Friction Zone

Understanding the friction zone is key to riding a motorcycle. Without proper clutch control you may stall the motorcycle (kill the engine inadvertently) or accelerate uncontrollably, both of which are embarrassing and dangerous. The friction zone is the area where your clutch is slipping enough to transmit some, but not all power from the engine to the rear wheel. Don’t try to u-turn in neutral, and don’t do with a gear fully engaged, either; riding within the friction zone will give you more control over the bike through the throttle, which helps modulate the motorcycle’s lean angle through subtle adjustments.

A useful exercise in finding the friction zone and practicing clutch control is rolling the motorcycle.

Note: Try to always keep your head up and forward when riding a motorcycle. It will help you maintain stability and balance much better than looking down. Essentially, the motorcycle should go where you are looking; aptly called “Target Fixation

Tip: If you ever panic and or are concerned, the first thing I’d recommend is to pull in the clutch. This will ensure that you will not accidentally accelerate, and if you do, the pulled in clutch will prevent you from shooting forward.

  1. Downshift into first gear.
  2. Push backwards with your feet until your heels are the only thing on the ground.
  3. Release the clutch VERY slowly until the motorcycle begins to roll.
    (Use little to no throttle during this exercise. You can get the motorcycle to roll without using any throttle.)
  4. Roll until your toes are the only thing touching the ground.
  5. Pull in the clutch.
  6. Pull in the front brake to stop.
  7. Repeat from step two.

Practice this several times until you are comfortable with where the friction zone is.

It may not be a bad idea to stall the bike once or twice on purpose, so you know what the bike feels and sounds like when this happens. To do this simply drop the clutch (let go of the clutch very quickly). Do NOT give the bike any throttle when doing this or you may accelerate uncontrollably.

Get the clutch under control and you’ll be able to make a U-Turn in no time!

Hein Jonker

Founder of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa Editor in Chief of Bike Talk South Africa Chief Instructor of Bike Talk Motorcycle Rider Academy Motorcycle Safety & Skills Expert for Arrive Alive South Africa

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