Skip to main content

Rider skills: Why tension wrecks your riding

By BikeSocial

Bennetts BikeSocial was launched in autumn 2012



RELAX - Why tension wrecks riding


Giles Lamb is an instructor for the hugely respected Rapid Training and has been riding bikes for the police for 12 years. You can book a course via their website or by calling - 07429 042885.



Tension causes havoc mid-corner - your whole upper body becomes stiff and acts as an almighty steering damper.


I often feel quite tense on my bike. I’m guessing this is bad...

Yes, because tension really mucks up bike control. The worst sort of tension is probably the one that kicks in mid corner. It could be that we’ve read the corner badly and we’re just in too hot, or that we read it well enough, but as we enter it we see the floor is awash with gravel, mud, diesel… take your pick. Or it could be that it’s pouring with rain and we’re just not that comfortable in the wet. Whatever the reason, tension that gets out of control mid corner can start a catalogue of errors.


What sort of errors?

Everything from target fixation, to tight arms, to shutting the gas, and worse still unconsciously grabbing a handful of front brake.


Why does it happen?

That my friend is down to thousands of years of evolution at work - preparing your body for battle. So it’s probably fair to say that us mere mortals (we’ll leave the MotoGP aliens out of this equation) are never going to stop it from happening completely. You’re up against nature. But what if we could manage it? What if we could channel it? Actors and live performers will tell you that if they don’t feel nervous before they go on stage, they often give a flat and poor performance. I’m not going to tell you that stress on two wheels is good, but if it does kick in, let’s at least try and control it.



Rider skills: Tension

Could he look at more relaxed? This is ex-500cc world champ Kevin Schwantz barely breaking sweat while caning a GSX-R1000


And how do we go about doing that?

First of all, let’s talk about arms and how they affect your steering. Many bikes come with steering dampers to slow the steering down if it all gets a bit frisky. But what would happen if an electronic steering damper suddenly had a malfunction and decided to go into full damping mode? We’d struggle to turn and the bike would want to go straight on. Yet as riders we don’t have one steering damper - we have two! In everyday riding your elbows should be completely loose - not a hint of resistance in that joint whatsoever - and you should hold the bars with the lightest of touches. Steering should be the easiest thing in the world.


So the reason I miss apexes is because I’m tense?

Quite possibly. When you get stressed your arms tense up, elbows turn into rusty hinges and your arms will act like a steering damper. The tighter they get, the straighter the bike will want to go.


That rings a bell. Any solutions?

If we can’t stop that odd bit of tension, then move it away from your arms. Gripping the tank hard with your knees can free your upper body from tension – I do this a lot. If I’m having a serious play down a B-road, it’s my knees gripping the tank that hold me on, not my arms. Or what about driving a foot into an outside foot peg? Or doing a Pilates belly button to spine pull?



Really? How can that help?

A weak core will leave you propping yourself up on your arms, probably locked out arms at that – hardly conducive to free and easy steering. Engaging your core in a moment of stress is a great way of turning bad tension into something useful. The longer your journey into biking, the more likely that you will get fewer and fewer bad tension days. But when it does kick in – and you find yourself in that muddy, diesely, gravelly corner – shove that tension somewhere … anywhere … but not in your arms.


Share on social media: