Why motorcyclists should try the i2i Machine Control Academy

TD using counter steer no hands IMG 5238

Published on 31 March 2016 by Tom Wadlow

BMF’s Tom Duncan details the valuable knowledge and insight he picked up from two-days with the i2i MachineControlAcademy: 

I am sure that this is a subject that is close to all of our hearts, but how many of us actually know and understand much beyond the rudiments of machine control? We all know how to keep it upright in normal driving conditions, and many riders have skills beyond that. If you want to take your machine control skills to a higher level, then I can strongly recommend this course.

On course

In November 2015, I spent two days with a man who knows a thing or two about machine control. That man was Tom Killeen of i2i Machine Control Academy. I learned a lot from Tom when I attended his i2i MotorcycleAcademy at Rufforth in Yorkshire.

The purpose of the machine control course is to build confidence and improve riding ability. Tom Killeen’s teaching style does both of these in spades.

Bite-size chunks

Tom Killeen is an inspiration. He has the ability to break down explanations of the control of a motorcycle into small bite-size digestible chunks. Take the basic issue of machine stability. Tom will quiz you on what you think keeps a motorcycle upright. Some might think that having the engine running helps to promote stability and others think stability comes from the bike when under way. The basic principle of stability for bikes is that they are stable so long as the rider doesn't mess with, or put weight through, the handlebars.

Understanding the basic mechanics of a gyroscope, and what it needs to do in order to stabilise itself, leads to a potential benefit of relaxing the grip you have on the bars. I put that into practice on the ride home – it was blowing a gale – and arrived home not nearly as worn out as usual!

Ever the pragmatist

TD going over block of woodTom explains the exercises that he wants you to do in order to demonstrate that you understand what is going on to keep a motorcycle stable. Tom takes you through the various stages bit by bit so that through an incremental process, you understand and can demonstrate that you understand and can do every step of the process.

But it’s not all talk. After explaining what you need to do, Tom will then summarise the process, don his helmet and gloves, jump on his bike and then show you exactly what he has just explained,

Tom takes me through the physics of how a motorcycle corners. You will learn about cones and how it is the shape of the tire that assists us when going round corners. He demonstrates it using a motorcycle tire and a traffic cone (with the square bit at the fat end cut off). He also explains changing direction (creating lean). 

Lean into it

First we considered that the reason a bike turns was a result of a cone being created on front and rear tyre resulting in an arc or turn. More lean creates a larger cone (greater angle of attack) which results on a tighter arc.

We also discussed why some riders resisted leaning more, even if they knew that more lean would solve the problem of running wide in a bend.

We considered that the amount of grip available was a major concern in the mind of the rider and that it made sense to understand what happens to grip when lean is introduced. 

‘Cornering forces’ applied to the motorcycle in a turn creates a positive G force through the centre of the bike and tyres. This results in extra grip when leaned over. Understanding this principle can offer more confidence while leaning over.


Finally we discussed how gyroscopic precession operates on the front wheel when positive steering is applied. Precession is a very powerful force and trying to apply a force to change the axis of a gyro will cause a force applied 90 degrees to the gyro in the direction of rotation. That is, after all, what counter-steering actually is!

I had a very practical example of gyroscopic precession in the 1970s when I was learning to fly a single-engine tail dragger aircraft. The propeller up front is a giant gyro and when you lift the tail on the take off run, precession operates and the plane dives off to the side. I was not quick enough on the rudder to counter the severe swing and made an excursion over the grass almost at 90 degrees to the runway at Aberdeen airport before launching into the air. I very quickly learned not to let that happen again.

In English that means, although a steering input is appliedm a clear leaning over is felt. Using that force is what counter-steering is, and understanding it can make changing direction/lean angle become much easier, faster and with less effort.

We used a bicycle wheel to feel the actual forces on the gyroscope which made it more obvious and easier to understand and apply. I think playing with the spinning bicycle rim balanced on one finger is something that most if not all of us will have done.

Advanced braking

Advanced braking was a show stopper for me. Pun intended. Initially, with both hands on the handlebars and braking really hard, I slid forward on the seat and the weight pressure on my arms and hands was not inconsiderable. I did not feel particularly comfortable or in control. As I mentioned above, Tom teaches incrementally. Advanced braking was no different.

After a short while, I was braking hard and at speed with the front brake, and only one hand on the bars and was keeping the bike heading in a straight line. This resulted in me making a change in my behaviour and in my mindset in relation to the stability of a motorcycle: how to change direction efficiently and how to stop smoothly but in a consistent and measurable amount of space.

Tom Killeen on the right IMG 2298As Tom summed it up: We looked at braking and how the ability to stop can sometimes be overlooked in terms of road riding. Tom quoted the ‘rule book’, suggesting that all training assumed that the rider can “stop in the distance they can see to be clear”, on their own side of the road. 

Considering that, we discussed the possible distance required to stop a motorcycle at 30mph and 40mph. Tom asked for a figure, ie: four metres, ten metres etc. Once we realised that any figure was a guess, it made sense to use a visual point in the distance (marked by cones) and a point at which the brakes would be applied in order to more realistically estimate a distance we would need to stop. We estimated that at 40mph it might be the yellow cone which was 30 metres away, or slightly sooner.

Before we did the actual braking, he got us to think again, but this time at the speed we were talking about (40mph). After the perception, we realised that 40mph can seem fast and it was tough to figure it just how much space was needed. 

Finally, Tom took us through the braking forces and balance of the machine and what happens to the bike under braking conditions, in terms of the grip available front and back. We considered that the weight of the bike was going forward and that the rear was getting lighter and so the obvious brake to use would be the front, as the weight and grip was going up on the front tyre during braking.

This just left the technique to use for hard braking, which included a two stage approach to braking on the front. A small amount of brake applied first, a delay to allow the forks to compress and equalise at which point extra brake and weight delivered to the front wheel which would directly transmit to the tyre, spreading out the contact patch and greater grip which allowed much more brake to be used.

The result was a very short stopping distance (closer to 12 metres), without any drama. 

To put that in to context, when you can visualise the space needed to stop, you can have more confidence and react calmly to hazards if they require you to stop.

Easy to understand

Tom’s unique selling point is his ability to explain complex subjects in a way everyone can understand. On the course, you’re not overloaded with facts and figures. Rather, Tom explains things in an easy to follow simple way.

The course has a chronological logic to it. The first things you are taught, seamlessly link to what you are taught later. You put into practice the various skills that you have been shown and you start to see the bigger picture - you see how it all fits together.

At the end of the course, Tom said that it may take a while to note any changes in our riding or - more importantly - our confidence and relaxed composure as a result of the training.

He also said that he likes to leave the course thinking about what was learned and make a few notes on what it was that made the difference, key techniques or principles that helped people gain a better insight and confidence in the machine.

A great two days that can boost your knowledge and confidence – and, of course, safety.

Further details of machine control 1 can be found at: www.i2imca.com/MachineControl.asp