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Learning to Ride: Taking Turns and Corners on Your Motorcycle

Learning to Ride: Taking Turns and Corners on Your Motorcycle

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Although motorcycles are more maneuverable than cars, not all bikes can go around corners as quickly. Most motorcycles are capable of cornering quite rapidly if you ride them correctly. Taking turns and corners for a beginner motorcycle rider can be intimidating, but if you use these techniques you’ll be cornering like a pro. Here’s how you do it.

Turning Basics

Slow Down

Motorcycles can corner incredibly quickly, but overly hard and poorly coordinated braking can upset a motorcycle’s chassis more than a car’s causing all sorts of strange dynamics. These antics can be especially dangerous while leaning over in a corner, so brake and reduce your speed before entering a curve in the road.

Check Your Blind Spot

Before turning or changing lanes, check your mirrors and make a sideways check into your blind spot, to make sure the lane you want to occupy is clear. Never rely just on your mirrors, which on most bikes give you a better view of your elbows and sounders than they do of the traffic behind you. On the other hand, don’t look completely over your shoulder—you may inadvertently turn your handlebars as they turn your head, and take too much of your attention away from the traffic in front of you.

Make the Turn

Apply your turn signal well in advance to let other drivers know what you intend to do. Then, when the coast is clear, lean the motorcycle into the turn by applying slight pressure to the inside of the handlebar in the direction you want to turn. The faster you are moving, the more you’ll have to lean the motorcycle to negotiate the turn. At normal highway speeds, you should lean with the bike. When negotiating tight turns that require you to ride more slowly, just lean the motorcycle while you remain in an upright position.

Get your braking done before you turn. Apply the brakes when the motorcycle is upright, before you lean over to turn. If you brake when you’re leaning over, you’re much more likely to slide off than you are if you brake when the motorcycle is upright. Remember, when you’re leaning over, you already have less traction available.

Adjust Your Speed

Once you have settled into a turn, roll on the throttle to maintain a steady speed or accelerate slightly. This helps keep the bike stable through the turn. Rapid acceleration or deceleration in a corner can cause you to lose control of the bike.

Because of that lack of traction, you must use the throttle smoothly in a corner.

Don’t accelerate or shift during a corner, because this will upset your chassis. Wait until you’ve finished the turn and your bike is once again upright to accelerate. As you develop your technique and become more proficient at taking curves, you will be able to apply power slightly earlier as you exit a corner. When you do this, you make the motorcycle’s dynamics work for you: when you accelerate, you place more weight on the rear of the motorcycle, thus increasing your traction. As you become more familiar with your bike’s reactions to throttle input, you can use that increased traction as you exit a corner.

If you are going too fast into a corner and need to slow down, stand up the bike for a brief moment, brake, and then immediately lean back into the curve. But be careful—if you do this for more than a split second, you will run off the road.

Dangerous Debris

You always need to scan the surface of the road for debris—such as leaves, sand, fluids, and gravel buildup—but the situation in which these conditions will most often lead to a crash is when you encounter them in a curve. These materials tend to accumulate on the outside edge of a curve, so pay close attention to that part of the road when scanning a corner.

If there is debris on a curve, slow down to give yourself time to maneuver around the debris. If you are unable to avoid it, don’t panic and hit the brakes; that will make you more likely to lose traction and crash than if you maintain a steady speed through the corner. If you’ve slowed down to a safe speed before entering the corner, you should be all right.

Don’t Panic

Your safest bet is to make certain you’re not going too fast when you enter the corner in the first place. If you’re in doubt, slow down even more. If you find yourself going into a curve too fast on dry pavement, don’t panic. Just countersteer more to lean harder into the curve. The more you lean, the sharper you turn. Leaning harder also scrubs off excess speed with your tires, slowing you down. You need to trust the capability of your tires; motorcycles have more traction than you might imagine.

You may feel like the bike is nearly touching the floor, when you’re only actually a few degrees from vertical; so again, don’t panic. Even if you feel the toe of your boot drag the ground, it’s okay; most bikes still have the capability to go even lower.

The most important thing is to keep a cool head. Unless you are going at a ridiculous speed, if you don’t panic you should be able to make just about any corner.

Taking Corners

The path you take through a corner plays an important role in both safety and speed (the gentlest arc through a curve is also the fastest). By selecting the right route, you improve your view and make yourself more obvious to oncoming traffic.

The most important thing is to stay in your lane. When going around a corner, treat your lane like it’s the only part of the road that exists. The oncoming lane might as well be a cliff or a solid wall of rock, because under no circumstance should you ride there when going around a curve.

When approaching a corner, move to the outside of the lane before entering the turn. This lets you see farther around the corner, and it also makes you visible to oncoming traffic earlier. As you enter the corner, countersteer the bike to the turn’s apex—the point in the corner where you can begin straightening up the bike—and start smoothly accelerating.

The Vanishing Point

Using the vanishing point will encourage you to position your bike safely, use appropriate speed, and force you to keep looking where you want to go.

The vanishing point is the farthest point where your eyes see the two sides (or edges) of the road “meet.” On a tight corner that point will appear close; on a long sweeping curve that point will appear farther away.

Riding toward a curve, bring the bike down in speed. As you ride around the curve, the vanishing point will appear to maintain the same distance ahead of you. Once the vanishing point starts to disappear off into the distance, the curve has opened up once more and you can gradually accelerate away.

Good road position will allow you to see further around a curve, giving you earlier warning of any potential danger.

Good road position will allow you to see further around a curve, giving you earlier warning of any potential danger. (Photos courtesy of Simon Green)

Oddball Corners

A change in the shape of a road can take you by surprise, forcing you to change direction in midcorner. Like everything else in motorcycling, the key to dealing with these situations is awareness. If you are riding on an unfamiliar road, slow down and expect anything.

Increasing-Radius Curves

An increasing-radius curve is a curve that gets less sharp as it progresses. In a way, these corners are less dangerous than a normal corner, but they may require you to alter your course in midcurve. If you are prepared, you can use the extra room you will have in an increasing-radius curve as bonus safe space.

If you’re prepared, you can pass through an increasing-radius curve more safely than you can a constant-radius curve.

If you’re prepared, you can pass through an increasing-radius curve more safely than you can a constant-radius curve.

Decreasing-Radius Curves

The most challenging type of corner you will encounter is the decreasing-radius curve—a curve that gets sharper as you progress through it, forcing you to turn more sharply as you go.

Your best bet is to always expect a decreasing-radius curve: first, be prepared to lean a bit more to successfully negotiate a turn, and second, always be in the right gear. If you feel that its absolutely essential, then it’s a whole lot safer to throttle off very gently (letting the engine slow you down) than it is to brake halfway round a corner.

If you’re doing everything right and the radius of the corner doesn’t decrease, that just means you’ll have more room to maneuver. If it does decrease, you’ll be ready.

When riding on an unfamiliar road, always expect a curve to get sharper as you progress, and be prepared to lean harder to complete the turn.

When riding on an unfamiliar road, always expect a curve to get sharper as you progress, and be prepared to lean harder to complete the turn.

Multiple Curves

Riding through multiple curves will test your ability to countersteer your bike. You’ll need to be able to go from leaning hard in one direction to leaning hard in another direction in an instant.

When you get to a snaky section of road, first slow down more than you would for a single curve. Then position yourself in the first curve so that you’ll be best able to negotiate the following curves. Always position yourself so that you have the maximum visibility of whatever’s ahead.

If you remember to push the handlebars to guide you, it can actually be loads of fun.

Now that you know how to turn and negotiate corners on your motorcycle, it’s time to get out there and ride! Happy motoring!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycling, Fifth Edition, by Motorcyclist magazine with John L. Stein