Overcoming Fear of Corners, Motorcycle Body Awareness
With body awareness and control you can position your center of gravity where you need it to be in relation to the bike so that your bike handles predictably in corners. Better yet you can then position your center of gravity to create more clearance between the bike and the road when cornering.
And better yet, you can learn to feel the forces acting on you so that you can align with them and not get the feeling that causes you to get shit scared because it feels like you are going to slide out of the corner.
The feeling is so much nicer when you can feel your body and your bike aligned with the cornering force. You feel steady and stable, like you are on rails.
So Why do we get scared in corners?
One common reason is not looking where we want to go. For myself, after one accident sliding out of a corner, I started focusing on looking at the outside of each corner, exactly where I didn't want to go. And of course that is where I nearly went.
Point one, look where you want to go. Look around the corner to the furthest point of the road that you can see beyond the corner. One note, if part of the road is hidden because of a hill or a bump then that is your gazing point until the road beyond the bump is revealed.
Another reason for getting scared or falling is thinking. If you are thinking about something other than riding then you aren't focused on feeling and controlling your body and the bike. This may not cause you to get scared but it may cause you to fall when road conditions change because you aren't paying attention.
Yet another reason, and one that this article hopes to help you deal with, is not being aligned with the forces acting on you and the bike.
Generally if you are looking where you are going you tend to automatically aligne with the forces acting on you but that may not be the case. Plus if you are thinking you may also not align with cornering forces. All of a sudden you may be trying to keep the bike upright while going around a corner and the cornering forces try to tip you out of the corner. And you get that feeling and you think to yourself "why the hell am I doing this?"
And so point number 3 (point number 2 is to focus on riding) is align with the forces acting on you. Focus on feeling your body and via your body the bike. Align both with the forces of cornering and you'll feel stable and safe. You'll probably also feel like all of a sudden you know how to ride. Even with this new found confidence proceed to slowly and smoothly work at going faster.
Aligning Yourself with Gravity
One drill that you can practice while riding is keeping your body in line with the bike. This exercise can be made easier if instead of thinking about your body position you learn to feel it.
(I should point out that I'm going to focus on lateral or side to side positioning of the body with respect to the motorcycle. This can be the most important with respect to cornering since it affects the side to side displacement of your center of gravity. Also note that these exercises are easier to do in an upright seated position.)
A good way to get to that point is to practice feeling your body while you aren't on a bike. While sitting you can sit with both sitting bones pressing down evenly into your chair. (A hard chair is better for this exercise.) You can move from side to side, like you going to fart, then center yourself so that you can feel your weight even on both sitting bones.
Now feel your ribcage. Slide your ribcage to one side, notice how your weight shifts to one sitting bone. Return to center and then slide to the other side.
Now focus on moving smoothly and slowly from side to side. Notice the sensations in your waist as your obliques activate and then relax. Notice your sitting bones and see if you can slide to one side and get your weight completely on to that sitting bone.
Feeling the way your sitting bones press into your seat is one way of telling if you are aligned with gravity. However, it is only the beginning.
Balancing while Standing
Standing with your knees slightly bent and your feet about shoulder width apart, your weight just slightly forwards so that your toes press into the floor. For this exercise, move your whole upper body to one side without tipping your body. Slide your pelvis, ribcage and head (and arms) to the right while keeping them vertically aligned.
See if you can get all of your weight onto your right foot (with practice you'll notice your left left relaxing completely.) Then shift to center and then to the other side. If you like lift your non-weighted foot. If you can lift without shifting your body that is a good indicator that you did indeed have all of your weight on your standing leg.
So that you can feel when your body is vertical and not vertical, stand on one foot and tip your upper body to one side and then the other. (Stand in front of a mirror if necessary.) Then find the position where your upper body is vertical, balanced on your standing foot. Notice the differences in sensation in your waist in the different positions. Also see if you can feel your spine and the position it is in. Can you feel when it is vertical and when it is not?
Side Bending (an Equivalent to Leaning)
For the next exercise, keep your weight even on both feet and push your pelvis to the right. Lean your ribcage to the left so that you stay balanced, evenly weighted on both feet. Notice the tension in your left side as your muscles activate to keep your body from relaxing. Notice how relaxed the opposite side is in comparison. Stand up straight and notice how the tension evens out or disappears. Do the same on the other side again noticing the tension in your waist.
That tension (or the lack of it) can tell you if you are leaning to one side or the other or are straight.
More importantly, in a corner it can tell you whether you are aligned with the forces of cornering or not.
Aligning with Cornering Forces
What do i mean by cornering forces?
When you turn you create a force that pushes you outwards. So you have to lean inwards to counter this force. Gravity is still pulling downwards so you actually have to find the balance between these two forces. The net force is a force that goes outwards and down towards the outside of your turning circle. (Imagine a cone with the point upwards. A line from the point to the base could represent the line of force acting on you while cornering.)
This is the force that you are trying to align with. When you are aligned with it, you'll feel like you are upright but meanwhile you eyes will tell you that you are leaning.
You could think of it as like riding on the side of a hill or steep mountain. If you are turning left then the peak of the mountain is to your left and the slope you are on goes down to the right.
Knowing that the effective force while cornering is just one force you can align with it just like you would with gravity. And you can learn to feel when you are aligned with it.
Practicing Body Awareness While Riding
How can you use this while riding.
First of all practice in a safe area, free from traffic.
First of all, bend forwards enough that you elbows bend so that you can turn your handlebars easily. Also press into the pegs evenly with each foot. The first step would be to practice feeling your body and keeping it aligned while going straight. Then practice cornering at low speed while keeping your body aligned with the cornering forces acting on it. How do you know you are aligned? Keep the force even through both feet, both sitting bones and both sides of your waist.
Feel Your Body
Focus first on your sitting bones. Then on your feet. Then on your waist. Then see if you can feel all of them at the same time while still paying attention to the road and the bike and everything around you. Ideally you want to feel your body so that you don't have to think about it. Instead you can focus on riding.
Am i suggesting you stay aligned at all times. No. This is the starting point or reference for feeling your body. Once you can keep your body aligned with forces while cornering you can then play with shifting your relationship with the bike so that your center of gravity shifts to the side of the bike.
What do I mean? Go back to the standing side bend exercise. Push your hips one way and reach your ribcage the other. Keep your weight even on both feet.
In relation to your feet where is you center of gravity? Over the spot between your feet (if you still have both feet pressing evenly down.) However your pelvis has moved to the left so that with respect to your pelvis your center of gravity is now to the side. You are still balanced but you've changed the shape of your body. Imagine your legs are your bike. Pushing your bike to the right while staying balanced you have more clearance to the left (and less on the right.)
This can mean more room to turn or less depending on how you shift your center.
More on that in another article.