How Much Lean Angle Should We Use When Cornering?

We often hear riders, teachers, coaches and commentators alike using terms like “full” or “maximum” lean angle, but what exactly does that mean? How far can we lean a bike? Is there a point you shouldn’t go past?

In this article I want to touch on how far we should be leaning our bikes on track, and how the amount we do lean can change depending on the situation.

For this we’re going to talk about some different situations specifically, but first let’s tackle what maximum lean angle is to a rider.

What is Maximum Lean Angle?

It is, quite simply, leaning the bike as far as you physically can, while leaving a small amount in reserve.

On modern sports tyres designed for the track your bike will happily lean until a part of the motorcycle touches down. The first thing usually being a peg.

On the track with good tyres, good conditions, correct technique etc etc, maximum lean is around when the peg and foot is close to the floor, or depending on your foot position you may scrape the sliders on your toes. You absolutely don’t want to scrape your pegs and that shouldn’t be an aim, so a bit of a lean angle buffer is a good thing.

Maximum lean is NOT when you can no longer see “chicken strips” on your tyres. It doesn’t actually take that much lean angle to reach the edge of the tyre, but as you lean more the tyre deforms to continue providing you with a solid contact patch.

So again, maximum lean is basically leaning as far as the bike will allow while leaving a little in reserve. Because after all, we don’t want any solid parts of the bike touching the deck.

Reaching Maximum Lean in Standalone Corners

For most corners there will be a period of time where you’ll want to reach maximum lean angle.

Why? Because it unlocks maximum speed potential.

The farther you can lean the bike over, the higher potential corner speed you can achieve.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you should be taking big, swooping lines through every corner, sitting at maximum lean angle for the duration of that corner.

What I’m saying is that for most standalone corners there will be a period of time where you’ll want to be at maximum lean angle to allow the bike to turn as tight as possible in that moment.

In some corners you’ll be at this lean angle for a very short time, like in hairpins, and in others it’ll be a fair bit longer, like in fast long sweepers, but again, for most corners they offer the potential to use maximum lean angle for some period of it and you should aim to do so to maximise speed as well as to create the right line for the exit.

When Wouldn’t You Use Maximum Lean?

Sometimes the amount of lean angle you use will be dictated by the nature of the corner in question. Some could be attributes of the corner itself.

Things like poor surface conditions or a slightly raised kerb at the apex may require slightly more modest lean angles to best deal with the imperfections, or to be sure you don’t catch your peg on that kerb.

Other reasons could be because of what comes before or after the corner.

If a slow tight corner is followed by a wide corner with a large radius, you’re simply not going to have enough speed going through the second corner to need to use high lean angles. Basically, your speed potential (and therefore lean angle) is dictated by the piece of track before that second corner.

Camber may also play a part. Negative camber may require a more cautious approach with the track falling away from you. Poor conditions or lower tier tyres will have a similar effect. If your tyres can’t work as effectively in those conditions, or you’re simply not using tyres designed with sport riding in mind, lean angles will need to be more modest.

So as you can see there are many situations where you won’t be using maximum lean angles, whether it’s for safety reasons or simply due to the nature of the corners themselves.

What About Different Bikes/Setups?

There’s a reason why I’m not putting hard numbers on this, and that’s because the lean angle potential from bike to bike or from setup to setup will be different.

On a stock road bike with stock pegs for instance, the peg position will usually be lower than aftermarket ones. Even more so if that bike is something a little less race focused.

This means that you could use all available lean angle until the pegs were millimetres from the ground and still be riding at fairly modest lean angles.

On a focused sports bike with aftermarket rearsets jacked right up, however, lean angle potential is going to be higher. On good track rubber you’ll still be following similar rules for how much lean angle you use, but you’ll need even more care with the other controls at these lean angles, most notably when you first tap in the throttle, or how deep you trail the brakes into the corner.

In any case, if you can reach lean angles with the pegs and feet close to the ground, you’re doing very well at tapping into your lean angle potential. This is your maximum lean.

You Won’t Nail it Every Time

Even the best riders in the world don’t ride around corners at the exact same lean angle every time, with their pegs millimetres from the track surface.

As their speed changes from corner to corner based on the situation they’re in, so will their lean angle. And these are guys that have an extremely sensitive sense of speed.

But that’s not really what I’m asking of you here. For starters I know most of you reading this will be a fair way off from the kind of lean angles I’m talking about, and that’s fine.

The main point is to merely demonstrate what’s possible and what you should be aiming for long term as you improve your riding skill to help you get more from the corners you’re riding through.

So remember, generally speaking for most corners you’re going to want to aim to use all available lean angle where it’s safe to do so to maximise speed through that corner, while remaining on the correct line for it.

This means your peg and foot close to the floor. With correct technique this is perfectly safe to do and will help you maximise potential.