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Mountain Riding Seminar

This is an outline of the Mountain Riding Seminar that was held at the GWTA Colorado State Rally by Kevin McGuire, Colorado State Rider Education Director & MSF Instructor.

In this seminar we will be covering various unique circumstances which you may or may not encounter during your ride through the mountains. Many of the situation examples I will use are not exclusive to mountain riding. This is done so that your past experience can be utilized to help you make a more comfortable decision more quickly.

This seminar will address the following aspects of riding your motorcycle in the mountains: The roads and possible unusual hazards, the performance of your motorcycle, the rider's abilities and the responsibilities of the rider and co-rider.

Your choice to attend this seminar proves that no one here is closed minded about improving their riding skill and knowledge. Because as you already know, the better your riding skills become the more enjoyable riding becomes. It's as if it becomes second nature, you develop automatic thought processes that allow you to enjoy your surroundings as well as riding your motorcycle.

What we will cover applies to riding regardless of the size or type bike you ride. Now obviously if you are pulling a trailer, riding a trike or sidecar there will be exceptions to some of the information, so let's use the most important thing we can use when we make decisions or question a situation, COMMON SENSE! It can save your butt out on the road!

Remember that the whole reason we are riding motorcycles is for the fun and excitement that is not possible inside an automobile. So, as motorcycle riders we have consented to accept the risks and possible consequences of riding motorcycles. As you know, this brings us to the more serious aspect of riding, so let's get serious about having some fun on our motorcycles!

Roads and hazards: The roads in the mountains offer some of the most exciting riding available at legal speeds on public roads, from high speed interstates through huge canyons, across vast parks, to tight first gear twisties and switch backs so steep that it seems you could reach out and touch the uphill side, but don't try to, you might tip over.

As with riding elsewhere, sometimes the roads themselves can be your biggest hazard. The scenery hazard may come in the form of that amazing elk, bighorn sheep, or other animals that, while you are observing them as you ride down the road they feel a need to run out to meet you as you ride by. This gesture of friendship on their part is going to cause you to make some very quick decisions.

Number one, be prepared, expect that animal to come out to the road to meet you. You may want to slow down and be ready to stop quickly if he wants to talk. If your passenger is observant, you may be getting helpful comments from them about an animal that you did not see. Remember if they feel that they see a potential hazard they might be right.

Other scenery might not be a direct or immediate hazard, such as looking at the rivers and thinking that that might be a great fishing spot. While doing this in itself is not harmful, taking your concentration off riding for too long can result in a ruined day.

Eliminate the problem, pull over, get off and enjoy one of the reasons you're here. This also gives your passenger time enough to determine if this spot is remote enough to leave your body after the next time you yell at them.

You can reduce other hazards in the mountains such as blind curves, and hills simply by slowing down. This gives you more time and space to react.

Here's a situation I'm sure none of us have ever encountered: I'm riding along at a pace which I find fairly exhilarating but causes my co-rider to maintain a constant white knuckle grip on the seat handles. So the pace must be ok, right? As I enter a turn that is getting tighter the farther I get into it a strange thing is happening. I am understanding the emotions that my co-rider has been going through. The possibility of not successfully negotiating this curve has suddenly become a strong probability.

Thoughts of slowing down enter my mind, but too late, I'm in the turn already! Ok , thought process number two takes over, I press down more on the handle bar in the direction of the turn, I begin dragging parts but I know that I need to keep my speed and riding smooth. About this time I begin hearing comments about slowing down, are you trying to kill us? Are they coming from my head or my co-rider even though the intercom is unplugged? Remember, look where you want to go. Don't look for a soft spot to land.

If you enter a turn in a severe over speed condition you may be able to try this maneuver: Straighten the bike, brake hard, get back into the turn. This is a serious situation! Don't let yourself get to this point? THINK AHEAD OF YOUR VEHICLE AND SPEED--BE PREPARED In this situation you may run out of your lane, out of road, and/or ideas all at the same time, good luck, you'll need it!

Other hazards that you may encounter might be sand or dirt on the road, large rocks or boulders, any number of things. Who knows, you may even encounter a tourist who's stopped in the middle of the road just because he can!

As you may have noticed while riding here to the high country, the performance of your motorcycle seems to have diminished. This is a normal reaction of the internal combustion engine. Less oxygen at higher altitudes resulted in less power being produced.

In light of this you should be ready to plan your actions farther in advance.

Actions such as passing may require more distance and time to accomplish. You may require more distance and time to accomplish. You may even be forced to down shift a gear to pass.


Responsibilities Co-Riders: Although your responsibilities may not be as many as the rider's, they are not any less important. In some situations your actions might have an influence on the control the rider has of the motorcycle.

Communication of a potential hazard can be important, but don't get excited, stay calm! Once the rider has realized a hazardous situation he will be tense enough for the both of you!

Let's use the turn that was entered too fast as an example:

In this situation it would be best if the passenger just hangs on and keeps their body aligned with the center line of the motorcycle. This sounds much easier than it is since there will be some horrifying sounds as parts drag.

Please remember the rider already knows he's screwed up and is plenty busy trying to correct the situation. Unnecessary distractions like being yelled at during this time diminish  concentration and may jeopardize your safety.

Please remember that even though many people assume that co-riders are female and riders are male that these positions are not gender sensitive

With that in mind, let's use a little logic here. As a co-rider you have agreed to place the safety of your well being in the rider's abilities. You should be willing to work to become a team at riding that bike. If you are not confident in their skill as a motorcyclist, DON'T GET ON!

The safety of the co-rider is always the priority of the rider, right after theirs, because if they tip over and don't die they know that the co-rider will tell the police that the rider was killed in the accident!


Your responsibilities don't stop with the skillful handling of a motorcycle. Remember, use common sense and think ahead.

It is up to you to ensure that your passenger has at least an equal amount of proper clothing for their comfort and safety. Most of you will at least have saddle bags in which you can carry rain gear and extra warm clothes for them.

There is an unwritten rule among most touring riders that if your passenger is having a bad day so will you. And this is rumored to continue into the night as well.

Many of you as riders will at one time or another find yourself holding up traffic on narrow roads. Don't feel guilty but try to be courteous, let these people pass. This helps maintain the image of motorcyclists as being courteous and responsible. It also eliminates a hazard of a vehicle following you too close.

You will find yourself riding with friends through the mountains; make sure you're comfortable riding with these people. Their skills or lack of, may influence the outcome of your day.

When riding the mountains, I recommend you ride single file or a staggered formation, if group riding. This allows two things to happen: it gives you an entire lane width to maneuver and it allows the following riders more visibility of the road ahead,

I hope that an explanation of these advantages are unnecessary.

At times you will find yourself having trouble negotiating a turn smoothly. When this happens try to remember where you are looking. At the speedometer or where you are going? Simply pick your head and eyes up, turn your head to the direction you want to go and enjoy the ride and scenery.

This little rule will help you obtain smooth, graceful stops. Keep you head and eyes up looking straight ahead.

I did not go into the mechanics of riding your motorcycles because as touring riders you should already be a skilled rider.

As an MSF instructor and licensed racer, I encourage you to always try to improve your skills as a motorcyclist. Remember the ones who know everything or are too embarrassed to take a class, need it the most! Watch out for them!

Now put this reading down and go play with your motorcycle!

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