A great article written by Jordan Baker from NewRiderTips.com
One of the biggest thrills on a motorcycle is leaning a bike over and zipping around a corner. There is really nothing else like, but doing it correctly is something that needs to be learned.
If you don’t know what you are doing, the thrill can quickly become a nightmare followed by a trip to the hospital. So if you are a new rider and you want to learn how to properly and safely handle a corner, this article is for you.
If you are not 100% happy or completely confident with your cornering skills and are looking to improve, this article is also for you.
Without wasting any more time, let’s jump into it.
Before we get into how to actually take a corner on a motorcycle, we need to cover some basics.
When taking a corner or turning a motorcycle at speeds above 15mph or so, you need to use counter steering. If you’re not sure what this is, it basically means that in order to turn to a direction, you need to turn the handlebars in the opposite direction.
That’s a rather basic explanation of it, if you want to know more about it check out this article.
What’s important is that you are aware of this concept and understand it. In order to complete a corner you are going to have to get the motorcycle leaned over, counter steering is what will make this happen.
Don’t worry about your motorcycle tipping over, the wheels spinning act like gyroscopes preventing you from falling. Trust the bike, it might feel strange but you won’t tip over.
When you are at the lean angle you want, you can stop pressing on the handlebars. Once your motorcycle is set up and leaned into a corner, the motorcycle will continue on this course until you give the motorcycle new inputs to change or alter it. This of course assumes there are no external factors like faults in the bike or hazards on the road. Try to remain relaxed and not tense when cornering, this pretty much goes for anytime you are riding. If you are tense, you will be jerky and tense your inputs. This causes the motorcycle to do things you might not want or expect it to do. With that being said, let’s move on the main part of this article. Learning how to take a corner.
Correct cornering technique:
Before we start, please note that this is a beginner’s guide, geared towards helping new riders or riders who are not confident with basic cornering.
So I will not be talking about trail braking, that is a bit advanced and even dangerous for new riders to attempt. I will however cover it in a future article.
When you are taking a corner, you can break it down to 3 basic steps, preparing for the turn, leaning and exiting.
While this might seem simple, it’s not. There are a ton of factors you need to take into consideration at each stage. Which we will go over one at a time.
Prepare for the turn.
When you approach a corner, you need to get prepared for it and set yourself up for success. You do this by preparing and getting ready for the turn before the turn. This is the time to select your entry speed, change gears, pick a line and scan for hazards.
This is without a doubt the most important phase when taking a corner. If you mess this up, you are setting yourself up for a bad time. So make sure you get this right.
When I take a corner, I like to do this in the following order; pick a line, set my speed, change gears and scan for hazards. You might like to scan for hazards first, it’s up to you.
The “line” is the path you are going to take through the turn. You need to plan this out before you get into the turn. Generally it’s best to start your line from the outside lane position, this allows you to cut the angle down for the turn, as well as increase your visibility through the turn. Giving you a better chance to spot hazards and determine the angle of the turn, or type of turn you are coming up to.
There are three main types of turns or corners to consider when selecting your line. A basic turn with a turning radius anywhere up to 90 degrees. A tight turn with a turning radius from 90 to 180 degrees and a decreasing radius turn with a turning radius 180 degrees and up.
There are more, but for the scope of this article these are the only ones we will discuss. When selecting a line for a basic turn, you pretty much can’t go wrong with starting from the outside and following the line shown below. It’s a pretty straightforward and easy turn to navigate. Tight turns take a bit more care and consideration. While your entry point should be the outside lane position, it’s not as simple as a basic turn. You need to hold the outside line until you see the turn begin to open up. When you see the turn open up, you can then start to swing yourself over to the inside position and finish the turn. It’s a good habit to try to finish your turn and end up in the inside lane position. This allows you to easily set up for any corner that might be right after the one you are taking.
A good line for tight turns.
Decreasing radius turns are handled almost the same as tight turns. Except you need to make sure your entry speed and lean angle still has some headroom left. You need headroom just in case you need to increase your lean angle and tighten your line mid-turn.
If you get caught in an unexpected decreasing radius turn, don’t panic. Just hold your line and increase your lean as needed until you see the turn start to open up. Now that you have selected your line and know how to handle different types of turns, it’s time to set your speed and change gears.
You need to select an entry speed that allows you to safely and comfortably make it through the corner. Try not to max this out, you always want a little bit of lean left in case you need it in an emergency. When you are slowing down to set your speed, make sure you are also changing gears as needed.
A good starting point is to simply look at the speed limit and knock 10-20% off. Most motorcycles will easily be able to take most turns at the posted speed limit if not much faster. Setting up slightly below this will make sure you will be confident and comfortable getting through the corner. You can always speed this up as you get better.
Be cautious when it comes to blind corners. A Blind corner is when you cannot see your exit point before you are in the turn. You have no way of knowing what is waiting for you, so slow it down for these. You don’t want to run into a moose mid-turn.
You are almost ready to start taking the corner, but you still need to do a quick scan for hazards before you commit and lean your motorcycle.
Keep and eye out for things like; tar snakes, sewer grates, leaves, gravel, oil patches, puddles etc. Anything that can cause you problems or reduced traction in a corner. If you spot any of these, now’s the time to adjust your speed and line accordingly. Not mid-corner.
With all that done, you are finally ready to lean the motorcycle and start making the turn.
The toughest part is already done. Now it’s time to get the motorcycle leaned over and through the turn.
To do this, you are going to use counter steering. Counter steering is when you are traveling around 15mph and up, you need to turn the handlebars left to go right. “Press on a side, go to that side” or “push left, go left” is a good way to remember it.
I made this infographic to help new riders remember how to use counter steering. Share it with anyone who it might help. While this might sound complicated, it’s pretty easy to learn. Chances are if you know how to ride a bicycle you already know how to do this. If you are already riding a motorcycle, you are doing this without even knowing. You don’t want to start leaning too early into the turn, this will only cause you to run wide and mess up your line. You need to wait a bit and initiate your lean just before the road starts to turn, this allows you to get a good look though the turn and will make it so you don’t run wide.
counter steering vs leaning
Exiting the turn.
So you’ve got your motorcycle leaned over, your speed is correct, your line is perfect. Now what? You gotta exit the turn and straighten the bike up.
This is probably the easiest part of the whole process. Just watch for the turn to open up and the road start to straighten. Then it’s just a matter of straightening out the motorcycle. This is also the right time if you want to increase your throttle.
To straighten up and cancel out your lean, press or apply pressure on the grip furthest away from the ground. So if you are leaned over turning right, press on the left side grip. The bike will straighten up and you’re through the turn. Try to plan your exit point so you are ready for any turns that might be next.
There you have it, you’ve made it through the turn.
What should I never do while cornering?
We’ve covered exactly what you should do when taking a corner, but what about things to avoid? There are a few, all of them can cause you to crash. So never do these:
Not looking through the turn. This is a big mistake many riders make when taking a corner, they neglect to look through the turn. Not only does it prevent you from scanning ahead for hazards and changing road conditions, you also run the risk of falling victim to target fixation. Target fixation is a phenomenon that causes riders to become so focused on a hazard or object that they actually increase the risk of colliding with it. Basically, you go where you look. You can easily avoid this if you look through the turn. Try turning your head and pointing your nose where you want to turn, your eyes will follow. Chop the throttle. The last thing you want to do is upset the balance of a motorcycle when you are leaned over or in mid-turn. Chopping the throttle does this, so don’t do it. There is a very good chance it will cause you to crash.
Change gears. Again just like with chopping the throttle, you need to avoid upsetting the balance of the bike. Changing gears mid-corner will do this. You should already have selected the correct gear before you entered the turn.
Grab front brakes. If you need to slow down in a turn, grabbing the front brakes is not the way to do this. There is a pretty good chance it will cause you to crash. Instead, first straighten up the bike and then apply gradual and continuous pressure to both brakes.
Panic. There are times mid-turn when something is going to go wrong. Maybe you messed up your entry speed or your line is all wrong. Don’t panic, unless you hit the turn way too hot, you will be fine. Remain calm. Most of the time a simple adjustment, like a bit more lean to sharpen your turn will get you through it.
How far can I lean a motorcycle when cornering?
If you want the quick answer it’s around 60 degrees, but that is with optimum track conditions with tires and a motorcycle designed to reach those angles. On a public road with a cruiser it will be much less.
The amount of lean you can realistically get depends on a few factors. Tires, ground clearance and road surface being some of them.
Ground clearance is usually the main deciding factor for the amount of lean you are going to get out of a motorcycle. Cruisers and touring bikes are the worst for this. Sport bikes being the best. You can lean a motorcycle over until you start to scrape pegs or floorboards, at this point you run the risk of the pegs acting as a pivot point causing the tires to lose contact with the road.
Tires, different tires are designed for different riding styles. If you have a sport bike, chances are your tires are better equipped to maintain grip at higher lean angles than tires designed to cruise down the highway in a straight line. Road surface also plays a factor. A road with sand, dirt, leaves etc. will cause you to quickly lose traction the moment you lean the bike over. Even a road that is too smooth will cause you to lose traction sooner than you would think. So when it comes to how far you can lean a motorcycle, the answer really is it depends on lots of factors. How can I practice cornering on a motorcycle?
The best would be to find an empty parking lot and get some practice time under your belt. You’d be amazed how much better of a rider you can become if you just set aside 15 minutes here and there for practising.
It’s better to get the basics down somewhere safe and controlled, before heading out on the public roads. I wrote a helpful guide all about parking lot practising, there are around 12 drills with diagrams and tips to help you improve. A few of them specifically deal with working on cornering. It’s really worth reading. Check it out below.
Ultimate parking lot practice guide
What do I do if I am going too fast for a turn?
If you are in a turn and you start to run wide or feel like you are going to run wide, you need to either correct your line by introducing more lean and sharpening up your turn, or you need to slow down or stop quickly. You don’t want to do nothing and drift over into oncoming traffic.
To sharpen up the turn is pretty straightforward and is the easiest way to solve the problem. This is what I have usually done when I have messed up a turn. Just apply a little more pressure to the handlebars and get the bike leaned over. If you are not scraping pegs, this is usually the best course of action.
If this is not going to work. You are going to have to slow down and or probably stop. First thing you need to do is straighten up the bike, this can feel strange and counter productive. But, you cannot apply brakes when you are mid-turn and leaned over. (That’s why you need to practice this so it’s second nature to straighten up and then apply brakes.) Once you have straightened up, start to squeeze on the brakes. Don’t grab a fist full, gradual and continuous pressure is needed. Use both brakes.
When you have slowed down enough, you can either stop to fully stop. Or you can lean the bike back into the turn and continue to finish the turn. This all depends on the situation.
There was a lot to go over here, the important thing to remember is to start off slow and be safe. Make sure you are setting your entry speed, picking a proper line and leaning the bike over properly. Learning to corner is not something that comes to you over night, it’s going to take time and practice. Don’t worry about how fast or slow you are taking corners.
You don’t need to prove to the world how quick you are around a corner. Prove to yourself how well you can go around a corner first. The speed will come when the time is right.
I hope you came away from the article a bit more confident and armed with some helpful tips and information that is going to make you a better rider.
Until next time, happy riding!