Cornering on a Motorcycle

Hairpin bends, curves, and sharp turns, for many bikers riding on twisty roads is an ultimate delight. But this delight comes with its own risks. While cornering on a motorcycle, a number of different forces act on you and your vehicle. For a guaranteed safety, it is important to have the right technique and the right speed. Else you will fly out of the curve.

As per a report, every fifth motorcycle accident is caused by inappropriate speed around a bend. So, does this mean that cornering should only be done by experts? Not at all! With our tips, even beginners can learn the art of cornering. Keep on reading further to know how.

The basics

Unlike cars, motorcycling requires a completely different physical commitment. While cornering, which can be more or less tight, the posture you adopt is of primary importance. Many enthusiasts consider cornering to be a significant part of the riding pleasure. And it is indeed the case when one knows how to do it properly. However, riding around a curve is sometimes a cause for concern among many beginner riders. So how do you do it?

First and foremost, it is important to become familiar with a phenomenon known as the gyroscopic effect. This effect keeps the wheel balanced when it turns at high speed. The faster the motorcycle goes, the more the gyroscopic effect increases, counteracting the alteration of the rotational axis of the wheel. Cornering on a motorcycle therefore involves countering this effect by exerting a force on the handlebars. This effort becomes more and more significant depending on the speed at which you ride.

In addition, counter-steering allows you to take a corner successfully on a motorcycle. It is done by momentarily steering counter to the desired direction, i.e., steer to the left if you wish to corner towards the right.

Physics behind cornering

Physics behind cornering

C-Force

While cornering with a motorcycle, you are exposed to completely different forces than on a straight stretch of road. For starters, an inertial force is experienced by the rider as well as the vehicle. This force also known as centrifugal force tries to push the rider outside the axis of the curve. Thus, the higher the curve radius and your riding speed, the stronger the centrifugal force.

G-Force

Coupled with the gravitational pull of the earth, the centrifugal force produces what is known as the resultant force. It will throw your bike over if you don’t counteract it with lean angle. Furthermore, if your tires are wide, you will have to lean more into the curve.

Vertex of Curve

The vertex or the peak of a curve is the point at which the path has the greatest curvature. Depending on how you ride through the bend, the position of this peak changes. And the closer you take this spot to the exit of the curve, the better you will be able to corner.

Things to know before entering a curve

There is a common phrase used by motorcycling community: “anticipating the curve”. This phrase indicates that taking a turn on a motorcycle involves reconciliation with several parameters. Evidently, this is to avoid skidding or sliding. A beginner motorcyclist usually focuses on the immediate path, rather, he should learn to glance way ahead in order to plan his course and avoid the possibility of crash.

While looking ahead, the mind analyses the whole trajectory of the curve. This is similar to the phenomenon of overtaking, during which you have to focus on the road in front of you instead of the immediate vehicle you are overtaking.

Since you are never alone on the road and it is not a pure racetrack, it is essential to observe the surroundings for your safety. Traffic is more or less continuous. Besides, you must be prepared for unexpected situations, such as wild animals. To add to this, the operators of huge vehicles (truck for example) are not always considerate of two-wheelers.

Four stages of cornering

Four stages of cornering

There are four stages involved while cornering on a motorcycle. Anyone who plans to do it the right way should master these four stages.

Stage 1: Braking

As you approach a curve or a bend, it is important to maintain the correct speed throughout the course of the stretch. Decrease your speed well in advance and downshift to an appropriate gear before you steer into the bend.

Stage 2: Entering

While turning into a bend, take a quick look towards the exit and plan your actions beforehand. Keep the throttle constant and do not try to speed up. Maintain a constant angle while keeping an eye on the road surface. If it’s a right-hand bend keep a little extra weight towards your right, and in case it’s a left-hand bend, keep a little pressure towards your left. Often times, this technique comes naturally to bikers, which is also called as steering impulse.

Stage 3: Leaning

Now, your tires are capable of transmitting high lateral forces, thereby enabling a strong lean angle. In fact, an incline angle of more than 50 degrees is possible at the right speed and with a suitable motorcycle.

Stage 4: Accelerating

Once you see the end of the curve, start accelerating gently while simultaneously ensuring that your front tire continues to grip onto the road with sufficient pressure and that the rear wheel does not drift. Doing so will decrease the lean angle and allow you to come out straight from the bend.

Tips for cornering on tarmac

A dry tarmac road is theoretically the ideal cornering surface, since the tires are able to work at their best and the tread guarantees maximum grip (especially with summer tires). While riding on a tarmac, it is important to approach the curve while maintaining a smooth acceleration and a trajectory that is as linear as possible, without sudden moves. Before entering a curve, you need to brake firmly (the tighter the curve, the firmer the braking must be), so as to transfer the weight to the front wheels (the traction wheels) and once the trajectory has been set, gradually release the brake and start accelerating gently so that you have some momentum while exiting the curve.

You normally lose control during the load transfer phase: when you brake hard, the weight moves forward, lightening the rear end. Similarly, if you accelerate sharply, you can’t get control and you skid. So, in order to avoid a skid, you should never enter a curve in an idle state, instead you should reduce the speed (before entering) and then use the throttle to control the engine power.

Never brake while cornering (unless it’s an emergency), although the tarmac road generates enough grip against the tires, but it is still ideal to slow down beforehand.

With wet asphalt the procedure does not change, but it is necessary to calculate the braking distance.

Tips for cornering on gravel

We all are fascinated by rally events where experts and professionals demonstrate their riding skills on gravel. And often times, we try to imitate them despite having an inadequate riding experience. This is quite natural, and almost every rider has done it once in his life. Some may have succeeded and some may have tasted the soil. But let the bygones be bygones; by following certain steps, you can control your bike on the gravel and maneuver around the corners like a pro!

In order to successfully corner on a gravel road, it is essential to have a strong sense of responsiveness to the state of the gravel. There is a difference between an unpaved road and gravel track; without appropriate tires you must ride slowly and with extreme caution. Make sure that you have enough traction before entering the curve and shift down a few gears to reduce the speed.

There are two situations to be considered: in the case of a very wide-open curve, partial throttle should be used before entering the curve. While in the case of a narrow bend or even a hairpin bend, it is necessary to ensure that your approach is absolutely gentle. The gears should be shifted down and the vehicle should be at a bare minimum speed (use a combination of engine braking as well as front & rear braking in case of emergency). Do not attempt any sudden maneuvers which could lead to skid.

Tips for cornering on black ice

When it comes to extreme situations, such as those that may arise during winters, the most important thing is to have the right tires that can perform at their best in these conditions. The advancements that winter tires have made in recent years are truly incredible. But despite this, it is not possible to be absolutely certain; in fact, if you brake abruptly on snow or ice, 99.9% of the time you lose control of the vehicle. As a result, the bike will either be inclined to go straight or to move sideways, thus making it practically impossible to follow the intended path.

As a general principle, the less grip you have, the more you need to be gentle and relaxed. To ride around a curve that is covered with black ice or snow it is essential to understand how the ABS as well as the tread of the tires work.

The deep treads of front tire are made to split the snow and increase the surface of contact with the road, while the ABS allows the rider to steer the handle while simultaneously ensuring that the wheels do not lock during braking.

The best way to gain control of your bike is by avoiding the use of mechanical brakes and relying mainly on the engine braking. Although there is nothing much you can do over ice, since the bike will deviate from its course no matter what, but you have to be relaxed and avoid sudden maneuvers, while simultaneously try to reduce the speed of your bike.

Overcome the fear of leaning

Leaning into curves is rather fascinating, but for beginners, it can be unsettling.

Often times in difficult situations, only a part of the potential is used. Out of fear, you ride too widely around a curve, even though a smaller arc would have been possible. In fact, many riders are also not aware that, in order to change direction and lean angle quickly at medium and higher speeds, they need a decisive and powerful steering impulse, depending on the type of machine and the width of the handlebars.

So, in order to overcome this fear, it is recommended to familiarize yourself with this concept practically by joining any motorcycle safety foundation school near you.

How do you ride through a corner quickly?

Fundamental principles of physics and practical riding skills are implemented while riding quickly through the curves. The static friction on the wheels is the key factor that determines how far the rider can lean into the curve. If the maximum angle of inclination exceeds (threshold limit), then the wheels will lose their grip. This lean angle in turn depends on the curve radius and your riding speed.

In other words, to ride quickly through a tight corner, it is important to lean significantly.

It all comes down to proper cornering technique: You approach the corner from the outside. You then move in towards the apex in order to reduce the radius of the curve. This, however requires a high lean angle. At the same time, watch the exit of the curve, i.e., where you want to go.

To prevent your knees from touching the ground when you are leaning, you must keep them close to the frame to prevent contact with the ground. And to ensure a stable ride, make sure you slide your butt a little backwards on the saddle.

Right curves on a motorcycle

  • Approach the corner at an appropriate speed – neither too fast, not too slow.
  • Enter the bend from the outside with sufficient distance from the opposite lane; in this way, you will be able to see the rest of the road and possible hurdles as soon as possible.
  • Once the course of the road is visible, start accelerating gently while simultaneously entering the center (vertex) of the curve – this will allow you to keep a safe distance from oncoming traffic.

Left curves on a motorcycle

  • Approach the bend at an appropriate speed (with speed of-course being neither too slow nor too fast).
  • Enter the curve from the outside while maintaining a sufficient distance from the oncoming traffic, thus allowing you to determine the course of the road and possible obstacles in good time.
  • As soon as the rest of the road is visible, accelerate and at the same time ride into the middle of the lane; in this way you keep a safe distance from the outside of the bend.

S-curves on a motorcycle

  • S-curves are nothing but a combination of right and left bends in a single course of road. So, if you are well versed with the left and right cornering techniques, you won’t face any significant problems on S-curves as well.
  • However, you will have to quickly change your riding style once you have exited the first curve to prepare yourself beforehand for the next curve. A dynamic riding style is required to successfully ride through the S-curve.

Cornering with a pillion

Of course, motorcycling is also possible as a couple and is in fact a wonderful thing to do together. However, one thing to remember is that you are jointly responsible for the behavioral changes in the bike. When riding with the pillion (or passenger), both the rider and the pillion combine their individual weights to form a coherent weight. This shifts the load automatically to the rear, away from the center of the bike. This results in an increased load on the rear wheel compared to the front wheel thus changing the handling of the bike, which is particularly noticeable around the corners.

While riding, the pillion passenger usually looks over the rider’s shoulder. Naturally, as an attentive co-rider, he/she also wants to monitor the situation in order to react appropriately to sudden events. In fact, it is quite common for the pillion passenger to change sides more often in order to look past on the right or left.

For the rider, however, all this usually affects the riding behavior. If the pillion tries to switch sides to look into the curve, the motorcycle will behave in the same way and move a little bit further into the curve. With the change of the side, a shift of the center of gravity takes place automatically. If this happens unexpectedly, a fast cornering can even end in a skid.

One major mistake is to lean against the curve. Particularly common with inexperienced passengers, because they are a little afraid of leaning. By all means, the pillion should always lean into the bend with the rider, and precisely at the same angle.

If the pillion is against the curve, then the driver may not be able to bring the bike into the necessary lean angle and can no longer make the curve. Conversely, if the pillion rider leans too far into the turn, a much leaner angle can be created than is required for the situation.

So, what can be done?

If possible, the pillion should “hug” the rider with both hands. This ensures that the rider and pillion form a single unit. When cornering, the passenger should always follow the rider’s posture; if his body goes into the curve, the pillion should also lean into the curve at the same angle. And if the rider decreases the lean angle of the motorcycle, the pillion must also follow the same thing.

Emergency braking while cornering

Sudden brakes that are applied during cornering occur at the expense of lateral force that was being transmitted (Fs), causing the motorcycle to leave its trajectory. Once a tire has to use all its holding forces for lateral control around a curve, it has no reserves left for sudden deacceleration. So, if you ride around a curve at the maximum possible speed, you should never brake abruptly.

Braking in a curve can be relatively dangerous, so the best thing to do is to avoid braking in the curve as much as possible, preferably by altering the curve radius to avoid the danger.

However, if it is absolutely essential, you must of course apply the brakes.

First, apply the rear brakes gently, and then use the front brakes in conjunction with the rear. But make sure to avoid sudden jerks, otherwise the motorcycle will slide away.

When braking in a corner, the motorcycle will try to straighten up again, to counteract this, you have to turn in harder to stay in line.

The best thing is to try to practice braking for situations like these, because when it comes down to it, this process should be executed without hesitation and without having to think about every step.

See also: Braking techniques on a motorcycle

Bottom Line

While cornering, the motorcycle and its rider experience a centrifugal force that pushes them outwards. Here, the centrifugal force varies in accordance with three primary factors:

  1. The weight of the motorcycle and the motorcyclist: Naturally a loaded motorcycle, carrying a pillion and/or luggage, will be subjected to a stronger centrifugal force.
  2. The angular velocity (or rotation speed), which is largely influenced by the riding speed (or linear velocity), is also a contributing factor: So, a motorcycle entering a curve quickly will make a wider turn than a motorcycle entering the same curve slowly.
  3. The radius of the curve acts inversely, i.e., for the same motorcycle model and speed, it is more difficult to take a tighter turn than a wider one.