Wednesday, July 29

Clutchless shifting,downshifting, and trail braking: SRTT, Part 2

Now that I've had some time to consciously apply some of the skills learned and relearned in the SRTT class, I wanted to share a few more things from the SRTT advanced strategies class. Now, these skills may be old hat to the experienced riders-readers of this blog. To me, they were not new skills per se but they were skills I either don't regularly employ or need to improve.

First, is clutchless shifting.To be perfectly honest, I've done such shifting more times than I can count. But until my SRTT class, I had never done it purposefully! No, I clutchless shifted before out of error and it was something I tried to avoid doing. I recall once when doing it badly, it freaked me a tad. Not knowing what I was doing made me think I was screwing up something.

Now, I've learned how to clutchless shift and when it is appropriate to use clutchless shifting. I am now a conscious clutchless shifter. I am judicious in my use. And, before anyone thinks clutchless shifting messes up the transmission, let me tell you, you are wrong! Proper clutchless shifting does not. Improper shifting does. You pre-load the clutch, just as you would do in ordinary shifting. There is a moment, a brief moment when the engine has a space where it is perfect for snapping the shifter up (of course, you're off the throttle for that brief time) and the gear, Voila, changes quickly, smoothly and easily.

Here's when I've used it: I enter lots of fast traveling Interstates where allowing mergers in is like asking a driver to surrender a kidney. Sometimes it takes much time to get up to speed, merge smoothly and watch out for those vehicles resistant to letting you in. Traditional shifting can consume valuable micro seconds. By having one less thing to think about, that is, pulling in the clutch, one can get on with the business of getting quickly on the expressway. I love this new skill, which I've gotten really smooth at executing since the class. I see it as my method for getting on aggressive, fast moving, Interstates.

Second, is downshifting. This is a technique I consciously have always used. I've owned my share of automobiles. I've never owned an automatic transmission. I learned to properly downshift with years of handling a stick shift. I understand this technique. Bottom line, if you simply downshifted without slowing down your engine speed, it can freak out your machine, hurl your body forward, throw the back end out of line--it could upset the bike and cause rider injury. Downshifting badly in a car is no huge deal--you've got four wheels to keep you grounded. Bad downshifting on two wheels can be ugly.

If you're in fourth gear, moving at a fast clip and you need to get to first quickly you listen to your engine revs. You want to match that. You want to give the throttle enough blip--not too much and not too little. This is learned. You will blip the throttle (blipping is by definition a quick jolt to the throttle) and then downshift. You'll know if you've given it just the right amount because the bike will smoothly change to the lower gear without pulling you forward, or yanking your body backward or disturbing the back end of your bike. Just right, means the bike continues in its forward line of travel without showing signs of being disturbed. Here's what the sport riders say about it.

Third, is trail braking. Another one of those skills that I've done because it makes sense. But I didn't remember the theory behind it. Here is the theory. All I know is, it works and it gives the rider a high level of comfort in curves or when the bike is leaned over and you need to use/keep brakes applied. To know this is to increase one's comfort level when the bike is not perfectly upright. I don't ride mountain road enough to have yet feel entirely fluid. I do well, but I don't have the skills yet to blast through. I do the speed limit, perhaps 5-10 over. Now, long sweeping curves, no problem. To me, trail braking adds to the bag of strategies one can used when traveling in less than an upright position.

So, that's it. I've had some time to practice and you know what they say about's what we should say: Practice makes improvement."