Many of us riders are just dying for an excuse to go on a ride and some of the favorite places to ride to are scenic mountain roads. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the fresh air, scenic vistas and open roads to really open up the throttle?
Of course, riding on mountain roads takes a different set of skills from riding in the city. After all, they have steep inclines, sharp turns, and sweeping curves that can pose a bit of a challenge for some riders.
Just a quick ride up Marilaque Highway shows how many have trouble taking on sharp curves at speed. So to properly take the mountain on, we’ve prepared a set of tips.
Check and prepare your bike
Driving up mountains will be taxing on your bike, more so than normal city roads. So it’s important to make sure your motorcycle is in good condition. The first thing to check are the brakes as these will be used the most. Make sure the brake fluid is topped up and check the pads themselves to make sure you have at least 5-6 mm of brake pad material between the disc and metal caliper before heading up.
Also check your tires and tread levels. Ensure they’re at the recommended pressure and tread depth. Tires below the recommended pressure will put extra strain on your engine and transmission.
Wear the right gear
We can't stress this enough. Never leave without your helmet, hard knuckle gloves, padded jacket / pants, and high-cut shoes. You can add extra protection in the form of elbow and knee pads and a back protector. It also won't hurt to wear a high visibility vest.
Keep your eyes focused far ahead
Mountain roads can throw up a lot of surprises thanks to the sharp and blind curves. As such, keep your focus as far down the road as possible, and not just on the vehicles ahead. Doing this will let you see any other motorcycles and obstacles far earlier and prepare you to avoid them sooner if needed. After all, many Philippine mountain roads have obstructions like cars parked on the side of the road, an oncoming vehicle overshooting a turn, an oil slick on the road, or a steep grade coming up.
Know the right of way
There may not be many intersections on mountain roads, but right of way still applies. In this case, cars and bikes going uphill always have right of way. This is because going uphill takes significantly more power and preparation. It’s also why most steep grades are typically two-lane for overtaking while downhill side is just one.
You may encounter a vehicle on your lane of the road going uphill. If he is overtaking a slower vehicle, he has right of way. So slow down a bit and give him/her room to overtake.
Respect the double yellow lines
The double yellow line rule is most critical in these mountain roads, particularly because there’s not much run-off on roads like these to avoid overtaking vehicles. As such, follow the rules and don’t overtake on areas with double yellow lines. Even if it looks clear. These were put there by road engineers who take into account the grade, visibility, and succeeding turns to determine if it’s safe to overtake.
Manage your brakes
Using the brakes are the easiest way to slow down, particularly when going downhill, but using them too much can cause them to heat up quickly and lose effectivity. Hot brakes tend to heat up the pads, glaze the discs, and require even more pedal pressure to slow down. This can also lead to brake failure.
When riding uphill, use your rear brake more. Because of gravity, most of a bike’s weight is on the rear wheel, making the rear brake more effective if you need to slow down. Applying the rear brake also compresses the front suspension giving you more grip if you need to turn.
When riding downhill, gravity will put much of the weight on the front of the motorcycle and very little on the rear. This will make the rear brake much less effective and easier to accidentally lock up. Keep this in mind and adjust accordingly, relying more on the front brake when going downhill.
Another effective way to manage your brakes is to pulse them. This means pressing them repeatedly, kind of like manual ABS. Pulsing brakes gives the brake pads some time to breathe and cool down in between presses. It’s much better than continuous application which will quickly heat the brake pads and discs.
Downshift for steep grades
This may seem pretty basic when approaching inclines or descents, but it’s important to keep in mind. In a manual, it’s quite easy: slow down a bit, downshift to a lower gear, give the engine a rev or two to match the engine speed with the wheel speed, then release the clutch. This puts you in the peak powerband to accelerate up the hill. When going downhill, the resistance from the engine on a lower gear will also help slow down the bike.
In an automatic CVT, simply slow down to have the transmission go into a lower ratio. When going uphill, the resistance of the slope will be sufficient to slow you down. Twist the throttle and hold it in position for the duration of the incline to keep it in the low ratio. When going downhill, you can either rely on the brakes or simply let go of the throttle. The engine brake built-in to most CVTs will help slow you down when going downhill.
Remember to choose the right gear for the speed. Choosing too low a gear for your speed can cause a brief lock up and cause you to lose control. If you’ve chosen the right gear, you’ll notice the bike will take longer to accelerate even on steep slopes because of the resistance from the engine.
Take the right line
The aspect of mountain roads most rider have problems with is taking the right line around curves. Many riders bank into the curve too soon before realizing there’s still quite a bit of curve to go.
The best and safest technique is to use the “late apex” or "delayed apex" technique. The apex of a turn is the part where a bike comes closest to and turns the sharpest.
To do this, stay on the outside of a turn for as long as possible: on a left turn stay on the right side of your lane; on a right turn, stay on the left side of your lane. Lean and turn a bit if you have to but not to the maximum yet. Keep your eyes as far up the road as possible. There will be a point when you can see the rest of the corner and the straight road after. That's the point where you lean in and turn sharper with a little bit of throttle. It’s usually once you’ve covered 2/3 of the curve or can already see the exit of a turn. That will be the only time that you touch the inside of the corner. From there, it’s easier to straighten up, and less likely to overshoot a turn.
This technique is highly recommended by seasoned riders because it allows you to see how sharp a corner is before banking. It’s especially useful on really long curves and gives you lots of time to correct if the turn suddenly gets sharper.
Watch the video below to get a clearer picture on how to execute it.
In addition, it keeps you away from the center of a curve and at a safe distance from riders or cars coming from the other direction that may overshoot the turn. If you are hugging the center line, and another center-hugging vehicle comes around a curve from the opposite direction, it may lead to a head-on collision.
If you want to take in the views, snap a few pictures, or buy fruits or souvenirs from roadside stores, pull over safely. This means making sure your entire bike is parked outside the white line on the edge of the road. Poorly parked bikes on mountain roads are particularly annoying to other drivers, especially on sharp curves or steep grades, because there’s little room as it is and these vehicles create bottlenecks or obstructions. Don’t be that guy.
Before you put your kickstand down, have a look at the surface and make sure it is firm and stable. If the area you’re parking at isn’t level, park facing uphill and leave it in first gear. A parked bike facing downhill may easily ride off the side stand or center stand.
When riding off again, hold yourself up with the left leg. You’ll need the right foot on the peg and ready to apply the rear brake in case you stall or roll back.
Once parked properly, stow your gear properly. It may easily be blown away by other passing bikes and cars and litter the road. And of course, look both ways for other vehicles before crossing the road.
Enjoy the ride
The best thing about these long rides is how they take you far from civilization and pollution. Enjoy it. Don't race. Slow it down. Keep a cool head and be courteous on the road.