Cornering and leaning a motorcycle with confidence.

Many riders struggle with having the confidence to achieve higher lean angles on a motorcycle, which is the major issue we have to address at The School.

Modern tyres, given a reasonable surface, provide an extraordinary level of grip even in the wet – as long as you are smooth. You can usually lean a modern motorcycle until something scrapes – which should be the foot pegs – which then start to fold upwards. This gives you prior warning of leaning too far.

Everyone seems to have their own ‘pre set’ maximum lean angle over which they find it difficult to go. If you’ve cycled a lot, you will have probably found the limit of leaning a cycle, which is a lot less than a motorcycle due to a far higher centre of gravity.

If you’ve been riding motorcycles for many years, you would have started on tyres that had far less grip, and also likely to have come a cropper in the past when they have let go.

Many riders have serious accidents failing to make corners, particularly on left hand bends, when they could have, had they the necessary confidence. However, it’s not sensible to habitually use high lean angles on the road – this should be your safety margin.

So how cornering ‘pre sets’ be altered?

  • Firstly we’ve found that looking into the distance helps – eyes on main beam – and looking as far down the track as you can see. Keeping your head up seems to help.
  • Secondly relaxing, with a light grip on the bars, letting the steering make small corrections.
  • Thirdly, riding smoothly, making sure you change down before the corner into a lower gear, and don’t accelerate hard until the corner starts to open out, then opening the throttle smoothly.

We’ve also found that as riders increase their lean angles they then confuse the suspension compressing with the bike sliding, so need to get comfortable with this. It just takes some time and practise. This gives a false impression of the limit being reached. Once you get used to the bike dipping, it’s not a problem.

Riding on the road, you need to have completed your braking before you turn, unlike on a track where you trail the brakes deep into the corner. Again, this can provide some more safety margin on the road in an emergency, but again takes time and practise to master.

Tyre grip – the trade off between cornering and braking/accelerating

You can see from the drawing above, you can still have up to 45% of cornering grip available at 45 degrees of lean (dark green area) – but it dimishes rapidly after that – and still some some more grip available with care for accelerating or braking even at this angle (light green area). This is Mohr’s Circle of grip and assumes 60 degrees is the maximum lean angle.

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