Cornering can be the most challenging and enjoyable aspect of motorcycle riding. If done correctly you will feel confident, in control of your machine, able to make good progress and get a clear view of the road ahead. If done badly you will have some of the scariest moments of your riding career. Poor cornering ability is responsible for most bike accidents which do not involve other vehicles. Enter a corner too fast, grab the brakes mid corner when you realize you can't make it and you're well on your way to a visit to the ditch and possibly the local Emergency Room. What makes a good corner? Ideally you should be able to take the line you want, make smooth progress without braking and be able to react to any potential hazards.
What makes a bad corner? Braking mid corner, running wide, deviating from your preferred line or braking traction are all symptoms of poor cornering technique.
Before going into the techniques you can use to improve your cornering ability, it is worth going over the basics of traction (grip). It is essential that you maintain grip throughout your cornering maneuver as it highly likely that that a skid or slide will result in a spill.
Any moving object carries momentum, when you change the direction of an object, it's momentum will want to carry it in the direction it was traveling. On your motorcycle the force of the engine and the grip of your tires is the only thing making you turn. Too much momentum against too little grip will result in a slide. The following lists some factors which will affect your grip:
Surface conditions - Rain, grease, ice, paint, mud, oil etc., will all reduce tire grip, as will a poor road surface or worn out tires.
Balance - Changing the balance of your bike during the corner will cause the force to shift on your tires. Braking will cause the force to move towards the front, accelerating will move it to the rear. Too much of either will result in a slide.
Angle - The camber of the road and the amount you lean the bike over will determine the area of the tire you use and ultimately how much grip you will get.
Your tires are only capable of providing a limited amount of grip, you have to decide how you want to use it. If you need too much for braking, you'll have less available for Accelerating and Cornering. If you are running out of cornering grip, braking will increase your chances of loosing traction. Also too much braking will compress the forks and make it harder to steer.
Judging the severity of the turn
The severity of the turn will ultimately determine your approach speed, but it is not always obvious from the entry point how severe the turn is. Here are some points which will help you decide: Road Signs - Most roads will have some sort of warning sign indicating the severity of the turn look for this and any warnings painted on the road. These will give the most obvious indication of the severity . Vanishing Point - As you approach the bend find the point where, according to your eye, the two sides of the road join ‘the vanishing point’ if this seems to be getting closer to you, the turn is tightening up, if it is moving away from you, the turn is opening out.
Other Vehicles - Are vehicles ahead of you braking hard as they enter the corner? Are vehicles coming the other way moving slowly? If the answer is yes, the corner may be more severe than you think.
You should also understand the vertical factors such as cambers and hills which affect a turn. A banked bend and an incline has the effect of reducing the severity, while adverse camber or decline increases it.
The basic approach
Throughout the cornering maneuver you should constantly seek information about the changing situation which may require you to react. At each stage think about the potential hazards that can occur and how you might manage them. Constantly ask yourself ‘can I stop safely if I need to?’ - Always expect an oncoming car with two wheels in your lane, just around the turn.
As you approach the corner adopt the most appropriate position. When choosing your position, consider in order your safety, stability and information (view) needs, when determining the best position. Resist the temptation to smooth the bend too early as this will impact your view and limit your options.
Speed - Aim to settle your entry speed in good time, remember slow in = fast out. This will allow you to gather information as you prepare to round the bend and keep the power on around the bend, which will improve your stability. Use the vanishing point to check that your speed remains appropriate, if it moves within your safe stopping distance, you'll need to slow down, if it moves away you may speed up.
Gear - Selecting the appropriate gear will have a huge impact on your control as you take the bend. Choose an appropriate gear that will allow you to adapt. If the bend tightens, you'll need to slow down. If you have selected a low gear you'll be able to engine brake to wash off speed. This will affect the stability of your bike much less than applying the brakes.
Accelerate - As you reach the end of the corner (vanishing point moves away) and providing it is safe, smoothly roll the power back on as you bring your bike upright continue to accelerate until you reach the desired speed or other conditions apply. As soon as the bend hazards have past, start searching for the next hazard, resist the temptation to power out of the bend, as there may be a speed limit change or another bend ahead.
Keep the power on slightly as you round the turn, to counter the effect of the turn and maintain your bike's stability. Keep your head up and physically look where you want to go, this will help you put the bike where you want it to be and the position will feel more natural. If you stare at the edge of the road, that's where you'll end up.
Avoid using the brakes when cornering If you need to slow down use engine braking, if that is not enough then apply brakes with caution, you do not want to exceed the traction limit.
Keep your arms loose and your weight off the bars, as this will increase your control. If you press down slightly on the pegs you'll find the steering becomes a lot lighter and the bike will be more responsive.
Use Counter Steering to initiate the turn - Counter Steering is steering the bike in the opposite direction.