How to turn a motorcycle properly
The basics of turning a motorcycle
First and foremost a motorcycle does not turn the same as a car and very little pressure is relayed to the handle bars. Most people think you can just turn the handle bars and the motorcycle will go that way but doing this you will find the bike will turn the opposite direction.
Whilst going very slow or almost stopped, you can turn the handle bars to go in the direction you want but this is when as I said going very slow. Once the motorcycle is brought up to speed the dynamics change and it is more about the shift in weight on the motorcycle.
Lean left and you go left, lean right and you go right. What does this mean? Say you are taking a left corner, You will slide your buttocks across the seat and lean slightly off the left side of the motorcycle. Slight pressure is given on the left handle bar pushing it forward which in will point the front tire slightly right. This will drop the motorcycle into a left lean and the opposite is true for a right turn and is called counter steering.
Flat track rider counter steer
Using the handle bars to turn a motorcycle
Now that you have the basic concept of how motorcycles turn, we will now look at how the handle bars are used in more detail and the amount of counter steering that is given.
Very little grip is used to control the handle bars. You should be holding on just enough that you do not fall off when accelerating. The front shocks and handle bars do all the work when insuring that high speed wobbles and bad road terrain is dealt with. By you putting too much control on them or holding to tight, you are actually stopping the front end of the motorcycle from doing its job correctly.
If after a ride, you feel your arms and forearms are sore, then you know that you are holding on to tight. You can turn a motorcycle at higher speeds using just 2 fingers and pushing the handle bars slightly. Holding on for your life is not needed and will affect your riding negatively.
To the right, you can see how much the handle bars turn when going into a corner on flat rack. this is an over exaggerated example but remains true on all surfaces when turning at speed. You can also see it when racing bikes come into a corner slightly sideways.
Legs hold you on a motorcycle with correct body position
To turn a performance motorcycle quickly you will lean your body into the corner and push on the handle bar of the side you are leaning off. But wont I fall off if I don't hold the handle bars.
The answer is NO. If you look at a superbike or performance bike, there are indentation on the petrol tank. These are for your legs and knees. If you are leaning off correctly with your body straight, Your knee or leg will press into the indentation and hold you on whilst you are leaning.
If you were to sit with your body skew on the motorcycle, it is hard for your knee to lock into the petrol tank which slides you around the tank. This makes you unstable and more pressure is put on the foot peg of the side you are leaning. This again is incorrect. You are leaning your weight into the turn but not applying pressure to that side of the motorcycle.
To tell if you are holding on correctly and turning well, After a long ride or session on a race track, you will feel that your thighs and legs are very sore. This is because you are now using the correct muscle to hold onto the motorcycle. Below you can see a picture of when I was first learning to ride on the track. Although the motorcycle is leaned over well, I am far from touching my knee down. This is because I am using the bike to turn and not my proper body weight. By locking in my knee and keeping my body straight, the bike would have been more up right but turning the same amount. This allows for more speed in the corner and earlier to get on the power.
Leg not locking into tank
Dani Pedrosa straight body
Body position and keeping straight back.
So you are now applying pressure on the handle bars, you have locked your knee into the tank and you take the corner. The corner feels good but you weren't able to get your knee to touch the tarmac or the bike feels like it is leaned over to far.
Either you are not sticking your knee out on the side you are turning or your body is skew. This will force your knee to hug the side of the motorcycle which means you have a long way to lean in order to scrape your knee. To the right you can see a straight body position from Dani Pedrosa. He is fully leaned into the corner and his whole body is straight off the side with no turning. Your whole body should be off the side of the tank, Your spine in line with the side of the bike.
Soon as you twist at the hips, you force your body to come around the tank and push your knee against the bike. This can also happen if you sit right against the petrol tank as your body will automatically want to wrap around the tank. Try looking under the mirror as this will normally keep you in the right body position and your spine straight.
Below you can see an old racer called Kevin Schwantz, He was very well known for sitting skew on a motorcycle. You can see how much more the bike has to lean compared to say Dani Pedrosa.
Kevin Schwantz sitting skew
As you can see, it has very little to do with the handle bars when turning and more to do with your body position. Keep practicing your body position, even in small corners and you will soon see how quicker you can take corners as well as how safe it feels.