Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Traction is an essential part of motorcycling. Understanding and managing traction is vital if we want to avoid mishaps.

Traction has three users: side force, driving force, and braking force. Side force is responsible for steering, tracking, balancing, and controlling lean angle, as well as fighting crosswinds. It's what keeps the bike from sliding out from under us in a turn. Driving force is responsible for propelling us forward; simple as that. Braking force is the opposite of driving force; applying the brakes is the most obvious cause, rolling off the throttle is another. Even the resistance as the tire rolls down the street is a form of braking force.

You only have so much traction available. The actual amount varies as road, tire, and weather conditions change.

Traction being used by one user cannot be used by another. Think of the amount of traction available as a dollar bill. As we roll through a curve, imagine about 70% being used by side force. That leaves only 30% available if we need to apply the brakes. That means hard braking while in the curve is out of the question. However, if we apply 10% of the brakes, the motorcycle slows and straightens up some; now only 50% is being used by side force, meaning more traction is available for braking, so more brake force can be used, and so it goes. As the bike slows, it straightens up, more brake pressure can be applied, and we can come to a stop if desired.

Since very few of us outside the professional racing circuits have the ability to correctly judge the exact amount of traction available at every moment, it is critical to our safety that we, as prudent motorcyclists, maintain a traction reserve.

For starters, don't enter a curve so fast that you use up 70% of traction. Reduce your speed before the curve and use less traction, leaving more to be available for the unexpected, such as sand, stalled cars, and sudden decreasing radius turns.
When necessary to brake hard, straighten the bike up first; now almost all traction is available for braking force, as very little is being used for side or driving force. Review the article on Maximum Braking Technique.

Maintain your motorcycle. Check the tires regularly, replace worn tires when recommended, and keep them properly inflated.
And remember what Dirty Harry said; "A man's got to know his limits." (So does a woman.) Know your limits, the limits of your machine, and the limits of the environment.

Dale E. Baker #09956
WPAFB , OH