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I think I’m actually getting better…

Posted by desflurane on March 28, 2012

As I have said before, I’ve been working out fairly often, getting out on the bike whenever possible and trying to focus on my riding skills. The work is paying off.

For example, I was out on my training ride the other day – following the basic course I have set for myself (out from the house, up the switchbacks, over to the construction zone then back to the house). Whilst I was preparing to leave the construction zone, I was riding through a whole subdivision full of empty, graded lots. Between each nicely leveled lot is a nice little drop-off or step-up to the next lot. Near the roadway at the bottom of the development there are some larger drops, but most are sloped slightly so they are quite easy to ride – either up or down. So I was rolling up to one of the taller drops (probably five feet in height) fully expecting a nice, albeit steep grade to roll down. As the front wheel neared the edge I realized that this was in fact the ONE place where there was no slope – but an undercut cliff. I was rolling too quickly and was far to close to avoid the plunge. Instincts screamed at me to lock up the wheels in attempt to avoid the certain death that would await anyone foolish enough to ride over the precipice! But quick thinking prevailed. Instead of backing off, I blipped the throttle hard, and shot over the edge with as much forward momentum as I could gather. It worked fantastically! I touched down a bit “firmly” but without incident. There was no way I could have stopped in time if I had hit the brakes, and I would very likely have faceplanted -really- hard.

I have also been getting in a few skills-practice sessions in the group of vacant lots next to my house. I’ve been focusing on wheelies. My goal is to perform those nice, slow-speed, full-height wheelies all the pros execute with careless abandon – where the bike is standing nearly vertical and they just ride it along slowly, in perfect control. I’ve been sneaking up on this skill for a long time, but progress has been glacially paced. Until the end of my last ride.

I came back to the house and decided to do a little more skills work before putting the bike away. Since I had just been out for a training ride, I was still in full gear – particularly my boots. I have noticed that I am much more comfortable pulling big wheelies when I am NOT wearing my boots – as I can feel the brake pedal much more accurately wearing only my slip-on shoes. That rear brake “feel” gave me more confidence in my ability to get the front wheel high, and still be able to tap the rear brake and keep it front going all the way over. And so – the wheelies were bigger and higher.

Well, it occurred to me that I needed to develop the same confident brake pedal control with my boots on. Now, I wear SIDI’s which allow the foot to move very freely, but I still can’t really FEEL the brake pedal until I’m mashing pretty hard on it. Further, it seems that most of the times when I have lofted the front wheel a touch too high, I have realized (to my dismay) that my right foot was nowhere near the brake pedal to begin with. Clearly a change in technique was in order.

The answer was amazingly simple! I just positioned my foot flat on the peg and tucked it in until it rested against the clutch cover. It’s a nice, secure feeling position and my foot is ideally placed for immediate braking! It kind of reminds me of the anchor point used in archery, where you draw the arrow back to the same location EVERY SINGLE TIME. After a while it just becomes automatic. Drawing the arrow back to some other spot just feels weird. I just needed to put my braking “anchor point” in the right place. Already, doing wheelies without my foot locked in position feels weird.

Well, this approach works REALLY nicely! I immediately felt a lot more in control of the bike, not just when I was pulling wheelies – but all around. Instant brake control is a big help. And wheelies suddenly became ten times easier!! I’m pulling and riding big, tall wheelies effortlessly! The skill needs more polish in the distance and balance departments, but this was a definite “Ah-Hah” moment!

I quickly noticed that being able to confidently stand the bike right up to its balance point is a big advantage for other maneuvers as well – such as wheelie turns. When the front wheel is high enough, the bike feels nearly weightless and is quite easy to pivot around to the desired direction.

So anyway, I feel like very good progress is being made!


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