Practicing U-turns

My F650 GS

I had a few hours free this morning so I decided to ride over to the coffee shop and get some caffiene. After that, I dropped off a book at the library then was planning to go home and relax but then I thought I would ride to the nearby school’s parking lot and practice some u-turns. I still have some trouble making these and the last time I practiced, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was a little tired and just couldn’t concentrate. I was disappointed because the previous time, I was really getting the hang of it.

But this morning I was fired up (most likely the coffee) and figured I might as well use this opportunity to sharpen my skills rather than just go home and play video games. I’m happy to say that it was clicking for me today and I was making much tighter turns, and my muscle-memory was taking over. That was really cool because I didn’t have to think so much about controlling the clutch and throttle. It just all seemed to work naturally.

A few months ago I bought the book Proficient Motorcycling by David L. Hough. It filled with great information that every motorcyclist should know. One surprisingly short section deals with u-turns and I picked up a couple good tips. I learned that to do a tight turn, you really need to lean the bike over. If you are just slow-speed turning with the bike perpendicular to the ground your turning radius is pretty large. So large in fact that you probably won’t be able to pull off a u-turn on a two lane street. (I know from personal experience!) So first, you need to throw the bike into a lean, while turning the handlebars pretty sharply. Then you need to use the clutch to control the stability. It helps to keep the throttle at a constant rev, and then just feather the clutch. To make a tighter turn, pull in the clutch lever. If the bike is leaning over too much and you feel like it’s tipping, let out the clutch and that power will straighten you up. After a while of practicing that, I started using the throttle more in conjuction with the clutch (and not having just a constant rev). This part is where the muscle memory and practice really paid off. Now when I feel the bike is at the tipping point, I don’t have to think about what to do to get it back in control. My left hand automatically lets out the clutch, and my right applies a bit more throttle. This is a really cool feeling!

A couple other things help me with the u-turns. First is keeping my body and head more perpendicular to the ground, and using the footpegs to maintain balance. It’s like when you are riding a bike up a hill and you stand up to get more pedaling power. The bike leans from side to side as you pump, while your body is pretty much straight up and down. On the motorcycle, you can lean the bike over, then apply pressure to the opposite peg to help balance it.

Another thing that helps is to look where you want to go. That’s one of the first things they teach you in the MSF class. And when you are doing u-turns you not only look with your eyes, but you crane your neck around pretty far. For me, I kind of just imagine the line I want to be taking, then look along that line about 20 feet out. In MSF, they say that if you see an obstacle in the road, don’t fixate on it, because you will head right towards it. For u-turns, I use this target fixation to help me guide where I want the bike to go. Kind of neat since it works!

I’ve also read that it helps to “drag” the rear brake as this will supposedly stabilize the bike. I’ve tried this a little bit, but was probably applying too much brake, since I stalled it out a couple times. Hopefully as the rest of the process becomes second-nature, I can add this element into the mix.

I still need to practice (never stop learning!) especially in one key area. I have trouble initiating the turn immediately from a stop. I usually need about five to eight feet of straight line acceleration before throwing it into the lean. In a few videos I’ve seen online, the rider will turn the bars first, then accelerate directly into a tight turn. Looks so easy! Hopefully I can improve in that area. Looking forward to the day that it “clicks” for me!

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