Motorcycling Tips: Ride with a plan

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Ride Motorsports


Ride with a plan

By Bret Tkacs

A few years ago a fellow motorcycle riding instructor offered me one of the best riding tips I've ever been given, a golden nugget I share with others at every opportunity. Being a motorcycle instructor, I pride myself on my ability to critically coach others to better their riding; yet somehow this was a simple tidbit that had eluded me. I have been riding legally on the road year-round for about 17 years now (I'm not that old, really… ) yet it has been the last few years that my riding has improved the most. This tip is the catalyst for my greatest improvements.

Photo: The rider above has his hands full with
predicting what each driver around him is going to do next.

The story goes something like this… I was out teaching a Basic Rider Course in Tacoma when my friend Bruce showed up. He had just gotten back from attending a well-known out-of-state track school. With all the enthusiasm he could muster (which unlike myself is always calm and controlled ) he began to share his newfound treasure. He told me "Bret… I learned the greatest thing" with an impatient response I asked him to share all. He told me, "I learned I should always ride with a plan." I paused for a moment trying to figure out what the big deal was. I told him "I do ride with a plan… I plan on riding over to Yakima for breakfast tomorrow and then I'm headed east… that's my plan." He gave me that look telling me I just missed the point. "NO" he said… before you head out for a ride you should always plan to work on a specific skill." WOW! How simple I thought, what a great idea, all I have to do is pick one thing to focus on during each ride! Since that time, I have shared this little tidbit with each of my students during my graduation speech; knowing that without incentive most of my students would not practice their newfound riding skills until they came back to take an Intermediate, Advanced or Street Skills course. This is the one piece of advice that can help you hone your skills during every ride.

It works like this: each time you mount up to go for a ride, you should pick one specific item to focus on. This can be something like eye placement (keep them high searching for traffic or entry points for cornering) , or maybe try for the perfect line through a corner. If you don't feel like focusing on your physical abilities try picking a mental skill such as playing the "what if" game… "what if that car pulls out in front of me, do I have a plan?"… "what if this corner has a stalled car on the other side, what if I get a flat?" Most riders understand the value in taking a motorcycle class or reading a book to improve skills but if those skills aren't practiced on a regular basis they will not be there when you really need them. Homer Simpson once said something like "boy, in unfamiliar times you go with what you know." Ride safe… ride with a plan. You have to be disciplined to do this and gain the most from it. Remember ONE item at a time, isolate your skills and hone each one individually. Bookmark this article and refer back to the following drills to practice on your next ride.

RiderCoach Roy Puchalski practices cornering on one of his many bikes. DOL locations that have a marked area for motorcycle endorsement testing are good to visit during non- office hours so you can see just how good your basic skills are.

15 skills that can be practiced during any ride

  • Eye placement for cornering – during cornering you should be looking as far through the corner as possible with your next entry point being the focus point.
  • Eye placement for traffic – while in traffic you should be scanning out into traffic with your eyes up and moving regularly, remember to scan at least 12-14 seconds ahead of you and keep your eyes moving. Don't space out or focus on any item too long.
  • Lane placement - while in traffic ensure you are in a position that allows you to create a space cushion and provide you with an escape route. We have a footprint of maybe 3 inches and have 12-14 feet of lane from side to side… use it!
    The Bathroom Reader...

    Street Strategies
    by David Hough

    We call it the Bathroom Reader and for good reason. The book, Street Strategies (2001 Bow Tie Press), is loaded with one-at-a-time exercises and food for thought. Broken out into two pages per subject sections, the book makes a great item to store - where else - in the bathroom. In the time it takes to do your thing, you'll be able to read David's sage advice and focus on it during your next ride. 

  • Braking - when traffic is sparse, practice your emergency stops to see if you can really stop as fast as you think you can (the one skill not used in daily riding is emergency braking). Work on maximizing the front brake without skidding the rear. The front brake can carry 70-100% of your braking depending on the bike, environment and rider skill.
  • "What if"- hone your mental skills by creating worse-case scenarios while riding and creating an appropriate plan of action. Constantly look for the worst case and find a solution. This can even be acted out to hone physical skills like swerving (just don't piss off the cage drivers around you).
  • Other drivers - practice reading other drivers, watch for eye contact, cell phones, weaving, tailgaters, out-of-state plates, missing mirrors, etc. Try to predict what they will do and then see if you were correct.
  • Grip - while riding, make sure your hands are relaxed at ALL times. The more tense you are the worse your bike will handle.
  • Body position - be conscious of your body position, are you pushing the bike under you? Are you relaxed? Slouching? Hanging off? Try to use this to your advantage to create maximum traction, ground clearance and stability.
  • Reading the road - practice reading the environmental clues that tell you what the road is going to do…
  • Lines - practice picking the best cornering line for every corner (outside-inside-outside, or outside-inside-inside depending on the corner). The best line is the one that gives you time to deal with the unknown.
  • Entry point - practice putting your tire on a specific point, use it as your entry point into a corner. This should be done while keeping your speeds slow enough to stay comfortable. If you really want to test your skills at speeds that would generate a ticket, I recommend going to a regulated track event.
  • Throttle - practice riding with the throttle, keep it SOoooo smooth that you are unable to feel the on-off transition.
  • Swerving - while following traffic, try swerving around points that appear from underneath the vehicle in front of you. This can be storm drains, paint, light colored pavement or whatever.
  • Following distance - try counting off 1-motorcycle, 2-motorcycle to see if you have your minimum following distance (best done during rush hour ). Try counting off the following distance of traffic around you. You might be amazed how close the drivers REALLY are.
  • Communication - focus on clearly communicating your intentions to other drivers and looking for others trying to communicate with you. This may not be just the obvious turn signals but could be a head-check, change in lane position, etc.

  • Bret Tkacs is the president of Puget Sound Safety, a Northwest company specializing in motorcycle skills for beginning , intermediate and advanced riders.

    We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


    Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

    Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!