It doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride. It could be a cruiser, sport bike, bobber chopper whatever, cornering is an essential skill to master for all riders.
If you are struggling in the bends, this article will help you see what you may be missing and what you may want to practice to get the most out of your cornering.
The first thing we want to address straight away is that this isn’t a guide for getting an elbow or even a knee down. That’s a track focused technique and has no place on a public road. I know it would get your Instagram tons of likes but the risks are too great. The track is a controlled environment. MotoGp riders don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic, wildlife, guardrails, potholes etc.
We will break this tutorial down into two segments. First, what is the objective of the bike in the corner? Second will be what the rider needs to do.
Safety is our number one objective. There is a misconception that safe means slow. That’s not the case at all. Safe actually means proper control. So to corner properly and therefore safely, we must understand what the bike needs to do.
Contrary to what you may expect, our objective for the bike is to keep it as upright as possible in the corner. Or to put it another way, to minimize its lean angle. Your suspension performs more efficiently when it’s in its natural state of travel which is vertical. Because your bike’s suspension plays a critical role in retaining traction, minimizing lean, as best we can is optimal. Your suspension is what keeps your tires in proper contact with the road.
This is not to say we must keep the bike vertical. No, we do lean the bike. We must, but no matter how sharp the corner, we don’t want to lean more than we absolutely need to. There could be surprises on the road surface. We need to retain as much traction as we can to deal with anything unexpected that may come our way.
The most effective way to minimize your lean angle is picking a proper line through a corner. Your line is your path through the corner. Pick the correct line and you “flatten” out the bend. The most efficient way to do this is the outside, inside, outside line illustrated here. It shows a wide entry then in toward the apex then a wide exit.
Notice how the dotted line is not as curved as the bend in the road. Choosing a line like this gets you through the bend faster and with less of a lean than is necessary.
Changing your bike’s center of gravity helps in reducing lean angle. The way to do this is to lean your upper body towards the inside. This helps keep the bike more upright while executing the corner. The simplest way to do this is prior to entering the corner, with your arms and grip loose, we shift our upper body to the front and inside slightly. With your chin pointing to the exit of the corner and our body leaning in towards the inside mirror, we transfer just enough gravity to keep the bike a bit more upright.
Elena, one of our staffers at Moto Affliction, demonstrates this technique here.
Now that we have determined what we need the bike to do, there are a few things we must do to get us through the corner quickly, efficiently and safely. Don’t worry. It may seem like a lot but all this will be second nature in time.
Before we use the meat and potatoes of what gets us through a corner, we need to be in the best possible position when entering the corner in order to use those skills most effectively. Entering a corner wide is important. As the diagram for your line through a corner above illustrated, going in wide helps us to flatten the corner towards the apex. Going in wide also and probably most importantly, gives us a better view of what is ahead. Oftentimes it allows us to see the apex. It also gives us a better shot at possibly seeing the exit. Go wide whenever possible. Only time you wouldn’t would be to avoid debris or any other hazard.
Slow Look Lean Roll
You might remember this if you took a motorcycle safety course. This is basis of cornering
When we approach a corner we need to slow the bike. Use both brakes to scrub off some momentum. What is the correct speed we need to be at? It’s impossible to say. That’s like asking how long is a piece of string. It depends. There are so many differences from one corner to the next. Having said that, the number one determining factor for your speed will be your skill. A rule of thumb I like to use is to only ride to 75% of your skill level. Never try and max yourself out in the streets.
Using this rule you may hit a few corners and realize you went in much slower than you needed to. No problem. As long as you are getting the principles of Slow Look Lean Roll down, your speed will pick up with your confidence and skill. But for now, slowing down is the first thing we do as we approach a corner
The next thing we do is look. This is really important. A corner is like a story that unfolds before us. It has a beginning, middle and end. We can see the beginning. Sometimes we see the middle but not always. And the end is usually a mystery. Until we know what the ending is we need to be prepared for the journey ahead. The way we do this is with intense focus on the vanishing point. That’s the point where the two sides of the road converge into a single point. We zone in on it with our sight.
We point our chin directly to that point. That’s where we want to go. Our bikes will go where we are looking. We don’t look at the front wheel or the ground beside us or a few feet ahead. We find that vanishing point and point our eyes and chin pointed towards it and keep it there.
To lean the bike over into the bend, we need to countersteer. Your bike naturally wants to travel in a straight line. To get the bike to lean, we need to break the vertical alignment that the front and rear wheels have. We do this by countersteering. With our hands loose on the bars, we press outwards on the grip of the same side we want to lean the bike towards. This isn’t a car. We don’t steer in the direction of travel. It may seem counterintuitive to push the bar slightly outward in the same direction of travel. We need to remember that we are trying to lean the bike. The natural U shape of the bike’s tires will carry us through corners. By pushing out on the same side we want the bike to lean, it slightly turns the front wheel the opposite way, causing the bike to lean over. It must be said that this maneuver is so subtle that you barely know it’s happening. It takes only a slight bit of input for the lean to initiate. But doing this is something to be very conscious of. Countersteering and the knowledge of doing it will save your bacon if you are running wide in a corner. With our eyes and head focused on the exit, if we feel we are running wide, we press harder and more deliberately on the grip to get the bike to drop lower and in turn it will get us back on track.
The moment we are engaged into the corner we need to begin to give the bike some throttle. Don’t confuse this with letting it rip. Instead It’s a steady increase in throttle. Only enough to manage the corner in a controlled manner. There are two reasons we give throttle after we have committed to the corner. One is we will need to regain some lost momentum from our breaking that we did heading into the corner. We need enough speed to carry us through. It’s unlikely, with our braking heading in, that there is enough momentum to bring us all the way to the end of the corner. So we roll on a bit of power to regain what was lost. The second reason is traction. If you notice, most bikes have a wider rear tire than the front. This means it’s contact patch is bigger, meaning it offers the most traction. By rolling on the throttle we take advantage of this. When we give the bike a bit of gas, the weight or G force natural moves to the back of the bike. The rear spring compresses as more weight is transferred to the rear tire. In a corner this is beneficial to gaining extra traction.
Putting It All Together
So how do all of the pieces of the cornering puzzle look when they are all put together? Let’s put it all in a short story to see how it plays out
John is cruising along on a beautiful sunny Sunday. The road is currently straight but the yellow caution sign indicates a sharp bend in the road ahead. Taking note of the sign, John is on the lookout. He sees the road diverge to the right about 150 yards up. He moves to the left side of the lane to get a wider, better view of the bend ahead. Within about 50 yards John starts easing onto the brakes. Slowing down enough to read the entry of the bend. He shifts his weight forward and to the right of the bike. John turns his head and points his eyes and nose to the direction of the exit. He doesn’t see it yet so he’s focused on the vanishing point. As he’s just about to initiate the turn he pushes slightly forward on his right grip. The bike drops in slightly and he slowly begins to add throttle to get some momentum through his turn and increase traction. He takes note that the vanishing point is moving further away from him indicating that the exit of the corner will be visible soon. His riding line moves to the inside as he now sees the exit and is able to determine the apex. He passes the apex on the inside and now with the exit in full view ahead He gives the bike more throttle. The bike naturally begins to stand up as he drifts to the outside of the lane. He is now fully out of the bend, riding straight up and back to full road speed ready to hit the next bend.
Practice is the only way to get comfortable with the art of cornering. I personally don’t think we should ever be completely satisfied with our skill level. Thinking we know everything there is to know makes us stop learning.
I believe we should strive for perfection. Setting this lofty goal will ensure we are riding with the utmost skill we have available to us. Something I would certainly recommend is a track day with instruction. Although we don’t ride track on the street, the confidence we gain and knowing our bikes’ limits can definitely help out on the backroads. If you can’t afford it or there isn’t a track nearby, use the cone set up we had here. The cones are cheap. Find an empty open space with no hazards to worry about. This puts you in a controlled environment so you can focus on the rudimentary skills we discussed here.
Riding is a journey and improving our skills enhances our appreciation for what these machines and us as individuals are capable of. Get out there and practice. Your enjoyment of riding will only increase as you get better.