It is snowing currently. Rain is falling. It is performing both simultaneously. Someone placed dish detergent on the road. The tanker truck that just crashed in front of you was carrying butter that had melted. Before “Community” begins, all you want to do is hurry home and out of the snow/rain/dish soap/butter.
So you travel a bit quicker than the conditions warrant. You go through the yellow light since it is safer to continue around the turn than to stop abruptly, correct? Stopping is tantamount to requesting that the driver behind you crash his front bumper into your back bumper so that the two of you can exchange insurance information beside the curb. Perhaps he stopped at the shop and has a loaf of bread in his car, which you can use to mop up the melted butter slathered across the road.
This is how the majority of typical drivers wind up in a skid: by taking corners too quickly for the conditions. Too much power and insufficient traction. If you are a stunt driver, you shout “Yeeee-haw!” and swing your classic muscle car around the bend regardless. Or, if you are an action hero, you make a pun on the mess in the street, such as “This butter be excellent.”
Yet if you’re a typical driver, you want to get out of the skid as soon as possible. You want traction, the ability to maneuver the vehicle, and to avoid colliding with anything while regaining control. These are reasonable desires, and there are reasonable means to obtain them. The approach for recovering from a skid is the same regardless of the type of vehicle you’re driving, whether you have front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, a manual transmission, a stick shift, or a motorcycle.
Skidding — and Not Skidding — Rally Car Style
No one skids like a rally car driver. Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, and all those deranged Finns who appear to have been born on frozen lakes intentionally send the rear ends of rally cars sliding around corners. Points are awarded if they can create a rooster tail of mud, water, or snow behind them.
But even in a rally car, if that skid continues forever, the vehicle will continue to spin in circles and will likely crash into a tree. This is a terrible approach to winning races. Rally drivers must have the ability to recover their vehicles from skids.
Forest Duplessis is the head instructor at the Snoqualmie, Washington DirtFish Rally School. Everyone has heard the phrase “steer into the skid,” which according to Duplessis sounds simple, but the problem is that people turn the wrong way.
Consider that as you make a right turn, your rear end begins to come around too far. This is referred to as oversteer. Your car’s front end is now pointed too far to the right, correct? You must countersteer to return the vehicle to the direction you intended to travel in the first place. In this situation, you must point the vehicle slightly to the left in order to stay on the street and away from the sidewalk.
The first step, according to Duplessis, is to look where you want to go, followed by ensuring that your hands match your eyes. If you need to make a slight adjustment to the left, as in our example, look slightly to the left of where you want your vehicle to be. “The motion is swift and fluid,” notes Duplessis. It is smaller than the majority of people believe.
As a rally instructor, Duplessis acknowledges that “the more comfortable you become with it, the more you learn to appreciate oversteer.” Rally drivers work to apply the correct amount of turn and correction to keep the vehicle in a state of controlled chaos while steering with the rear of the vehicle. According to Duplessis, “Embrace the slide.”
Doing Doughnuts with the LAPD
Even if you have never visited southern California, you have still witnessed a police pursuit. The Los Angeles Police Department is infamous for pursuing criminals with a helicopter (or twelve) to aid in the pursuit. Not to mention the news helicopters hovering above as the events transpire below.
The LAPD does not send its officers out in patrol cars as if they were Hollywood stunt drivers. According to the department’s driving instructor, Officer Douglas Barnhart, officers devote three hours of training exclusively to skid control. Three hours of doughnut making. Here, I will leave room for you to insert your own jokes.
Did you get that off your chest? Okay. According to Officer Barnhart, the key to steering out of a skid is recognizing that you are in one. People are notoriously poor at this, but modern traction control systems compensate for our incompetence. These systems, which are present in the vast majority of vehicles today, intervene sooner than the average driver when the vehicle begins to skid.
However, according to Barnhart, we are not complete idiots behind the wheel, and our natural reactions are typically appropriate. Most of the time, when you’re in a skid, you’re already looking in the desired direction, so keep your eyes focused there. Wherever your eyes are focused, your hands will most likely follow. Barnhart cautions, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go, such as a tree or a pole.”
Understeer skids are another type of skid that the LAPD trains for.
This typically occurs when entering a turn at an excessive rate of speed, as when a police officer in hot pursuit attempts to run a yellow light. The automobile turns less than intended, and the front wheels lose traction.
In order to regain traction, you must straighten the wheels, according to Barnhart. Yes, even if the car is pointed at a building or a lamppost, you must steer toward it in order to get the tires to grip the road and start rolling again. The car cannot be steered until the tires are rolling again, rather than sliding sideways across the road surface.
The Terror of a Two-wheeled Skid
Now that you have mastered steering out of a skid, we will remove two of your wheels. This is a completely different ballgame, according to Ray Pierce of the Team Oregon Motorcycle Safety Program.
First, a rear-wheel skid in a single-track vehicle (which motorcycles and scooters are) is typically caused by the rider applying excessive rear brake around a turn, not a slippery surface. Second, a vehicle with a single track that is skidding lacks steering control and direction. It is your responsibility as a rider to realign the wheels.
Imagine you are observing a bicycle traveling along the street from a great height. Imagine you are in a hot air balloon. A turn is approaching, and the rider applies excessive force to the rear brake lever. The front wheel rolls in a straight line, while the rear wheel, which has a brake applied to it, follows the line it was on. The bicycle is slightly leaned for stability, so the rear wheel “steps out on the high side,” to use Pierce’s words, which sound like an old-fashioned dance move. On the outside of the turn, the rear wheel is out of alignment relative to the front wheel.
As with a car, you must steer into the skid in an attempt to regain wheel alignment. Release the rear brake to allow the rear tire to roll, and do not apply it again until you have traction. Even then, you should apply gentle pressure to the brake lever. The rider can be ejected from the saddle if the bike straightens up too quickly. According to Pierce, this is the worst-case scenario.
Pierce says he spends a great deal of time teaching riders how to avoid skidding in the first place — the ideal situation. He recalled getting into a skid on a go-kart track not too long ago (evidence that even professionals make mistakes), and he did not move the bike. He merely hoped the rear end would remain beneath him as he restored the vehicle’s upright position. “There were many prayers,” he says.