Riding the Street: Part 2

(This is the second installment of a compilation of emails I sent to my grandsons as they, after years of dirt riding on motorcycles, began to venture onto the street)

Now that we’ve talked a bit about getting stopped, lets see about riding.

Curves are, in my opinion, the fun part. They also account for the largest number of single-vehicle motorcycle crashes, typically when the bike runs off the outside of the curve rather than following the intended path.

Many of those are explained by the crashing rider as “it just wouldn’t turn”. Yes, actually, it would, but you, Mr. Crasher, didn’t turn it.

Motorcycles turn, above a walking pace, by countersteering, by “out-tracking” the front wheel briefly in the opposite direction from the desired path. There are lots of treatises about why this happens and how, but suffice it to say for now, that is how it works. When you are approaching a curve to the left, you will turn the bars briefly to the right and the bike will lean left and go around the curve. You can affect the motion some with “body steering”, using your weight, but that is more fine-tuning than a turning technique. You turn with the bars.

I find it easiest to push with one hand on the bar in the direction I want to turn, leaving the other arm relaxed. This tends to reduce the “survival instinct” of tensing both arms when you think you’re getting into trouble. That is what leads to the “it wouldn’t turn” explanation, because the rider was fighting one arm with the other, both tensed, and neither bar got enough pressure to make the lean. Push right to go right, push left to go left. Leave the “upper arm” the one that is now on the “high side” of the turning bike, relaxed. And no, this routine isn’t an absolute. You may come to another way of dealing with it, but the principle is the same. Countersteering is what causes a motorcycle at speed to turn at your command.

A motorcycle on modern tires will lean a lot farther than you are comfortable with. Again, as long as the pavement is relatively clean, the bike will lean over until hard parts start grinding on the asphalt at which point that will lift one wheel or the other off the pavement and you will crash. The rider can almost always use a folding footpeg or the toe of the downside boot as a feeler to tell you how close to the hard-part-grounding you are coming. But you won’t need to worry too much about that. Such a lean angle is extremely rare on the street and you’ve probably already made a mistake estimating your corner speed when you get to that point.

The important thing to remember is this: the bike will lean farther than you think, so if you are in a turn at a speed you suddenly aren’t comfortable with, overcome your “instinct” to straighten it up (which will put you off the road or in the oncoming lane) and lean some more. Keep your eyes up to where you want to go and keep leaning. That way, if you are going to crash, it will be a “lowside” with your actual impact with the pavement starting from a few inches high. We will address braking in a turn, usually not a good idea, but sometimes it is, later.

The far better course is to learn to set your corner speed where you want it.

Entering a corner, keep your eyes up to the “vanishing point”, that place where the edges of the road appear to come together. The farther out you can look, the better off you will be, because, among other things, you will go where you look. I like to use the “late apex” line in most curves, where I’m on the outside of the curve until I can see deeper into it, see the exit, then make my lean. The “racing line” works great on the track, but not so much on most backroads. On a motorcycle, you don’t have to be going at maximum speed for curves to be exciting and fun.

There will be more of this, and I may revise the above for completeness and clarity, but this will get you started.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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