The Adjustment Bureau

The ability to make control adjustments is critical to the riding task, but the range of adjustment available will always be limited. Most riders will be uncertain of where exactly those limits lie. They set personal limits which eventually become the actual limits.



There is an old engineer’s saying that “if something has been made to be adjustable sooner or later it will require adjustment”. Our bikes of course come with a range of interesting adjusters such as handlebars, brake levers, throttle, gears and so on because if none of these things were adjustable then it would be impossible to ride the bike. The fact that we can move and adjust the positions of all these controls soon becomes second nature and after a short while of wobbling about we quickly get the hang of the rate, timing and range of our control inputs. We also get used to feedback from our environment as to how the movement of the controls affects the position speed and direction of the bike. So far so good, we make inputs, we sense outputs and we use those outputs to make further control adjustments in a never ending cycle of activity. The more we ride however the less obvious these control inputs become to us even though we will always remain completely aware of the outputs.

All this adjustability is a really good thing, but as with most things, adjustability has its downside. The range of control adjustment available will always be limited by the laws of physics, the environment, the rider’s ability and the fundamental design parameters of the bike itself. In most cases the limits of adjustability in respect of these variables are hidden from us and so we get used to evaluating the change in outputs as a rough guide to the limit of control inputs. A good example of this might be the knowledge that if we are blasting down the motorway, moving the handlebars to full lock might be a bad idea. We can however happily move the steering to full lock if we are going to do a U turn out of the car park so because of that we can naturally relate the speed of travel to the limits of steering movement. Examples of the few ways we can be made directly aware of input limits might be the scratching sound of a footrest touching down in a corner or the chirrup from a rear tyre as it loses traction under braking, but apart from that most adjustment limits are ones that we have to learn over time. For most of us the only way we can know that we have actually reached the limits of control adjustment is if the outputs we sense no longer match the inputs we make. It is at this point of disconnection that we are considered to be ‘out of control’ and unless we are very lucky the result is usually not very pretty.

The big conundrum facing any of us is that as the limits of adjustment are mostly hidden it’s not possible to know exactly where those limits lie unless we actually reach or exceed them. Unless we reach or exceed them then we will never really know if we are about to reach the limit or whether we are still miles from it. For the competition rider ‘finding the limit’ is part and parcel of the riding process and because of this they will accept that the occasional crash or lurid slide is the price they are going to have to pay. For the road rider however, crashing in order to find the limits of adjustment is usually a price that they are not prepared to pay so they will always be uncertain of those limits.

In a world of such uncertainty what we do is to set personal limits based on successful control inputs we have made before and which have generated acceptable outputs in the past. These personal limits might be perilously close to the actual limits or they may be miles from it, but all that matters to us is that we know where they are. After a while though our personal control adjustment limits become the actual adjustment limits and although we and the bike might well have more physical control adjustment available we will no longer be capable of accessing it!

In many crashes, particularly those on rural bends, investigators have often remarked that the bike was more than capable of negotiating the bend under the prevailing conditions, but the rider simply failed to use the capability that was available to them. Now we know that the personal limit of control adjustment is the actual limit of control adjustment, crashes like these begin to make a lot more sense.



4 thoughts on “The Adjustment Bureau

  1. Now that makes a lot of sense once you decipher what it actually means. I know my personal limit and am reluctant to go beyond it even though I know the bike will, so the limit of adjustment on my bike is not the limit of the bike, it’s my own personal limit of adjustment. Now you just need to come up with an easy speak version for the very many people who will not read this because t appears too technical or too jargonesque

    John Collister


  2. “In many crashes, particularly those on rural bends, investigators have often remarked that the bike was more than capable of negotiating the bend under the prevailing conditions, but the rider simply failed to use the capability that was available to them.”

    Does this usually happen because the rider reaches his personal limit of lean angle / lateral force and is unable to fully utillize the motorcycle’s capability?

    Or is it more likely that he enters a blind bend without fully considering the possible consequences, finds it tightening up more than expected, panics, and is unable to make a control input he is fully capable of in a less stressful circumstance?

    Depending on the cause, different training approaches would help prevent this common problem. In the former case, track instruction will familiarize riders with the bike’s full capability. In the latter, riders need training that triggers a warning when approaching a blind bend, so they know to slow down in expectation of a problem and position themselves for a better view before turn-in.


    • Although riders do fall off on blind bends, they also manage to fall off on familiar and completely open ones as well so we need to take a different approach to the problem. We have to remember that we never set up for the bend we are approaching, but we set up a procedure that we have successfully used in the past for a bend that looks a lot like the upcoming one. In essence we “remember the future” rather than managing the present. This remembered procedure references our personal limits along with what we recall about the motor actions that we need to perform in order to negotiate the corner without incident. If we have remembered the future correctly then all is well, but what if we have loaded a procedure for corner type ‘a’ when in fact the corner is actually of type ‘b’?

      The average rider will negotiate tens of thousands of bends in their career so they would most likely have experienced every concievable corner type which rather means that it is not a lack of experience that is the problem. What is most probably the problem is that we do not realise that a tiny change in circumstances can easily flip a corner from type ‘a’ to type ‘b’. An extra 2mph of speed or a few inches in position might be enough to make the change, but we sail on blissfully unaware of the fact. It’s when things do not turn out as we predicted they would when it becomes clear that we are actually in ‘b’ when we predicted ‘a’ that things go so terribly wrong.

      What the training industry can take away from all this is that the problem is rarely an action problem, but is usually a prediction problem with an aftermath that ends up making it look like it was an action problem! The usual post-crash analysts will do an investigation based on the certain knowledge that a rider made a mess of corner type ‘b’ when in fact they actually made a mess of corner type ‘a’ so their conclusions are usually going to be way off the mark.


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