Riding Motorcycles Safely: Mastering the Art of Cornering

A notable proportion, about a quarter, of all motorcycle mishaps are the result of motorcycles overstepping their limits during turns.

This fact underlines the importance of us, as riders, being responsible for our own safety. This article will elaborate on the key strategies to adopt for safe and efficient motorcycle cornering.

Although riders often expect a magic formula that will instantaneously transform their riding skills, the most crucial technique isn’t a well-kept secret. In fact, it’s a skill that most riders struggle to acquire: anticipating and thinking ahead.

Anticipating the Road: Look Ahead, Think Ahead

From the initial lessons in driver’s education, maintaining a two-second following distance has been drilled into us so thoroughly that it often dictates our vision and forward-thinking abilities.

However, a two-second lead time is barely sufficient to react effectively to most situations.

Successful motorcycling demands that we train ourselves to anticipate the road in terms of looking and thinking more proactively.

This proactive approach is often referred to as “staying ahead of the aircraft” by Air Force pilots, an apt phrase that could be aptly adapted to motorcycle riding as “staying ahead of the motorcycle.”

This is the attribute that differentiates average riders from exceptional ones: the capability to anticipate and think well in advance, about 10 to 15 seconds ahead.

Setting up for the Turn: Why Entering Wide is Key

VisibilityEntering wide enhances your sight range into the turn.
Larger ArcA wider entry effectively broadens the arc of the corner, reducing the need for extreme leaning.
More ChoicesA wide entrance provides more flexibility to adjust for unexpected obstacles like an oncoming car drifting into your lane.

Remember our emphasis on looking ahead? Entering wide maximizes your forward visibility into the corner.

It also widens the arc of the turn, meaning your motorcycle doesn’t need to lean as far as it would if you were closer to the inside, effectively making the turn less acute. The golden rule for us riders is to strictly adhere to our lane limits and avoid crossing the lane markings, especially the center line.

Speed Management: Slow In, Fast Out

While entering a turn, a slower approach allows more time and space for the actual turning process. The aim is to exit the turn at a higher speed than when you entered it. In essence, the approach should be to go slow into a turn, enabling a faster exit.

Riding into turns too quickly often leads to difficulties in navigating the turn and may result in overrunning the intended path, or braking abruptly mid-turn, or leaning the bike more than comfortably.

All these actions amplify the chances of a mishap and typically result in slower exit speeds. The best practice is to plan your approach towards each turn, slowing down conservatively to get ready for the turn.

Initiate the Lean: Counter-steering

Motorcycles navigate turns by leaning. This leaning is initiated by a counter-intuitive action known as “counter-steering”: pushing the handlebar gently in the direction opposite to the turn.

To lean left, nudge the left handlebar forward; push the right handlebar to lean right. You can practice this technique while sitting on your bike, noticing how a slight push causes the bike to lean in the direction of the push.

Managing Acceleration and Gear Shifts in Turns

Many new riders fear overrunning in turns; hence they enter the turns from the inside to leave themselves some leeway.

This fear is often fuelled by outdated teaching methods that insist on accelerating throughout a turn. As speed and turning radius are linked, accelerating in a turn makes the motorcycle want to veer wide.

However, if you slow down entering a turn, the turn’s radius will naturally reduce, making it unlikely for you to overrun the turn. It also provides a safety margin if the turn holds any unexpected obstacles.

Additionally, slowing down on turns improves grip due to the weight transfer to the front, thereby enhancing both braking and turning capabilities.

Judicious Braking: Gentle is Best

Ideally, a small amount of front brake should be used while slowing down for turns. A light enough squeeze to activate the brake light is all that is needed. It is essential to practice this skill to get a good feel for the required pressure.

This habit of slowing down before turns not only equips you better for dealing with unexpected situations, but world-class motorcycle racers also employ it to avoid crashing and maintain high speeds.

Accelerating out of Turns: The Fun Part

Once you can see the exit of your turn and are in a position to reduce the lean, you can start accelerating out of the turn.

This phase of gently speeding up while exiting a turn is indeed an enjoyable part of cornering. Your ability to accelerate without fear upon seeing your exit is a good indicator of your cornering performance.

Shifting Gears: It’s all Relative

If you’re in the middle of a corner, accelerating out of the turn, but find yourself in too high a gear with insufficient power, simply downshift.

The ideal gear for entering a turn depends on various factors, including the nature of the turn, your skill level, and the type of bike you are riding.

Riding Safely: The Joy of Control

Riding around corners can be a source of fear or fun, depending on your skills and strategies. When you adopt the process outlined above, the chances of being scared in corners significantly decrease, as these steps offer you more control over the motorcycle and enable you to manage unexpected situations better.

To sum up, the key strategies are:

  1. Stay ahead of your motorcycle by looking and thinking 12 to 15 seconds ahead.
  2. Enter corners wide.
  3. Slow down before the turn and press the handlebar in the direction you want to lean.
  4. Keep slowing until you’re comfortable with your speed and can see your exit.
  5. Start accelerating gently out of the corner only when you can see the exit and reduce the lean.

An old saying among racers states, “The fastest riders use the brakes the most.” Contrary to what one might think, it doesn’t mean fast riders brake late and hard.

Instead, they start braking early, apply brakes gently, and maintain brake pressure for an extended period. Interestingly, this is what safe riders do too. As paradoxical as it sounds, riding slower is smoother, safer, and, eventually, faster.

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