It’s one of the most fundamental skills in motorcycling: balance. Not all of us were born with gymnast-level balance and coordination (I know I sure wasn’t), which means we have to practice and build those skills.
If you’re a trials or dirt bike rider, balancing is a pretty obvious part of every ride, but street riders can benefit from improving balance as well, especially if your moto is tall and/or heavy. After mastering the exercise below, you’ll find it’s easier to maneuver your ride at slow speeds and you’ll feel more in control at all times.
Step 1: Find a tall rock, vertical post or large tree trunk.
Whatever you use, it should touch your bike’s front tire at least halfway up (axle-level). If it’s too short your bike will just want to roll over it and the exercise is much more difficult. There’s a park nearby with a bunch of boulders along the parking lot, which turned out to be perfect for me.
Start by positioning your bike so the the handlebar is straight and the front tire is touching the rock/post/trunk.
Step 2: Position the pedal on your dominant side to just below horizontal.
Your dominant foot is the one you tend to put on the pedal first and push off with when taking off from a stop. For me, it’s the right foot; when I come to a stop I generally leave my right foot on the pedal and drop my left to the ground.
With the front tire still firmly against the rock, position the dominant pedal so that it is forward and just below horizontal (see photo above).
Step 3: Push on the dominant pedal.
When you do, the bike’s front tire will press into the rock and grip. This provides a third point of contact (the other two being the tires touching the ground) and stabilizes the bike to make the exercise easier.
Try to keep the handlebar straight or your tire will lose grip and throw off your balance.
Step 4: Lift your non-dominant foot off the ground.
While pushing on the dominant pedal, shift your weight forward so that you’re centered over that pedal and slowly raise your other foot off the ground.
You’ll probably tip one way or the other the first several times you try this. That’s normal. And it’s why we’re practicing on a bicycle and not a 500-plus-pound motorcycle. If you’re really concerned about getting your feet down in time to prevent a fall, do the exercise on grass.
After some practice, you’ll be able to put your non-dominant foot on its pedal too. Now you can use both pedals for balance instead of just one. Be careful to maintain that forward “momentum” though, or you’ll back away from your rock and suddenly things get a lot harder!
Step 5: Switch forward feet.
Once you’ve gotten good at balancing with your dominant foot forward, try pedaling backward one half-rotation so that your other foot is forward and applying the pressure to keep you against the rock.
Keep your weight forward and use the handlebar to offset the shift in balance as you carefully rotate your feet. Using the handlebar for balance is a lot harder! That’s because it’s higher up; remember that the lower your center of gravity and inputs, the easier it is. On your moto you can use your weight on the footpegs in the same way.
Once you’ve mastered balancing against an obstacle, try it independently. The easiest way to do this is to come to a controlled stop and simply balance in place, not putting either foot down. See how long you can hold it before you have to provide forward momentum again.
I like to do this last exercise on my moto at stoplights, just to stay sharp. I see how long I can balance before finally putting a foot down…which I’m sure is entertaining as heck to the car drivers around me.
And that’s it! What seems like just playing around is actually building a valuable skill as a motorcyclist.