Newtonian Physics and Balancing a Motorcycle | Tamela Rich
An experienced biker, my brother's been telling me to try the BMW 650 and I’ve hesitated because of its height. I’m a new rider with a 28? inseam and I WANT MY FEET ON THE GROUND! He, like other experienced riders, poo-poos this preference, saying, “If you get both feet on the ground you’ll develop bad riding habits that require both feet on the ground…if you can ride dirt bike style and stop with one foot you can ride anything.”

Newtonian Physics and Balancing a Motorcycle

When it comes to motorized vehicles, my brother has a sixth sense for matching people with rides.  He can ask five questions and tell you the three cars that will most satisfy you in any price range. With another five he can nail it and spare you the test driving!

An experienced biker, he’s been telling me to try the BMW 650 and I’ve hesitated because of its height.  I’m a new rider with a 28″ inseam and I WANT MY FEET ON THE GROUND! He, like other experienced riders, poo-poos this preference, saying, “If you get your feet on the ground you’ll develop bad riding habits that require feet on the ground…if you can ride dirt bike style and come to a controlled stop with one foot you can ride anything.”

Biking boot camp

So this past weekend my long-suffering spouse drove eight hours with me to my brother’s motorcycle boot camp for one (me). As he showed me his gear closet, from which I selected padding, gloves and a helmet, I laughed that it was a bit like entering Ali Baba’s cave — he has everything! Not only does he have all the gear, he also has SIX motorcycles (plus the little 50cc model for his five-year-old daughter).

He planned to put me on a dirt bike because it’s designed for the kind of abuse a new rider like me can inflict. But something convinced him to take a chance on me after asking “How’s your balance?”  Even in the best of shape I’m not a particularly strong person, and my stamina is no better than average, but balance, that’s where I shine. With a little shrug he said, “Well then, let’s give the Dakar a try.”  A brave man, considering how much he loves his bikes.

Up on the pegs

Once again, my brother was right about matching driver and vehicle. Stopping on a tall bike still challenges me, but I really can see myself riding a dual sport like the Dakar across the country. It’s comfortable, responsive and, since it’s a BMW, it’s reliable.

I found it was easier to do almost everything while standing up on the pegs. On a dirt bike or dual-sport you actually lower your center of gravity and increase your ability to maneuver the bike by standing.  This appeals to me, the former equestrienne, as this stance is similar to the position I maintained when  riding a horse over a jump.  If you look at the shape of the Dakar, you’ll see it even resembles the profile of a horse’s neck and head.

The physics of balance

Remember how difficult it is to maintain your balance on a bicycle unless you’re moving?  And aren’t you steadier at a faster clip? There’s a reason for this, grounded in Newtonian physics.  The video below shows me learning how to go navigate increasingly-small circles while going as slow as possible. It’s easier to do this on a motorcycle than a bicycle because the engine and clutch work together in the “friction zone” to keep momentum despite being at a near-standstill. I’m not that good yet, but I know where I’m headed!

Tam in the Friction Zone from TamelaRich on Vimeo.

About Tamela Rich

Author Tamela has extensively traveled the U.S. and Canada, delivering her message to Pack Light | Travel Slow | Connect Deep. Her keynotes and workshops include life lessons she has learned through chance encounters on the road.

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