by Mark DeGross
chick-en strip [chick uh’n strip] noun
1. A thin slice of breastmeat from a chicken, often baked or deep fried in batter.
2. The area on the side of a street motorcycle tire that is unused because the rider is afraid, ie chicken, to lean the bike over farther, using all of the tire.
Clearly my riding skills have improved, my chicken strips are nearly gone!
Maybe you were like me when I started riding sportbikes. After every street ride, I would look at my tires and see if I was able to decrease the size of my chicken strips a bit. More often than not, they stayed the same size, but occasionaly they would get smaller. I thought that meant I was improving as a rider and I’m ashamed to admit, would subtly brag about it to my riding buddies. Us males are so ego driven (you female riders are too), always wanting to brag about our recent accomplishments or conquests to a certain degree or another. So having small or no chicken strips at all is often seen as trophy for us to display to the world and a chance for us to pat ourselves on our back. How shallow, huh? Now if you are honest enough to admit it, I’m betting you’ve banged your chest a few times as well. However, I want to challenge that thinking and have you take a closer introspective look upon your riding. If your chicken strips are small or non-existent, then you are using a good amount of lean angle. You are risking much to be at those lean angles, especially if you are on the street vs. the track. One small error and BAM, you’re surfing asphalt which typically will leave a mark. So why use all that lean angle if you don’t have to?
par·a·digm [par-uh-dahym, -dim] noun
1. a set of forms all of which contain a particular element, especially the set of all inflected forms based on a single stem or theme.
2. a display in fixed arrangement of such a set, as boy,boy’s, boys, boys’.
3. an example serving as a model; pattern.
mold, standard; ideal, paragon, touchstone.
Maybe if you got out of the paradigm you’re stuck in you’d see things for how they really are.
Let me take my screw driver and turn a few clickers in your head to adjust your thinking, a paradigm shift if you would. How about being the smoothest, safest, smartest rider of the group and still be the fastest by using the LEAST AMOUNT OF LEAN ANGLE needed, rather than scrubbing those tires to the edges? “What? I can be all of those things without risking as much as I used to?” I can hear many of you saying. Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. Believe it or not, they are not a contradiction at all. Many of us started riding motorcycles on the dirt. The technique and body position for cornering on a dirt bike is to push the bike underneath you. Inside arm straight, out side arm bent, using the knobby tires and berms for grip. As we began to ride street bikes, many of us didn’t break this habit. As such, we are habitual on the street of doing the same. However, on the street, we don’t have berms and there’s no such thing as knobbies for the street, so we end up using too much lean angle for our speed. It rewards our ego though, because the high lean angles use up chicken strips, thus fooling us into thinking our riding skills are higher than they are. Or maybe you didn’t grow up riding dirt bikes, but have quickly figured out that by pushing the bike underneath you uses up more chicken strips, thus giving you bragging rights to your friends and riding cohorts. By whatever means you’ve arrived at this point, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, its just not the optimal body position to ride a sportbike.
bal·last [bal-uh’st] noun
1. Nautical – any heavy material carried temporarily or permanently in a vessel to provide desired draft and stability.
2. Aeronautics – something heavy, as bags of sand, placed in the car of a balloon for control of altitude and, less often, of attitude, or strategically placed in an aircraft to control the position of the center of gravity.
3. anything that gives mental, moral, or political stability orsteadiness: the ballast of a steady income.
4. gravel, broken stone, slag, etc., placed between and under the ties of a railroad to give stability, provide drainage, anddistribute loads.
In the past, lead was sometimes used as heavy ballast to help keep a ship steady.
Ever been on a spirited street ride or maybe at a track day and some “dude” just flat out paces you through the corners? Then you get a chance to chat with him afterwards and notice his rear tire has noticeable chicken strips, wondering to your self, how the heck did he just do that without using as much tire as I am? I’d wager that he is using his body as ballast, getting his upper body off low and to the inside of the bike. Just the opposite of what I described before in the dirt riding example. By getting his upper body off the bike to the inside, not so much his lower body, he is actually pushing the bike more upright because his body is acting as ballast for the bike rider combo. This adjusts the center of gravity for the combo, resulting in the rider not needing to use as much lean angle as other riders. Less lean angle equals less risk equals more safety. You get the picture. A rider using this technique can use less lean angle, yet more speed or pace than other riders who push the bike underneath them. When that break comes at the local latte stand, a quick comparison of tires shows the rider using his body as ballast has larger chicken strips than the other rider, yet he ran a faster pace and was safer by using less lean angle. We’ve been teaching this method in our schools since inception in 2004 and many of you reading this know exactly what I’m getting at. Its a great tool and skill to master that will pay dividends on both the street and the track. Hence the title of this blog post…we need to get more riders to understand this concept.
In June 2011, I was asked to help instruct a large group of municipal motorcycle policeman along with Chris Johnson of Washington Motorcycle Safety Training. We were brought in to help the officers with their high speed cornering techniques. Moto-Cops are renown for their technical ability on these big bikes to do slow speed 180° turns in one lane along with many other low speed maneuvers. After watching them perform these skills, it was quite obvious they were pushing the bike beneath them, which clearly was required to pull this off. When it came time for them to work with us, many of the officers were still trying to push the bike underneath them, resulting in poor cornering speeds, frustration, and unnecessary risk. Chris and I worked with them, explaining everything and more that I describe above. After two days we were successful and the officers showed much improved riding, comfort, corner speed, and confidence. We look forward to going back to work with them again in 2012. I use this experience as an example of the effectiveness of what we are teaching. It works, it’s more efficient, and it’s a safer way to corner. I wish I could take credit for the technique, but I have to give props to Nick Ienatsch who wrote Sport Riding Techniques and is the Chief instructor at the Yamaha Champions School. I can’t say enough great things about Nick’s teachings and I strongly encourage you to read his book as well as attend one his courses at the school. The following video is a quick unscripted impromptu shoot we did from the day, giving a glimpse into what I’m discussing here. Thanks to Rey Sabado of Shobaby.com for the video and posting.
This may be a round about way of getting my point across, but truly, I want to see it come to fruition. Nothing would make me smile bigger than to quietly be a part of a group ride and hear riders arguing who had bigger chicken strips while simultaneously bragging who was quicker. How’s that paradigm shift coming for you? Got chicken strips? I hope you do…if you want to keep improving them, come see us at one of our Performance Schools this year, where we teach this more in depth with our lean machine in our S3F – Smoother, Smarter, Safer . . . Faster training system. Until then, ride safe and keep those chicken strips.