Riders who attend the Basic RiderCourse are introduced, often for the very first time, the understanding that there are two different types of techniques for turning a motorcycle. Which technique gets used depends upon several variables; however, to simplify matters, we can break it down to this:
- To Turn a Motorcycle below roughly 12 mph, use COUNTERWEIGHTING
- To Turn a Motorcycle above roughly 12 mph, use COUNTERSTEERING
This month, we’re going to explore slow speed turning technique, more formally known as counterweighting.
HANDLEBAR USE AT LOW SPEED
To turn a motorcycle at slow speed, the most crucial element is to turn the handlebar in the direction you want to go. This is called pro-steering. We are actually turning the wheel, via the handlebar, into the direction of the turn.
Have you ever felt locked up on the motorcycle and the handlebar didn’t want to turn? This is probably happening because the right arm is fighting the left arm and you’re in a feedback battle. How can you break the feedback loop? Simply tell one of your arms to relax completely. You may find it best to say, “Right arm relax; the left arm is going to do all the work.” Why would we want the right arm to relax? The throttle is easier to manage!
To understand why our right arm would battle the left arm, we need to identify the underlying root: VISION. Improper vision can prevent us from having the feeling like we can turn the handlebar farther. The farther we look behind us, the farther we’ll FEEL like we can turn the handlebar. The next most crucial element is to counterweight.
In essence, we will be countering the weight of the motorcycle. This requires us to move in the seat. Yes, the “sport” of motorcycling requires you being active in the saddle! Our upper body will be going towards the outside of the turn. So if we are trying to turn to the LEFT at slow speed, then our upper body moves to the RIGHT.
You may find it helpful to counterweight early, before you initiate the turn, so that you aren’t upsetting the motorcycle at the initiation or middle of the turn. Some posture elements to consider:
- Open the hips to the turn (can you see farther now?!)
- Open the chest to the turn; keep your chest tall and away from the turn
- Use your knee pressed against the outside of the tank
- You may feel additional weight on the outside foot peg
The more we lean the bike, the tighter the arc we can scribe. Once in the turn, to change the path of the arc we can manipulate lean angle and speed.
BUT WHAT ABOUT . . . .
You may be wondering why throttle, rear brake, and friction zone use hasn’t been mentioned at this point. The answer is that we as human beings are really good at doing one thing well and simultaneously two things okay. Any more items and we see a major degradation in performance until we are proficient at the first two items. We recommend building a really strong slow speed turning foundation that focuses on handlebar turn and counterweighting. Once a rider is proficient at those items, then add in elements like friction zone or rear brake usage (notice, we should NOT be using the front brake in low speed turns).
PRACTICE MAKES PROFICIENT
What can you do to turn better at low speed turns and maneuvers? Practice! Find a wide open parking lot and practice the two primary elements to low speed maneuvering: handlebar turn and counterweighting. Start with a large circle in one direction and feel the effects of shifting your weight to the outside of the turn. Gradually work on making the turn tighter and tighter. Once you perform well, go in the other direction. Finally, put the two turns back to back and work on transitioning quickly and seamlessly from one low speed turn to the next. Wash, rinse, and repeat; reads like hours of fun to us!
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