“I still need to get a little bit lower on the bike…”
This is something I hear quite a lot. Typically from riders who are already displaying a perfectly good body position in a fundamental sense.
By that I mean they are not only getting into a good neutral position visually, but they’re able to hit the other requirements of a good position too – things that sit outside of how you look in photos.
In this article I want to touch on this particular part of a lot of rider’s body position goals. My hope being that it will help make things a little more clear, as well as save you from unnecessary discomfort or frustration as you try to “improve” your current position.
Exactly why riders still want to achieve lower and lower upper body positions remains to be seen, but I strongly suspect it stems from the extreme standards we see from the guys at the top of our sport.
These are the fastest guys, so they set the standard.
However, in my experience a lot of discomfort can come from trying to hit this standard, a standard that is often misunderstood based on information they may have heard elsewhere.
If you’ve spent any time learning about why we hang-off you no doubt would have heard something to the effect of…
“Move lower to lower the centre of gravity and reduce lean angle…”
This is something I’m sure many of you will be sitting their nodding along with. However, some confusion can creep in because people misunderstand what exactly “getting low” means.
In terms of reducing lean angle, the goal of a good hang-off position is to move inside the centreline of the bike, NOT to lay down on top of it.
It is moving your mass inside the centreline (and therefore moving the combined bike and rider centre of gravity to the inside too) that has the biggest impact on the lean angle of your motorcycle, and it’s the exact reason why in extreme cases you see riders doing things like this…
Here we have Valentino Rossi making every effort to reduce the motorcycle’s lean angle during this important acceleration phase by getting as much of his mass inside the centreline as he can. And because he’s one of the taller guys out there it makes it look so extreme.
Riding in this position comes with drawbacks in terms of bike control, and in the high speed corners, increased aerodynamic drag, but the necessity to stand the bike up to this degree outweighs those drawbacks in this instance.
Now, I’m not showing you this picture to give you something to emulate, merely to demonstrate how reducing lean angle with the body is actually achieved.
By moving inside the centreline of the bike. Not by laying down on top of it.
With all that said, I’m sure some of you will be sitting there saying “but look how low Vale is!”, and that’s the exact confusion I’m talking about.
He is low to the ground, yes, but that’s a natural consequence of moving farther inside a bike that’s at a high lean angle. Naturally you’re going to move closer to the ground when doing that.
What riders often try to do though is move their head and upper body lower in relation to the motorcycle. Or said another way, they try to get their head closer to the handlebar, thinking that is going to further help their efforts to reduce lean angle.
But that’s not the case. In fact, moving the centre of gravity closer to the contact patches (by getting low on top of the bike) actually means you need to lean the bike more for a given speed, not less. As Vittore Cossalter explains in his book, Motorcycle Dynamics.
…with equal cross sections of the tires, to describe the same turn with the same forward velocity, a motorcycle with a low center of gravity needs to be tilted more than a motorcycle with a higher center of gravity.
Basically meaning that for a given speed and turning radius, a rider sitting upright won’t lean as far as a rider laying down on the tank (assuming the same seating position). The difference is minimal, especially if you’re on the lighter side, but there is a difference.
You don’t have to look too far to find pictures of riders getting low in relation to the bike and getting their head close to the bar, the most obvious cases coming from the young guns of MotoGP.
Marc Marquez being a prime case, with people like Maverick Vinales showing similar styles too.
The first things to note is that while he is low on the bike, aside from his outside arm and leg almost the entirety of his body is inside the centreline of the bike, which as we’ve covered is the key to reducing lean angle.
It’s the style Maverick adopts to hold his mass on the inside of the bike. He’s basically hanging onto the side of it.
And that’s the important distinction to make. His head and upper body is low as a consequence of him working to get his body to the inside while still retaining a good connection with the bike as well as a good level of control.
For some of the motorcycling elite it’s clearly a style that can work. I’m sure we can all agree on that.
However, for your everyday track day rider the balance of each style (hunkering right down vs sitting a little taller) starts to fall a little too much in the negatives column.
Of course we don’t want to ride with completely straight arms, and bringing our head lower is an important part of improving our body position and bike control, but riding to the above extremes like Maverick is flat out harder.
It’s harder to maintain good lower body stability, it’s more tiring, it’ll likely have a negative impact on your ability to control the machine and your grip will be tighter too. That’s a whole lot of negatives for something that offers zero appreciable benefits to the average rider.
If your style is to hunker down on the bike and ride compact like Maverick above and you make it work, I am not telling you you’re wrong.
This piece is for riders who are trying to emulate that style to the detriment of the fundamental principles of a good body position, thinking that they’re doing the right thing.
This has become a particular focus point for me because I see a lot of riders wasting time and creating problems for themselves in an effort to look like the best out there. The basic lesson here is that if trying to force your head lower creates problems for you I would advise you stay in a more neutral position like the above picture shows.
You can likely experience greater results by sticking with your more conservative position and focusing on other things instead. Not to mention you’ll be more comfortable riding that way, too.