Motorcycling - Knowledge

Riding Basics: What makes your Bike Lose Traction?

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Riders are often faced with the frightening thought of skidding out of control or losing traction as it may culminate into an accident. Accidents by skidding are scary and everyone dreads them. A thought of your bike losing traction while taking a turn would make any rider very cautious and cause them to slow down or lose confidence at their riding skills. Losing traction on the roads feels hard to control, especially at high speeds and it happens more than we think of. What if I told you that bikes don’t skid by themselves, in fact, bikes don’t do anything by themselves. Whatever happens is because of how the rider is controlling the bike. Knowing about techniques of traction control is a savior to deal with the worst circumstances. Let’s go over some of the basic reasons of what makes your motorcycle lose traction and how you can avoid it.

Losing Traction – What is it and How does it happen?

Traction is the friction/grip of your bike’s tires with the road. A skid can be defined as loss of tire grip with the road surface (i.e. losing traction), which could lead to change the course of the vehicle and/or reduction in the effect of braking.

Typically any of the following circumstances can trigger the traction loss:

  • Locking of one or both wheels due to excessive braking
  • During sudden acceleration, the rear wheel spins faster on acceleration and the rear end moves out more than front wheel
  • Unexpected direction change
  • Bad road surface (Gravel, Oil, etc.)
  • And most importantly ‘Bad Braking’
losing traction
Bad road surfaces are a major reason for losing traction

Traction loss and sliding occurs when you exceed the limit of your tire’s grip for the given circumstances. Too much speed, bad braking, rough road surface, bad riding and poor suspension system all can cause your bike to slide.

Most of the times this and other types of skidding/sliding is due to rider’s own fault and can be avoided. Traction control can be gained in the above scenarios in the following ways:

Avoid Excessive Braking and Locking of One or Both Wheels:

Learning to brake is a life skill, every rider must know the effective ways of braking. While it takes lots of practice to master the braking techniques, knowing where to start and how braking actually works go a long way. Breaking excessively will cause your wheels to lock and eventually make your bike lose traction. In this case, traction can be regained by allowing the wheels of the motorcycle to turn again by releasing the brakes.

front brake
Avoid excessive braking

A firm reapplication of brakes in a way that avoids relocking of wheels will prevent skidding. It is natural to apply the brake harder if the skid has been caused due to excessive braking, but the tires will not allow steering because the traction control with road surface has been lost. It is therefore important to avoid braking harder in order to regain the traction with the road and get control over steering.

Avoiding Rear Wheel Spin Due to Excessive Acceleration

Sliding sideways may be also caused due to loss of traction of the rear wheel due to excessive acceleration. You can take control of such a situation by steering in the same direction as the bike is sliding. Reduction in throttle will further help to regain the traction.

rear spin causes traction
Rear spin wheel Source

Ideally, this should only happen while on the race track. And most of the times it’s either new riders or experienced riders that encounter this specific problem on the track. For your own safety, accelerating high on a normal street is not advised.

No Sudden Maneuvers or Unexpected Direction Change

The bike may begin losing traction with the road surface in case of sudden change of direction or if you attempt cornering. You can tackle this situation by trying to keep your feet on the footrests as putting them on the ground will make the bike unstable.

losing traction deu to direction change
Losing traction with the road surface in case of sudden change of direction is common. Source

Steering in the direction of the skid may help the situation greatly. Releasing the throttle would also help in this situation as the bike will straighten itself and you’ll regain control.

Being Careful on Bad/Slippery Roads

Bikes don’t do anything by themselves and when they are running on the road if you don’t do anything they’ll continue to go straight. They’re built to stay balanced and move forward. Bikes lean, accelerate, stop, turn, skid due to rider’s input or other external factors.

When a bike encounters a bad/slippery patch on the road, the tires will lose traction. However, due to inertia, the bike would continue moving forward. If the ‘gravel on road’ is little, you’d notice a slight to no loss of traction and it’ll not affect your riding in any way.

slippery roads make lose traction
Be careful on slipper roads Source

If the gravel on the road is too much, you will feel the loss of control on bike and panic might induce. If you make any sudden adjustments to your bike’s momentum by either accelerating or sudden braking the bike will lose all traction and the possibility of skidding is high.

This can be avoided by not making any sudden movements, simply just keep going over the patch without accelerating. Your bike will slow down while going through the bad patch and while you keep control on your bike. The loss in traction will not put you in a dangerous situation as long as you don’t do any sudden maneuvers.

Refraining from Bad Braking

There are a few braking errors that a lot of bikers commit.

  • Error 1: Applying only the rear brake.
    • Reason: This stems mostly from either panic or car driving habits.
    • Consequences:
      • Stopping by skidding all the way. It may also result in a crash.
      • Skidding for a pretty long distance.
      • The motorcycle skid is usually in a straight line and due to wheel locking; you cannot change your path or prevent a collision.
      • It poses the risk of a fatal crash in case the rear wheel loses alignment with the front wheel and is followed by skid release where the bike will straighten and throw the rider off.
  • Error 2: Applying both brakes, while the front brake is applied softly.
    • Reason: This usually happens if the rider is trying to avoid front wheel skid or is afraid of going above the handlebars if front brake is applied.
    • Consequences: The skid terminates at a distance shorter than that in the case of rear brake only, but the distance is still longer than that in case if front brake is also applied.
  • Error 3: Applying only front brake
    • Reason: The most common reason for this situation is panic.
    • Consequences: Front wheel skids are the most dangerous and more often result in a crash. In this case, the front wheel locks up and a fall is caused due to loss of steering control.

Above 3 errors and over and above if you have bald tires, it is a recipe for disaster. Losing traction can be avoided by braking effectively. Motorcycle braking is an art, the more you read and the more you practice the better you understand it.

bad braking lose traction
Refrain from bad braking Source

If you’ve never read about this subject before, you can get started with following tips below and also read about Braking – The Art of Speed Control.

  • The most effective brake: Remember the front brake as the most effective brake that is 60%-80% responsible for the stopping capability of the bike. This can be attributed to the weight transfer of the bike and the rider to the front wheel on the application.
  • Hard application of front brake: A front brake skid can be controlled if it was applied in a staged way, but it is uncontrollable if it is jammed on hard and thus causes a fall.
  • Hard application of rear brake: Rear wheels lock up easily and hence lose traction grip easily because the maximum weight and impact lie on the front wheel and the rear wheels are light under braking.
  • Controlling the rear wheel skid: Fishtailing can be minimized and the skid can be executed in a controllable manner by keeping an eye on where the bike should go. You must learn braking strategies in controlled circumstances and not extreme ones such as being faced with a heavy motor vehicle.
  • Inculcating the braking skill: Just like other skills associated with riding, braking doesn’t come naturally and needs to be learned. It calls for intense practice in order to incorporate braking skills in a manner that they follow as an instinctive reaction in emergency situations. Learning this skill will help avoid skidding.
  • Staged braking: The staged braking technique ensures that the best of the motorcycle’s braking system is delivered to the rider. The brakes are applied in a staged process and thus braking is predictable and progressive. This helps to retain the traction grips.
  • You must relax the pressure in case the front wheel locks due to the tucking of the wheel under the bike.
  • Your finesse at emergency braking will involve a good amount of sensitivity on brake application that comes from practice. For emergency stopping, a front wheel motorcycle skid can be controlled by releasing pressure without letting the right brake off.
  • A bald tire isn’t a liability if the road surface is perfect, but since that is a least likely situation, tire treading is an important attribute that helps broom the foreign matter on the road for the perfect grip.
  • You must brake in a way that suits the surface that you are riding on. The key is to brake carefully on slippery and loose surfaces but not in a fearful way.
  • Use both brakes in a progressive manner when there is still a lot of time at hand and preferably when you and the bike are in an upright position in order to retain traction.
  • In order to detect and prevent any lock ups in the wheel, you must be careful about the noise that the front and the rear wheel make.

Avoiding traction loss is the best thing to do, and can be facilitated by the alertness of the rider to the conditions of the road and volume of traffic that can help him plan and anticipate in advance. This can be termed as defensive riding. As a rider, you must always be aware of the surface and gradient. Inclinations must be thoroughly planned. Losing traction is unavoidable at times, but with careful riding, you can minimize the effects and ramifications.

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