The Importance of Your Bike's Warning Signs

Why you should listen to your bike and not "ride through it"

Nick Ienatsch
Nick and a YCRS FZ1: Both smiling because they did not lie together in the grass or on the

Three days ago I was charging down the hill out of Turn Two on the Thunderbolt track at New Jersey Motorsports Park and my Yamaha FZ1 moved longitudinally in a way I had never experienced. It was a small move, but it was a weird move.

I was “working”, leading a quick student named Jeremy on his race bike, but the longitudinal move registered in my brain. I almost ignored it and wailed off into the Turn 3 A-B-C chicane, a second-to-third gear right/left/right that exited at around 100 mph, but I didn’t ignore the weird movement.

My hand went up and Jeremy followed me to a safe spot well off the track. Sure enough, the rear Dunlop Q3 was going flat. “Jeremy,” I said to the young man, “five years ago I would have just kept pushing and you’d have seen me lying somewhere around 3C right now. Do me a favor and don’t repeat my past mistakes of ignoring warning signs. I felt this thing being weird at the bottom of the hill and didn’t ignore it. Saved my own ass.” (YCRS Operations guy Chris Hartmann found a puncture from a discarded rivet.)

Jeremy doesn’t know my past, but my most notable “ignoring of warning signs” has to be when the Britten steering damper mount broke and the bike started swapping under hard braking; but I was leading at Daytona and just couldn’t quit. Well, the damper hung up on the exhaust pipe, locking the steering and bringing me to an abrupt, fairing-down halt in the Chicane (sorry Jim Hunter). There are other examples, but you get the idea. I have pushed and ignored when I should have felt and slowed down. The red haze of track riding and racing has occasionally blinded me to the realities of motorcycle failure. Learn with me, riders of all ages.

My writing and teaching are littered with references to rider error, to taking responsibility for crashes, yet there will be the very occasional equipment failure; Scott Russell crashed at Daytona when a coolant hose popped off and lubricated his rear tire, for instance. This points us to tech-checking our bikes, hiring qualified technicians, preventative maintenance, not riding anyone else’s junk…but the occasional issue can crop up.

On a low tire you will feel a longitudinal weave and you will feel lethargic steering. The bike will want to run straight and when leaned over will wallow. If you continue to push, the tire will fold over or come completely off the rim and you will be contemplating the issue from a horizontal position with inevitable bruising.

One thing we used to do at the school, but haven’t recently, is to have a bike with low tires for the students to feel the problem, to feel how it steers. We haven’t done it in a while, but I think we’ll bring it back to YCRS because tires losing air from a small puncture are probably responsible for more crashes than we know. If it’s wallowing longitudinally or not steering, pull over and check your tire pressures.

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