1. Over the years, there has been much ado about the importance of countersteering. Simply put, countersteering-or turning a bike's handlebar in the opposite direction of your desired turn-is the best way to control your motorcycle. Those riders who doubt the importance of countersteering owe it to themselves and their loved ones to sign up for an MSF Basic RiderCourse or Experienced RiderCourse as soon as possible (800/446-9227; www.mic.org or www.msf-usa.org). Still, a small but vocal group of seasoned riders insist that-in the efforts to impress upon novice riders the importance of countersteering-an effective, advanced method of turning a motorcycle has been neglected. Body steering utilizes a rider's feet and legs to augment handlebar input for quick, controlled turns.
2. Before experimenting with body steering, a rider needs to be proficient at countersteering. Also, bad habits-such as riding with locked elbows or improper body positioning (see RSS, June '00)-can dull or even negate the effects of body steering. Begin by riding a section of road that you are familiar with at a moderate pace. With the balls of your feet, evenly place weight on the bike's pegs. Focus on your riding position, making sure to support your torso with your stomach muscles while keeping your elbows bent and your arms relaxed. Next, choose a corner to try this body steering technique. At the turn-in point, countersteer while pressing down on the inside peg and pulling your outside knee in and down toward the inside of the turn. Try varying the force of the foot/knee input while body steering into a variety of corners to learn the proper combination of countersteering and body steering.
3. Although body steering is more effective at initiating a turn in some types of corners than in others, the technique is particularly well suited for midcorner line corrections or bending your bike into a decreasing radius turn as shown above. By using the lower extremities instead of your arms to alter your bike's line while leaned over, your hands are free to modulate the throttle. Also, by using your legs to steer the bike, your arms stay relaxed allowing the bars to move as your bike tracks over pavement irregularities. Some riders report that they not only press toward the inside of a turn with their outside knee, but also, while keeping their toes on the peg, hook their outside heel against the frame or bodywork to assist in pulling their bikes into a turn.
4. Body steering isn't just useful for turning a bike into a corner. This technique can be reversed by applying weight on the outside peg to widen the line midcorner. At the exit of a turn, body steering can help stand a bike up when used in conjunction with countersteering, putting the meat of the tire to the ground, while your hands are busy rolling on the throttle or shifting. Riders who want to study this riding technique in more detail should attend Jason Pridmore's Star School (805/658-6333; www.starmotorcycle.com) to explore the limits of body steering in a controlled environment. When used properly, body steering and countersteering will help you turn your bike smoothly and quickly in a variety of cornering situations.
1. While it's true that most of a motorcycle's stopping power is generated by the front brake, the rear binder can be used in subtle ways to make your riding smoother and safer. In certain situations, using the rear brake to scrub off speed-rather than chopping the throttle or applying the front brake-will have less of an effect on the chassis and keep you on-line in a turn rather than running wide. To use the rear brake properly, it must be adjusted correctly. The pedal should be a few millimeters below your foot when you're in a comfortable riding position; a misadjusted lever can force you to sit awkwardly or make it difficult to actuate the brake carefully.
2. When entering a turn, leave the rear brake applied until after the front brake has been released and the bike is leaned over. This will stop the front-end from rising the moment after the front brake is let off and before cornering forces act to keep the fork compressed. Once the throttle is cracked open, use the rear brake lightly to modulate your speed if you find yourself going a bit too fast. Closing the throttle will load the front-end excessively and cause you to run wide, whereas applying the rear binder will actually tighten your line and pull you to the inside of the corner. Try to avoid using lots of both gas and brake; you want just enough throttle to pick the revs up and keep weight off the front tire.
3. During slow speed maneuvering such as U-turns and lane splitting, the gyroscopic effect of your engine's spinning internals keeps your bike balanced. You can use this to your advantage by using the rear brake and slipping the clutch slightly to keep some revs going. Try U-turns using different combinations of clutch, rear brake, and throttle to find what works best for you and your bike. In general, just enough throttle and clutch slip is required to keep the chassis stable and moving, with speed modulated by the rear brake. Keep in mind that this technique results in more wear on brake pads and clutch plates, and they should be checked more frequently.
4. In downhill turns the rear brake can be used to avoid gaining too much speed once the throttle is open-especially in longer sweepers. As in a flat corner, crack the throttle open as soon as possible to unweight the front tire, and carefully utilize the rear brake to keep speed in check. Downhill turns are notorious for loading the front-end and causing you to run wide, but keeping the throttle cracked open and carefully applying the rear brake will result in a more even weight distribution and keep you on line. With some practice and experimentation, using these rear brake techniques will become routine, and will give you more confidence, smoothness, and safety in previously worrisome situations.
1. Off-camber corners can catch a snoozing rider off-guard in an instant. The ideal situation is to spot the corner in question well in advance and be ready for it; the element of surprise can be a dangerous one.
As always, look through the corner, making sure not to "ride the front wheel," as dirttrackers put it. Here the rider has spotted the offending corner and has already set his entrance speed. Get all your braking done in a straight line. Do not trail brake (braking while entering the corner), because the potential to lose the front end is very high since the tires are already off the center of the tread even when the bike is straight up and down. Your slowest point should be at the corner's entrance before your turn-in.
2 Make sure you set up wide for the corner, but not so wide that you're out in the dirt. If you turn too early and then realize you've used up your lean angle midway through the turn, the only way to correct for it would be to head toward the outside of the corner-right off the road. Turning the motorcycle late and quickly minimizes the time spent at full lean.
It's important to remember that when in an off-camber corner, your tires are further on the edge of the tread than in a flat or cambered corner, limiting the traction available.
3. The next step is to get on the throttle as early as possible. Crack the throttle off-idle to unload the front end, settling the suspension. The motorcycle may not want to steer easily through the corner and may need constant pressure on the inside bar to keep a constant arc.
4. Your lane position will be toward the inside third of the lane at the exit if everything's done correctly. Ease the power on smoothly so as not to lose traction at the rear.
If you're ready for an off-camber corner and learn these steps, your next encounter will be smooth and assured. Just remember, off-camber corners aren't reason to panic; get the bike slowed, turn it late and quick, get on the throttle early and be smooth..
1. This is the classic scenario: You're clipping along at a good pace, flicking through corners in a controlled rhythm, when around a blind bend you see water, dirt or some other debris directly in your path. What to do? Here, the rider has spotted the debris but is already committed to the cornering line, carrying a respectable amount of lean angle. This rider was able to spot the debris because he was looking well through the turn. Make sure you don't "ride the front wheel," which will limit your field of vision and therefore lessen the amount of time you have to react to certain situations. If it's water or dirt, it's not a good idea to cross it with very much lean angle. Once you've spotted the debris-but before you reach it-increase your lean angle to tighten your cornering line. This will give you more room to work later in the corner.
2. Just before you cross the debris, stand the bike straight up (or as close to it as possible). If necessary get on the brakes, but make sure to get your braking done early and release them before you get to the slick stuff.
3. Try to avoid braking through the problem area at all costs; it's immeasurably safer to roll through with the throttle slightly open than it is to even lightly apply the brakes.
4. Once past the offending slag, lean the bike back into the corner to avoid exiting your lane, which would either take you into oncoming traffic or off the road. It's a good idea to practice this procedure in an imaginary crisis when there is nothing at stake. Just remember: When the real thing happens, don't panic. Firm, thoughtful inputs will have you on your way without so much as a rise in heart rate.
1. Whether you realize it or not, countersteering is as necessary and vital to your riding as using the brakes. If you're not familiar with countersteering, it's a term used to describe the physical action of steering the bar or clip-ons momentarily in the opposite (yes, opposite) direction of the turn in order to initiate a corner.
The actual physics of countersteering are complicated, and while many people think it requires only a simple explanation, panels of physicists have debated exactly why angular momentum, torques and vectors affect your motorcycle. As riders, we don't need to know the physics, but it is important to have an understanding of how our motorcycle works. We're not going to tell you why, but here is a quick how.
2. Most new riders who have not taken a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course are under the impression that in order to arc through a corner on a motorcycle, the rider must lean and turn the front wheel in the direction of the corner.
In fact, the opposite is true. At speeds greater than 15-20 mph, the rider must initiate a turn by first turning the front wheel toward the outside of the corner (i.e., push on the left bar to go left, push on the right bar to go right). This is a momentary action that rolls the motorcycle off its axis, leaning it in the direction of the bar/clip-on that is pushed. As the bike reaches the desired lean angle, the tire falls into the arc of the turn.
The arrows in the photo above illustrate, from the rider's point of view, the motion needed to initiate a corner. Push forward on the left bar to go left; the opposite to go right.
3. Here's an exercise to practice countersteering. Find an empty stretch of straight road. While riding at steady throttle at a slow speed (35-45 mph), pick a spot on the road ahead and use it as an imaginary obstacle-a point where you'll want to swerve.
As you approach your target, choose the direction you want to maneuver the bike. For the first pass, begin your turn well back from the point you want to avoid and make sure you don't target fixate. Apply slight pressure on the desired clip-on to arc the bike around the "obstacle," then apply pressure on the opposite side to swing back onto your original line. The motion involved in pushing/pulling the clip-ons should be a controlled movement; jerky actions will upset the chassis. As you become more comfortable, advance your initial turn closer to the target. This will require a more forceful action at the clip-ons, but remember to keep your motions smooth. With practice, you can quickly and accurately place the bike using exact countersteering inputs.
4. Remember: At low speeds (less than 15 mph) countersteering doesn't have any effect on turning the motorcycle, but as speeds rise the force of the input required increases. It takes less effort to steer a motorcycle traveling at 60 mph than it does to steer at 100 mph.
Countersteering can be used in two ways: subconsciously or consciously. Those who use it subconsciously perform the action without knowing it, and therefore have less of an understanding of how their motorcycle works. Those who consciously use countersteering-both racers and street riders alike-are able to place their motorcycles precisely where they want.
Whether you are enjoying your favorite road or find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation, the ability to knowingly countersteer your bike and place it where desired gives you greater control in any situation that arises.
1. Going on a group ride with your favorite motorcycling friends can provide some of the best fun to be found on a bike. The fun of strafing apexes with your buddies is like nothing else-as long as you're all on the same wavelength. There are some basic things you can do to ensure no one in your group is caught off-guard or confused if a situation arises.
First of all, talk about the ride before heading out; let everyone know the final destination, and any gas stations you plan to stop at. If you feel like cruising, tell the others to wait for you at intersections. Familiarize everyone with hand signals you might want to use, and always ride in single file or staggered formations, so that each rider can use most of the lane while cornering.
2. If you're with a large group riding in town, make sure everyone is aware of cars around them in case one needs to cut into the group to make a turn. If you're at the front of a group of riders, and notice debris or hazards on the road that the riders behind you will need to avoid, lift your leg off the footpeg or extend your arm downward to warn them. Each rider should then repeat the signal to those following. It's common practice to signal on the side where the hazard exists, but sometimes there may be one on both sides (like rocks in the road, etc.). This is why it's always best to keep enough distance behind the rider in front of you so you'll have adequate time to take evasive action, while still keeping the leading riders in your line of sight (so that you'll be able to see their warning signals).
3. Only pass within the group when you're asked to, and always pass to the left of the rider ahead. Making an unexpected pass more often than not will spook the rider you're passing, which can result in a crash and injury to one or both of you. The rider in this photo is shown waving the rider behind him to go ahead and pass, giving someone else the chance to lead the group. If you don't like the pace someone is running, either back off and slot yourself toward the rear of the group, or be patient until they wave you by. If you can't follow, how do you expect someone to follow you? Again, give the rider in front of you plenty of room, and wait periodically for any rider in the group who is not able to keep up. If you haven't seen him in your mirrors for five minutes, pull over or slow down until you do.
4. Accidents usually happen when riders become competitive within their own group. Trying to show what a stud rider you are by practically running in the lead rider's draft and trying to "fill his mirrors" is a sure way to cause a pileup if the lead rider makes an unexpected move or mistake. There are too many variables and not enough room to use the street as your own private racetrack. Also, riding in a competitive nature invariably ratchets up the pace at a constant rate, until you end up riding far too quickly for the street. Ride at a pace where the speeds are still fun, but the competitiveness is absent.
Half the fun of this sport is enjoying it with other people who share a common interest, and it's even better when you form a cohesive group of riders who can anticipate and predict each other's actions.
1. The term "off-camber" often strikes fear in the hearts of neophyte riders. They've heard horror stories about innocent riders who enter seemingly innocuous corners only to discover the dreaded negative camber. (For folks who are confused, this is the opposite of a banked turn.) Although these poor souls usually make it through the corner, they exit with harrowing tales of near-death experiences. If you're correctly applying the SIPDE process (scan, identify, predict, decide and execute) the reality of off-camber corners is they're no different from other corners when approached properly. So, your first step in riding off-camber corners is to look ahead to see what's out there (as modeled by our intrepid rider above). If you're not riding your front wheel, it's harder to be surprised by changes in a corner. (If you don't remember SIPDE, take a MSF course.)
2. Why do so many people find off-camber corners unnerving? The primary concern is the lessened traction when the road tilts away. For example, even before you initiate a turn, your tires will already be off their center. In a cambered (or banked) turn, the weight of the bike presses your tires into the road, increasing traction. However, the laws of physics work against you when the road goes off-camber. The forces that typically push you toward the outside of a turn take away from your available traction. Also, you will need to lean the bike more-relative to the surface of the road-to make it through the turn. Therefore, traction and ground clearance issues require off-camber corners to be taken at lower speeds than flat ones. If not, you could run out of ground clearance.
3. Be sure to get all of your braking done early while you're still straight up and down. Trail braking into an off-camber corner is a risky proposition. Get a little greedy and the front end will tuck. (Remember, your tires are more on edge than in a typical corner and have a smaller footprint to hold you to the road.) Your slowest point should be as you enter the turn. Turn the bike late and quickly (i.e. late apex the corner) to minimize your time at maximum lean. Roll-on the throttle as early as possible to unload the fork and settle the suspension. Smoothness is paramount here. Your bike will naturally want to go downhill toward the outside of the turn as it interacts with the curvature of the road, and you will need to apply pressure to the inside grip throughout the turn.
4. Since you late apexed the turn, you will be closer to the inside of the turn later in the corner, but your line will still carry you wide at the exit, as in a traditional line. Be cautious about getting hard on the throttle until you're sure the bike is straight up and down. Like braking, traction for acceleration is limited in an off-camber turn. If you practice these maneuvers several times on a negative-camber corner, you will become familiar with the technique and will be less likely to panic when you encounter an unexpected off-camber turn out on the road. Still, the best way to avoid panic is to scan ahead and avoid midcorner surprises. So, go out, practice and ignore those riders who bemoan the terrors of off-camber corners.
1. Some of the most gut-wrenching moments while riding occur when something magically appears in front of you and you have to jam on the binders to avoid a collision. You can make life easier by learning how to avoid these situations altogether, or knowing exactly what to do when it comes time to stop suddenly. The quickest way to stop is by using a combination of both front and rear brakes. The front brake should be applied gradually, rather than grabbed suddenly. This will decrease the chance of it locking up. The rear brake should be used firmly, to the point of impending lock up. Both tires will howl on the verge of lock up, and that's when the quickest stops are made. Find an empty parking lot and practice different scenarios including bumps, while turning, and in the rain.
2. While riding, you should be scanning the road ahead, looking for anything that may cross your path unexpectedly. Note the characteristics of the surface you're riding on and be ready to use the brakes accordingly. Keep one or two fingers on the front brake lever and your foot over the rear brake pedal. If you can't see the road ahead for the distance you'll need to stop at the speed you're traveling, slow down. Check your mirrors regularly. Be aware of what is around you and try to avoid being followed too closely. In a panic situation, the last thing you need is to be rear-ended. Observing your surroundings and planning escape routes for any possibility should be a constant exercise while riding.
3. There are times when it may be best to do something other than brake to get out of a bind. For instance, in this photo the rider can either stop suddenly to avoid a collision with the car or-since he's been paying attention and knows there is no other traffic around-simply pull a quick countersteer to stay out of danger. A panic stop leaves you open to other dangers during and after the stop. If it's at all possible, use a safer alternative.
4. When you must brake, don't panic and grab everything you can. Use the brakes just like you've practiced. Try to get a look in the mirrors while braking to see if there's danger behind or to the side. This can help you find an escape route. In this example a truck is in the oncoming lane, but the rider can brake hard momentarily and then, when the truck is safely past, move to that lane. Try to avoid turning while on the brakes, especially if the surface is bumpy or wet. With practice and forethought, you can make your daily ride safer and less stressful.
. In a perfect world, all roads would be smooth, twisty and unpopulated. Unfortunately, riding isn't always so straightforward and we're constantly forced to deal with changing situations. One of the most disconcerting problems that crops up is how to deal with rough road. Since you scan while you ride (don't you?), you give yourself a little extra time to react to road hazards by paying attention to road conditions as they become visible. Once an issue arises, the best way to eliminate the problem is to go around it by altering your line through a corner or swerving.
2. Sometimes, however, going around the road hazard isn't an option. On a straight section of road, you should slow down prior to contacting the rough pavement. Keep your eyes up and looking well ahead. The best way to get to where you want to go is to look there. Motorcycles have a talent for following your eyes. So, never look directly at something you want to avoid or target fixation may be the unwanted result. Next, support your torso slightly with your legs while maintaining a relaxed upper body and a neutral throttle. If you encounter an obstacle in a turn, stand the bike up as much as possible and follow the same steps you would for riding in a straight line.
3. The most important decision you have to make when faced with an object you must surmount is to decide if going over the hazard is physically possible-you're simply not going to get over a tree lying across the road-but 2 x 4s, bricks or manhole covers are doable. If there is time, slow down. Next, approach the object as close to 90 degrees as possible to prevent your front tire from glancing off of it. Keep your eyes up, looking toward your desired path of travel. Raise your butt up off the seat. Just before contacting the obstacle, shift your weight rearward, let off the brake and roll on the throttle to lighten your front wheel. Keep your body relaxed and let the bike move underneath you. By staying loose you will be able to straighten the bike more quickly if it gets knocked off line. The same technique can be used for railroad tracks or diagonal seams across a road-except keep your weight neutral and maintain a constant speed.
4. Gravel roads pose their own set of problems by combining an uneven surface with limited traction. Sportbikes, with their steep rake, can be a handful in gravel or sand. Keep your speed low and avoid abrupt turn inputs, acceleration or braking. Smooth is the operative word. If the bike wants to, let it wander a bit while maintaining a relaxed upper body. Keeping your eyes up and looking well ahead is important-particularly so in this unstable environment. If the bike tends to follow your eyes and you look down at the ground, where do you think you're likely to end up? Accidental spinning of the rear wheel can be controlled by modulating the throttle and countersteering in the opposite direction of the slide. Under braking, release a locked front wheel immediately. Gradually ease a skidding rear so the back end moves in-line with the front smoothly.
1. Some riders think when the rain starts to come down, so should the garage door, tucking the bike away until the shines again the following spring. Unfortunately, they're missing one of the best motorcycling experiences. Riding in the rain can be fun as long as you know what to expect and how to change your riding accordingly.
First of all, clothe yourself properly. A good rainsuit, gloves, boots, and perhaps an electric vest, can keep even the most persistent storm from soaking you. But most importantly, you must change the way you handle the motorcycle. Throttle adjustments need to be made smoothly and in small increments; use less lean angle; gradually apply your brakes and get your braking done early.
2. Be wary of intersections when riding in wet conditions. We all know about the oils in the pavement that surface after a rain, but what about the oil that was already there? Any place in the road where cars come to a stop will have a higher concentration of the slick stuff. The rain makes it worse. You may not be able to spot this while riding, so it's best to decrease your speed when approaching intersections. Don't run yellow lights, because if you have to turn or brake quickly chances are you'll encounter a traction problem. When stopped at a red light, check the rear-view mirror for cars that could slide into you from behind. Also, double your following distance so as not to be surprised by cars stopping suddenly in front of you.
3. Two things we've noticed that drastically reduce traction during wet weather are manhole covers and sealer pavement. Both of these are like black ice when it's raining. When traveling in a straight line they pose less of a threat, but be sure to scan well ahead before you turn the bike to enter an intersection. Get off the brakes early and take a line that's clear of traction-limiting obstructions. Sealer pavement is usually darker than the surrounding blacktop. It can be found in town or on rural roads, and it comes in large patches or smaller sections where it's used for crack repair. If you encounter either of these traction inhibitors resist braking or accelerating hard. If you have to change your line or turn over a greasy section, keep your hands relaxed on the clip-ons and don't lean the bike any more than necessary.
4. Although this may seem obvious, it is amazing how many people we see riding in an area of the lane that is wet even though an adjacent area is dry. Dry pavement offers superior traction and maneuverability, so make sure you continually place yourself in the driest section of the lane. If you can force yourself to slow down and be relaxed, you will find that rain riding (and even touring) can teach you how to be a better and more confident rider. City riding in stormy weather is by far the most nerve-racking, but just because the clouds roll in doesn't mean you can't ride almost every day. Remembering a few pointers can make riding in the rain easier and safer than you think. And besides, who wants to garage their motorcycle for five months out of the year?