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From the dearly departed website "The Interactive Motorcycle":



A Case For Smaller Bikes, by Vail Johnson

from The Interactive Motorcycle

DO YOU EVER WONDER why so many inexperienced riders crash, and often spectacularly? This was not always the case, and it's not just kids, either. I’ve seen plenty of thirty- and forty-something riders go down, and it's almost always their own fault. It's the sheer competence and ease of big speed the newer sportbikes are capable of, coupled with too much enthusiasm and a lack of meaningful training, that creates these problems. This lack of experience is nothing new, but huge changes have taken place in street bikes the past 15 years or so.
The capabilities of modern sport bikes are so great that when you reach the limits of tire adhesion and chassis stability, you’re going so damn fast that a less-than-expert rider has no opportunity to experiment with different techniques in controlling these situations. You may get through the corner in spite of your poor riding skills, convinced that no one could have taken your bike through there any faster because, hey, the tires were driftin’, right? I’m really movin' now!

Unfortunately, this kind of rider never learned how to prevent these things from happening in the first place. He has picked up bad habits, and the bike never corrected his mistakes until it was too late. The machine handled so well that it masked the poor riding skills right up to the point of no return. Sure, it gave subtle signals—but few riders are really in tune with them.

Here's what I believe is the key. The novice rider on a modern sportbike has missed out on a wealth of knowledge that is readily available from riding smaller, less powerful and ultimately less capable machines.

There were scads of these bikes on the road in the 1980’s, but the American riders' demand (to his own discredit) for bigger and faster machines has killed the market for this class. The few that are currently available are vastly superior to any GSX-R, CBR, Ninja or YZF for learning the basics of high performance riding, but are looked down upon as entry level learner’s bikes when they should be looked up to for those very same reasons.

Both new and experienced riders alike would be well served by "little bikes" such as the Honda VTR 250, CB-1, and Hawk GT; Suzuki's GS500 and 600 Bandit; the Kawasaki 250 and 500 Ninjas and W650; Yamaha’s SRX 250, FZR400, SR500, Seca 400 and 550, SRX-6, and Seca II; and even Honda's early Nighthawks, from 450 to 650. Even better, I think, would be an inexpensive early '80's standard or sportbike. The entire Suzuki GS series is great. Want a little more sporting feel? How about a nice Honda VF500F Interceptor, Yamaha FJ/FZ600 or Kawasaki GPZ550 from the mid '80's?

Here's what you can do with one of these that you can't do with a sharper-edged modern sport machine—you can scrape pegs, run up to redline on even the twistiest roads, feel the frame flex and maybe even twist the forks under hard braking, as well as experiment with different reactions to weaves and wobbles. What happens if I tense up on the bars when the back end starts to bob around? How about if I loosen my death grip and maybe grip the tank a bit with my knees instead? How do different body positions affect my ground clearance and stability?

Beginning to see my point now? You can do all this at a less than life-threatening pace that might well seem a bit slow and boring on your new YZF750. I’d like to take credit for this concept of "downsizing" but it's been around a lot longer than I have, I'm sure.

Do you think that Kenny Roberts knows a thing or two about riding fast and in control? He trains his GP stars on little Honda XL100 dirt bikes on a small dirt oval. If Rainey and Lawson could learn something on a bike with maybe 7 horsepower, do you think that you, too, could benefit from practicing on a smaller machine? Of course—but only if you desire to become a more skilled and confident rider and can ignore a little peer pressure for a while.

Let's look to England and Germany for a moment, places I've had the pleasure of riding through. Motorcyclists here are mandated by the government to learn on small bikes (l25's in Britain, with a whopping 12 horsepower) and display a fair amount of skill to acquire a full license.

While it may be difficult to prove a correlation scientifically, I believe that the by-product of these requirements (which we Americans would deem much too restrictive) is a vastly superior base knowledge of motorcycle handling dynamics. In other words, they’re much better riders, on average, than we are! They put in their time on the little tiddlers, made their mistakes at low speeds and learned from them instead of just scaring themselves silly or crashing out, neither of which are conducive to a long riding career.

Overseas, I’ve witnessed guys two-up on older BMW twins riding skillfully and calmly at a pace that would have the average GSX-R pilot hanging off dramatically and punching red-line speed shifts in a vain effort to keep up. I contend that the main difference is due to the former’s experience with the little bikes first. I learned a lot from the smaller and less sporting machines that I have owned and have had a great time as well. There is a lot of pleasure to be garnered from riding an "underdog" bike and keeping up easily with your friends on their new "wonder" bikes.

I currently ride a Yamaha FZ750. I’ve had no difficulty hangin' with any street bike on the track, including bikes like the Ducati 955 and the entire crop of modern sportbikes, and unless someone is riding at an unsafe speed I'll stick with you on the street even easier.

The point is not that I'm such a talented guy. The point is that I have taken a calculated approach to high-performance riding that has included many miles of practice on the less sporting style of machine and it has paid off. I've heard so many excuses both on the street and at the track for why a guy is going so slow and doesn't feel comfortable upping the pace any. I hear things like, ‘Maybe I need to dial in a little more rear ride height’, or better yet, ‘I really need these 207's for the street because I was sliding all over on my MEZ1's’. I never hear ‘I really need to work on my ability to downshift smoothly so my back-end doesn’t misbehave entering slow turns’. The rider is the biggest variable in this sport we love, and the component that needs the most work: no exceptions. The big secret is when you gain control, the fun factor skyrockets and you get safer in the process. A small bike is a great way to slow down and gain this control.

If you're dead set on learning on a fast bike, the only place to do it is at a track school where you can safely approach the limits of the machine. I can wholeheartedly recommend both the CLASS schools and the California Superbike schools. Their respective approaches are very different in many ways but have much to offer. We’ll cover these differences in upcoming pieces.

Give this concept an honest try. I think you'll be glad you did.



 

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great article!
i've always thought that by learning on an ex500, a more-forgiving bike, i would be able to be a lot better (some day) and have a smoother learning curve.
i'm new and i spend most of my time doing basic things: u-turns, braking, swerving, downshifting, taking familiar turns at greater and greater angles, etc.
to be honest, it's not that fun practicing this stuff, but i know it's the safe thing to do.
btw, and advice for improving my skills? what things should i be practicing?
for instance, how would i get better at making tighter and tighter u-turns?
tia
 

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i'm happy i got a 600, i'm sure i could have learned on a smaller bike and i'm not denying that. i can also learn on a 600 just as easily, although it is not quite as safe.....i love my bike adn wouldn't want to be smaller, 2 more seasons on this bad boy and it'll have over 35k and i'll sell it and move up quite a bit....or maybe not. i don't think i want anything more than a 600, i get into enough trouble as it is now, a larger engine would be worse. just some thoughts.
 

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This is probably not worth reading.

Good article, but unfortunately it will probably foster many posts about how this rider was fine on a 600 and that rider started on a liter bike and "don't even think about suggesting a tiered license system, thats messing with my freedom", etc. etc.
I like the fact that I can buy whatever bike I want no matter how quickly I could kill myself on it. I also applaud the systems that are in place over seas that make riders build up to bigger bikes. I think that there are many riders that are capable of starting on 600's and learning just as much as they would have on a 125. But, I think that there are far more people out there on 600's that do not have the appreciation and respect for the power. Laws are not written to punish or hold back those that are capable, respectful, and intelligent about their decisions on and off the road. They are written to stop or hinder those that are uncapable, incompetent, disrespectful, and just plain too ignorant to think for themselves.

I am not knocking anyone for buying a 600. I may get one some day, but don't see it in my near future. I am also not saying that a tiered licensing system is right for us. Hell, we can't even get people to do something as simple as putting on a helmet (I will never understand people who do not wear helmets).

I just got my first motorcycle. A brand new SV650S. I personally think it is the perfect first bike for me. It is light and nimble, yet not grossly under or over powered. I will admit that I did buy this bike partly on the way that it looks, but not so that I could tool around town and impress everyone.

So, what am I saying with all of this. Nothing. Just throwing in my $.02. The only thing that I can truly say with confidence is that I absolutly love riding my bike.

Ride to see, not to be seen
 

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I agree with the article, my first 3 bikes were 125 enduro's due more to a cash flow shortage than choice but turned out to be a good thing.

<blockquote><font size=1>In reply to:</font><hr>

There is a lot of pleasure to be garnered from riding an "underdog" bike and keeping up easily with your friends on their new "wonder" bikes.

<hr></blockquote>


Yeah baby!! like when I cut on the inside of a 916 Duc or walked around the outside of a Gixxer 1000 on a 250 Nighthawk./images/icons/cool.gif


 

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*LOL*...serp...you crack me up! /images/icons/laugh.gif

I for one have (kinda) downsized...I have a ZX9R and got a Bandit 400 for the wife to learn to ride...and I must admit...that little 400 is an absolute BLAST to ride!...everything that was stated in the srticle about pushing the limits of the bike at somewhat safer speeds holds true...I've had that 400 up over triple digit speeds...but I have gotten to know street riding in a whole new way... and it makes riding my 9R that much more enjoyable....

 
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