Opening up the throttle on your motorcycle on a straight is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have. But riding a bike safely is about far more than just raw speed, and cornering is a skill you should learn sooner rather than later. Motorcycle training programs teach the basics of these skills, but the only way you can improve your cornering is with lots of practice, and by following a few simple tips.
Finding Your Line
The single biggest cause of serious, or fatal, motorcycle accidents is a biker taking the wrong line on a corner, and then overshooting their exit point into oncoming traffic. Your natural instinct will be to ride your bike roughly in the center of the road at all times. This, however, is a terrible idea when it comes to taking even a gentle corner. If we take the example of a left hand turn on an open road, you should be positioned closer to the median strip in the road. The reasons for this include better visibility of traffic around you, and also that you’ll be able to power into the corner, allowing centrifugal force to put your bike where it belongs at the exit point of the corner.
Your position for a right hand turn should be closer to the left-hand side of the road or highway, for the same reasons stated above. If you don’t follow these lines when cornering you’re going to find that your bike drags in the opposite direction you want it to, forcing you to aggressively lean, or counter steer, to correct your mistake. When you’re positioned correctly for taking a corner it should be a smooth and enjoyable experience, and not one where you find yourself panicking because you’re not exiting the corner in the way you expected.
If you look at how most newbie motorcyclists take corners you’ll notice they all share the same habit: throttling down, and coasting around the corner before applying power again. This is down to nothing more than being nervous of losing control of their bike on a corner, but it also makes cornering slower and more dangerous. What if you suddenly need a bit of extra speed to avoid a hazard in the road – you won’t be able to do that if your engine is idling.
You should always decelerate before you corner, choosing your line as you do. Apply consistent throttle as you enter the corner, leaning/counter steering into the turn, before finally applying a small amount of extra throttle as you exit the corner. Coasting is for rookies, and is downright dangerous in most circumstances.
There’s no need for you to ever find yourself surprised by a corner appearing out of nowhere, or at least not if you’ve been paying attention to the geography around you. Look at the trees in the distance – what way are they curving? Or if there are no trees what path are overhead power lines following? There are dozens of different physical cues to tell you when a corner is just ahead.
In the absence of any geographical cues you’ll need to pay attention to what’s called the “vanishing point”. Put simply this is the point where the road ahead either widens or shrinks. In a situation where the vanishing point expands in the distance you know that the corner ahead is opening up, so you can position yourself. If your vanishing point contracts rapidly it means there’s a much tighter corner ahead, and you’ll need to adjust your gearing, speed and position to match it.
You need to be very careful when braking while cornering because too much can overload your front wheel, or lock up your rear wheel; either of these will have a serious impact on your ability to corner safely. If you feel you’ve come into the corner too fast then apply gentle pressure to your rear brake, but avoid using the front brake if possible.
Unless you’re riding on a track don’t try to get your knee down on every corner you come across. Instead, lean into it, shifting your riding position in the direction the turn is taking. You can’t corner properly if you’re sitting upright, because this forces the bike to follow the direction of your body, overshooting the corner and into the path of danger. Gentle leaning, correct gearing, consistent throttle and road positioning will take you into and out of the corner like a pro. Practice at lower speeds first, and then increase your speed as you become more confident.
Always, always, always pay attention to the road surface around you, especially gravel and other debris. If you’re on a road where gravel is a common feature take this into account when entering or exiting the corner. Even a small amount of gravel on the road can cause serious handling problems for any bike.
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