Motor School with Quinn Redeker: The Art of Being Slow

Motor School with Quinn Redeker The Art of Being Slow
Learn how to use the windscreen as a level to ensure both rider and bike work as one balanced mass in this Motor School installment. Photos by Kevin Wing.

A little while back, I took a ride up the coast. It was around 75 degrees outside, the sun was shining, and the ocean was waiting just nine miles from my driveway. I remember smiling, a bit embarrassed at myself for getting caught up in the coolness of my Vanson riding jacket and my retro Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. Maybe I even started feeling like Top Gun’s Maverick – if he wore a helmet. But there I was, effortlessly clicking through gears on my way to a much-needed reset button in the form of sun, sea, and wide-open air. God Bless America!

But as the ocean revealed itself, I knew I wasn’t the only one looking for coastal therapy. As I turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway, I was immediately wedged into heavy traffic in both directions. Sure, I could see the ocean, but I was stuck in 1st gear, engine fan humming, beads of sweat trickling down my back. It looked like I was going to have to skip the gratuitous beach volleyball session and practice my slow-speed balancing work.

Lucky for me, riding really slow was always part of my gig as a motor officer. Parades, escorts, crowd control, and just plain old everyday traffic. And like anything else, you get good at the things you practice. I learned key concepts and skills that eliminated duck-walking, in-lane weaving, grabby clutch and brake work, and the general sense of fear when stuck in stop-n-go.

What components of slow riding are involved in creating magical on-bike-balance bliss? Slow riding can be broken down into three parts: the rider, the motorcycle, and the rider’s inputs. Let’s look at each one, starting with the rider.

The first thing to appreciate is that slow riding is all about balance points: the bike’s balance point, the rider’s balance point, and the relationship between the two. This means we need a good sense of our own body’s center of balance to minimize any negative impact it might have on the motorcycle’s equilibrium. In other words, if you can’t control your own balance, things only get worse when you get on the bike.

Now let’s look at the motorcycle. No matter what you ride, big or small, long or short, your motorcycle was engineered to have a magical spot where it maintains vertical balance. In fact, the motorcycle is capable of slow-riding on its own, but then we come along and screw up the program by throwing our weight around like a mid-level manager at a big box store on Black Friday.

The last ingredient in our slow-riding skills concoction relates to the rider’s controls and how we exercise them. If we’re prone to on/off, light-switch clutch work and grip-it-and-rip-it throttle action, then we’ll struggle to keep the bike in balance each time we engage the controls. But when you get the proportions right, you’re in for a sublime slow cruise through the worst traffic imaginable. The key is to engage the controls sparingly and calmly, with the goal of having them support rather than upset our balance.

Below I’ve condensed my slow training into two simple (but not necessarily easy) parking lot drills. These, along with a few ideas to keep in mind, will help your slow-speed skills improve exponentially with minimal risk or effort.

Motor School with Quinn Redeker The Art of Being Slow
Improving your slow-riding skills will pay off every time you throw your leg over the bike. Just practice a few simple drills and say goodbye to all your fears of going slow.

Slow Weave Drill: This drill helps you understand how your bodyweight shifts as the motorcycle changes direction. Our goal here is to become sensitive to subtle weight shifts as we sit on the bike and how they impact our overall balance profile.

Find a traffic-free area and set up six cones in a line, approximately 9 to 18 feet apart depending on bike type and skill level (if you don’t have cones, use parking stall markings, which are usually 9 feet apart). With the bike in 1st gear and the clutch partially engaged, weave through the cone pattern. Do your best to control your speed to around 2-3 mph with minimal bike lean. To keep the speed down, you can gently drag the rear brake but avoid mashing it. We want to upset the bike as little as possible when using the controls.

Now position your body so it’s aligned with the motorcycle’s center line. Our objective is to take two parts – you and the bike – and make them move as one balanced mass. And once we arrive at this perfect balance spot on the bike, we want to live there as long as we can, deviating from it as minimally and as infrequently as possible. Easier said than done, but you get the idea.

A great way to help keep you and your bike working together is by using your windscreen as a “level.” Keep your eyes tracking the top edge of your windscreen, and you will spot even the slightest body movement in relation to the bike using this visual cue. With practice, you’ll make fewer big weight shifts and more micro adjustments to remain balanced. Rinse and repeat the drill until you and your bike feel like Maverick and Goose going inverted in the F-14 Tomcat. Feel the need…the need for (slow) speed!

Motor School with Quinn Redeker The Art of Being Slow
Move the bars full-lock left and right to shift the bike’s balance point beneath you.

Bar-to-Bar Drill: While parked, sit on your bike and slowly turn the bars lock-to-lock. Did you notice that the bike shifted a few inches in either direction? It did, and it’s this side-to-side movement that we’re going to exploit to help the bike balance beneath us when we come to a complete stop without putting our feet down. Welcome to hyper-slow mode.

Now that you understand my little handlebar trick, let’s go back and rework the Slow Weave Drill. Only this time I want you to go slower each time, eventually challenging yourself to come to a stop – with your feet up, steady clutch engagement, and light rear brake – at several points along the path.

The task here is to recognize and correct the subtle instabilities in balance by smoothly but assertively moving the handlebar in either direction to regain stability beneath you. If you need to roll forward to find balance and reset, that’s fine. Stay relaxed and keep at it. Your sense of balance will improve over time, and you will see huge gains.

For a live-action example of all this, go to Police Motor Training with Quinn Redeker on YouTube and watch the video “Quinn Redeker Riding Slow.” If it’s easier, you can swing by my house, and we’ll set up some cones over here. But it’s currently 5:30 p.m., so you might hit some traffic.

Quinn wears Lee Parks Design gloves exclusively. Find Quinn at Police Motor Training.

See all Motor School with Quinn Redeker articles here.

The post Motor School with Quinn Redeker: The Art of Being Slow appeared first on Rider Magazine.


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