CORNERING FOR BEGINNERS
Last night with the benefits of a few pints of stout I spent an hour or so trying to explain to a Harley Wannabee how to ride corners on our superb Colorado bendy roads and what techniques I use and
a few extra arrows in “my” quiver to get out of some of the common everyday unexpected situations.
Back to some very basics my student didn’t really have much understanding of terms, let alone
techniques, so it was right back to the beginning to explain the differences between a car and a bike.
Things like “the racing line”, “out wide, in close, out wide”, “traction”, braking with lean angle”, and then
onto “counter weight” and “counter steer” never seemed to trigger any lights on the Christmas tree, so
clearly as my student had zero understanding the conversation was terminated and I signed him up
as an “Organ Donor!”
As an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Instructor and Motorcycle MVD Examiner perhaps this little
talk was enough ammo for me to write an article on the subject. Personally I enjoy all forms of
motorcycling with trials riding being my No 1, and apart from the satisfaction of a “good” ride through
a section little else comes close to the joys or riding bends at speed on the right line with good
Taking our beginner on the Basic Rider Course (BRC) we work on a series of building blocks moving
on from “starting and stopping” while exploring the mysteries of the clutch and the “friction zone” into a
few 90 degree slow speed turns and then through changing gears up and down and coming to a stop.
By the time we get to Exercise 7 we now talk big time about cornering as the student has already
subconsiously been doing many of the basics we haven’t yet discussed including an introduction to
“counterweight” while doing the handlebar type turns at slow speed.
At exercise 7 we now introduce 2 x 180 degree turns around an oval. The basic cornering premise
of SLOW, LOOK, PRESS, and ROLL is repeated over and over again and I normally walk them around
the turn stating where I’m looking and how it will be coming to the “apex” where we can start applying
the power and start to feel the joys of the bike accelerating while still leaned over and cornering.
Fellow Instructor and good friend, Dean Heath, coaches Ex 7
Most common mistakes are slowing up too much thereby not allowing the bike to lean, not looking
and turning the head to see the exit or end of the turn and a fascination with the white curved line,
which results in a head down posture looking 10 feet or so ahead of the machine. I usually refer to this as “having a love affair with the front tire”…….. of course if you do this, as many do, then you can’t see
the exit of the turn, nor will you know where the apex is……. so you can never start the acceleration.
How can I get the student to correct all these errors?
Looks like I have the power coming on at the apex
Perhaps the easiest way I have found is to relate the whole experience to a computer and a keyboard.
Our Eyes are the Keyboard and our Brain is the Computer. So putting that all back in our student’s
concept the corner becomes more of an automatic function rather than having to think of “things to do”.
From Exercise 1 we have stressed the fact that “The Bike goes where You Look” so now cornering
becomes easier as all we need to do is SLOW in a straight line, LOOK at the exit point, or cone
marking the end of the 180…….AND LOOK AT NOTHING ELSE!……… and now wait for the apex and
bring on the power. Using your eyes as the keyboard you are looking at the exit point and your brain (computer) will translate the keyboard (eyes) information into physical action such as body weight
and lean angle to get to the desired point that you are looking at.
Our training course continues with other variations on a theme and we cover other turns that are not
all perfect 90’s and 180’s but of course this is a RANGE situation and not the open road with cambers,
piles of grit and debris and other hazards. We talk about braking in a turn, late apexing and setting the suspension as we enter the curve. We can of course pick up any dangerous habits and one that
usually gets to me is the way some people ride with “toe down” and instep on the rest! If you would
really LIKE a broken ankle then this is perhaps the easiest way to get one!!!
When braking and shifting is complete move your feet back to the ball of
the foot in contact with the peg
A bit extreme here but you get the idea
One of our female Instructors shows how
Looking at some blind 90 style turns it must be immediately obvious that a right hander is the MORE dangerous in many respects as it will take longer for the full corner to reveal itself and show the apex
and any hidden problems, plus any serious misjudgement and early throttle application will result in
running wide into oncoming traffic!
Let’s think of our left hander first, strangely everything we do competition wise in the Northern
hemisphere goes left handed ! All athletic running tracks are left handers, all dog racing, all horse
racing is conducted on left hand tracks and all forms of motor sport such as speedway/longtrack,
velodrome cycle racing and the dreaded Nascar all go around anti clockwise. Now its not because
animals and ourselves have shorter left legs it just feels more natural either because of coriolous or
the Earth’s rotation. Of course our two premier motorsport competitions of Formula 1 and Moto-GP
are both run on right hand circuits.
Any hoooo, so other than British readers, our standard left hander allows us to see further into the
bend and allows us to see the apex earlier, and that perhaps is where it usually goes “pear shaped”
for the novice road rider. Using our standard “out wide, in close, out wide” line all goes well until
either our novice rider gets cocky and overconfident and either finds himself going in too fast or
accelerating too early prior to the apex and running wide.
The standard Out Wide, In Close, Out Wide line through a corner
Common mistakes of only a minor nature can often result in a very unpleasant crash caused by my
previous statements leading up to PANIC!!! Our rider in the picture may well ride the corner safely but inexperience and another 5-10 mph may cause PANIC and invariably results in the following………
It looks good but will he panic ?
………. the rider sees the guard rail coming and thinks he won’t make it………. first reaction, he closes
the throttle,……… what WAS a balanced equation of forces now changes with the power reduction and
weight comes forward onto the front wheel……… as the power has gone he cannot hold the lean angle
so the bike begins to stand up……….and its radius of turn is MUCH wider than before…….. he looks
directly ahead…….. and yes, the bike goes where you look……… so all that happens now is that he hits
the guard rail 20 feet earlier than he first predicted !!!!
Now lets see what happens with the right hander. In the diagram we have 3 choices of line, Green
the standard OW, IC, OW, then the Blue, early turn in, curb hugger slower line, and finally the delayed
turn in Pale Blue which allows a faster initial entry braking in a straight line to a later turn in point which
gives a delayed apex and allows the bike to be turning less, and therefore more upright with better
traction as we apply the power.
Clearly our rider has either misjudged the turn or elected to ride the curb hugger Blue. This will be the
slower of the three but means from this position you will be the last to see any upcoming road hazards
which in mountain riding could easily be a fall of rock or an Elk spectator!
Not the best line through the corner
If you ride this inside line then you had better be sure that your speed allows for the turn as errors
here invariably result in “low side” crashes caused by panic front braking. The following pictures
illustrate that point !
Too fast up that “curb hugger” line and a big handful of front brake while
attempting to lean further……… result…. loss of front wheel traction and an
impending low side crash
Be interesting to know how the sleeveless shirt gave protection from the
gravel rash ?
With some of the Don’ts evident as the rider gets more experienced then I would suggest the delayed
apex as being overall the way to go but DO have the other lines up your sleeve as nearly every corner
is different and may need to be approached in a slightly different way.
Now lets take our knowledge out into some real world situations and what better to illustrate this
section than some helmet cam pictures (courtesy Brenda) from last years bendy ride north of
Calistoga in CA.
From the “TD” textbook another blind right hander, stay out close to the center line, brake in a straight
line, start the turn in later and then just crack the throttle to stabilise the suspension…….. as the corner unfolds “power on the diesel John” as we hit the apex……… here is how the real thing looks on a
Nicely Out Wide near the center line and now turning in for my delayed
apex somewhere about center photo
….. and now a classic left hander from the textbook followed by the real thing.
Just about at the delayed apex and I can see all the bend as the power
A couple of other turns where I will discuss what I’m doing and why
Easing right for my turn in point up by the single clump of dead grass
A right, left sequence with a delayed apex behind the forked tree which
should hold me Out Wide for the left hander turn in point
On day 2 of the BRC our students see the full use of “Counterweight” as they negotiate some tight
turns inside a box on the range. We of course as trials riders seldom think of counterweight as it is
part of just about every section and a skill prerequisite of the sport. Simple enough task, best
described as having the weight to the outside of the turn with a straight inside arm. If you are doing
this sitting on the bike as most road riders will be then use the “Shift your Bum” maxim and like a
horse rider rise to the trot and position your bum to the outside of the turn and this will in turn force
your inside arm straight. If this arm is not straight and your upper body is not to the outside then when
you come to turn the bars your elbow will hit you in the chest!
Classic “counterweight” with straightish inside arm
Continuing with posture, and I’ve already discussed foot position, road riding has moved on a little as
we have seen many different styles from our road racing heros. In an ideal world the rider’s body
should be nearly perpendicular to the machine and road racing greats of the past maintained this style without the need for leaping about all over the bike with knees out and elbows wide spread,
Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini were always very neatly tucked inside the fairing
wheras today’s experts are elbows everywhere, Ben Spies, and the Doctor Valentino who has started
trailing a leg in the breeze prior to his turn in point a bit like a praying mantis.
Following on from the Counterweight exercise we now move into Countersteer which can go straight
over many student’s heads and fall into the too difficult box. So what is this magic countersteer you
speak of ? Well taking our students over to a stationary bike I explain that I want them to press Left and
the bike will go Left !……… they of course accept it without thinking so……… with them mounted up, dead engine I now ask
“If you press on the left handgrip which way does the wheel go ?” ……..”Right, they all say” ………
“OK but I’ve just told you press left go left…… how is that going to work?”…….. NO answer!
The best explanation is that at about 20 mph or so the wheel, due to its spinning speed, becomes a gyroscope and if you start applying forces to a gyro it doesn’t like it and will oppose the forces in an
opposite sense. So with our spinning front wheel we apply an athwartship force by pressing on the
bars which of course is directly connected to the axle……. so pressing left will force the wheel to start
a turn to the right but being a gyro it doesn’t like it and it topples causing the wheel to flop left initiating
the turn. Now as I tell them, “You can trust me, I’m a Doctor”…… if you don’t believe me cast your mind
back to when you were a kid and for some reason you took a wheel out of your bicycle and for some inexplicable reason you held the wheel by the spindle while one of your friends spun the wheel. At
some stage you probably tried to move your hands and felt the wild animal in your fingers trying to
break free. Don’t believe me? ….. go and try it!
Well the doubting Thomas’s are now brought to the end of the range as the other Instructor rides
directly towards them for the demo…… they are told to observe the base of the front wheel ….. this is
what they will see.
Some riders use this technique all the time to initiate turns, personally I don’t, as I prefer to use body
weight as the primary method to initiate the turn and I then keep the countersteer up my sleeve to
correct any errors of judgement that I may have made with putting power on too early or finding myself running wide on the corner exit. Also very useful if you are riding a bike that won’t steer, has a long wheelbase, was made in Milwaukee, and has precious little suspension. Use the countersteer and
the bike will increase lean angle and to keep the equation of forces balanced you will most likely need
a little more power or throttle.
……..and now, finally, for those who didn’t do the course, ignored all my comments, thought I was
talking through the proverbial, here is a way of learning the hard way using the MASTERCARD
Evil handling machine reminiscent of the 50’s with poor steering and low ground clearance, $25,000
Collection of badly fitting riding gear from the same manufacturer $1000+
The chance to meet NEW friends on the mountain bends………………..….……..
.………. PRICELESS !!