Well, the votes are in! Forty-seven members replied to the question in the July 2009 MotoSafe column, “Left? or Right? Tell MotoSafe” and we find that the majority of respondents believe they are weaker, less confident and proficient, when cornering to the right. The numbers? 57% report more trouble cornering to the right, versus 28% who feel less competent cornering to the left; 15% report they are equally confident and competent turning and cornering either way. So, by a raw two-to-one margin, weak-righties outnumber weak-lefties. Let’s see what we all can learn from this survey, and mostly, from one another. WHY do we believe we prefer one cornering direction over the opposite?
There is no lack of theories; Damun Gracenin believes it may be due to engine-torque. Paul Lehrer and Bob Rudy think weak-side cornering may be traced to ‘dominant-brain-side,’ which ties in with six respondents, including ‘Chain-Gang Karen’ who refer to ‘handedness’ (right-handed versus left-handed). John Murray turns left better than right, and apparently hopes we all vote that way, too; John also threw in the hoary ‘rotation of the earth’ theory, for good measure.
John Deitrich and Mark Barr believe the majority of us prefer turning left because the US is a ‘right-hand-driving’ country,’ unlike the UK and a few other countries. Walt, Clay and Joe think turning-preference may be linked to one’s dominant eye, right or left, while Charles Schadwinkel believes his ability to turn right or left with equal skill and confidence can be traced back to the professional training he undertook when he began riding. Good on you, Charles!
Bob Williamson and Jay Fierro trace their cornering trouble to difficulties they experience due to a lack of good riding posture and they are likely on to something here; they comment about the relationship between the vertical plane of the torso as compared to the vertical plane of the bike’s chassis, and the predilection riders often have for stiff-arm, Frankenstein-locked-elbows. One must sit well to ride well! Doug Weir chimes in with comments about exercising discipline in positioning the upper-body, head and eyes.
Several, including John Zibell and Mike Rogerson note that a given curve on a two-way, two-lane road has a wider radius for those cornering to the left as opposed to a rider transiting the same curve to the right, in the other direction. Weak-lefties George Burton and Jeff Daugherty trace their discomforts to late-apexing (generally, a good strategy for safer street-riding) and ‘edge-phobia,’ the inability to get close to the right-side edge of the pavement, entering a left-hander.
The big numbers came from two basic categories; in second place, seven folks led by Chris Goodfellow trace their comfort turning left, and resultant discomfort cornering to the right, on the likelihood that the sight-lines are longer in left-handed turns, compared to going right; this was commented on by several in the context of blind curves, the ones where the rider cannot see the exit of the turn at the point they actually enter the turn and begin leaning.
The winner? Kevin Greenwald, a professional trainer and MotoSafe contributor, led a pack of respondents in blaming the throttle! A motorcycle has symmetrical controls, one for each hand and foot, except for the right hand; it is called upon to both modulate the throttle and operate the front brake. While all of the ideas offered bear some investigation (well, political preferences aside!), it’s possible that we might have a starting point by considering the action of the throttle. Main point so far? We’re all THINKING about what we’re doing when astride the bike, and that’s all good!
Let’s review the fundamentals of competent cornering; first, cornering is by far and away the most complicated maneuvering process we execute on a bike. The rider is involved in the cornering process for a longer period of time, as compared to slowing, stopping, swerving or accelerating. In multiple-curve situations, such as mountainous twisties, this long-duration effect is greatly exacerbated, adding to the time consumed in the continuous mental effort and focus that is required to perform competently. The fundamental steps in cornering are slowing before the corner begins, looking through the turn, leaning the motorcycle to make it turn using inside-handgrip forward pressure (countersteering ‘press’) and adding throttle, once leaned over in the turn – or slightly prior – to maintain or increase road-speed as the turn is transited. Riders who undergo ‘beginner-training’ learn and, one hopes, internalize these fundamental steps. Let’s explore each, briefly, by way of review.
Slow before the turn: We call this ‘establishing Entry Speed.’ Two basics apply. First, a ‘good’ or correct Entry Speed is a speed low enough – before the bike begins to lean into the turn - to allow the rider to comfortably and confidently add some amount of throttle while leaned over in the turn. Second Entry Speed basic; a speed low enough so that the rider is able to stop the motorcycle in a good bit less distance than the rider can see ahead. By ‘see ahead,’ we understand that to mean the rider can see the actual road-surface itself.
Look through the entire turn: Keeping vision centered near the point where the curve ends, or where the road-surface disappears, enables the brain to plot a smooth cornering line with (usually) only ONE apex. Of course, a competent rider is continually scanning away from the actual exit or vanishing-point briefly, but continually returns attention to the exit. It appears that the eyes communicate most effectively with the brain when the eyes are nearly-centered in the eye-sockets, so using one’s head or chin to aim one’s eyes can be very effective.
‘Press’ to initiate motorcycle-lean: We know this as countersteering, and the fundamental movement here is to press FORWARD (not down) on the handgrip in the desired direction of the turn. Press forward right, lean right, turn right.
Add throttle: ‘Rolling on’ the throttle is usually desired, so as to at the very least, maintain road-speed while leaned over in the turn; since the bike is now riding on a contact-ring closer to the sides of the tires, and that contact-ring has a smaller diameter than the center of the tire, the bike’s effective overall gearing is now a bit lower (like downshifting half-a-gear), and adding some throttle is required just to keep the bike from actually slowing down. Is slowing down while leaned over in a turn all right? Well, it’s usually not a good idea; slowing down puts more weight on the front tire and removes it from the rear, the opposite of ideal dynamic weight-distribution while learned over. All things being equal, modest acceleration while leaned over is desired for stability and ideal cornering-traction. Plus, it’s FUN!
Let’s begin thinking about some specific ‘Key Thoughts’ you may consider as you go through a process of immersion, feedback, reflection and self-renewal. Golfers often carry a ‘key swing-thought’ in their minds as they address the ball and drive it down the fairway. It might be “stiff left side,’ ‘head still,’ ‘right elbow against ribcage’ and so forth. Let’s think of the remainder of this series to be a buffet of ‘Key Cornering Thoughts’ that you may apply and experiment with while cornering. MotoSafe makes no claims or guarantees… well, read the disclaimer, and MotoSafe strongly urges readers to initially apply any such Key Cornering Thoughts in a safe and controlled environment; you may well find that your performance gets worse instead of better – a technique may not work for you – or it may get worse BEFORE it gets better.
Bob, Jay and Doug are on to something when they discuss posture-issues. From the bottom up, balls of the feet on the footrests – an athletic ‘ready’ stance – knees in contact with the tank and applying inward muscle-pressure, fanny scooted forward on the seat, back arched (the letter ‘C’ facing to the rear), torso bent forward from the waist, elbows bent and loosey-goosey, shoulder relaxed, and head, chin and eyes aimed up toward the horizon. We’ll get to the hands in a bit.
Key Thought: Riders may choose between two upper-body positions; both should include leaning forward, from the waist and keeping the Backward Letter C in the back. You may lean with the motorcycle (Leaning With), that is, keep your torso in the same plane as the vertical plane of the chassis, or you may lean the torso forward and INSIDE the vertical plane of the bike (Forward and In). To promote a Forward and In position, try to ‘drive’ the bottom of your inside elbow down into the pavement while cornering. In both cases, control the acceleration and deceleration forces acting on your torso with your knees, which are gripping the tank, and with your abdominal muscles. Keep the elbows ‘soft,’ and bent. More about elbows later.
We’re all trying to improve our weak-side cornering. Kevin and his large posse blame the throttle for their weak side. Interestingly, not all of Kevin’s folks were weak to the right; some weak-lefties are included. For those who employ pure ‘press the inside handgrip’ countersteering, many find that the ergonomics of pressing forward on the left handgrip, especially if they position the torso inside the plane of the chassis (Forward and In), leaves the right wrist and hand in a most comfortable position to modulate the throttle and hang on to the right handgrip. However, the same rider pressing forward on the right handgrip to execute a right-handed turn is often in a seemingly-awkward position that leaves a sensation of ‘pressing-but-no-turning.’
Key Thought: When cornering, many riders unconsciously position the left wrist so that the palm is nearly-vertical against the back side of the handgrip; this allows effective countersteering, ‘pressing’ forward. However, many position the right wrist ‘flat,’ placing the palm in a horizontal position atop the right handgrip. Riders do this to more effectively operate the throttle; some riders actually ride with the right wrist well above the knuckles, a posture that is not recommended. Since the flat-wrist promotes a horizontal palm atop the grip, the rider is inclined to press downward instead of forward. Pressing down on the right handgrip does not initiate chassis-lean, and the rider feels as if they are unable to perform a precise, crisp direction-change to the right.
Key Thought: Try riding with the right wrist in a ‘wrist-down’ position, bringing the right palm into a near-vertical position behind the right handgrip. You may not be able to roll on full throttle from this position, but a full-throttle roll-on is rarely needed when exiting a corner. Here is an alternative; focus on applying forward countersteering pressure on the right handgrip with the web between the right forefinger and right thumb. The key issue is to apply FORWARD pressure to the handgrip, rather than downward pressure.
Key Thought: Keep both elbows bent and loose while cornering. Some riders are inclined to unconsciously control the forward weight-transfer on the torso, generated by braking to establish entry-speed, using straight-arm, stiff elbows, and forearms and wrists. This causes the rider to again, unconsciously press forward on BOTH handgrips, effectively binding up the rider’s steering inputs, generating a feeling that ‘it won’t turn.’ Professional trainer Lee Parks advocates a ‘loose upper elbow’ when cornering, another way to think about keeping unwanted pressure off of the handlebars, and permitting easy, quick and precise steering inputs and instant results. How can we manage the deceleration forces under braking that force the torso forward?
Key Thought: Grip the tank with the inside of the knees, using a noticeable amount of muscle-pressure. Apply this pressure to the sides of the tank as the throttle is rolled off and brakes are applied to establish entry-speed, and maintain this pressure until the bike is upright again, once the corner is past. In fact, learning the habit and muscle-memory of always keeping some inward pressure on the tank will improve overall control, and actually reduce fatigue, in addition to allowing more precise and confident cornering.
Using knee-pressure against the tank enables the rider to control the weight, motion and position of the torso using the abdominal muscles. Try this experiment; place your bike on the centerstand, mount and assure a riding position. Now, squeeze the knees against the tank, and notice that your elbows, forearms, wrists and palms relax. Release the knee-pressure and notice the increase in tension on the elbows, forearms, and wrists.
By squeezing the tank and freeing up the arms and hands, you no longer have unwanted (and often unconscious) opposing muscles binding and tying up your steering inputs.
Key Thought: Learn ‘Push-Pull’ steering. We know that countersteering is the most precise and reliable way to control the amount of chassis-lean; leaning is what causes the motorcycle to actually turn, and we control lean with countersteering. The basic template for countersteering is to press forward on the handgrip that is on the same side as our intended direction-change – Press forward on right handgrip, lean right, turn right. Push-pull steering requires the rider to also pull BACK on the opposite (or high-side) handgrip. Using push-pull steering prevents the off-side forearm and wrist from unconsciously applying the unwanted forward pressure on the high-side handgrip, unwanted pressure that again, slows and binds the steering inputs and creates that feeling that ‘it won’t turn!’ Push-pull steering enables almost effortless ‘power-steering’ cornering, particularly when combined with inward knee-pressure on the tank.
Key Thought: Experiment with body-steering. While countersteering ultimately controls how much the motorcycle turns, body-steering can improve how QUICKLY it will turn. Body-steering can include leaning the torso inside the vertical plane of the bike’s chassis (Forward and In), as well as using the inner surface of the outside knee to ‘push’ the bike down and into a lean, and foot-peg steering, where the rider presses down on the inside footpeg as lean is initiated. These three basic body-steering movements, or any combination of these, should be applied at the point of turn-in, the spot on the roadway where the rider decides to initiate a crisp, precise lean for turning. Alternatively, the torso may be positioned inside the bike – think about moving your chin about 4”-6” towards the inside mirror or handgrip – before lean is initiated. Experiment with both torso-movements.
Body-steering can improve how quickly the rider can make the bike turn, or turn in; however, the posture basics above should always be applied during body-steering.
Key Thought Summary: Many riders will find that controlling the torso with the knees, while utilizing push-pull steering, will reduce or eliminate the lack of cornering competence and confidence to the rider’s previously ‘weak-side.’
If you are one of those riders who sometimes struggle to make the thing turn – quickly, confidently and precisely – in one direction or another, MotoSafe suggests that you give these Key Thoughts a try. See what works for you, and you will most likely become more confident and competent while cornering – either way!