DocWong Ride Report:
Keith Code Ride, 09 November 1997

by David Purves

Well, the most recent DocWong ride has already generated a raft of messages, but I thought I'd approach a different subject: What was the lesson involved?

Unlike most DocWong clinics, this clinic featured Keith Code, author of "Twist of the Wrist" and other classics :-), as the guest speaker. As a result, attendance was triple the usual 50-60 riders, and was even limited to those who signed up in advance. (Most DocWong rides welcome anyone who shows up.)

Keith spoke for about a half-hour in a classroom presentation in front of the whole group. He talked about two main subjects:

1) being a good passenger on your own motorcycle, and

2) getting the most from your turning investment.

The first subject is simply huge, and seems to be the essential gist of getting along well with whatever you are riding. The critical issues are to be relaxed and detached from the bike, rather than closely coupled to it. This lets the motorcycle react in the simplest fashion to any challenges presented to it (ie, bumps, corners, whatever). When you put yourself "in the loop," you only make your motorcycle work harder. Fundamentally

modern bikes do almost everything right by themselves. The more you stay out of their way, the better things usually go.

Of course, you do have to give input. Otherwise, as Keith put it, you'd never get out of your driveway (unless it was downhill :-). The trick is to use the leverage available to you in the most advantageous (and simultaneously least hazardous) way.

He stressed the "leverage" principle several times. A bike is just a system of levers and springs. For that matter, as he pointed out, so are we.

The throttle is a lever: a small input there imparts a huge force at the rear wheel. The brakes are a lever: a small input there imparts a huge force at the front wheel. The handlebars are levers, and so forth. "It's all just springs and levers."

The second main subject involved making appropriate inputs in the various levers available to you to get maximum net effect as a result.

If you've read any of Keith's books or taken his class, you'll know that he is fond of financial analogies. You have a dollar's worth of traction to spend on acceleration, braking, or cornering. You have a dollar's worth of attention to spend. And so forth.

The specific topic he spoke about on Sunday involved a direct connection with being a good passenger.

Suppose you lean the bike into a turn, but you keep your body upright (fighting the lean). You've put 5 cents of input in, but you've only got 3 cents of turning out of it. In Keith's words "That's a bad investment!" If you lean with the bike, you get 5 cents of turning out of your 5 cents of input. And if you lean more than the bike, you might even be able to get 6 cents of turning out of 5 cents of input. That's a good investment.

Keith then took a few questions from the audience before Doc got up to speak briefly about his perennial topics of riding over your head (how to notice you are doing it, knowing to back off) and public relations (waving at motorists when you pass them, obeying the traffic laws on his rides, courtesy when riding near homeowners and their livestock out in the boonies). We then split up into groups for the ride to the parking lot where Keith (or his top instructor, Cobie) would drill each person individually.

[Side note: with typically 50 people and 900 corners, that requires a 99.998% success rate to keep anyone from crashing. Yes, people should recognize the signs of riding over their head and do better than that, but there are some laws of large numbers happening here, too.]

I was the ride leader for the ultimate group, #15. We ended up with a cozy group, and took a leisurely pace to the meeting point, stopping for lunch on the way. When we arrived, it was immediately clear that Keith's insistence on perfection was pushing Doc's carefully planned schedule into irrelevance.

While waiting for each of our turns with either Keith or Cobie, people generally hung around and chatted with one another, and watched others get drilled. I spent quite a bit of time watching to see what was being emphasized in order to get maximum benefit during my turn.

It seemed that both Keith and Cobie were strongly emphasizing the leaning (more than) the bike on the turns. The parking-lot context was making this somewhat difficult, as many riders were attempting to throw the bike between their legs to achieve a more rapid turn rate. While this works, it was counter to the desired goal. People who took more relaxed turns seemed to do better. I took this advice to heart.

Leaning the body into turns was the subject of an earlier DocWong clinic this year. Before that clinic, I had *thought* that I was leaning into turns. I knew I was shifting my butt at least. On his advice, though, I took a look at my head position during a corner and found it aligned with the center of the dash/instruments/fairing. So much for my delusions of grandeur. I have been working on it all summer, and this was going to be an excellent chance to see what Keith thought about my "progress" :-)

When it was my opportunity to get individual coaching, Keith greeted me with a smile. Pretty amazing after several hours of coaching 100+ riders for free! (He said it came with the job, sort of an occupational hazard.) He said to take an out-and-back ride so he could see how I turned. I made relatively large slow turns, concentrating on leaning more than the bike.

When I returned, he said that I was leaning with the bike, but I had a bunch of extra motion and stiffness in my turns. Specifically, I was coming up and dropping down into each turn, rather than moving side-to-side ("wasted motion. It's just not necessary"). Also he noticed that while I started the turn well, once the bike was leaned over I stiffened my arms. He asked if I noticed that, and I told him that due to all the other things I had to think about that I hadn't noticed. He said take another run, and see if I could feel it.


In three turns, Keith had seen something that I hadn't noticed in thousands of previous turns. I guess that's why he's famous. (Curiously, my ski instructors have said similar things, like "you look great for a while, then it all goes to hell." Not quite as useful as Keith's analysis. I will be watching this closely now that ski season is here.)

After feeling it in the first two turns, it was quite easy to stay relaxed through the turn, not just during the flickover time.

(I might note that I have been working on improving my relaxation as a result of many previous DocWong clinics, where it is a recurring topic. While I had been consciously working on this for years, I had never noticed that stiffening at the end of flickover. Amazing.)

Back to Keith, who agreed that I was much improved. He then began to work on my elbow positioning. He encouraged me to keep my elbows low, much lower than they had been, along with my upper body leaned forward more. This would avoid the up and

down wasteful motion I had, while simultaneously reducing the steering effort. Doc had talked specifically about this subject earlier this year, and last year, mostly in regard to steering effort (versus "pushing down on the bars" which does no good at all for turning, but makes you a lousy passenger and wears you out very quickly!). Keith called it "bad posture," as he had during the lecture in the morning, but I think this is misleading: you should be leaned over more, but you can lean from the waist while keeping your back straight, rather than hunching forward.

I tried to keep my elbows low, but apparently Keith wasn't happy. He moved them where he wanted them (versus where I wanted them :-) ) and sent me out for a fourth pass. This time was better.

He closed by asking me whether I understood what he had been suggesting, and whether I had something to continue working on. I assured him both vere true, and thanked him for his generous donation of his time.

Whee! He had seen more in a few turns than I had in years. I now had 3 things to work on (leaning more into turns, relaxing through the turn, and keeping my elbows low).

After some excited babbling with others while I calmed down a bit, I headed back home.

All in all, a great learning experience. Thanks to Doc for continuing to organize these rides, and of course to Keith and Cobie for their generous donation of a day's time and patience. I hope they got some reward from giving up their Sunday, because I sure got some reward from their instruction!


More on "Riding with Keith Code"

Doc Wong's Street Clinic Page

Doc Wong's Home Page