RPM Management: A Lesson in Safe Riding

Feb 04, 2014 View Comments by

RPM Management: A Lesson in Safe RidingMotorcycle shows can be sensory overload in the most positive way. Of course, there are visual treats in the form of gleaming new motorcycles and graphically scintillating gear. There is the tactile pleasure of straddling those bikes and hearing the sweet rumble of the engines in the test-ride staging area. There is the mixed aroma of exotic fuels and fried food that waft through the arena. Yes, there is something at a motorcycle extravaganza for each of the senses.

More importantly, at any good motorcycle expo there are ample opportunities to fill the brain. This is certainly the case at the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows (PIMS). At one of this year’s PIMS I sat in on various seminars on riding technique and safety. One topic in particular got me thinking. It was Jason Pridmore’s discussion on Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) management.

First, let’s take a quick look at Pridmore’s qualifications to speak on anything and everything motorcycle related. Pridmore is the owner and Chief Instructor at the Star Motorcycle School. His position as a teacher was preceded by an impressive career as a second-generation AMA racing champion. He knows his stuff. What follows is some of what he had to say on a vital element of motorcycle control and safety.

RPM Management

Controlling and understanding a motorcycle engine’s RPMs, may be one of the lesser discussed, and thus least understood elements in a rider’s safety toolbox. At the Phoenix stop of the PIMS, Pridmore spent the lion’s share of his on-stage interview time discussing this aspect of our sport. He said that RPM management is a major technical consideration for racers and it should be for street riders as well.

Pridmore detailed that there is an RPM sweet spot that should be maintained while riding— especially in town and in traffic. This engine speed allows both effective acceleration and deceleration in crucial situations. Interestingly, Pridmore’s contention is that most riders employ a gear that is too tall for this RPM sweet spot to be held. In other words, most motorcyclists keep their engine RPM much too low to be safe.

The RPM Effect on Deceleration

Pridmore asked the audience to think about the first thing a rider does when facing dire circumstances that requires quick deceleration. He said that in the instant before braking, backing off the throttle is the first deceleration action. If the motorcycle is being ridden in the proper RPM range, engine braking is an integral component of speed control. A bike ridden at excessively low RPMs has little or no engine braking action, thus placing the entire deceleration burden on the brakes. Effective deceleration is not just about the brakes.

The RPM Effect on Acceleration

Pridmore focused mainly on RPM and deceleration. However, there are times on the street that acceleration is the only solution to a dangerous predicament. For example, if a vehicle is making a sudden unsafe lane change to a motorcyclist’s side, throttling out of that path may be the only avoidance maneuver. If the engine is being operated too low in the RPM range quick access to horsepower and torque will not be readily available. Again, that sweet spot must be maintained to make use of the motorcycle’s acceleration potential. This is commonly referred to as a motorcycle’s “roll-on” power. So the RPM consideration goes both ways.

So where is the RPM “Sweet Spot?”

There is not an exact correct answer to this question, and it is not something that Jason Pridmore had time to cover in the interview. You have to experiment and practice with your particular motorcycle and its engine configuration. As a general rule, the ideal RPM range is lower in motorcycles with fewer cylinders and higher on ones with more. So a V-twin will usually be effectively and safely operated at a lower RPM range than an inline four, for example.

Safe experimentation with deceleration (engine braking) and acceleration (roll-on) will help you to find that place at which you and your motorcycle are at the optimum RPM window to handle whatever avoidance maneuver is necessary on the street.

Final Thoughts

There is an old adage that knowledge is power. In motorcycling, knowledge is safety too. Anywhere you can glean more knowledge, by all means do so. I have been riding for over four decades and I learn more ways to ride safely every year. This year is no exception.

By Tim Kessel


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