Riding Skills Newsletter

 Published by the:
New Zealand Motorcycle Safety Consultants.

P O Box 26-036,

Email address:

Phone 64-4-478-5024
Fax 64-4-478-6197


Maps are a bird’s line art drawing of roadways. Some say that maps are "graphic representations of relationships in space". This isn’t a bad definition, but there are also maps that each of us use that are seldom discussed, little understood, yet religiously followed - mental maps.

Mental maps are maps we draw in our mind’s eye and which represent our personal view of the world. They range from actual representations of the world, to unique, sometimes unrecognisable creations - mental representations of relationships of space, emotions, intuitions, and so on. Or for the motorcycle rider, relationships of speed and time.

At irregular intervals the NZMSC runs racetrack courses to teach road riders fast riding skills on the relative safety of the racetrack. At one part of these courses the pupils and instructors walk around the track looking at the layout and surfaces of each corner. They talk their way through each corner, discussing lines, pavement changes, and details that go into the rider’s cornering plan. They are ‘roading engineers’, in motorcycle leathers, surveying and mapping the roadway.

I can remember when, back at the pits during one course, one instructor had to draw a map of some of the corners to further some discussion. The map was fascinating. If it was a "representation of relationships of space" that had been drawn, it was a very, very confused one. The map depicted reference points at the side of the track that were disproportionately over-emphasised. It also showed the track as gigantic turns and very short straights. In reality, many of the track’s turns were tight and the straights long. Anyone not in the know would be completely baffled as to why these guys were so unable to accurately map the track having now both walked and ridden its length. Yet the instructor and pupils obviously thought the drawing to be absolutely splendid.

Then, a pupil, who was a local, offered them an official copy of a track map. The instructor took the map, glanced at it for a moment, then tossed it aside and continued the discussion with the original version. Were these guys boneheads or what?

No, the map they had drawn was exactly correct. Whereas a cartographer would have created a map that represented relationships in space, the instructor had designed one that represented relationships in speed, time, thought, and action.

Straights were shortened because, for now, straights are inconsequential. On a racetrack, straights are merely spaces between turns. Time between actions. Travelling in a straight line is boring and almost effortless, even at extreme speed. For these guys, the turns were what needed to be analysed. In fast riding on a track, all decisions and skilled actions take place on entry to, in, or exiting the turns. Out on the road, of course, other traffic makes that patently untrue.

On the instructor’s map, where the pavement actually went wasn’t important - only where on it they wanted to be. Speed, pavement changes, or following corners required the relocation of some of the apexes. Some apexes that had been noted while walking didn’t actually matter. Ones they hadn’t noticed did.

On that map, distance was secondary to time, thought and action. It was a map of speed and technique, with only a little bit of space in it. That map was a physical extension of the riders’ mental maps.

It is this mental map that the rider refers to in order to input the appropriate control movements to his/her bike. Without that map, the rider is "lost" on the road.

Most riders don’t realise that they produce these sort of maps for all the roads they most often ride over. They also don’t realise that when that map becomes a part of their subconscious, that is the database the subconscious refers to when commanding the body to apply specific inputs to control the bike.

Thus, how detailed and how well grooved into the subconscious that map is tends to influence how safe that motorcyclist is. Unless the road rider subconsciously knows every aspect of the corners he/she takes at high speed - the reference points, the road surface anomalies, the shape of the corner, the corner’s environment and the road and environment that follows it - he/she can be caught out by any unexpected factor which forces a line or speed change. Effectively this leaves the rider "lost" at speed in an "interesting" corner.

Because that map is a map of speed and technique, with only a little bit of space in it, the rider cannot draw it into his/her subconscious solely by walking around the corner, or solely by riding around it at faster and faster speeds.

The only way to draw that map is through a combination of looking, riding, and thinking - at a variety of speeds.

Too many riders think that the way to learn a corner is to just ride around it faster and faster until "you get it right".

Too many riders die.


Sometimes you can get interesting, thought-provoking threads on the Internet newsgroups. That this one for example:

SH asked:
"I would like to know what the fascination of doing a wheelie is for those who are so eager to perform this stunt? Do you have a death wish or perhaps you can afford to purchase several bikes if you smash the one trying the wheelie? It's illegal to perform on the road so you can't show off unless the cops aren't around. So what is it with wanting to wheelie?

Flash suggested:
Mayhaps it is something else they can do with their right hand besides what they are usually doing with it when they are by themselves, another activity which involves a sort of up and down motion.

Mitchell Lohnes suggested:
I bet the ones who shit on those for doing wheelies are also the ones that can't do them!

And M. Fleuridas suggested:
Like the old saying says "Those who can do, those who can't wish they could"

To which SH replied:
"Those who can usually make asses out of themselves and those who can't sit back and laugh.

And the NZMSC said:
Can we throw a word of reason in here? Surely it's not WHAT you do but WHERE you do it?
The risk you place yourself in is, and should always be, your decision alone. But, if you place yourself at risk and, in the process, put other people or property at risk, then you have overstepped the Risk Management mark.
So, IMHO, a lofting great wheelie on an empty road is within acceptable Risk Management limits but on a road with parked cars or one being used by other people or traffic ....


A friend of rider we know rode up from Arizona on his Honda Shadow. When he arrived he complained that his bike had an intermittent miss and power loss.

The guy had lent it to another mechanic, who had found that the bike was low on fuel. So the mechanic had filled the bike from a can another friend uses for a four stroke weedeater, before riding to town, about 40 miles.

The bike barely made it, and would not re-start. They told our acquaintance there was no
spark. Over a three day period, four or five guys, including a bike shop owner tried to find the problem, to no avail.

So our acquaintance had a look at the bike and found that the battery was dead. After a few static tests a bad wire was found leading to the stator. The wire was fixed and the bike brought back to our acquaintance’s house where the battery was charged.

The next morning our guy found good spark, and replaced the plugs. However, although it would start after a lot of cranking, the bike ran badly, and smelled funny.

Acting on intuition our acquaintance checked the fuel.

Here's the tip: motorcycles do not run properly on kerosene! There must have been enough petrol in the tank to dilute the kerosene enough to run at speed when the mix got to the carburettor but that’s all.

With the fuel tank and fuel lines cleaned it out, the bike runs fine.

So our friend called the gas can's owner, and he said that his new weed eater wouldn’t start….


Motorcycling Misquotes

We all know that motorcycling changes us. It's the thrill and the challenge of riding that ensures that, once captured by the adventure of riding, we stay captured.
Then motorcycling becomes part of our life and very persona. And, because the motorcycle invades its rider's life so completely, have you ever wondered what the words of the great literary figures of the world would have been like if they had been motorcyclists.
We did, so we took a look at a famous quote from a famous person and made a minor gentle adaptation to show you how this famous quote would have ended up if the author had been motorcyclist:

He learned the arts of riding, motorcycle maintenance, boasting, and how to scale a fortress - or a nunnery.

Lord Byron 1788 - 1824
English Poet







A little verse

Oh the joys of being a pillion,
Hooning along on the back of a bike.
Your life in the hands,
Of an, often, strange man,
Whom you know that your mother won't like.

Oh yes, what it is to be chauffeured,
On a machine that has only two wheels,
That is smelly and loud,
And goes in a cloud,
Of smoke as thick as a shield.

And the trust that you put in your rider,
Who works the controls with such skill.
All you see is his rear -
Doesn't stifle your fear,
Or the feeling you want to be ill.

Hunkering down on a long trip,
Could be considered great fun...
If you don't mind,
Arms squashed against thigh,
And the cagers all seeing your bum.

Yes, being a pillion is joyful,
But now it is my turn to play.
Got the lid and the wheels,
Jacket, whole deal,
And as for the L's...any day!!

Poem By Kathy Vickers


A small town in Belgium had just taken delivery of a motorcycle for the local policeman and a great fuss was being made of the fact.

To publicise the event the mayor decided to have the bike desecrated at a special ceremony. So they called in the three denominations to bless it.

The priest chanted a blessing and sprinkled it with holy water. The parson chanted a blessing and waved the cross over it. The rabbi chanted a blessing, went round the back and cut an inch off the exhaust pipe.


We’ve all encountered roadkill, seen lying on the road those sad bundles of what used to be an animal of bird of some kind.

You never know what you may find and run over or into on the road. In the NZMSC book called "Crashes and Crises - Learning From Other Riders’ Mistakes", one rider recounts his experience when he encountered a rattlesnake on the road. The rattlesnake was not only alive but it attacked him as he went past!

Animals and roadkill can be a real problem for the motorcyclist and the only real answer to it is to keep a good lookout for these and other hazards.

Of course, like all road hazards, motorcyclists often tend to treat the subject rather irreverently.
One rider insists that anyone who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch has never run across freshly killed roadkill.

Another, who calls himself ‘Kazmir’ says "I have eaten "yard-bird" that I ran over. It was an incocknito Rhode Island Red. I had a heart full of soul and a mouth full of feathers!

When you encounter road kill, you at least know that it is unlikely to move into your path! Not so for living mobile animal chicanes.

Here in New Zealand, where there are something like 50 million sheep (and only 3.5 million people) we have a problem with sheep on the road.

During a discussion on sheep on the road, a fascinating theory came up. One rider said he’d found the best way to deal with sheep is not to. You just cruise past them giving them room but DONT slow down. He says that because sheep are prey and have their reflexes developed for being prey, if they see you slow, they assume you are going to attack them. So they panic and THEN can shoot off in any direction!

If you ignore them, this rider says, they'll usually just keep munching even if you whip past them a few feet away - they don’t regard traffic as a threat unless it looks as if it's seen them..........

Thinking about that, we decided that, since hitting them at high speed if they DID run out on you would be really bad, it’s best, as soon as you see them and are some way off, to adjust your speed down and THEN cruise past them. That way, if they do suddenly run out, you have more chance of stopping or being hurt less in the resultant crash.

Another point that came up in our discussions is that, with all animals, you've got to watch the young ones with mother. If the youngster is on the other side of the road, it will probably run back across the road to Mum just when you have decided it is going to stay put....

And, of course, the true story:
One British rider had a run in with a sheep. Apparently he was blasting round some country lanes at about 65+mph, turned a corner, saw the sheep, and hit it. Obviously he fell off, hurt himself, the bike was stuffed, and the sheep was literally in two halves. The rider panicked when he thought all the blood, guts, brain (wool?) was his....


The NZMSC has published a variety of specialist riding skills books based more than two decades of the study and development of riding skills.

These books are written for the ordinary rider but cover skills often not known by ordinary riders.

Some of the books available include:

Braking - The Motorcyclist's No 1 Survival Skills.
An in-depth look at the most difficult of all motorcycle riding skills - high level brake use.


The NZMSC Accident Survival System
When it comes to the crunch and there seems to be no way to avoid a crash, all is not lost. At worst, using the NZMSC Crash Survival System you can reduce the crunch to a survivable impact while, at the best, you can avoid the crash altogether.
The NZMSC Crash Survival System has been developed over the past decade based on NZMSC experience in practical riding tuition, examination of local and international crash statistics, and the study of hundreds of motorcycle crash reports.

Cornering - Going Around The Bend On A Motorcycle.
Safe, quick cornering requires considerable riding skills knowledge, the understanding and application of some quite complex cornering rules, a cool head, sharp eyesight, trained reflexes, a well-maintained motorcycle, and an ever alert and working brain.
This book will help you gain the mental skills needed to corner well. The physical skills will come with practice.

Mental Control - Motorcycling's Hidden Skill.
The experts say that over 90% of motorcycle riding skills are mental skills. Mental Control is both a skill and a frame of mind that separates the professional motorcyclist from the amateur. This book is aimed at helping the average motorcyclist gain Mental Control skills.


Ride Like An Expert - The Basis Of Professional Riding.
A book on core motorcycle riding skills, good for both the newcomer to riding and the experienced rider who wishes to brush up on his skills.



Crashes and Crises - Learning From Other's Mistakes.
A collection of stories of some common and uncommon crashes and crises met by riders in various parts of the world. Each crash story provides riders with something they can develop appropriate avoidance manoeuvres from and the book is funny, frightening and fascinating all at once.

These books cost US$10 each. Postage is US$3 if less than four books are purchased. Postage is free if four or more books are purchased.

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New Zealand Motorcycle Safety Consultants
PO Box 26-036, Newlands, Wellington, New Zealand