Mountain Motorcycle Riding - Tips For Riding The Twisties

Riding a motorcycle in the mountains will require a different set of skills compared to commuting or just cruising the streets. Mountain roads are very unique because of the way they are cut into the mountain side to travel up or down the steep terrain. To minimise how steep these roads actually are, mountain roads will wind around the landscape creating lots of corners with one side of the road a steep incline and the other side a sharp drop off the edge. Before riding mountain roads good motorcycle maintenance, preparation for changing weather conditions and mental and physical preparation is important. There are 4 key motorcycle riding skills/knowledge required when riding up or down a windy mountain road: both physical, mental and motorcycle preparation, good control of all aspects of the motorcycle, lane/road position and vision. Just because the roads are nice and twisty doesn’t mean you have to ride more aggressively and lean hard into the corners, although this type of riding is seen a lot on mountain roads, especially on supersport motorcycles.

Preparation

Prepare yourself and your motorcycle before heading out to the mountain roads. Most riders will need to travel a decent distance to get to the mountains, so make sure you and your machine are prepared to put down the miles. Good motorcycle maintenance is a key factor to staying safe on your bike in all riding environments. You and your motorcycle will need to be in good physical and mental condition to tackle the twisty roads as you will be putting your machine, body and mind under a heavier stress load.

Prepare your mind and body for the adventure as these riding conditions will be taxing on both. Make sure you have a good idea of how many miles you can ride and plan accordingly. It’s a good idea to build yourself up to the trip starting with smaller rides that last a few hours, then building up to a  full day of riding. This will help prepare your body for the trip helping train your core muscles, legs, arms, wrists and back. Take and consume plenty of water and food to keep yourself hydrated and keep your energy levels up, or include plenty of stops for food and water if you don’t want to take any kind of storage with you like a backpack.

Make sure to have some basic tools for emergency repairs on you (don’t forget some duct tape and cable ties) and carry a charged mobile phone for emergencies. Be mindful that some areas will lack mobile phone signal and can be quite isolated. Be mindful of your fuel consumption and plan accordingly as some fuel stops are large distances apart and your motorcycle will burn through it quicker. The more aggressive you ride the more fuel you will burn so keep that in mind. Let people know the route and area you plan on riding in case of an emergency.

Prepare yourself and your motorcycle for changing weather conditions. Conditions can rapidly change from hot to cold and dry to wet so plan accordingly. Because of the landscape you will likely be riding in and out of sun and shade making areas of the mountain quite dark in places. Be careful when wearing tinted visors as these dark areas will be hard to see in with a tinted visor and if you get carried away with the day, you may be riding home in the dark. Getting caught in the dark with a tinted visor is super dangerous and extremely uncomfortable. A good way around this is taking a clear visor with you or just wearing a clear visor with sunglasses underneath. Some helmets come with a clip down pair of sunglasses installed within the helmet.

Motorcycle maintenance

Make sure your motorcycle is in top condition before heading out to the mountains with a pre-ride inspection you can conduct yourself to avoid being stranded or getting into an accident due to an easily identifiable problem with the bike. A pre-ride inspection should only take a couple of minutes and will consist of 5 steps.

  1. Tyres – Check tyre condition, wear and air pressure. With mountain riding being a bit more aggressive, you may need to adjust your tyre pressures accordingly. This can be done at most fuel stops or visit your local bike mechanic for a quick check. A sports touring tyre or something with good grip is advised (depending on weather conditions). Tyres in good condition are a must as it is the only thing separating you from the road.
  2. Chain – Check chain and sprocket condition and wear. Make sure the chain is relatively clean and lubed up for the ride. Your chain should be cleaned and lubed every 300-500 miles. Do this more often if riding in wet weather.
  3. Brakes – Check your brake pads and replace if they are worn too low, check your disks/rotors for wear or warp and check the brake fluid colour. Always test your brakes at the beginning of every ride to make sure they are working properly before getting up to speed.
  4. Fluids – Check all fluid levels and condition/colour, engine oil, brake fluid and coolant levels. If your engine oil or brake fluid is getting too dark, it’s time to replace it. Your motorcycle oil should be changed every 3000-5000 miles.
  5. Electrical – Give all electricals a quick test before setting off. This includes brake lights, blinkers, headlights and any other necessary electrical controls. Make sure your battery is in good condition so you’re not stranded away from home, if your bike is hard to start this is a big warning sign for a worn out battery.

Keeping up with your motorcycle maintenance all year round will keep the bike in good condition and make your quick pre-ride inspections super easy. If you discover any issues while conducting your pre-ride inspection, sort them out before riding to avoid problems when out on the ride. A good tip is to conduct the pre-ride inspection a day or 2 before the ride in case any issues pop up that need rectifying.

Motorcycle gear

Make sure you wear the correct gear for the day depending on potential riding conditions. Check the weather beforehand and prepare accordingly. It can get cold up in the mountains and weather conditions can change really quickly. Personally I keep some rain coating in the rear compartment of my bike at all times in case of sudden rain. For more information on wet weather riding gear click here. Mountain riding is a more aggressive ride, putting your skills to the test with lots of cornering and with an increased risk of an accident occurring. Because of this leathers are an important part of your gear because it provides the best protection in an accident. There are leather and textile combinations of protective gear for hotter weather conditions.  Take sunglasses with you for sun protection and to help with your vision in sunny conditions. If you have a tinted visor, be mindful of weather changes and shady parts of the mountain that can affect your vision. Don’t forget to keep your motorcycle gear in good condition. Check out the following articles for more information on motorcycle gear:

Motorcycle leather gear – What you need to know

Textile Motorcycle gear – What you need to know

Wet weather Motorcycle gear – What you need to know

Mental preparation and potential hazards

Riding a motorcycle up in the mountains requires a wide range of skills and lots of concentration. Being prepared for these unpredictable, complicated windy roads is very important. Here’s a list of potential hazards you a likely to encounter:

  • Damage road surfaces or debris on the road
  • Blind corners that may tighten up as you go
  • Strong and sudden wind gusts
  • Danger from other road users going too slow, fast or not staying in their lanes
  • Sharp drop-offs with no guard railings or protection
  • Different animal danger depending on your location
  • Changing weather conditions
  • Different road conditions with varying camber and potentially steep roads

You not going to encounter all these hazards while riding mountain roads, but a high level of mental alertness is necessary if any of these issues arise while out enjoying the roads and the views. Personally I would say the biggest risk while riding the twisties is corner speed. Many corners are blind and some will tighten up as you go making choosing the correct corner speed hard to judge. To help keep yourself fresh and alert, take plenty of brakes, keep yourself hydrated and don’t forget to stop for lunch.

9 Useful skills/knowledge for mountain motorcycle riding

Know your skills and limitations and ride accordingly. Motorcycle riders are constantly learning and lots of motorcycle knowledge is gained through experience. Riding mountain roads will require certain skills to improve your safety and the riding experience. Assuming that you have good basic riding skills such as accelerating, braking, changing gears and a good general control of the motorcycle, let’s look more into specific skills that will help you immensely while riding mountain roads.

  1. Vision

Always look as far ahead as you can, gaining as much information about what’s ahead as possible. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the road surface and constantly scan the sides of the road for potential hazards. Many corners you encounter will be blind because of the terrain and windy roads, meaning you can’t see what’s around them. Gaining as much vision as possible when entering these corners is important (mentioned in lane/road positioning below), and always expect the unexpected such as oncoming vehicles not staying in their lane or debris on the road.

  1. Body position and control while riding

The best way to sit on your motorcycle while riding is to grip the bike with your knees using  both your legs and core strength to hold on to the motorcycle rather than your arms and hands. Your arms and hands should be nice and lose giving you more control over acceleration and braking. Holding onto the handlebars with a strong grip will give you less control as all bumps and movements will go through your hands. This will put loads of pressure onto your wrists and arms making for a very uncomfortable riding experience. Be extra mindful of putting too much pressure onto your hands and wrists when braking. If your find yourself getting sore wrists, it’s time for a rest break as your mental concentration is likely suffering.  

  1. Engine braking and acceleration control

Mountain riding will punish your accelerator and brakes. Accelerate out of corners with smooth throttle control to prevent losing traction or running out of your lane. Try to keep some constant power to the wheels while riding through corners instead of coasting through them. When travelling downhill select a lower gear and take advantage of engine braking to help prevent your brakes from getting too hot and causing brake fade. Brake fade is where your brakes heat up too much and become less effective. Avoid using neutral as you will always want power to the wheels giving you more control.

  1. Speed and gear selection

It’s always a good idea to stay within the speed limit. Many twisty roads have recommended speed signs around tight curves that is lower than the speed limit. These speed suggestions can help you to judge how tight a corner will be, especially if it’s a full blind corner that may tighten up on you. Select the right gear for the right situation to give you more control over your motorcycle. Don’t be afraid to get the revs up while climbing steep sections of road and select lower gears to take advantage of engine braking when travelling downhill.

Gear selection is important if trying to implement engine braking as mentioned above. Select the correct speed (by braking) and gear before entering a corner. Do not change gears in the middle of a corner. If you’re riding a more powerful motorcycle, be extra mindful when approaching corners as it easy to get carried away and put down speed on the straights. Corners come up fast on a 1000cc motorcycle! Click here for more information on riding a powerful motorcycle.

  1. Weight distribution

While travelling uphill, weight will be distributed to the rear of the motorcycle making your rear brakes more effective. While travelling downhill weight will be distributed to the front making your front brakes more effective. Using both rear and front brake will increase braking power and give you a little more control. Be cautious of your rear wheel locking up and losing traction if using the rear brake when riding downhill. Be cautious of the front wheel locking up and losing traction if using the front brake while riding uphill, although this is far less common as gravity is on your side. Keeping all your braking and accelerating nice and smooth will help by keeping a more even weight distribution on the motorcycle and keep you from potentially locking up wheels in heavier braking.

  1. Steep hill advice

If riding uphill be cautious as you won’t be able to see over the top of the hill. If riding downhill make sure you use engine braking as well as your brakes to help slow the motorcycle down, as gravity will force you to build up speed. When travelling up a steep section of road, select a lower gear and keep your revs up to avoid stalling.

If you stall the motorcycle pull to the side of the road and apply the brakes to stop rolling backwards. Now you will need to do a handbrake start (using the rear brake as your handbrake). Start the motorcycle and select 1st gear, keep your foot on the rear brake to avoid rolling backwards. Slowly release the clutch and give the bike revs, as the clutch begins to bite slowly release the rear brake to accelerate forwards. This is the same technique as a handbrake start in a car. Keep the rear brake covered at all times in case you stall during this process.

  1. Sudden wind gusts

It can get more windy the further you travel up the mountain due to the change in elevation. Land mass can block the wind for you depending on your location, but you must be aware of cross winds if you come across a clearing on the windward side of the mountain. These wind gusts can hit you hard and fast so be prepared if you see a clearing and pay attention to the direction of the wind while riding. Lane position is important when encountering a strong wind gust as you don’t want to be blown into oncoming traffic. Don’t forget to wear earplugs to protect your hearing from the constant wind noise while riding in any conditions.

  1. Brake control including cornering

When preparing to enter a corner, you want to do all your braking before you enter the corner and have some control of the wheels while moving through the corner, whether this is a little throttle or brake. Using the brake through a corner is called trail-braking and is an advance rider technique that should not be attempted unless your experienced in this technique. This technique comes in very useful if you have overestimated the corner speed required or the corner tightens up on you and your carrying too much speed. If this happens to you and your not using trail-braking, apply more lean angle and look ahead at your exit point. Your motorcycle is more capable than you think and should get you through the corner depending on your speed. Most accidents occur during cornering so keep this in mind when you start getting carried away with speed.

  1. Lane/road positioning

When riding straighter bits of road it’s a good idea to ride on the inside or outside of the lane (car tyre tracks) rather than the middle, this is because road gunk and oil will collect in the middle of the lane. Be mindful of keeping away from oncoming traffic, especially through blind parts of road. The basic strategy for riding through corners is to start on the outside of the lane, stay wide as long as possible to increase vision throughout the corner, then head to the inside of the lane as you pass through the middle of the corner, then back out to the outside of the corner as you exit the corner with smooth throttle application. Always look to where you want the motorcycle to go, looking as far ahead as you can. If the corner is a blind corner and you can’t get vision when entering, stay away from the oncoming traffic lane in case that oncoming traffic is there and not staying in their lane. Other vehicles like to run wide in corners and sightseeing drivers will drift all over the road.

Riding with others

Group riding or riding with another motorcycle rider can be an awesome experience. It’s great to share the experience of mountain riding with others, but doing so can increase the dangers associated with mountain riding.

  • Always ride in a staggered formation keeping a nice safety bubble of space around yourself at all times.
  • Have planned meeting points with your friends in case of separation.
  • Everyone has a different skill level on their motorcycle so ride accordingly, in other words don’t try to keep up with a faster more experienced rider.
  • Ego can take over in group rides so be wary of this and don’t ride outside of your own skill and experience levels.
  • Use pre-determined hand signals to help communicate with other riders in your group
  • Let faster riders go, if another riders being dangerous or getting carried away with speed there’s no need to join in, just meet up with them at the next planned meeting point

Parking

Always park with the motorcycle facing uphill. This is because the side stand on most motorcycles is designed to stop the bike form rolling backwards. Be very careful when parking to the side of the road, especially on corners. The exit of corners is one of the most dangerous places to be on the road. Mountain roads will have dedicated areas to pull off the road if you have to as the sides of the road will not have much space to park, even for a motorcycle. When pulling off to the side of the road for whatever reason, you may be forced to park in the dirt rendering your side stand basically useless. Don’t park on uneven ground and make sure after using your side stand that the motorcycle is stable and won’t be blown over by the wind created by nature or passing vehicles. Leave your motorcycle in gear when parked, this will stop the rear wheel from rolling.

Weather

Weather conditions can change very rapidly because of the different air pressure changes at different elevations and unique terrain interrupting these air changes. The temperature will change the further up the mountain you travel, so be prepared for the cold. You will constantly change from shade to sun because of the terrain which can affect the temperature and also play with your vision, especially if you have a tinted visor. If you have experience riding motorcycles its likely you have experienced a wide range of weather conditions. If not make sure to gain experience in all riding conditions. Don’t be afraid of wet weather. At some point you will be stuck riding in the rain, so wet weather riding experience is a must have skill for all motorcycle riders.

Riding mountain roads is an awesome experience regardless of whatever motorcycle you own or ride. No matter where you ride, basic motorcycle skills will always come into play but riding mountain roads will need a little extra knowledge and skills to keep yourself safe and enjoy the experience. You can never have enough knowledge so do your research before riding in different places and conditions to maximise your chances of avoiding problems or accidents and to keep yourself as safe as possible when out on your motorcycle.