The Ardennes, the Vosges, the Black Forest, the Alps, the Pyerenees, the Carpathians, Snowdonia, the Picos Europa,
the Sierra Nevada, the Appennines, the list is almost endless: mountain regions.
Ideal for motorcycle riders, but if you are used to ride in a flat country, there are some new aspects. How do you brake when riding downward, and how do you brake when riding up? What is the ideal line in a switchback or hairpin? How do you cope with fear of heights?
Here are some tips about what's different for motorcycle riders in a three-dimensional landscpae as opposed to a flat country.
Er is een Nederlandse versie:
Lines through a corner
Compared to roads in a flat country, roads in mountain areas have far more corners, and those corners are often really tight.
Start in the outside
Very important in the mountains is the line you ride through a corner.
Always start at the outside: in a corner to the left you start at the right
side, and in a corner to the right you start left.
If the road is narrow, you can even use the part of the road for oncoming traffic. The advantage is that you will see oncoming traffic ealier than when you stay inside the corner.
Look through the corner
Hold on to the outside line for a long time. There will be a moment when you can look through the rest of the corner in one straight line. That's the point where you turn in for the second time, and then ride along that straight line. That will be the only time that you touch the inside line through the corner.
Try not to reach the lane for oncoming traffic, in a left turn. In that case there will be space if you need more space, and at the same time you train yourself riding tight corners.
And in a blind corner, you should not only expect cars or trucks, but also cows, horses, chicken, sheep or goat!
On really narrow roads with hairpins, don't begin on the lane for oncoming traffic: in that case, there might be not enough time to get back to the right side of the road when a local arrives from the other side.
Try to keep your head inside your own lane as well, in corners to the left (or to the right in countries where you ride at the left side, of course).
An advantage of riding through high mountains, is that the landscape becomes barren, without trees. That allows you sometimes to look far ahead.
Before enterein a hairpin or switchback, always look up or down, so you know in advance what you will encounter during the turn.
Often, you can see through more than one corner (even when the corner before you itself is blind). The more you try to see what is in front of you on the road, the more you know about the oncoming traffic, and where you can expect them.
Try to count oncoming cars, so you know how many you will encounter at *least*. Never suppose that you have seen them all! Sometimes, a car may leave a parking place which was invisible, and suddenly appear without you having seen it in advance.
Motorcrosstijl versus de bocht in hangen
You will probably have learned to push the bike down while sitting upright in tight corners, motorcross- (or supermotard-)style. The problem with that style in hairpins is that your feet or steps will hit the tarmac very easily, and you will not have more space to tighten the corner when that's the case.
Therefore, it's better to lean with the motorcycle, in the same way that you are probably used to in fast corners.
Especially in hairpins, you often need all the ground clearance that you can find, because there may be huge height differences in the stretch of road that you ride.
Especially in hairpins, start far at the outside: otherways, the corner may become so tight that you will be forced to come to a stop mid-corner.
On the throttle
Always try to keep the throttle open (a bit) during a corner. The corner will certainly be easier that way.
When going up, keep the speed above the minimum that is needed not to stall, because you don't want to stall in the middle of a hairpin, and sqeezing the clutch while going up won't help either.
If you descend, keeping the throttle open often is difficult, but do try, as it will make life easier.
When your motorcycle is going to stall mid-turn, let it stall. *Don't* pull the clutch: the motorcycle will go backward, down, and you would be pulled along.
Upward: rear brake
When you ride upwards, you can use the rear brake during turns: that will stabelize the bike, and it allows you to keep the throttle open during the turn.
Downward: front brake
But downward, the rear brake is of no use: the rear wheel almost carries no weight, which means it will stop turning very easily when you apply the rear brake.
If you ride steep downward and you have to brake, use the front brake.
Why no rear brake downward?
If you ride downward, almost all the weight of the bike is on the front wheel. Therefore, it is very easy to lock the rear wheel when you use the rear brake.
In that case, the rearwhel will try to get past the front wheel, which will take you and the bike down.
Try to use the compression of the engine to brake, and when you need more brakes, use the front.
Preferrably with the throttle open!
Riding up is not a problem, most of the time; it is riding downward that is the most difficult.
Try to use the engine brake: shift downward until you have the right speed without the throttle, or with a bit of throttle.
In a turn, open the throttle a bit.
When it is so steep that your speed is too high, even in the first gear, you will have to use the brake as well (the front, that is).
Fear of heights
Look in front of you
Do you have fear of heights, and do you get dizzy when looking down? Then don't!
Concentrate on the road ahead, and look forward: far, far forward.
Stopping and getting away
If you have to come to a standstill while riding upward, you can keep your foot on the rear brake. Just keep the bike in the first gear, and it's easy to ride away again.
When the surface of the road is a bit loose, let the clutch go slowly to ride away, until you feel the bike push into the sorings. At that moment, you open up the throttle a bit, and you let go of the rear brake.
Remember that you easily pull a wheely this way, especially when you are loaded with gear or with a pillion. So pull away *gently*.
Downward, you come to a standstill with the front brake. Pulling away is even possible without the engine ;-)
Mind the other traffic
Remember, when you park to enjoy the views, or to take a picture, that you park your motorcycle in a spot where it can be easily seen from both sides.
Sometimes you think to see a spot that is perfectly fit to park, and it happens to be a spot to let cars pass each other on narrow roads. Those spots are there for passing, so don't use them!
While parking, you will notice the results of the three dimensions in the mountains: where you would otherwise feel the surface with your foot, there may be nothing... the surface is sometimes further away than you are used to. So look where you stop, and check which foot to use to carry your weight.
Foot on the back brake
If you stop while riding upwards, you should make sure that your right foot can stay on the peg, because you need the back brake in that situation.
Try to park you bike with its front pointing upwards: otherwise, it might ride off the sidestand. Also: keep it in first gear.
The side stand
If you have to park with the front of the bike pointing downwards, the bike could fall, even when parked in gear, because sometimes gravity pulls harder.
And always try to check the situation with recpect to riding away again. In principle, it is no big deal when you first have to let the bike go a bit downward, but if you would have to turn it at the same time, getting away could become a bit of a problem.
Change of weather
You may experience huge changes of temperature when riding upwards or downwards in the mountains. So always carry something warm, and especially something which keeps out the raon.
What is also likely to happen, is that you ride in vright weather in the sun, and suddenly, after a corner, you enter a thick fog.
The weather high in the mountains can change very suddenly, from summer to winter, from thunderstorm to clear skies, from snow to fog.
So carry warm cloths, a jacket to keep the rain outside, and sunglasses.
Above 2000 m, it may even be below 0 during summer, which means a chance of slippery roads, or even black ice.
Mind tunnels. Not all tunnels have lights inside. When you enter
such a dark tunnel, with your sunglasses on, from the blazing sun,
you won't be able to see anything at all.
In the Alps, this occurs frequently especially in Italy.
Some of these dark tunnels have a sometimes very narrow curve as well!
The road in a tunnel is often wet. So really watch out when it's freezing!
Only use your horne when it's absolutely necessary (most of the time there will be a sign asking you to use your horne in such a case).
Allowing people to pass
When you are experiencing your first mountain kilometers, your speed will probably be much lower than the speed of people who are used to ride or drive in the mountains. Especially people living there will know each corner, and are able to ride certain passes blindfolded.
Don't be tempted to try to keep in front of them. Try to maintain your own confort speed, and let people who are faster than you in corners, pass.
So don't open up the throttle after each corner to make up for a slow corner: on the contrary, use straight stretches to slow down, so people can easily get past you.
When you are getting used to mountain riding, and your own speed gets higher, you will notice that some people will let you pass in the same way, and you will be grateful.
So, check your mirrors often!
Hou dus je spiegels in de gaten!
The same politeness also applies to oncoming traffic. On many countries, there is no rule (anymore) that says that ascending traffic has the right of way. So just try to determine for whom it is most easy to stop (which will often be you, the motorcycle rider).
When you see a bus, don't enter a hairpin with the idea that the bus will have to wait because you have as much right on that hairpin as the bus, but find a place to pull aside instead.
Most people who ride and drive in the mountains are very courteous, as you will notice, and it is a pleasant feeling to be one of them.
Badly running engine
If your motorcycle doesn't have injection, you may experience a badly running engine at heights. The air becomes thinner, and your bike will recieve less oxygen, while the amount of fuel stays the same: so the mix will become too rich.
Some motorcycles will protest. The fuel consumption rises (with a well running engine, fuel consumption will decrease in the mountains), and the engine seems to want to give up.
In such a case, don't fumble with the needles, but, as a temporary measurement, take off the air filter. The amount of air in the mixture will increase, which will compensate a bit for the decreased percentage of oxygen.
Less kilometers in a day
When planning your trip, keep in mind that you will cover much smaller distances in the mountains, especially when you go up and down through hairpins. A distance of 50 kilometers doesn't mean that you will be there in half an hour!
It applies even more for the distance on the map: on the road, you will cover vertical kilometers as well.
Also be aware of the fact that gas stations on top of mountain passes are rare.