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How to handle a heavy motorcycle

Once moving, a heavy motorcycle doesn’t feel so big, but at slow speeds and in tight spots, it can be a real handful. Not so for this highly skilled US cop!

Have you ever seen riders on big Harleys wobbling through slow traffic or trying to execute a u-turn by paddling with their feet on the ground, then suddenly stopping and dropping the bike?

I know I’ve done it and I’ve seen it happen on many occasions.

Yet, there are some riders who have no troubles. Just watch the video of the cops in the police motorcycle games at the 105th world HOG Rally in Milwaukee or the winner of the slow riding “race” at the 2015 annual HOG Rally in Tamworth.

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It requires a lot of skill and plenty of practice, but there are several things you can do to make it easier.

We’ve listed our top 10 hints for slow-riding and manoeuvring a heavy motorcycle:

1 Parking

When picking a place to park, try to find somewhere with a flat, smooth and non-slippery surface preferably with a slight uphill camber so that the bike doesn’t lean over as far. If it does, it will make the bike super-heavy to lift off the side stand. When pulling the bike off its side stand, turn the bars fully to the right until they lock, then grab the right handle with both hands, making sure you also grab the brake lever (see the photo below). Now compare that with picking it up with the handlebars turned all the way to the left and see how much heavier it feels.

heavy motorcycle
In this position the bike is more upright and lighter to lift off its sidestand

2 Smooth

Being smooth is a mantra that is all-pervasive in motorcycling. It will make you faster on the race track and safer in the wet. But with a heavy bike it will also make you steadier at slow traffic speeds. Execute all brake, throttle and steering adjustments as smoothly as possible. Don’t be a jerk!

3 Head up

Don’t look down when riding slowly. To get a sense of balance you need to be looking up at where you want to go. Have you ever seen a tightrope walker look down?

4 Brakes

At slow speeds, stay off the front brake as it will cause the front wheel to tuck suddenly and with all that weight, you won’t be able to stop the bike from a sudden fall. Use the rear brake smoothly to slow down as it will steady the bike. Only squeeze the front brake gently as you come to a full stop, although I prefer to use the foot brake right until the very stop and put my left foot on the ground.

5 Clutch and throttle

Smooth acceleration can be difficult with some modern EFI bikes, but they are getting better. However, you can be even smoother if you slip a little clutch and hold the throttle steady. It may sound like you are over-revving, but it will make you much smoother and give you more control.

6 Point your feet

If you’ve ever had to execute a sharp turn from stationary on a large bike, you will know how difficult it is. The first step in executing a sharp turn is to put down the foot on the side that you want to turn, so it’s the right foot for right turns and the left foot for left turns. Now, point that foot to where you want to go. This will adjust your riding posture correctly. Sounds strange, but try it and you’ll see it works.

heavy motorcycle
Point your foot in the direction you want to go

7 Tilt the bike

Tight turns are done with a combination of steering and leaning the bike. Too many people think you only steer when riding slowly. It is difficult to tilt a heavy bike at slow speeds as you feel you will fall and not be able to catch it. However, before you take off, tilt the bike toward the foot that is down and you will start turning straight away, even before you add any steering input.

8 Don’t oversteer

Have you ever seen riders on big bikes in peak-hour traffic wobbling all over the road with the handlebars wildly oscillating side to side? That is a sure sign that they are nervous and unbalanced. Apart from lifting your chin and your gaze so you get a better sense of balance, you also need to take a couple of deep breaths, compose yourself and consciously try to stop making jerky bar corrections all the time. It’s a mental attitude.

9 Elbows out

It might be etiquette to eat with your elbows tucked in, but it gives you less control of the cutlery. Similarly, you have more control with your elbows up and out, especially when executing a tight turn or riding at slow speed. Accentuate the lift in the opposite elbow to the way you are turning and you will have even better control of your turn.

heavy motorcycle
Police officer uses good body posture

10 Sit up straight

Just as lifting your gaze improves balance, it also forces you to tilt the bike rather than your head and body to make the turns. Sit up straight and let the bike do the work for you. To keep your balance while the bike is tilted and you are sitting up straight, you may also like to straighten and extend your “inside” leg in the direction you are turning.

heavy motorcycle
Inside leg provides balance
  • Do you have any more tips? Leave your comments in the box below.
  1. If you are getting frustrated with the way your bike behaves in low speed manoeuvres it could be worthwhile checking your tyres. In Australia we spend a lot of time riding on straight roads which wears out the centre of the tyres and changes their profile. They could even be flat in the middle. This makes the bike harder to handle than when it has nicely rounded new tyres. Also check your tyre pressures. If they are too low it will adversely affect handling. If they are too high you will have less grip because the contact patch will be smaller. Tyre pressures are always a compromise. On road bikes I usually set them about 4psi below what is recommended in the bike’s owner’s manual. That is my preferred compromise between handling, grip and wear. Other people may have different preferences.

  2. i have never heard the point your feet tip, I am going to try that one.
    Speaking on throtle control if you have 2-3mm slack in your accelerator cable that can help keep you smoother. I know some folks try to remove all the slack but this only makes the throttle more on/off and harder to manage.
    I was once told keeping the big reving high and slipping the clutch gives you the not only helps keep you smooth but the centrifical force from the turning crank/flywheel helps keep you upright (not sure about on a guzzi) any thoughts on that.
    elbows up of course is basic dirt bike control.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for that. The flywheel point is absolutely correct. Slipping the clutch and keeping the revs constant also negates the rocking effect on a boxer and transverse V-twins (BMW/Guzzi).
      Tell me how you go pointing your foot!

      1. pointing the foot has been working well it means I am turning strait away, thx for the tip.

  3. Hello, I like to know how to handle heavy weight. I wanted to drive Royal Enfield. But I weigh just 53kg. I’m unable to handle the weight. To turn the bike & everything. Is it just ok to put on weight or do I need some work out. Kindly help me out. Thank you.

    1. Hi Dhiya,
      there’s no denying motorcycles are heavy, so a bit of a workout would be handy.
      But also, you should get some rider training as even short and light people are able to handle motorcycles with some skills.

  4. Your post is remarkably useful and reassuring – thank you! I need to try out some of these hints you’re talking about – which now, perversely, makes me less fearful of dropping the bike again as it will be good practice for picking it back up.

  5. I saw tips from Jerry Paladino on you tube. Found it corrected my low speed maneuvering immensely

  6. I am looking into buying my first bike. I am an average woman, about 5’6 125lbs and trying to find a bike that I am confident I can keep up. I learned on a bike that was around 500lbs, and it was on the heavy side, but I was able to ride it.I found a bike about the same size but am unsure. I am hoping to find a bike that I can have for a while. Should I get a 500lbs bike that is a little heavy for me but is a more long-term bike, or just get a super light bike that is more beginner since I am still learning?

    1. Hi Miranda,
      Don’t feel you have to buy a heavy bike to last a long time.
      There are plenty of bikes under 500lb that are solid on the road and will travel the highways without being blown around by other traffic. They should last you a long time.
      I’d always opt for the lighter bike and the greater confidence.

  7. Thanks for those tips, I’m planning to step up from a 600 to 1800cc bike and this is useful to know. One thing though, about planting and pointing your foot on the side you’re going to turn to, from stationery; what happens if you are on a gradient and turning left, and would therefore need to hold the bike steady with the rear brake before moving off?

      1. Thanks! I was just wondering, if you need to hold the bike with the front brake on a hill, how does it work with regards to using the throttle then to pull away? Or would you bring the clutch to the bite and hold it wth that, just before moving off?

  8. Thank you for the great article. In it you mentioned that with these larger bikes, you should always keep your elbows out when riding as that allows you to have better controls especially when you turn. My brother has been thinking about getting a Harley Davidson bike, and I wanted to make sure he was safe while he rides it. All we have to do now is find a good dealer he could get a bike from, as with these tips he can stay safe for sure.

  9. My brother has been thinking about getting a motorcycle soon. So, I liked that you talked about what to do when you park the bike. It is good to know that you should park it on a flat surface.

  10. I am 4’11” and 110 lbs. I learned on a honda rebel 250 for about a year, then got a gorgeous Harley 883 for Christmas. It’s top heavy and I’ve dropped it twice, falling with it and catching my hands both times. It is hard to maneuver and I’m super discouraged. Suggestions?

  11. I have a difficult time backing my touring bike backward toward the curb to park perpendicular when 2 up. Should the rider get off first? It make the bike wobble when they do. But having them on the bike when I attempt to back it up is wobbly too.

    Suggestions. What is the best way to navigate parking against a curb 2 up??

    1. Hi Tom,
      So long as you aren’t holding up any traffic, by all means get your pillion to hop off first.
      If you wobble, then put the sidestand down to provide some extra support, but keep both feet on the ground so the sidestand doesn’t take all the weight. Some stands are made of alloy and they bend!

  12. I have a 800 pound Harley that I have trouble parking, I am wondering if there is any tips or recommendations on how to improve my ability to handle the bike.

  13. Just riding for the first time a large engine next week and these tips are Worth memorizing, thanks.

  14. This is so helpful. I wish they would have taught this in the motorcycle safety course I took. I’m a 150 pound female and when I went from the 125 to the 500cc (day 3 if riding) I dropped the bike for the first time on a right turn. Tips for moving up to even a little bit bigger bike and what type of practice you should be doing would have been great. Thank you.

  15. This was the most helpful article I ever read about motorcycle driving. Anyone can make a bike go straight down a road, but the low-speed maneuvering and turning from a stop is tough on a large top-heavy bike. I tried these techniques, and they work really well. By repeatedly practicing, I’m hoping to improve my skills tremendously.

    And, the motorcycle officer on the slow-speed obstacle course is just unreal. Absolutely top notch, and I’m in total awe. I wish that guy gave lessons!

  16. gosh, hope this helps i just bought a 2020 street glide, coming from a softail streetbob 2018 my new bike is over 800lbs. im determind to ride it, its what i wanted and i dont care what anyone says. im only 5’2 slow speeed manouvers are going to need lots of practice

  17. Always remember that you will react with what you PRACTICE that’s with anything in life. I constantly practice. If I was to give a tip… get on YouTube and watch “twist of the wrist” made a ton of difference in how I ride.

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