10 Steps to Master Motorcycle Cornering

10 Steps to Perfect Motorcycle Cornering

The essence of motorcycle riding is cornering. If you are a motorcycle biker, you probably agree with this. Cornering is the most important aspect of good riding. You will always learn a different thing when the subject is motorcycle cornering.

We created a simple guide with 10 steps to improve your motorcycle cornering. Please see below.

Step 1: Reposition foot

If you have footpegs you want to be on the balls of your feet. This is where you have the most leverage. In other words, this is where the least amount of muscle energy moves you the most amount of distance. Whether you have footpegs or floorboards, you want to position your foot in such a way that no matter how far the bike is leaned over, no part of your foot will ever touch the ground.

Biologically speaking, human beings are predators. As carnivores, specifically, we are genetically predisposed to going after our prey in the direction of our head, shoulders, and hips. This means you want all three of their axes facing toward the exit of the corner (“The Doctor” demonstrates). If you start twisting them out of alignment to one another, your nervous system can send confusing signals to the brain about where it is going, making proper muscle inputs more difficult to execute.

Step 2: Pre-position body

The goal here is that you want to put your body in the position that you want it to be in at the middle of the corner, before the corner even starts. The reason for this is it’s pretty hard to crash an upright moving motorcycle. But it’s very easy to crash a bike when it is fully leaned over in the Danger Zone. So you always want all major body movements to be made before a turn and after a turn, but never during a turn.

At street or track speeds you want to make sure that your body’s centerline is always to the inside of the bike’s centerline. It can be an inch or a foot to the inside, but you need to be in that position before the turn starts. You and the bike should go down together and come up together, and that distance between the centerlines should never change. Not until the bike is upright should you move back to a neutral position. Just as importantly there are three axes (head, shoulders, and hips) that should be facing to the inside of the turn in the middle of the corner.

There are three reasons why it’s important to do this.

  • First Reason: gravity wants to turn the bike by leaning it as soon as you move your centerline to the inside of the bike’s centerline. This is a good thing because now you’re going to let gravity do some of the work that you previously had to do with your arms and hands.
  • Second Reason: to put your centerline to the inside of the bike’s centerline has to do with what happens aerodynamically. As soon as you move your body out of the slipstream of the bike, you’re going to feel that high-pressure air hitting your body. If there’s high pressure in front of you, there’s going to be low pressure behind you, and all things in this universe go from high pressure to low pressure. That’s the same way airplanes fly and vacuum cleaners work, which will make your bike want to rotate around its axis. You’ve experienced this anytime you’ve taken your hand and stuck it out the window of your car while driving and notice how it is being forced backward. That’s because you have high pressure on the front side of your hand and low pressure on the back side of your hand. This strong force is catalyzed by only the small surface area of your hand. You can imagine how much greater an effect the surface area of your whole body will have by comparison.
  • Third Reason: it’s important to move your centerline to the inside of the bike’s centerline is what it does to your lean angle. And the goal for lean angle is to always have the least amount of lean, for any given speed and for any given radius. So whether you’re going 10 mph in a parking lot, or 110 mph on a racetrack, you always want the bike leaned over as little as possible.

The less the bike is leaned over, the easier it’s going to be to change your speed or direction. The more the bike is leaned over, the more dangerous it is going to be to change your speed or direction. And by moving your centerline to the inside of the bike’s centerline, you can literally pick up 1 to 2 inches of additional ground clearance. This is why racers “hang off” in the turns.

They use the additional ground clearance to go even faster on the track, where conditions are controlled. On the street where conditions are not controlled, that additional ground clearance becomes added safety margin.

Ironically, hanging off is most useful to cruising and touring riders whose bikes have significantly limited ground clearance, and who can easily end up levering the bike right up off the tires and crashing in turns. But, of course, it works great for all kinds of street bikes.

Step 3: Push Outside Grip

Because you’re not quite ready to start turning yet, continue straight by simply pushing on the outside grip. This results in a “V” shape going down the road made with the rider’s centerline leaning to the inside of center and the bike’s centerline leaning to the outside of center.

The cool thing here is the number of degrees between a line, which is perpendicular to the road and the outside-of-center line of the bike is the amount of ground clearance you will pick up when the bike is leaned over.

Because the bike is starting at a point that is more than 90 degrees from perpendicular to the ground, this amount is how much less lean angle the bike will need to lean to accomplish the same turn.

By doing this you have simultaneously stored future turning energy (gravitational and aerodynamic forces) into the bike.

Step 4: Locate Turn Point

Next it’s important to pick a specific turn point. In fact, it’s actually more important that you choose a specific turn point than that it be a particularly good one. The reason for this is even a mediocre turn point must be proactively chosen in the frontal lobes, which keeps you out of the fear-producing reptile brain.

On the road that point could be a spot on the pavement, a tree just off the street, or an imaginary coordinate, as you would use in billiards to bank a ball. The challenge here is to be able to memorize its location. You will have to know where it is even though you will not be able to look at it the instant you turn.

Step 5: Look Through Turn

Before entering the turn you want to aim the bike on a path that connects the turn point and exit point in a smooth line. At normal street speeds this should be 10 feet to 15 feet before the turn point. (Higher speeds will require a longer distance.) The reason for this is that the human brain is very good at connecting dots.

So if you have both starting and ending points, in your mind you can connect those dots and know exactly what trajectory to put the motorcycle on. The only way to have a good, clean line through any corner is to know exactly what trajectory to put the bike on before you commit to it. And the only way to do that is to have an absolute starting and ending point picked out before you do.

Step 6: Relax Outside Grip

At this point all you have to do to start the bike turning is to relax the pressure on the outside grip. All the stored gravitational and aerodynamic forces will immediately start turning the motorcycle—without upsetting the suspension.

This is much more efficient than simply putting a big countersteer input into the bike because, in that case, the front suspension would significantly compress, adding energy to the fork springs.

Just like a big pogo stick, at some point the fork springs would release all that energy and cause the bike to become potentially unstable. As soon as you relax the pressure on the outside grip, some of your weight will easily transfer to the inside grip.

Step 7: Push Inside Grip

If you simultaneously relax the pressure on the outside grip with a small little push on the inside grip, any sized bike will quickly and easily flop into the turn. Once you’re in a turn, you want to use only your inside arm to steer. That means sometimes you’re pushing with the inside arm, and sometimes you’re pulling with the inside arm. But any directional changes are made with the inside arm only.

This technique prevents your two arms from fighting each other for control of the motorcycle in a feedback loop. A feedback loop is what happens when you keep adding more and more energy into a system until it wants to explode.

Everyone knows what happens when you put a microphone too close to a speaker: The sound gets amplified, and reamplified, and reamplified, until it makes everyone want to run out of the room. That’s the same thing that happens when you go through a corner. You may not necessarily feel that tug-of-war with yourself, but what you will notice is that your line will get wider.

As soon as you stop steering with both arms and start steering with the inside arm only, you break that feedback loop. You can now let your bike turn the way it was always capable of turning but which—up until that exact moment—you’ve been preventing it from doing.

Step 8: Roll on Throttle

When I say to roll on the throttle as early as possible that does not mean as hard as possible. So you want to gently apply the throttle as early as you can, but without upsetting the chassis.

Your throttle position will always be indirectly proportional to lean angle. So when the bike is leaned all the way over, you can only give it just a little bit of throttle. As the bike stands up you can give it more and more throttle until the bike is fully upright where you can give it full throttle.

There’s good and bad news with modern tires. The good news is that modern tires have gotten so sticky that on a warm, dry day with good traction, in many cases you can simply whack on the throttle and the tires will lift the weight of your bike and body up and out of the corner. But if you try to get out of a corner completely with the throttle on a wet, slippery day, the rear wheel slides out.

The reason for this is you’re asking the little contact patch of the rear tire to do all of the work to lift the weight of your bike and body up and out of the turn. The other way to get a bike out of a turn is to steer out of it.

Step 9: Push Outside Grip

You could get out of the corner completely by steering, but it would take a pretty serious steering input, and you would lose a lot of potential traction in that excessive steering input. This is because you’re now asking the front tire’s little contact patch to do all of the work of lifting your bike and body up and out of the turn.

The correct technique is to use a little throttle and a little steering, thereby dividing up the work between the front and rear contact patches. This way, even on a wet, slippery day, you’re going to have the best chances of staying upright and in one piece. When done properly, the bike easily rights itself with very little physical input from the rider. Remember, the whole time you’re in the corner you’re maintaining that “V” position.

Step 10: Move Back to Neutral

The reason you want to wait until after the bike is completely vertical before you move your body back to neutral is to minimize any excessive suspension movement caused by large weight shifts. That could be the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back” from a traction perspective.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed right now, don’t worry. You currently do some, if not all, of the 10 Steps already—you’re just not aware you are doing them. Fortunately, you don’t have to think about each of these steps every time you go through a corner. Many of the steps happen without your conscious attention. For instance, as soon as you pre-position your body, you will automatically push on the outside grip to keep the bike going straight.

Also, as soon as you relax the outside grip you will have to push on the inside grip as there is nowhere else for the weight on your hands to go. Plus your inside hand is now the only one in a position to steer the motorcycle.