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Cornering (Part 1) – Vision and planning

In this 4 part blog, I will explain all aspects of cornering, for all levels of riding. In this section, I will talk about vision and planning. In the second blog, I will talk about adjusting speed and braking. Then I will cover counter steering and my last installment will be on linking bends.

Laying the foundations

So I’ve recently seen a lot of requests for advice on cornering on social media forums. I remember when I hated cornering, a time when I would clench my jaw and my entire body would stiffen up just as I’m about to go into the bend! Probably the worst thing you can do!

These days, I absolutely love it! I’m an advanced and learner level motorcycle instructor, so most of my riding is not for pleasure and on my days off I don’t always want to jump back on my bike for a ride out. However, when I get to go on a European motorcycle tour with RMT Motorcycle Training, I really enjoy my riding and can practice improving my skills and enjoy being on different and challenging roads.

The most amazing sweeping corners

The best road I’ve ever ridden is along the Dalmatian Coast en route to Montenegro. Fast sweeping bends to really stretch my legs, fantastic road surface, a beautiful view onto the sea and warm weather. However, if I think back to when I used to hate cornering, I would have been a nervous wreck trying to negotiate bend after bend on that particular road.

How to transform your riding?

So how did I go from being as slow as a snail and hating every minute of cornering to absolutely loving every second of it?

Well I’m not going to lie, it took me a while. I spent a lot of time on my bike, basically not really enjoying it. I remember coming home from ride outs and the palms of my hands were white with big red lines over them from the gloves. I’d been holding on too tight.

Vision

So the breakthrough moment for me was vision. I was reminded by a motorcycle instructor whilst on my second European tour, just a few months after my crash, that I should be looking up. I think when we are learning to ride we hear certain phrases so often, we almost become immune to them. I find as an instructor, I spend a lot of time saying “Look Up!”.

However, when we say look up, we don’t mean aimlessly. When cornering, we mean, you need to look for the vanishing point. Next time you get in your car – not bike – try and go around a few bends and practice lifting your vision up. You’d be surprised at how much more you’ll see. I used to practice this in my car on my commute to work during the winter when I didn’t fancy riding my bike.

So what’s the vanishing point?

Well this is where one edge of the road appears to meet the other. If the two edges appear to be getting closer to you quickly, then the corner is going to be tighter and you’ll need to slow down. If however, the vanishing point is getting further away, the bend is straightening up.

I don’t solely focus on the vanishing point though – I am using it – but I’m also looking at the whole area in front of me. A bit like taking in a view from a balcony. I’m not focusing on one thing alone.

So what else am I looking at?

For any rider, novice or advanced, forward vision is the one area of riding that lets us down. Most bikers have problems because they simply don’t see what’s in front of them. It’s not on purpose, it’s simply because they aren’t designed to travel faster than running pace! Whilst technology has moved on and motorcycles have got quicker, evolution has not. So when we travel at even 30mph our brains simply cannot take in all the information and potential hazards in front of us.

To help improve this, I advise dropping off the pace and looking for the clues that will help you. They are there, but we get complacent and tend to miss them. For cornering in particular, I look for warning triangles, white lines and the word ‘SLOW’ on the road, black and white chevrons and I also follow the hedgerows and tree lines of the road. It isn’t a guarantee, but following the hedgerows, treelines or lampposts, gives you an idea of where the road is going. This can also help determine the severity of the bend along with the vanishing point.

Bend assessment is a really big part of cornering successfully. So before you go into the bend (and the same applies for any hazard), make sure you know what sort of bend it is. Is it a tight, technical bend, is it sweeping and open, is there a good view going in, is the surface good, what are the possible hazards going to be as you go around that bend – think junctions, private drives, broken down vehicles, horses, gravel, fuel spillages, a slower moving vehicle such as a tractor, the list really goes on.

Once you understand how tight the bend is, you can then start to focus on your speed and what speed you should be taking the bend.

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