Smooth, Fast and Safe Cornering

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

By far the most enquiries I get are from people who want to improve their cornering. Usually the problems they have are caused because they don't have a consistent approach to bends so they are either too slow or they panic around a high number of the corners which detracts from the joy of riding.

The starting point is to remember that cornering on the road is very different to cornering on a track. On a racetrack the bends are consistent, smooth, free of debris and traffic so you can take the same line and speed every time you ride them. On a road the story is very different so you need a systematic approach to every corner.

The starting point of every bend is observation. You need to look at the corner and assess it like it's a new bend every time. The fact you've ridden it 100 times doesn't mean the conditions will be the same this time; there may be new gravel, it may have been raining, there may be a broken down truck just past your line of vision etc. That doesn't mean ignore local knowledge, remember you're assessing what you can see, what you can't see and what you can reasonably expect to happen, but don't assume anything until you've seen it with your own eyes.

As always, the priority on the road is safety so that takes precedence over everything. Your line and speed is dictated primarily by what is safe; if there's debris, junctions or a car coming the other way, you need to take that into account and adjust your line or speed or probably both.

In the absence of any safety issues, your next priority is to position the bike for view. This is so that you can see as far as possible through the bend to get as much warning about what you're riding into. This is explained in more detail in this article but in general it's the left side of the road for a right hand bend (position 1 (line A in the image)) and the right side for a left hand bend (position 3). You should stay in this position, assuming it's still safe, until you can see the exit of the bend; tipping in to the apex like you're on a racetrack (line B in the image) is not the safe line for the road.

On approach, it is better to enter the bend with the bike in a neutral configuration with the weight evenly balanced on both wheels as this gives you more options if you need to slow down, speed up or steer should something unexpected appear in front of you. To achieve this, you can slow down using acceleration sense, which means rolling off the throttle to smoothly slow your bike down and set the correct speed for the corner. This is only possible if the bike is in a responsive gear i.e. in the middle third of the rev range; if the gear is too high then rolling off the throttle won't slow you down. However, this doesn't mean slowing down by changing gear as that causes other problems. If acceleration sense won't slow you down, because you've not planned early enough or it's a very sharp bend after a long straight, there's nothing wrong with braking but make sure it's done early, using both brakes and you give the bike plenty of time to settle back to neutral weight distribution before you enter the corner.

A common issue is that people brake into every corner, especially if they have trained on a track, without a system for knowing how hard or long to brake. They then also find it hard to steer into the corner as the weight of their bike is on the front wheel which is now more likely to wash out as you turn in; a lowside. Trail braking, where you don't release the front brake until you're already in the bend, has some supporters but I believe it is difficult to master, offers little benefit and heightens risk so isn't suitable for road riding.

Deciding the correct speed to approach the corner is simpler than it sounds. In previous articles I have stressed the importance of always being able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road; this also helps with deciding how quickly to enter a bend. The furthest you can see ahead with an uninterrupted view of the road ahead is called the limit point, sometimes referred to as the vanishing point.

As you approach the bend, if the limit point isn't moving and the amount of road you can see is getting less, then you need to slow down by rolling off the throttle. As it starts to move at the same speed as you, maintain your current speed. As it moves away from you and more road opens up, then you can accelerate. In tight bends, that may be a large variation in speed so you may need to change gear but remember you change speed first and then match the gear to the speed; don't change gear to slow down. Remember gears are for going not slowing!

Now your throttle is balanced and is constantly adjusting your speed to the amount of road in front of you, you will also need to adjust the amount of power for lean angle and gradient. As you turn into a bend, by pushing the inside bar away from you and counter steering, you will need to add some throttle to maintain speed as your bike is now doing two things with the same power setting; riding and steering. If you don't then the bike will slow down and the weight will transfer to the front wheel and make the steering input harder. This isn't acceleration but is a positive throttle setting simply to maintain speed. You will need more or less throttle if the bend is uphill or downhill and sometimes steep downhill bends may need some rear brake to keep the bike's speed down, if rolling off the throttle isn't enough

In summary, every bend on the road should be approached using the system of motorcycle control:

a. Information Use as many clues as possible to assess the bend's severity and any all seen or unseen hazards. This analysis should continue throughout the whole ride; taking, using and giving information.

b. Position Choose a position based on the principles in strict priority order:

  1. Safety - keep away from any actual or potential hazard

  2. View - maximise your view of the road ahead

  3. Speed/Straight - keep the bike as upright and in as straight a line as possible

c. Speed Using acceleration sense where possible, ensure that you can stop the bike in the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road and use the limit point to determine your speed. Remember to add positive throttle to maintain your speed in the bend.

d. Gear If your speed changes so that the gear is no longer responsive (i.e. falls roughly into the bottom or top third of the rev range) then change gear to match your speed.

e. Accelerate As the limit point starts to move away from you and the view opens up then increase your speed back to the safe and legal level for the road.

If you want to improve your cornering or learn new techniques for safe riding, such as braking, observations, anticipation, limit point analysis, overtaking slow speed control and any other aspects of riding then I would recommend reading Motorcycle Roadcraft.

Better still, you can take training with Roadcraft Australia who will tailor a course based on your current skill level and the aspects of riding you wish to improve. Click here for more riding tips or to make a booking on the Facebook page click on the logo below.

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