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The LoDown on the Box


  • The LoDown on the Box

    The Box

    Those two words often inspire apprehension, dread and sometimes outright fear in the minds of BRC students. The Box. The Dreaded Box.

    “What is the box?” you may ask. If you haven’t taken the MSF BRC, let me take a moment to explain what it is. The box is an area roughly the same as four parking spaces - two spaces long and two spaces wide. The dimensions are 20” wide by 60” long. The idea is to enter along the right hand side of it, do a u-turn to the left, come back to the entrance point, do another u-turn to the right, and exit along the left hand side – without going outside the lines or putting a foot down.

    · Is it really that big of a deal? Simple answer – no, it’s not.
    · Is it a skill that will save your life in a bad situation? Not really.
    · Is it a skill that comes in handy? Absolutely.
    · Is it a skill that shows you have better than average control of your motorcycle? Absolutely.
    · Is it something that every motorcycle is capable of? As far as I know, yes. I’ve seen it done on everything from the smallest bikes to the largest. Full Dress Harleys, Gold Wings, dual-sports, sport bikes, just about anything.
    · Is it something every motorcyclist is capable of? With proper technique – absolutely.

    What does it take to be able to successfully do ‘the box’? I like to break it down to three things:
    · Head turn
    · Counter weighting
    · Speed control

    Head turn.
    It’s all about the head turn. If you don’t look where you want to go, you’re just going to end up going where you look. So many times, I’ve seen people doing great, then the look down to see where the line is or look outside the box, and just like magic, they’re off track and running over the line. When you get ready to do the first (left) turn, turn your head way around and look over your left shoulder back at the point where you entered the box. Keep looking in that direction until you’re ready to begin the second turn. As you begin the second (right) turn, look way over your right shoulder to the exit point. Often times with a full face helmet you may actually have to raise your chin a bit to clear the shoulder. Try it right now if you’re sitting down. Pick a spot to your right, barely within your peripheral vision, and turn your head as far to the left as you can, trying to see that same spot. Feel those neck muscles stretch? That’s the head turn you need.

    Counter weighting.
    Counter weighting is simply leaning the motorcycle in one direction while shifting your weight the opposite direction. There are many ways to do this, from standing on the pegs and leaning to the outside to sliding your butt over off the seat to the outside, to simply pressing down on the outside peg with all of your weight.
    Why counter weight? The problem is that if you try to lean the motorcycle over at a very low speed, it can fall over. At low speeds you don’t have the gyroscopic effect of the wheels helping to keep you upright, so you have to work a little harder to maintain balance.
    What is the best way to counter weight for the box? In most cases, shift your butt to the outside of the bike, and stay as upright as possible. It’s going to feel really funny at first, but it works. A word of caution, though. As you’re shifting your weight to the outside, do it with your legs. Lift your weight up off of the seat with your legs as you shift over. Do not use your arms! If you use your arms, you’ll more than likely end up transmitting unwanted steering inputs through the handlebars. The same thing when you go to center your weight afterwards– use your legs, not your arms.

    Speed control.
    Speed control is a vital and often overlooked ingredient of doing this exercise successfully. If you go too slowly, you’ll end up putting a foot down or falling over. If you go too fast, you’ll end up turning too wide or scraping motorcycle parts. So, how do you get and maintain the optimum speed? Again, that’s going to depend a lot on what motorcycle you’re riding. Let’s look first at the venerable Honda Nighthawk, a bike familiar to many people who’ve been through MSF classes.
    On the Nighthawk, I personally like to idle through it in first gear. If the motorcycle idles fast enough to pull itself along without additional throttle, and the ground is nice and flat, you can get it rolling with a little throttle, ease back off of the throttle and just concentrate on your head turn and counter weighting. Others have good luck using second gear and a slight bit of throttle.

    On other bikes it gets a bit trickier. Let’s go from the Nighthawk to another extreme, a large v-twin. On most other larger V-Twins (like Shadows, V-Stars, Boulevards, Harleys, etc.), it’s almost impossible to just idle through in first gear. The power delivery isn’t smooth enough at idle, it will be jerky and quite likely stall. This is when a good feel for the friction zone is vital. Get the bike rolling without fully releasing the clutch, and use a combination of clutch and a light drag on the rear brake to keep the bike’s speed constant as you keep the RPM fairly high. CAUTION!!! YOU MUST HAVE AN EXCELLENT FEEL FOR THE FRICTION ZONE BEFORE YOU TRY THIS METHOD. More than once, I’ve seen people accidentally let go of the clutch quickly with the RPMs high and go wheelieing off in an unintended direction. Make sure to practice this method in a straight line (kind of like the ‘clutch control lanes’ in class) and get a good feel for it before you attempt it in tight low-speed maneuvers.

    Putting it all together.
    OK, I’ve tried to outline the basic skills and techniques needed, let’s see if we can put them together for a successful run through the box.

    Here we go, entering the area that some people fear as much as that big SUV with the LCD TV screen mounted in the driver’s visor. We’ve got a nice slow speed, the motorcycle feels stable, and we’ about two-thirds of the way through – it’s time to shift your butt over to the right hand side of the seat and start that head turn. Placing your weight firmly on the pegs, lift up slightly off the seat and slide on over, being careful not to lever yourself with the handlebars. At the same time, start looking over your left shoulder to see if you can get a good look at the spot where you came in. At this point, go ahead and turn the handlebars hard left. Remember, this is a low speed, tight turn – we’re counter weighting, not contersteering. If it feels like you’re getting ready to tip over, get a little more weight to the outside, and make sure you’re not slowing to a stop. Maintain a steady speed, and the next thing you know, you’ll be right back where you started, ready to turn the other direction.

    As you cross over the middle and get straightened out, you need to get ready for the second (right hand) turn. You should now be almost back to the entrance point and close to and traveling parallel with the outside line to your left. This weight shift is a little trickier, since you’re way over on the right hand side of the seat. Very carefully, lift yourself up off of the seat and shift your butt all the way to your left. As you do this, look way back over your right shoulder to the exit point, and start turning the handlebars to the right. The next thing you know, you’ve done it!!! The box has been conquered, and you’re wondering what all the fuss was about.

    Now all that being said, don’t get all broken up if you don’t get it right the first few (dozen) times. No one is born knowing how to do this stuff. It takes practice. If you find yourself constantly having the same problem, closely examine all of the things you’re doing, or better yet, have an experienced eye evaluate your technique (shameless plug for MSF classes).

    What can go wrong? As long as you have the head turn, counter weight, and speed control down pat – you’ve got nothing to worry about.

    What are some common mistakes?

    Looking down. Don’t look down. The ground is there, the lines are there, and the motorcycle is there, trust me. Looking down is just an invitation to put your foot down.

    Not looking where you want to go. Often people will be doing fine, but have an urge to look to see where the line is or have an overwhelming urge to know what’s happening outside the box. Results? Running wide or running over the line. Look where you want to go.

    Braking – whatever you do, stay away from the front brake at this point. The easiest way to induce a horizontal parking incident is to squeeze (or worse yet, grab) the front brake with the handlebars turned. A slight pressure to drag the rear brake in conjunction with use of the friction zone is OK, but don’t touch that front brake!!

    Not counter weighting. It feels really weird at first, but with some practice, you should be able to lean the motorcycle way over and still be very stable. A lot of people will slide their butt over enough, but still keep their weight on the inside peg and lean into the turn. If you have to put your foot down often, improper counter weighting is the most likely cause.

    Any questions? If not, get out there, find a nice big open parking lot and practice. Pretty soon, you’ll be riding circles around your riding buddies, literally…
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