If you haven’t participated in a motorcycle gymkhana, odds are that you probably haven’t done any sort of low speed motorcycle exercises since getting your license. Yet how often are you required to navigate a car park or filter between cars in slow traffic as opposed to getting your knee down in turn two at the local track? We need to maneuver our bike at low speed all the time yet most of us neglect to practice and hone these skills. This is where motorcycle gymkhana is both a great way to improve your riding abilities and at the same time have a lot of fun.
Simply put, motorcycle gymkhana is a time trial sport where you ride your bike through a course in the shortest time possible. The course is made up of various obstacles that you need to navigate through which generally test your ability to maneuver your bike in low speeds in tight turns. Those obstacles can include 360 circles (both inside and outside a marked circular boundary), figure 8’s, slaloms, chicanes and various tight corners that really require you to ride at slow speed while balancing the bike.
Watching the video below, you’ll see a lot of heavy leaning of the bike. And while being able to lean the bike over at low speed is a factor in being good at gymkhana, the more important skills are those that you probably take for granted – throttle control, clutch control and braking using both front and rear brake.
A big emphasis on low speed riding surrounds your friction point, the point of balance between your clutch where it’s neither fully engaged nor disengaged. By being able to balance on this friction point, you can smoothly roll on throttle in small increments to adjust your bike’s behavior. When you’re in first gear, any input you make into the throttle is more exaggerated than if you were to roll on the same percentage of throttle in sixth gear, so by ‘feathering’ the throttle by using the friction point, that exaggeration is reduced.
There’s more though. Use of the rear brake is fundamental to low speed maneuvers and again it’s a skill so many of us don’t properly utilize when we ride. Hands up if you never use your rear brake? I bet there’s a lot of you and even I’m guilty of that at times. But your rear brake comes into its own at low speeds. The fact that it isn’t as powerful as your front brake makes it the perfect tool in a low speed environment. The rear brake also helps ‘stand up’ the bike, so when you’re exiting a corner, hitting the rear brake at the same time as you roll back on the throttle will help you reduce your lean angle in the quickest possible way.
Here’s some more motorcycle gymkhana tips from an expat in Japan, “Ni-Kito” who posted on Gaginriders:
- Lock your legs onto the bike; squeeze the tank with the length of your legs
- Relax your arms and keep your elbows in (so you’ll be able to give precise inputs to the bars)
- Sit forward in the seat, tilt your torso from the hips (into the turns)
- Steer with your hips (in a sense) by leaning into the turns [your body weight and position makes a big difference at these lower speeds]
- Put your sternum in line with handlebar on the inside of the turn. Some schools tell you to “kiss the mirrors” to get your head where the mirror is. Here, you want to make sure it’s not just your head but your torso that’s in line with the inside grip.
- Turn you head and look into the turn
- Turn shoulders into the turn also
- Lots of rear brake in turns
- Fully release brake when rolling on hard
- “Let the bike do it’s natural steering. You just turn with the bike.” Once in a turn the bike will naturally follow the arc of the turn – don’t fight it. When you get on the throttle the bike will want to stand up. This tells us something about how to use the throttle.
Now, not all of the above tips are applicable on the road (there’s no real need to hang off the bike on the street) but most of them are skills and techniques you use every time you go for a ride. And those same skills are just as important at high speed as they are at low speed. And think about it – if you can lean your bike way over when plodding along at 10mph, surely that will give you the confidence to do the same in an emergency situation at higher speed?
If you live in the UK, you can check out the Moto Gymkhana Association. Those in the United States can contact the American Motorcycle Gymkhana Riders Association. And if you live in neither of these places, check back soon for another article on gymkhana where we go through in greater details the rules of the sport and setting up your own course.