If your bike seems to have a mind of
its own in turns, some skills practice
might help. Find a vacant parking lot or
abandoned road you can use for practice, away from traffic. Get the bike up
to about 30 mph and nudge both grips
toward the left. Notice that the bike rolls
a bit toward the left. Then, nudge both
grips toward the right and observe that
the bike rolls toward the right.
If it seems very easy to cause the bike
to roll just by pressing on the grips, or
even thinking “lean,” that’s a good indication your steering habits are correct.
If this seems strange to you, I suggest
continuing to practice controlling roll by
pressing on the grips.
Depending on the geometry of the
machine you’re driving, you may have to
maintain some pressure on the low grip
to hold your intended line while leaned
over. After the midpoint of the curve, eas-ing up on the grips may allow the bike
to lift up. If not, add grip pressure to roll
the bike vertical.
The farther over a bike leans, the
tighter the radius of turn. So, when making a tight slow-speed U-turn, load your
weight on the “outside” footpeg, and
press the grips toward the “inside” to roll
the bike way over. Countersteering is less
useful at slower speeds, because the front
wheel out-tracks so slowly. So, at slow
speeds engine thrust becomes primary in
controlling balance. Keep the engine at a
high idle, and slip the clutch as needed to
help control balance. Dragging the rear
brake lightly at the same time can also
help control your speed.
Common Problems and Fixes
1. As you steer toward the curve, the
bike begins to lift up and go wide. Get the
bike rolled over to a steeper angle. Steering causes roll, so it’s necessary to get the
bike rolled over far enough so that when
you steer toward the curve, gravity can
hold the bike at the desired lean angle.
2. During the turn, the bike drifts
wider than you intended. Get the bike
rolled over farther, so that when you
steer toward the curve the bike holds a
more constant lean angle.
3. Approaching a left turn, you press
hard on the left grip, but the bike won’t
roll left as quickly or as far as you want
it to. You might be resisting the steering with your
opposite hand. Try steering
with only one hand, and
consciously relaxing your
non-steering hand. Try
flapping your “
non-steering” elbow up and down.
That’s more difficult in
left turns because you still
need to control the throttle
with your right hand.
4. Attempting a slow
speed U-turn, the bike
won’t turn tight enough,
and threatens to fall over.
When making a tight turn
such as a U-turn, place
more of your weight on
the “outside” footpeg, and
press on the grips to force
the bike to lean wa-a-a-y
over. Keep the engine pull-
ing—don’t attempt to coast
around. It’s okay to slip the
clutch as needed. If the bike starts to fall
over, ease out the clutch to apply more
Practice Makes Perfect
Or, perhaps we should say “practice
makes automatic.” Remember, that at
highway speeds, the situation unrolls
very quickly, and there just isn’t time
to think consciously about every little
action. Our brains think both consciously
and subconsciously. What it means for
skills to become “automatic” is that
the subconscious parts of your brain
develop the right habits to control the
bike. That’s critically important, because
if you’re still squandering attention on
small details of controlling the machine,
you’ll be distracted from thinking about
the situation—what’s happening around
the corner or over the hill.
Our skills are either improving or
degrading. If you want to improve, get
the bike out and practice. Whatever you
find difficult, that’s what you should
practice. If slow speed U-turns make
you sweat, practice several U-turns at
the end of each ride, when the engine
is warm and pulling smoothly. If your
unruly bike likes to cross the centerline
in tight turns, practice steering to control
roll and direction.
ll David Hough, the original author of
MCN’s Proficient Motorcycling and Street
Strategies columns, is the author of several best-selling books, both for our former
publisher, Bow Tie Books, and our current
house, i5 Publishing, including Proficient
Motorcycling, Mastering the Ride, Street
Strategies, and Street Riders’ Guide.
1. Our demo rider Bret approaches a left turn.
2. Bret steers slightly away from the curve to make the bike roll toward the turn. Note that the
front wheel is now out-tracking.
3. With the bike rolled over, Bret steers toward the curve, initiating the turn.
4. The motorcycle is now turning, with gravity balancing against “centrifugal force.” Note
that the front wheel is now steered toward the curve.
Scott Williams demonstrates a tight low-speed U-turn. His
weight is favoring the “outside” footpeg, he’s slipping the
clutch, and looking where he wants to go.