Four lessons learnt after a month off the bike

surgery lessons

My first ride on a motorcycle after almost a month recovering from surgery for a new, bionic knee (see photo above) taught me four valuable lessons about riding.

How to get back on the bike after surgery or a crash

One lesson

First, I love it! The acceleration. The noise. The mastery of the controls. And the wind smashing against your arms, body and legs is a far better “drug” than anything the nurses pumped into me while in hospital.

Two lessons

Second, I found that I had developed the bad habit of relying too much on engine braking and not using my rear brake enough.

Let me explain.

I had decided I would ride again as soon as I could bend my left knee far enough to put my foot up on the footpeg.

Every morning, when my knee felt better after a night’s rest, I would go straight to the garage and sit on my Bonneville T100 and try to lift my left foot on to the peg.

However, I cut that short when my neighbour offered me a ride on her Indian Scout Sixty with forward controls. You don’t have to bend the knee near as far!

Indian Scout Sixty - platforms surgery lessons
Indian Scout Sixty

So, 25 days after having my knee sliced open and bones ground down to fit titanium pieces that look like pistons, I took my first ride.

I could reach the Scout’s footpegs easily enough, but it still hurt like fury to change gears up and down.

However, muscle memory is a funny thing. My left foot kept wanting to change gears frequently, especially through a series of messes on Mt Glorious, and my right foot wasn’t activating the rear brake.

The rear brake is there for a reason, so I had to consciously re-train myself to use it.

If used in conjunction with the front brake and the right gear, the rear brake does a great job of settling the bike dynamics through a corner.

Three lessons

The third lesson I learnt is that you don’t need much strength in your legs to hold a bike upright.

At its precise balance point a bike actually weighs nothing. You can hold the biggest bike upright with only one foot on the ground.

When you stop at traffic lights or a stop sign, you should put your left foot down and cover the rear brake in case you get shunted from behind. It will help prevent you being thrown forward into oncoming traffic.

The first time I stopped, I pulled my left foot off the peg too soon and when it landed it went down with a thump and the bike pitched on to my bad knee.

It was excruciating, so I decided to think more carefully about stops.

After that, I didn’t take my left foot off the peg until the very last second and thought about keeping the bike close to its balance point.

The result was that my foot touched down much more gently and the bike was still upright and secure.

Read how to avoid ‘pelican landings’

Four lessons

In the past couple of decades I’ve only ever been off a bike for more than a week on the two occasions I crashed and was recuperating.

This time, it was a voluntary decision to undergo knee replacement surgery after damage caused by years of running, and playing soccer and squash.

Before surgery - lessons
Before surgery

I could barely walk, but it was actually the fact I couldn’t ride for long without getting a painful left knee that finally convinced me to have the knee replaced.

It was a difficult decision. I knew of the pain coming as I’d had knee repairs performed before.

But the real reason it was a difficult decision was that the doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to ride for three months.

So here’s the fourth lesson I learnt that has nothing to do with motorcycles. If you diligently do the daily physio exercises, no matter how painful, and ice the knee as often as possible, you can reduce the recovery time substantially.

Actually it does have a lot to do with motorcycles: There is no greater motivation to do those painful exercise than the thought of riding again!

31 Comments

  1. Faark! I’ve had a few ‘month off’ breaks in the past, but my most recent was 20 years off after quite a bad smash (not in the slightest my fault).
    Two years ago I couldn’t stand drooling at motorcyles riding past any longer, bit the bullet and bought another one. You still can’t get the grin off my face.
    Your line “If used in conjunction with the front brake and the right gear, the rear brake does a great job of settling the bike dynamics through a corner.” is probably the most useful. Also, the rear brake should be covered when coming to a halt (in traffic, and on leafy or gravelly roads).
    Hope the knee recovers smartish. 😉

  2. thanks for this insightful article, Mark. With an arthritic left knee and likelihood of having an artificial joint myself, it is nice to have my expectations managed so well. However my Trumpy will be the only bike available to me. so I guess I’ll just have to sit on the pillion seat!!

  3. Hey Robert, why the agro? Your continued posts proved only that you don’t have much of an understanding of dynamics, including gyroscopics. Do yourself a favour and complete a HART course so you can continue enjoying your bike longer. Cheers.

    1. No agro at all. Check out wikipedia on bike stability if you think the gyroscopic force balances your bike, because your wrong. They have even made a bike with a contra rotating front wheel to completely negate or reverse the gyroscopic effect, and guess what happens……. nothing, bike behaves the same. So do yourself a favour and educate yourself first, never know what misconceptions you’ve been telling yourself.

  4. Re. Mark hinchcliffe, thank you for actually understanding what I was saying about resting with two feet on the ground and holding you position with the front lever. Old and grumpy is implying that I am arguing about stopping technique, I’m not. I maintain that while resting at the lights it is far safer statistically to place both feet on the ground for the list of reasons previously listed.

    1. Finally.
      1.Show us the research that supports the statistics.
      2.The reasoning behind left down, right up and off the front brake is that you are ready to move when required and that need may be quickly. The technique was not chosen at random but with sound reasoning supporting it as the safer option (technique) in most circumstances
      3.Two feet down is hardly challenging the status quo. To do it as a matter of habit is limiting your options by not considering the variables.
      4. Did you watch the video?
      5. Statistically it’s probably safer to stay at home than ride a motorcycle.

      1. 1: research huh, some yours first. Read the reasons I posted earlier and dispute them, if you can. And as for evidence, the original grumpy posted a rediclous clip that had nothing to do with the topic and was easily countered with marks clip.
        2 you can move off quicker with two feet on the ground, as you don’t have to centre the bike befor letting the clutch out, go try it, you’ll se that it is true.
        3. Challenging what, the entire artical is about a person with dodgy legs..
        4. Yes I did watch the video it show a person trying to stop, which is not the topic of this discussion. If you want to discuss stopping technique I suggest you ask mark to post one. So like previous grumpy, don’t try to change the subject .
        5. Do you take your own advice.

        1. Didn’t think you could back it up.
          1. No statistics, no evidence to support your claims, therefore pointless comment. 2.Where’s the “evidence to support your claim of being able to move off quicker with two feet down? None I’m guessing.
          3. I don’t need two feet to centre the bike. As I move off I do so at a speed that generates enough gyroscopic force from the front wheel to balance the machine.
          4.You mentioned challenging the status quo, not me!
          5. Good. It’s a valuable lesson in what can happen when you only leave yourself the option of the front brake.
          5. Yes.
          Discussion over I think

          1. Re other Grumpy:
            1. Statistics in the colloquial sense (i never claims to have official government statistics) that one method is better ‘statistically’ i.e. more pros than cons(se list). but if you feel that you have right on your side please furnish all the statistics you can muster.
            2. Simple, try it, to move off safely you need to be upright not supporting some weight on your left leg (there will be some fraction of a second needed to become upright). now you may argue that your upright enough, in which case your close to a tipping point of falling to your right) You don’t have to take my word for it go out on the road and do it.
            3. answered above.
            4. ? 4 is about a video, try to stay on topic. the video in question has nothing to do with the topic and is a complete red herring.
            5. again your trying to change the topic to stopping technique. Learn to read for comprehension.
            second #5. you should get out more then.
            6. discussion over huh? Still haven’t been able to address the list of reasons for resting on two leg rather than one, so thats actually avoidance and win in your own mind only.

            Additional – the gyroscopic force that allows a bike to balance is not how a bike is stable is NOT what keeps it from falling over or balancing, shocking huh that you could be wrong about that, perhaps your wrong about other stuff to!

  5. Be flexible in thought. Each bike & situation presents a different set of circumstances. If you practice both feet and also one, your options increase in varying situations. I was always advised in mx racing left foot on peg, right down to enable quick gear change from grid. This is probably irrelevant on the roads though. However I do this when waiting at lights to do a U-turn as that is my direction of travel. It’s another good thing as to why we have front & not just rear brakes. I never been able to touch the ground with both feet, it is total joy for me when the situation presents, to be able to relax with both on the ground. I am learning rigidness in thought can help us come undone. This is how society at large appears to have become.

      1. Robert. Sadly, it would appear you have now resorted to petty insults in order to get the last word in.
        As I said, discussion over. Please “comprehend “the word over as I will not be responding further.

  6. Re Nigel, and HART. So what! what are the reasons they take this position? Are we going to do thing just because that’s the way we have always done it, or can we do things better with experience, argument and evidence. Stating a policy is one thing, proving it is the best is another. If we don’t challenge the status quo, we would not have legal lane filtering, right?

        1. Hi guys,
          Enjoying your healthy debate!
          Love the video. I have seen this happen so often.
          Because the rider was trying to put both feet on the ground when stopping, they used the front brake and that’s what made it tip.
          Did you check this out: http://motorbikewriter.com/use-your-footpegs-all-the-time/
          However, once stopped and you’ve checked that the traffic behind you has also stopped, there is nothing wrong with putting both feet down.
          But remain in gear with the clutch in.
          Cheers,
          Mark

          1. Hi Mark.
            It’s all about having a good selection of tools in your “riders” tool box and choosing the appropriate tool for the job.
            Take it easy on that leg.

  7. Well old and grumpy since you cant explain it you comments are dismissed. The tap dancing is caused by several factors, e.g uneven ground, a pillion moving, a tall bike, debris on the road, on a hill, a poorly adjusted clutch, some opens a door beside you (it happens), excessive camber, to name but a few. Two feet on the ground can minimise the danger of succumbing to any of these random factors. Get into the habit and you won’t be caught out.

    1. Didn’t say I can’t. Said I won’t. Like I said wait till you drop the bike with “statisticaly better” two feet on the floor.

      1. If your unwilling or unable to back up your statements then your opinion is less than worthless and dismissed as posturing. By the way I don’t hope that you have an accident on your bike, but instead learn to cultivate an open mind and consider that you might be wrong.

        1. Don’t get your knickers in a twist Robert. I use a variety of skills in order to safely control my bike as required by the situation. I’ve witnessed too many riders who flap around like geese with two feet down drop bikes in all manner of situations when they grab the only brake left available to them. Also, if you get bumped from behind and you’re sitting there with two feet down and your front brake on, you’re going down as your front wheel won’t rotate. There, I’ve given you a valid reason. Maybe it’s you who needs to open your mind and consider safer riding options and not just defaulting to your set habits. Might be wrong about lots of things, but not in this case. Over and out.

          PS. I’m always wary of “statistics” and where they come from

          1. Strawman, old and grumpy, don’t try to change the subject, go read my original post, it’s not about stopping technique, but about relieving strain on your legs, as described in the original topic. Coming to a stop has nothing to do with how you chose to spend the next two minutes at the lights. So, if you able address the point of the post and not the fictional one.

  8. I’ve been riding since I was a teenager. In 30+ years in the wind, I’ve had three major accidents–two on the road, one on a mx track. In that time, I’ve spent a combined year ans a half in recovery. After my dirt accident, where I broke my thigh bones, (eight months of excruciating recovery and the possibility of not walking properly again) I can honestly say I never had the desire to ride trail bikes anymore. But, with both my road accidents, I couldn’t keep away from riding. If anything, I’ve become a much more cautious rider. One thing I’ve learnt for sure is not to push it. Once, I was so anxious to get back on the road after surgery and friends were really putting on the pressure for me to join them, that I rode a bit too far. It felt comfortable at first but, after riding too long, the pain in my ankle was preventing me from braking and I couldn’t put my foot on the ground anymore. I had to call a friend to bring me his car and ride my bike home. Biggest recovery lesson ever: take it slow and easy, like physio. Gradually work your way back up and don’t lie to yourself. When you’re ready, only you will know.

  9. Two feet on the ground is far safer statistically, more likely to encounter. Loose surface, uneven surface, wind gusts, unbalanced if you get distracted, debris on the road, legs won’t get tired as bike far better balanced, and no tap dancing when it’s time to take off.

    1. I won’t even bother to explain why two feet down is poor technique. I’ll wait till you drop the bike when you grab that front brake.

      1. And the “tap dancing” is only caused by poor technique coming to a stop where you haven’t changed down to first. Plus being in first allows you to get out of there in a hurry if you see a car coming up behind too fast.

        1. Being in gear leaves you susceptible to being shunted in the back and taking off into what ever is in front or crossing your path. There’s Is more than just watching your rear as you and the person behind come to a stop. It’s not poor technique that is the problem, it’s other traffic!

          1. The official teaching from HART is that you should be in the “ready position” at traffic lights: in-gear, left foot down, right foot on the rear brake.

  10. And in the distance, the sound of a Triumph quietly sobbing the song “what about me?” as you ride off on your neighbour’s bike.

    Glad to hear you’re recovering.

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