You would be surprised how many people couldn’t really tell you how they turn a motorcycle.
For a lot of people they simply arrive at a corner and without even thinking about it they tip in and go round the turn with little thought to what they’re doing or what’s going on underneath them.
Learning how we can effectively turn a motorcycle can have big benefits to our corner entry as well as helping us improve corner entry speed and set you well on your way to confident and precise steering actions and turn-ins.
But before we look at how being aware of how to turn a motorcycle can help us, let’s first briefly look at the physics behind motorcycle turning.
What is counter steering?
Counter steering is a method used by single track vehicles such as bicycles and motorcycles to initiate lean into a turn. The idea is that – at anything above running pace – we briefly steer counter to the direction we actually wish to travel to get the desired lean angle for a turn, so if you want to lean to the right, you steer left and the bike tips in to the right. An easier way of saying it is if you wish to go right, you push on the right handlebar and this will initiate the lean in that direction.
Is counter steering easy to learn?
I will confidently answer yes to this question, the reason being, I know you do it already! Counter steering is often talked about as a technique we can learn and try out, something that is separate from how we ride ‘normally’, but the simple fact is that counter steering is the only way to effectively and accurately steer a motorcycle.
You might think this isn’t true as you’ve never tried it, but what you don’t realise is that when you lean/tip into a corner, you subconsciously push on the inside bar to get the bike to lean over and go round the turn.
Still don’t believe me? I ask you this then, if physics dictate that when you push on the right handlebar the bike tips to the right, what would happen if you tried to turn ‘normally’ and steered the front wheel into the turn to go round that same right hander (pushed on the left bar)?
The physics wouldn’t change and lean the bike to the right again, that’s for sure. Instead the bike would tip to the left because you are now counter steering in the other direction.
Whether you are conscious of you doing it or not, believe me when I say that counter steering is the ONLY way to effectively and accurately steer a motorcycle into a turn.
You may have heard of different techniques for leaning a motorcycle such as body steering, or weighting the pegs, but while it is true that these techniques effect the lean angle of your bike to a degree, they are nowhere near as accurate as using controlled counter steering and should in no way be a substitute for it.
Now you know how a motorcycle is turned, we’ll move on to how you can get the most out of it.
If you read my Advanced Lines – Squaring Off guide you’ll know that it is beneficial to run deeper into the corner and turn quicker (that is, as quick as possible for the given turn’s demands) for a number of reasons which are detailed in that guide.
Aside from the speed related dynamics of a motorcycle (the faster you are travelling, the harder it is to change your bike’s angle relative to the road), it is the forces you apply to the bars that determine how quick you turn the bike. A more aggressive counter steering action – pushing on the inside bar – would see the bike lean over much quicker than if you were to push very gently on the bar.
So knowing that we use only the bars to accurately turn the bike and set our lean angle, and that our turn rate is governed by how aggressively we counter steer, you can now work towards quicker turn rates by using controlled counter steering. What you’re really trying to achieve is going from upright to cranking it over on your knee in little time.
However, this is the stuff of the motorcycling elite. It takes time to learn where your max learn is as well as how fast you are actually able to turn, so take your time with it and build it up, don’t go out and push as hard as you can on that inside bar just to end up on your arse.
So now we know how you actually turn your motorcycle and that we want to turn as quickly as possible (again for what the corner demands), let’s look at how you can make the act of turning a much easier task.
Forearms parallel with the track – Imagine trying to turn the bike with the handlebars while standing up on your pegs so your arms are at a very steep angle to the bike. I’m sure you would agree it would be extremely difficult to put positive pressure through the bars and turn the bike from this position. However, by bringing your head and upper body closer to the tank (while sitting of course) so your forearms are parallel with the ground, you are pushing on the bars in the direction of least resistance, making putting pressure through the bars and turning the bike a much easier task.
Relaxed on the bars – By clinging onto the bars for dear life while hanging off the bike you are not only restricting the front end from doing it’s job, but you are also going to make the action of pushing on the bars difficult because your arms are tense. By using your lower body to anchor yourself onto the bike, you will free up your arms to deal with the delicate matter of getting the bike turned. Read my Body Position guide for more help on this subject.
Get into position early – By getting your lower body into its cornering body position early (before braking ideally), once you arrive at your turn point the only thing you will have to concentrate on is turning the bike and moving your upper body into the turn (see below for more info on this). Some riders get into their cornering position right as they are trying to turn the bike, meaning they unsettle the bike right when they’re asking it to dive into a turn. This is not ideal.
You see a lot of riders doing this and it generally comes from sitting quite upright on the bike. A lot of inexperienced riders have the tendency to press on the inside bar but also push the bike away from them as it starts to lean, straightening the arm doing the pushing in the process; much like a motocross rider would.
This sees the bike start to lean but the rider staying where they are. For road racing bikes, this isn’t best practice.
It isn’t ideal for two reasons. The first being that you are using more of the bike’s lean angle than necessary (hanging off to the inside of the bike means you don’t have to lean it as much), and the second is you are making the act of turning itself more difficult because your forearms aren’t parallel as described earlier.
Instead, you should get your upper body closer to the tank and hang off to the inside of the bike – in the direction you are about to travel – to stop you pushing the bike underneath you. This will make going with the bike that much easier.
A lot of problems can be caused from the turn point if we don’t know how to turn a motorcycle and are not steering the bike effectively, so just being conscious of how we actually turn the bike is a good first step to improving our corner entry and gaining consistency with our turn ins.
Go out and try to become more aware of what you are actually doing with the bars, once you can feel what you are doing you can then start to take the steps outlined above to help make the actual task of getting the bike turned much easier.
If you can do that then I hope that you will see your turning become more accurate, consistent, less labor intensive, as well as generally making your riding safer through your greater control of steering, and in turn lean angle.
I appreciate that this may be hard to digest at first, so if you have any outstanding questions or queries then please get in touch with me using the contact form and I’ll do my best to help you out.