakes.

Pick a route with low traffic. Say around 3-5kms of road ( not a highway buddy. you will not learn this over there.. the highway comes later on below..). Now, ride the route and try not to use the foot or the hand brakes. Yeah, i know its difficult, but its doable. The first time you will find yourself using the brakes reflexively. But if you keep to it, you can start using lesser brakes. For those who want to know my test track – it used to be from University circle to Chandni Chowk – without braking a single time! Of course my speeds were low …

But… how can that be ?

Here you need to make use of the following :

  • Anticipation : Don’t look at the vehicle ahead of you, look at least 2-3 vehicles ahead of you.
    • Notice how the vehicle in front blurs out a bit, but you can still make it out of the corner of your vision. Also notice how suddenly you can see the gaps between the vehicles ahead of you. So, just chalk out a path your bike has to take and go through the gaps. On the ZMA I was mostly going faster than the cars and bikes – who were using their brakes.
    • Notice also how you can figure out that the car/bike in front of you is more likely to brake as the car/bike 5 lengths ahead of you has the brakelight on!
  • Use the engine and throttle to control your speed
    • Brake using the engine. Dont know how ? Try this – go at around 40 in 4th gear, drop down to 3rd gear. Notice the sudden jerk as the bike slows down ? Try going down another gear… what happens ? (Don’t try it at high speeds the first time, you may get your bike to slow down more than you think, and can have disastrous consequences).
    • Use the throttle to control your speed. If you are going to slow down, leave the throttle way back. Remember – anticipation is the name of the game – can you slow down sufficiently before that corner to take it without using the brakes ??

This is the first and foremost lesson. Also try and keep your speed constant all throughout – can you ? No ? Drop your speed a bit – can you do it now ??

Now… we move to the power part of riding.. but still we will go slow.

Know your brakes

Can you brake fast enough ? What this means is that do you know the distance before which you can stop your bike at a given speed ? No ?? Well, time to get cracking.. lets practice braking.

Get an empty stretch – I know we dont have many such places , so try to find one which is relatively empty.

Check your rearview to see that no one is behind you. Take your speed upto 40 – brake with only the rear brakes! And I mean brake , not slow down. How much distance did you cover before you came to a stand still ? do it again. This time use your front and rear brakes. Notice it how you have stopped at almost 2/3 – 1/2 the distance of the previous time ? Practice this. Now, try braking and going down the gears again (read above about engine braking). Are you getting the distance down ? Are you in 1st gear (ready to rip off again as soon as you stop) when you come to a standstill ? No ? You need more practice. No.. stopping in neutral will not do – neutral does not provide any braking.

Another important part of this is to figure out how hard you brake which will cause your tyres to skid. You want to be able to brake hard enough that you are only just shy of skidding. Skidding causes lesser friction and you actually stop over a longer distance.

Gear Change

How did you learn to ride your bike ? Probably from your dad or a friend. And how they tell you to ride is to get to the 4th gear (90% of bikes are the 100cc , 4 gear ones) as fast as possible and stay there. You get good mileage.

Yeah, whatever. But then you dont get your power.

So, how do you get the mean power output ??

By now, you would have heard the words ‘torque curve‘ or ‘power curve‘ a few times. Its a graph of your engine characteristics which shows at what rpm your bike outputs the maximum power. Since its rpm we are talking about , you are going to hit this sweet spot on each gear. While changing gears, you get the max benifits by being in the top part of the curve. This applies to gearing up as well as down. Always be in the correct range.

This comes with practice. First, you will probably be looking at your rpm meter to figure out the changing. But what you need to aim at is know when to change the gears – by ear and feel. That’s when you will get into the zone.

Attacking the curves

Now we come to the most complex part of the power ride. How to take a curve. In most places you will hardly find a good place to practice taking a curve – but if you do find one – use it.

Curves are the most difficult things to take as 1. You need to lean the bike, 2. You need to brake on curves.

Point 2 many people will say “hey – you are teaching the wrong thing! Brake on curves ??! are you mad?!”.

Well , i guess you must belong to the section of guys I regularly overtake on curves πŸ˜‰

Yeah, braking on curves is difficult. So, I’ll start with how to take a curve and then you try the braking on the curves (pls ref to disclaimer above!) .

The trick to taking a curve fast is that you need to accelerate through it. Also you need to l

First you need to use your body in the curve. Basic criteria – the bike should be as straight as possible – peg scraping is not an indication of going fast. Here’s what you do. Say you enter a curve which is a right hander. Instead of leaning your bike into the curve, move your torso to the right – so that it is off the center line, but make sure that your eyes stay horizontal to the ground – i.e. your head should be vertical even though your body is leaning. The CG gets shifted, and your bike starts turning. Lean more… till a point that the bike also starts to tilt. Now, how much you can tilt is upto you – you will get to learn it as you practice.

Next practice the speed to enter a curve. Basically brake before a curve and take the curve – slightly accelerating in the curve. Next time enter the curve at a faster pace … are you comfortable ? Good, increase the speed more a bit. Here, you really need to know your comfortable speed to enter the curve – i.e. the speed you can enter the curve without having to brake after hitting the curve.

Note : most people lean the other way. i.e. if the curve is left, they try to keep their body straight when the bike leans, so they are effectively leaning left.

The next step after this is to shift your butt off the seat to the side you are leaning. Watch MotoGP to figure out what hanging off is. But I would strongly suggest you try a race track for this… city roads are not made for this.

Go long distance

Long distance riding – how does it help ? Well, you are on bike for hours instead of minutes. You get to know your bike better. You get to know yourself better. In hindi it is said that “haath baith jayega”. Get used to the bike. Go on unfamiliar roads. Learn caution. Learn your bike.

If you have never done long distance riding before, you can start with a 100km one way trip *out of the city*. Riding 100+kms in a city is not longdistance riding. Its commuting.

Riding Hard

Now comes the time of riding hard. Take proper care of your bike. Brakes, tyres, rearview mirrors etc. Take proper care of yourself – riding gear, shoes, helmets, gloves, properly rested. Ride on the road. If you have followed the above and practiced it, you will find yourself taking the path which has the least amount of traffic, braking less than the other punk trying to overtake you, leaning in corners where the others get heart failure seeing you.

If you still can’t do it – maybe you need personal training. Give me a call, get your own bike and I will teach you !

Books and other reading materials

Way to Dusty Death – Alistair McLean
An unlikely book to be here – but believe it or not, reading this made the gear changing click in my mind.

Proficient Motorcycling – David Hough
One of the books on riding properly.

Twist of the Wrist – Keith Code
Tips on how to ride really really hard.


~ by Vibhu on May 5, 2006.

9 Responses to “Power Riding”

  1. yo! good one. i specially liked the accelerate on a turn thingy… which i have to still learn… πŸ™‚

  2. Nicely written, Vibhu… Specially liked the part of attacking the curves…(my achilles heel)Cheers,Hrishi

  3. Awesome vibhu. Just loved the writeup. Regarding the braking. I think u should have also mentioned on the kind of surface the rider is riding. There is no point in hard braking, when the rider is riding on say fine sand. While taking curves I personally feel the bike has got to have good tyres. When I was riding with the Michelins I could easily accelerate out of the corners, but now with the horrible TVS tyres my heart is always in the mouth when I try it.

  4. he he, so vibhu u also brake in curves? Good read.

  5. Wonderful write-up Vibhu, very much informative… thanks a lot…

  6. Nice write Vibhu… I liked it more as I could very much associate it with my driving style :)..ppl say its fast..esp. in high traffic areasThe curve logic is always something that I keep thinking on..and i try it mostly on the bandra reclamation bridge (that connects from highway to bandra west).. nice long curve on the bridge… though, I aint still very sure on whether one sud tilt right on a right curve (the pt. that u mentioned in ur ‘note’).. the reason being that the CG shifts towards right rather than remaining at the center.. hence it might create more chances of skidding.. if one moves left on a right curve and tilt the bike rightwards, then the CG remains at the center giving better control…this is just my hypothesis (which probably also contradicts with the MotoGP driving)..wat say?Have been owning a pulsar since 8 months by now…covered entire mumbai and several mum-pune trips..would be nice to have a head-on or a tete-a-tete some day~Alekh (9867003857)

  7. Thanks for the comments guys!Now to answer some specific questions :Hrishi – it can be done. Only needs practice !Raghu, thanks for pointing out the surface criteria. Since I was talking about learning power riding, I think that the person trying it out should be intelligent enough to know not to practice on bad surfaces. Nav – yes, one does need to brake on curves. Even if we were on a race track, I dont think that I am so good that I can hit the curve precisely all the time. And what we are talking about is the common road. People just come in your path like they are driving drunk – and you better know how to brake in curves if you want to go fast. Alekh, you reasoning is good, but slightly flawed. It would be really difficult to explain CG without diagrams , so I suggest that you get hold of one of the motorcyling books I have listed out. Both of them do a very good job of explaining how it is done. Alternatively, till you get your hands on the books, I suggest you try out both the way you are used to and the way I am suggesting and draw your own conclusions.

  8. pretty good advice dude – will fwd to others :)the good part was that I follow almost all of it.the bad part is that my unshakeable doesnt have the brakes to brake like you mention πŸ˜€

  9. Hey Vibhu all advise apart lol im more interested in the personal training bit πŸ˜› really man accelerating on the curves is the way to go about it but looking at the roads we have and the mess tht is splashed all over them this looks like a distant possiblity….though the most difficult part is the riding without the brakes most people will claim they do it but i dont think even half of them can prove they do it…..

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