The Fine Art Of Crashing A Motorcycle

Professional motorcycle road racers, even when crashing, Bobby Fong and Mathew Scholtz display perfect technique in the art of crashing.

In motorcycle road racing, it is an absolute certainty that riders are going to occasionally fall down. Crashing is as much a part of motorcycle road racing as qualifying, obeying the safety flags, winning, etc.

And, like all the other aspects of motorcycle road racing, there are right ways and wrong ways to crash a motorcycle. Riders must learn proper techniques for crashing in order to help protect themselves, as well as their competitors.

It’s all a blur when you crash, but the pros react quickly to their circumstances and know what to do to help protect themselves.

You might think that, since crashing is the result of the loss of control, that riders can’t affect the outcome of the crash. Depending on the severity of the crash, that is sometimes true. For example, in a highside crash, where the rider is catapulted from the bike into the air, there really isn’t much that they can do to mitigate the result. But, in a lowside crash, when the front tire of the motorcycle loses traction in a turn, and the bike slides off the track, there are certain actions that riders can take to help protect themselves.

Below are some insights on crashing:

Let It Go

It’s natural to want to hold on to the very thing that you were in control of a split-second prior to crashing, but letting go of the motorcycle is one of the most important things to learn about crashing. A crashing motorcycle is a very heavy projectile, and you want to get as far away from it as possible. And because of its weight, it’s going to travel a lot further than the rider will. Racers don’t want to be dragged further by their motorcycles than they would be on their own.

Also, crashing motorcycles don’t usually make graceful slides off the track. They’ve got handlebars and footpegs and tires on them that act as levers, causing the bike to sometimes flip, roll, and cartwheel uncontrollably. If you’re trying to hang on during those acrobatics, the outcome is never good.

Occasionally, you might see a rider trying to hang on to a crashing bike, and it is admittedly a judgement call. Sometimes, if the crash is a lowside at slow cornering speed, the bike and rider might gently “slide out.” In those circumstances, a racer might still have a hand on the bars because they know it’s a gentle crash and their priority is to quickly get the bike back upright and rejoin the race.

Be A Rag Doll

Just like there is a natural tendency to want to hold on to a crashing motorcycle, there is also a natural tendency during a crash to extend your arms or legs and try to brace yourself from the inevitable impact. The result is that you’re putting all your weight onto just a small part of your body, like your hands and wrists or your feet and ankles. And you know the end-result of that.

Racers who crash make a conscious effort to not extend their arms or legs and brace themselves for impact. Especially when rolling or tumbling, racers try to keep their arms close to their torsos.

They also don’t tense up. Staying relaxed lessens the risk of injury because a solid object can’t dissipate energy as well as a floppy one. They make like a rag doll and let their protective gear—helmets, leather suits, armor, air bag systems, boots and gloves—do their jobs.

Spread Out

When a rider is separated from his/her bike and is sliding on the track, through the gravel, or across the grass, friction is their best friend. The more of a rider’s body that’s in contact with the ground, the sooner they’re going to slow down.

So, while they’re relaxed, loose, and sliding, the key is to spread themselves out and put as much of themselves in contact with the ground as possible. Maximum contact with the ground also reduces or eliminates “hot spots” because the friction is distributed across a larger surface area.

Ideally, riders will also try to make sure they are sliding on their backs so that their back protectors further spread the load and give them an extra layer of protection.

Stop Before You Stand

When a rider is going triple-digit speeds, crashes a bike, and is sliding off the track, by the time their body slows down to about 10 miles per hour, there is a natural inclination to want to stand up. The result can be comical at best because the rider is probably going to stumble and fall again.

So, the trick is actually no trick at all. Just wait until you stop sliding before standing up.

Let’s face it, no rider wants to crash, and even though it happens, it’s never something that’s expected. But, when it does happen—and it will—it takes practice and skill for riders to make split-second decisions and, more importantly, to not follow natural tendencies that are intended to protect themselves, but that actually can do more harm than good. And, that’s just another reason why MotoAmerica road racers are professionals. They are just that good, even when they crash.

Sunday’s HONOS Superbike race two at Road America last month saw both Fong and Scholtz fall down, and the good news was that they both walked away.

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