Negotiating Bends and Corners on a motorcycle
This article explores the techniques and knowledge required for negotiating bends and corners on a motorcycle safely and effectively. It isn’t easy and requires education and practise to elevate skill to the highest level. Advanced riders have many hours of tuition and development to keep their skills sharp and their ability high.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of riding a motorcycle is the experience of banking into a bend and the road opening before you as you accelerate and flow through the curve.
A well navigated corner can be the ultimate feeling of freedom on a motorcycle. It is exciting and exhilarating too, not to mention a sense of achievement when everything morphs into perfection.
However, the mastery of bends and corners involves a complex interplay of vision, anticipation, planning, control and skill.
Plan and Look Ahead
The first step in mastering corners begins long before you approach the bend. Early observation and planning are critical to your safety and the smoothness of your ride. Many riders do not look far enough ahead when they are riding and this causes them problems when it comes to dealing with corners.
It makes riders wonder why others can go quicker round a bend than they can. It isn’t all about ability on the bike, it’s about understanding the techniques and applying them.
Vision is probably the most important tool in a riders toolbox, but unfortunately they are not taught this skill when they first learn to ride. This means they practise this poor skill over and over again, because of this it is practised until it is perfected.
Once a bad skill has been set, it is difficult to know how to undo the wrong. Only education and training can highlight this and only then can the rider start to make grounds to improve.
The rider’s vision should be extended to keep an eye out for warning signs, road markings and changes in the shape of the road. The road surface is also important to notice as the rider requires maximum grip through a corner.
Understanding these simple vision skills can provide valuable clues about the upcoming bend’s radius, gradient, and any other potential hazards.
The understanding and mastery of IPSGA (Information, Position, Speed, Gear, and Acceleration) is the essential framework needed to improve planning and riding skills. The System of Motorcycle Control should be used for all riding manoeuvres, especially when negotiating bends and corners on a motorcycle.
This systematic approach ensures every step, from initial observation to the actual corner, is well thought out and carefully executed, reducing the chances of error.
If you have not undertaken any advanced training, you really should. Or if you are and they are not focused on using IPSGA, you should change the train organisation you are using. This is possibly the most important and fundamental change that is required for your success.
Understanding the Limit Point
The Limit Point (LP), also known as the Vanishing Point (VP) is the furthest point on the road that you can see. It is the furthest point away from you where the two kerbs seem to meet in the distance. You can raise your gaze slightly and see what the tree line is doing as that has its own Vanishing Point too. This is usually further away from you than where the two kerbs meet.
As you approach a bend, the LP/VP gives you an indication of the bend’s severity. If it appears to be getting closer the bend is tightening up and you should reduce speed. If it appears stationary and is not moving you can maintain your current speed.
If the LP/VP moves away from you, the bend is opening up and you can accelerate. Be careful how you accelerate as this could make you drift wide, you should also be aware of the next bend too as you will need to start to position for that prior to exiting the corner you are in.
The Importance of Counter-Steering
Counter-steering is a technique where you push the handlebar in the opposite direction of the turn to initiate the lean required for the bend.
For instance, if you’re cornering right, you’d need to push the right handlebar away from you. This causes the bike to tilt to the right and lean over into the right-hand bend.
It is exactly the same for the left hand bend, as you will need to press the left hand forward away from you. As you push forward the bike tilts and the handle goes downwards too. In effect you are pushing the left hand forward and down away from you to make the bike corner in that direction.
It might seem counter-intuitive but it’s a fundamental principle of bike control in a corner. It happens naturally without thinking about it, especially if you rode a pushbike as a youngster. Knowing what you are actually doing will elevate your skill level and mean you are in full control of the bike’s position at all times, especially at higher speeds.
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Observational Links and Hazard Perception
Understanding the links between various elements of the riding environment can provide useful clues on potential bend severity.
For example, a line of trees or telegraph poles along the road may indicate a series of bends. It could also show how sharp it is and as a result of learning how to negotiate bend types, you can adopt the correct speed.
You may see oncoming traffic over trees or hedges and also traffic ahead of you can give an idea of the bends’ severity too. If they are braking before they corner it may be sharp, or they may not use their brakes which means they have gone into the corner at the same speed they were travelling before they arrived at the turning point.
Braking on bends should be avoided whenever possible as it can upset the bike’s balance. This is why it is so important to learn how to use IPSGA and read the road ahead.
Linking bends is also another important aspect of cornering as it allows you to understand how to position for the next bend before you leave the one you are currently in.
Correct Road Positioning
Positioning is vital for successful cornering. It affects your view of the road, the bike’s stability and your ability to react to unexpected situations.
A wider position can give a better view around bends but always sacrifice your road position for your safety. Consider other factors such as oncoming traffic and road surface conditions, especially if there is an adverse camber as you go into a right hand bend.
In a left hand bend the best position for view would be to the right of your lane to gain more vision. But you must be aware of oncoming traffic, especially in tighter corners where they may be cutting the corner.
In a right hand bend, you should position more to the left of the lane. This will open your view around the corner but don’t go too close to the kerb otherwise it will become a distraction.
Stay within your own ability when it comes to cornering, there should always be a margin for error and you should ride at 80% of your ability. This will mean you always have something in reserve when negotiating bends and corners on a motorcycle.
Positioning is vital for vision and decision making, you must ride at a slower speed to develop the skill of correctly positioning for corners.
Knowledge, Skill and Bike Control
Negotiating bends on a motorcycle combines skill, knowledge and a profound understanding of the machine.
It’s more than just adjusting the handlebars to tip it in. It’s understanding the bike, how it performs, reading the road, anticipating changes, controlling your speed and positioning your motorcycle for optimal vision.
Mastering these elements brings a level of satisfaction that few other experiences can match. But remember, no matter how thrilling cornering can be, safety is first and paramount to your development.
Always keep 100% focused on the task ahead of you, do not let your mind wander. Stay sharp and follow a systematic approach, respect your limits and those of the road.
By honing these skills and principles, you’ll not only become a better, safer rider but you’ll also enhance your overall enjoyment of the ride when negotiating bends and corners on a motorcycle.
Keep practising the new skills you have been taught, keep learning and always ride with a clear mind and full concentration.