You will most likely never be lauded for being able to ride well at slow speeds, but you will almost certainly be mocked if you do it poorly. Duck walking, jerky takeoffs and tipping over are not the most glamorous riding techniques and they can even be harmful to you and your bike if it goes badly enough. When you are riding in the city, you need to be proficient at slow speeds to be able to handle the stop-and-go traffic and tight maneuvers.
There are plenty of riders, new and old, who ride around city streets and parking lots with their feet dragging because they are not confident or are not skilled enough to keep them where they should be. As soon as your bike is moving, your feet should be up on the pegs or floorboards, not only for safety, but for control. By using the clutch, throttle and brake the right way, you can do this with no problem.
The key is to have smooth movements and inputs and putting everything together in harmony. There is a process, so let’s break down what you should be doing to keep the bike up at slow speeds.
Clutch control is incredibly important. Popping the clutch will have you jerking about and make you look like you’re on a bucking bronco. To make it seem like you’re on a well-tamed steed, use the clutch in the friction zone. Do this by easily letting the clutch lever out until the bike starts to move. Keeping it in the friction zone will give you more control over the bike’s power, instead of it being completely unleashed with the clutch lever fully out.
While you need to be constantly on the clutch lever, don’t even think about touching the front brake lever while going under 15 mph. Grabbing the front brake will disrupt the front wheel and compress the forks, making it hard to keep your balance. Instead, feather the rear brake with your foot. This will allow you to evenly apply power with the throttle. The duck walk is automatically eliminated because you will need your feet up to do this.
Speaking of throttle use, it needs to be smooth. You need to exercise restraint. Don’t just mash the throttle every time you take off only to quickly apply the brakes at the next light. Ease into it so you can keep the bike rolling.
Positioning your body correctly can also make a big difference. Be prepared to shift your body weight around to keep the center of gravity on the bike as centered as possible, especially when leaning. You will need to place your bodyweight on the opposite side of the bike lean to keep the bike’s center of gravity where it needs to be. This is the opposite of a high speed turn. You need to counterbalance the bike in order to lean it over because you do not have the centrifugal force that would normally pull you through a high speed turn.
And don’t be afraid to lean the bike at slow speeds. Leaning will dip the bike for quicker turns instead of the wobbly turns made with just the handlebars. As long as you stay smooth with the controls, you should be able to get enough lean without any issues. It may go against your instinct, but you’ll be amazed at how tight you can make turns once you master it. If you feel like you’re going down, give it just a little more throttle and the extra power will pull you through it (just don’t crack it wide open, though).
Unlike a full speed turn where you use countersteering throughout the whole turn, you actually need to point the front wheel where you want to go at slow speeds once you initiate the lean with the countersteering.
Just like when you’re on the highway or on the track, you need to look where you want to go. The bike will go wherever your head is pointed, so now is not the time to be checking your gauges or people watch, unless you want said people to be pointing at you when you dump the bike in their direction. Use slight head movements and your peripheral vision to keep an eye on your surroundings.
All of this may sound like a lot to do, especially because you have to do most of the steps simultaneously. That’s why you should practice in an open parking lot before trying it in bustling city traffic. Start by trying to go in a straight line as slow as you can. The slower you can go with your feet up, the better. Once you have that down, start incorporating some slow turns. Keep making the turn tighter as you get more comfortable with leaning the bike at slow speeds.
Once you have slow speed riding mastered, city riding won’t be as daunting. It can even become more fun if you start to think of it as challenge to try and put your feet down as little as possible while you’re moving.
For inspiration, head to YouTube and search for Harley Drill Teams. These riders make maneuvering full baggers look easy. And with enough practice, it can be.
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