In this 4 part blog, I will explain all aspects of cornering, for all levels of riding. In this section, the second section, I will talk about adjusting speed and braking for cornering purposes. There is a previous blog, where I cover vision and planning, I recommend you read that first before continuing. I will then cover counter steering and lastly linking bends together.
Too fast or too slow?
A lot of bikers worry about what speed to do when going into a bend. Bend assessment is a real skill that requires time and energy to perfect. However, you’re far less likely to have a problem when you ride the bend at a slower pace, leaving some ability in reserve. Yes it might feel a bit rough and not as smooth as you’d like, but you’re still going to be on the same side of the road when you get through the bend.
Slow in, fast out
If you go into a bend too quickly, we all know this can lead to big problems. Ever heard of the saying “slow in, fast out”? This is a saying that you should live by when cornering. Most riders have problems with their speed going into the bend because they are travelling too fast and in the wrong gear. Have you ever ran wide in a bend? I know I have. So my advice is to go into a bend at a speed where you could stop on your side of the road in the distance you see to be clear in front of you. When it’s put like that, our speed when cornering should be relatively slow.
Braking before the bend
Braking as you go into the bend really means your planning wasn’t up to the mark. Your braking should be done before you corner. Why? Any adjustments made in the bend can really upset the bike and can result in big problems.
When we turn the throttle off, the power of the bike drops dramatically. This is known as engine braking. If you are in a low gear and you turn the throttle off you may even feel your body weight being shunted forward. We don’t get this kind of engine braking in a car, if you take your foot off the accelerator, the car will take ages to slow down. However on a bike, the engine braking is much more effective. So the first thing to do, in order to slow down, is to turn the throttle off. When I speak to bikers about slowing down, they tend to forget or not realise how effective throttling off can be.
We all know that using the front brake in a bend can be disastrous, depending on how the brake is applied and the road surface conditions. So any front brake application should be done prior to the bend and in conjunction with the rear brake. Braking using both brakes allows for more even weight distribution. When we apply the front brake alone, the weight of the bike moves to the front end of the bike. This causes the tyre to compress into the road surface. This gives the tyre more grip, but of course it can lead to a skid if too much pressure is applied. So when you apply the front brake (before the bend), make sure you are smooth and deliberate, not snatchy or panicky and make sure you are off the front brake before you ride into the bend.
If you ride into a corner, still carrying too much speed for your ability, as a get out, you can always try the rear brake. It will still upset the bike, but there’s definitely less chance of the bike throwing you off. Again, the application needs to be smooth and deliberate, as applying the rear brake at high speed can also cause a skid. The application of the rear brake will push the bike down and towards the bend (which could bring you closer to the white line), then when released, the bike will sit back up. So you may feel that you are making the shape of a fifty pence piece as you corner.
When I passed my car test nearly 20 years ago, I was encouraged to move up through the gears and to be in at least 4th gear even in a 30mph zone. This was to ‘show progress’. So when I learnt to ride, I did pretty much the same thing, especially when riding a 125cc! However, when on a larger machine and in higher gears, we can have less control over the motorcycle. Have you ever turned the throttle off and nothing happens? Or tried to put the throttle on (for an overtake for example) and it takes a few seconds to kick in? This is called an unresponsive throttle. The gear you are in is too high for the speed you are travelling at.
To be more controlled when cornering, try using a responsive gear. One that gives you either an instant delivery of power or turns it off and slows the bike down, just as quickly. Motorbikes are designed to be revved, so next time you’re on your bike, have a look at the rev range. If your bike runs up to 10,000 rpm, I would say you could comfortably ride at between 5 and 7,000 rpm.
For me, on my Suzuki Bandit, third gear is a very responsive gear, but on my Kawasaki ZZR1400, second or even first gear are more suitable. This means before I go into a bend, I turn the throttle off and the bike has enough engine braking to slow the bike down quickly and as a result, I rarely need the brakes.
Go slow to start
Build your confidence by going slow to begin with. I used to feel the peer pressure from other riders all the time, so if you can, ride alone. Don’t worry about your speed though, I was told by a very wise man that the speed will come once the skills are set.
Please note that these blogs are designed to give you some basic information and it doesn’t replace the need for further training which I highly recommend for EVERY rider.