Saturday, May 16, 2009

How to Ride a Motorcycle With No Hands

riding a motorcycle without touching handle barsTo the motorcyclist, Southern California is a mecca of awesome roads for riding. But to get out of Southern California, a rider must traverse through a 100+ miles of hot, boring desert.

Riding through horizon after horizon of straight road in triple-digit temperatures tests the patience of any rider. It becomes a question of how to keep oneself mentally entertained.

And so I decided to practice riding without holding the handle bars.

Admittedly, there's a little bit of arrogance in doing this, because other motorists will look at you with interest, and you just love knowing that you've captured their interest.

But it's also a lesson in getting over the fear of riding. Once you've come to understand that a moving motorcycle always wants to keep moving forward, it opens up a new set of possibilities in testing the limits of what can be done riding a motorcycle in this manner.

From Chiriaco Summit to Blythe, along the I-10 of California's lower Mojave Desert, is about 60 miles of mostly straight freeway. I tried to ride the entire distance without touching the handle bars.

Here and there, the freeway does make turns, very wide turns that don't require any slowing down.

I could make the bike turn simply by using body english to make the bike lean to one side. Once you've got that part figured out, you can pretty much ride for as long as you have gas in the tank.

On my Electra Glide Ultra Classic, I found it easier to kick my feet up on to the lower-fairing, and then recline back so that my hands rest on the passenger hand rails. By pulling on one of the hand rails, I found it easier to make the bike lean.

Not only that, but it makes my back feel a lot better. It's like sitting in a recliner, and using your body as a joy stick while playing a car race video game.

I discovered my bike always wants to drift to the right.

I think it's mostly due to the camber of the road. The road is not perfectly flat. That is, each side of the road is angled slightly, allowing water to drain off to the side. I think that's why the bike drifts.

Other factors include side winds, or not having cargo evely distributed, or even not sitting perfectly center on the seat.

I also discovered that I can ride the motorcycle without touching the handle bars, and go over bumps with no problem. Like I said above, a moving motorcycle always wants to keep moving forward. Even if you were to hit a pretty sharp bump, the tires might leave the ground, you might bounce around, but the inertia will keep the bike on a forward path.

My motorcycle has cruise control, which of course makes riding without hands possible. You could do it with a throttle lock, but the cruise control adds the feature of being able to trim your speed. The "+" and "-" button on the controls allows you to speed up or slow down without having to touch the throttle itself.

I noticed that when I increase my speed, the bike tends to straighten up and stay in a straight line. But when I maintain speed, then it'll start drifting to the right.

Passing a semi-truck will cause the bike to drift away from the truck. That is, when passing it by, the wind that bounces off the front of the truck will push against the side of the bike, and force my bike to drift off course. And so, I have to add some heavy "body english" to counter act.

So while I tried to ride the entire 60 miles between Chiriaco Summit and Blythe without touching the handle bars, I found I couldn't do it. There were places along the way where the side wind was great enough that it blew me too hard towards the other lane that I had to grab the handle bar to correct my path. There were also places where traffic slowed down enough that it became too dangerous to ride that way.

But still, I probably did something like 58 of those 60 miles without touching the handle bars, I just couldn't do 58 continuous miles.

How many miles have you been able to do?


  1. Good article topic and write up. I have yet to try it though. I'm sure it is similar to a bicycle.

    Ride on,

  2. On a sportbike you are able to weight the pegs in the direction you want to do more easily, and I use that method most of the time.

    People think I'm crazy when I do this, but once you understand the forces at play like you described, it's not so crazy. The gyroscopic forces at play make you very stable.

    My record for continuous "no hands" is 30 miles on a lonely stretch of highway on the Canadian 1 through Alberta.

    I always put a hand on the bar when I am passing or being passed, just in case.

  3. Good post.
    While I've tried hands-free for short distances I've never had the opportunity? desire? courage? to try it for mile after mile after mile. Besides those long straights with
    gentle sweeping curves are few and far between in this area.
    For scary hands free riding though, check this guy out.

  4. bravo to you for developing that understanding with your bike and how it will handle. i personally just dont like to ride both hands free on my Harley. but i agree with Atlas, on a sportbike its easier.

  5. Somewhere around 18 miles in WY. while on my way to night. No one ever accused me of being too smart, just smart enough. Riding through the mountains...not sure just where I was anymore.

    Another time was on the road between Butler and Las Vegas. It was 106 degrees, and my finger nails felt as if they were going to curl up and fall off my fingers. Have you ever held your hands over a campfire too close or too long...and had that sensation happen to your nails as they dried out? If you have than you know the feeling, or if you've ridden the desert in three digit heat, without gloves know the feeling.

    I don't know how many miles are between Butler and that other town just West of Vegas that offers nice gambling houses...( sheesh my mind is mush this morning...) must be around 60 or 70. With the exception of having to re-adjust my speed from time to time, I didn't touch my handle bars.

    I figured there are two reasons for drifting to the right, because I will drift to right while in the "speed" lane sometimes too....

    It's because that's where my drive is located. Torque from my transmission to my rear wheel...
    Just a guess, I've believed that to be the reason now for 30 years, no one has been able to dislodge that thought from my mind.

  6. First off my brother, you're a dumbass. that being said, I have done 15 miles. And yeah, I do this once in awhile when I am reaching for a smoke or something.

    I'm pretty much a one hander most the time on long runs.

    Fun, yeah. It don't take much more that a good truck rut to put you into a speed wobble. Once she starts bucking good and hard...all you can do it hold on and don't touch the brake and hope to ride it out. Then, if you make will pull over to the side of the road and puke that burrito, been there.;)

  7. I owned a 04 Goldwing. If I took my hands off the bars for a second it wobble. My 09 EGC is stable and I will ride a mile or two with no hands. I live in Ohio and I can't find a mile of road without pot holes or construction.

    I have tried body English, it works, and transferring weight in the floor boards. I feel there is got to be a better way. There is a point where you should have better control. It's like when counter steering sinks in. Your riding improves 1000%. I watch the guy on the C-rockets riding wheelies and they control by weight transfer. There has to be a way to ride and have total control with out using your hand?

  8. you ever go down the road and swerve back and forth sharply just playing around? I do that with no hands I spend more time rideing with out my hands than I do. I even down shift and brake with no hands

  9. ^check out jmw1282 on youtube to see a 7 min video of my buddy rideing no hands

  10. ^by the way I do this on a 98 sporty 1200 and an 09 ultra classic and ive rode in the passanger seat of the ultra and beleive me I dont ride behind anybody! jmw1282

  11. no hands.. and (in the left mirror) no helmet? how stupid!

  12. Dear anonymous... the left hand was holding the camera?...and you can CLEARLY see his helmet in the mirror...

    and... Stupid? If you don't like something someone does... you can say that... but...leave the insults in the gutter... where they belong

  13. oops... wrong picture :o)

    but... the "Stupid" comment stands!

  14. I really enjoy riding without hands on my Limited and feel very at ease doing so. So far I have only ridden about twenty miles hands free and have done it several times. But I have been thinking of going for a much longer distance. Does any one happen to know what the record might be?

  15. 68 years old and still love to ride , but with health problems I just can not hold up a bike some times . got a used Spyder 2012 for $1200 . took me 3 weeks to relearn how to ride . its fast as hell and lots of fun. my last bike was a 1600 Mean Streak . but since relearning how to ride this thing I love it , wish I had gotten one sooner .

  16. I have done the 76 miles from kona to hilo with about 60 miles of it done wih out hands on my vt1100. My wife hated me doing it.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)