How do you corner a motorcycle faster like the top riders? Our guide outlines the simple physics and how to corner faster and smoother on a motorbike.
For many riders, corners and curves are the ultimate reason to ride a motorcycle at all. In equilibrium between centrifugal forces and gravity, held by the grip of the tires, swinging weightlessly through alternating curves… that’s what makes motorcycling so special.
Safe enjoyment of the dynamic driving experience “curve” will help the understanding of the physical relationships that work to to corner a motorcycle faster. A motorcycle initially amazes beginners with the fact that the steering feels completely different depending on the speed.
Motorcycle cornering technique, visual guidance, driving tips
The steering feels smoother and smoother with increasing speed, because various forces counteract the initiation of cornering. The inertia pushes straight ahead, the gyroscopic forces of the wheels resist the desired change in position, the centrifugal force always pulls towards the outside of the curve and the restoring torque of the front wheel resulting from the caster also wants to go straight ahead. This is all the greater, the more rake the front wheel has, i.e. the flatter the fork is. Example: the chopper… we really have to force the machine out of the straight ahead into the curve. The higher the speed, the more force we need to do this.
Driving straight ahead: The steering impulse is mostly unconsciously to the right before a left turn, whereupon the overturning moment introduced by the tire lateral force tilts the motorcycle and the driver to the left. The greater the steering impulse / steering angle, the more abruptly the machine folds into an inclined position.
As long as we ride slowly, at walking pace for example, we have to counteract the tendency of the two-wheeler to tip over by making small steering movements in the direction in which the motorcycle wants to tip and by shifting our body weight in the other direction.
Experts can achieve more stability in this unstable equilibrium by using the foot brake, with which they “stretch” the machine and drive against the slipping clutch at speed slightly over idle. With a little practice, two kilometers per hour are no rocket science. Turning slowly to the right of course also means steering to the right.
15 degrees incline
15 degrees incline: With this slight incline, the handlebar is turned far. Usually you have to work with counter pressure on the inside of the handlebar grip. The tire contact point is off-center and would like to turn the steering inwards – with the result that the motorcycle would straighten out of the lean position.
From a speed between 20 and 30 km / h, the driving stability is sufficient to no longer have to balance. Nevertheless, the motorcycle drives imperceptible serpentine lines, caused or exacerbated by countless influences such as bumps, cross winds, dragging other cars, a sloping road or longitudinal grooves, for example in front of a traffic light. We constantly correct the smaller ones through more or less unconscious steering movements, the larger ones we have to consciously compensate for by counter-steering.
30 degrees incline
With an incline of 30 degrees you are on the safe side on dry roads: the cornering forces are easily enough to compensate for the centrifugal force. The tire contact point moves further inward over the tread as the incline increases.
When initiating a cornering, we steer in the opposite direction. If the driver steers to the left, the motorcycle tips to the right, and vice versa. It sounds more plausible like this: We always push (or press) the handlebar end on the side forward (not down!) Into which we want to ride. Rule of thumb: press left, corner left; press right, corner right. Of course, you can also pull the handlebars on the left to turn right. But why make it so complicated?
50 degrees incline and more
An incline of 50 degrees and more are possible because modern sports tires interlock in the asphalt. The steering angle and thus the steering forces are now reduced, and the driver has reached what is known as force-neutral cornering. Centrifugal force and gravity are balanced.
The fact that we keep our motorcycle on course with very little steering deflection around the central position, except when turning at walking pace, is noticed at the latest when the steering head bearing is worn and engages in the central position. Then driving feels staggering and unsafe. A bearing that is set too tightly or a steering damper that is too stiff can have a similar effect.
Motorcyclists usually give the steering impulse to initiate cornering completely unconsciously. Using it consciously not only helps when changing lean angles quickly, but also when swerving, even and especially when cornering. The driver’s weight shift has a supportive effect, but only the steering impulse lets the motorcycle dip into the lean position exactly then and exactly as far as we want. And it gives you a very confident feeling to control the motorcycle with it – we promise!
Motorcycle types in a lean angle comparison
The height of the center of gravity also has a major influence on the driving characteristics to corner a motorcycle faster. You can tell when maneuvering: Three different machines require different inclines on the same test circular path at 50 km / h, although theoretically 40.5 degrees is sufficient for each motorcycle.
Motorcycles with a high center of gravity are harder to balance. A high center of gravity also makes the machine more wobbly when driving, because the whole system is more unstable and reacts faster. A high center of gravity also ensures that the motorcycle becomes more unstable when braking and accelerating; it tends to increase the front (wheelie) or rear wheel (stoppie). What is needed is a successful compromise between driving stability and handiness.
Tires play an important role. The wider they are, the more lean a motorcycle needs in the curve, because the larger the width, the more the tire contact area moves towards the inside of the curve. In our drawings you can clearly see how much the necessary inclination for the same curve changes. In this context, it is easy to understand that insufficient air pressure has a negative effect, especially when cornering. The increased flexing of the tire increases the steering force significantly, the steering precision deteriorates and wear increases. Therefore you should check the air pressure – the cold tires – regularly.
Consciously use steering impulse to corner a motorcycle faster
Motorcyclists usually give the steering impulse to initiate cornering completely unconsciously. Using it consciously not only helps when changing lean angles quickly, but also when swerving, even and especially when in a curve to corner a motorcycle faster. The steering impulse initiates the leaning angle.
The driver’s weight shift has a supportive effect, but only the steering impulse lets the motorcycle dip into the lean position exactly when and exactly as far as we want to corner a motorcycle faster. And it gives you a very confident feeling to control the motorcycle with it – we promise!
The inclined position results – and now it gets a little complicated – from a balance between centrifugal force acting in the center of gravity and acting gravity. The faster we drive, the more lean angle is necessary for cornering. This is counteracted by the rolling resistance on the front wheel, because it turns a curve, which is why the machine tends to straighten up; an effect that we especially feel when we have to brake at the front in an inclined position. The violent righting moment will ruin our line if we do not hold against it with a strong pressure on the handlebar end.
Braking to help corner a motorcycle faster
When entering a curve, the first thing to do is to assess the possible cornering speed and to brake if necessary.
The driver has to compensate for this phenomenon by counter-steering. In our driving tests, the required counter-steering force of up to 250 Newtons (corresponds to approx. 25 kilograms) at a 12-degree incline resulted.
This braking process should ideally be completed before turning. Why? Because the tire contact patch moves out of the center in an inclined position, this results in a lever arm. Together with the braking force, this lever arm generates a steering torque, which causes the machine to stand up if the driver does not counter it with the appropriate force. We have to counter it with a strong pressure on the inside of the handlebar. Only when we let go of the brake will the machine swish around the bend without exerting increased effort, to corner a motorcycle faster.
At least now it will become clear whether we are in the right gear. If you steer in too small a gear, you will be additionally braked by the high speed and the braking torque of the motor. The motorcycle may therefore be too slow before the apex of the curve and the driver has to correct it by accelerating or straightening up. If the gear is too high, the engine brake is missing, we have to stay on the brake longer or further down in an inclined position than planned. If you do not do that, the centrifugal force drives the motorcycle out of the lane in a wide arc, in other words: into oncoming traffic or into the ditch – where nobody really wants to go.
Turning in and rolling to corner a motorcycle faster
When turning in, it is important that we direct our eyes towards the exit of the curve so that our eyes can pull us through the curve to corner a motorcycle faster.
During the following rolling phase, no noticeable peripheral forces (braking or acceleration) are effective. If you have overdone it with the lean angle, most motorcycles slip over the front wheel first. But don’t worry, modern tires are in perfect shape – at operating temperature and on non-slip asphalt – inclines of up to 50 degrees or more.
Most motorcycles give clear warning signals well in advance because they scratch the asphalt with footrests, stands or exhausts. And many motorcyclists don’t dare to go down that far – after all, humans are genetically programmed only for inclines of up to 20 degrees. In order to achieve a more lean angle, all that helps is practice and training.
There are heated discussions among motorcyclists about this point as well as about the right choice of line. One often hears this recipe: From the apex or shortly after it is accelerated.
Since the apex is not always clearly visible, another criterion is more suitable: From the point at which I can see the end of the curve, I can also accelerate. Until I know what to do next, I just have to wait, that is, to extend the roll phase. From this requirement it inevitably follows that I have to choose my route in traffic so that I can see as much as possible as early as possible, without crossing in oncoming traffic, of course.
Push, lay or hang?
This technique to corner a motorcycle fasteroriginally comes from the track.
Push: The driver remains relatively upright, the motorcycle is pushed down with the handlebars. Hip bend (or, in extreme cases, slipping over your buttocks, as above) and tight knees help. This works well to corner a motorcycle faster in tight bends and serpentines, with quick changes of course or evasive maneuvers. Ideal for gravel roads and on loose or slippery surfaces, because the body’s center of gravity is above the tire contact area.
The classic lay: driver and machine form a line when tilted. Either with a firm knee or with a relaxed, sporty splayed knee, this driving style is suitable for all types of curves at any speed but also to corner a motorcycle faster. The direction of travel can be corrected very quickly, from laying down you can seamlessly switch to pressing in alternating curves. The relaxed sitting posture requires little strength. Also good to see here: the driver tilts his head in order to keep his horizon as straight as possible, his gaze goes towards the exit of the curve. The inclination is slightly less than when pressing.
Hang: this driving style is mainly used on the racetrack, where the further course of the route is known. With the same cornering speed, it requires less lean angle, but strength and a lot of practice. On the road, the weakened shape, leaning in with a lot of pressure on the front wheel, can help in many corners. Especially when you have to brake hard in an inclined position. Also good to see: In all three styles, man and machine require significantly more space than when driving straight ahead, most of all with hanging-off.
The optimal curve line to corner a motorcycle faster
If the basic skills of cornering, namely gaze guidance and steering impulse, have become second nature, you can start fine-tuning the curve line.
On racetracks, the shortest possible line is driven with the lowest possible incline and the highest possible speed, the so-called ideal line, using the entire lane. On the road we follow the so-called safety line. Sometimes it requires a more inclined position, but facilitates optimal viewing and keeps us away from oncoming traffic. Logical: the earlier we can see, the sooner we can turn in and hit the gas on a flat line. Ideally, the speed at the exit of the curve is higher than at the entrance.
Tips for choosing the right line to corner a motorcycle faster
If I approach a curve too tightly, so I turn in too early, I not only see the further course and possible oncoming traffic unnecessarily late, the too flat line in combination with high speed can also bring me dangerously close to oncoming traffic.
Getting your head over the line in left-hand bends because the bike becomes as wide as a car when tilted, at best leads to unattractive dangling, at worst to evasive falls or a collision. The continuation of this wrong line choice leads straight to the opposite lane in the next right-hand bend.
To the right we are just as wide, of course, and have to keep a distance from the rock face or the delineator post. On narrow, confusing bends, however, we often have no choice but to stay far to the right and drive slowly.
The picture shows an almost classic problem curve: The course of the road cannot be seen for the most part, which is why a car or motorcycle can appear unexpectedly – uncomfortable to dangerous when you cut the curves. So-called undercutting of the curves is therefore better, especially since you always have to expect that a driver in oncoming traffic will cut the S-curve and, in the worst case, come along on the wrong side of the road. If we have then cut the curve ourselves, our chances are extremely slim.Illustration:
However, if you cut into the curve, the motorcycle must drive the greatest incline at the exit of the curve, if you do not want to go on a collision course with possible oncoming traffic.
In the case of undercutting, however, the apex is later. You can see better around the bend and can therefore accelerate much earlier on the flatter line, which more than makes up for the slightly slower cornering speed.
In alternating curves, the advantage of undercutting comes into play even more, because the apex, which is set late in the right-hand bend, allows the following left-hand bend to be approached from far outside.
The driver on the wrong line \is pushed in the direction of the opposite lane, and he has to turn hard from an extremely unfavorable position for the following left turn. A liquid, round line cannot be made with it.
You should avoid these mistakes
Fear of leaning. The result: the curve radius ends on the opposite lane. Most frequent cause: insufficient training in tilting and incorrect gaze guidance. Tip: If it gets really tight, force the motorcycle through the bend using the “push” driving style, and look at the road in the direction of the exit from the bend.
Freezing on the brake. The problem: too late, panic-like braking into a corner from high speed, the brake is not released at the turn-in point, the motorcycle refuses to turn and drives off the lane. Intensive training under professional guidance helps here. And cornering ABS, which always allows just enough brake pressure that the grip is still enough and the motorcycle remains largely on track.Illustrations: MüllerToo fast and / or not sloping enough into the curve? It can end in pain.
Rushed overtaking attacks. Pushing past a car on the last groove before the next winding curve is extremely dangerous. The better solution: pull over to the right, take a little break, then relax and surf the curve slope.
Leaking telescopic forks or shock absorbers. Poor cushioning can dramatically worsen road contact. Replace defective components or have them repaired.
Insufficient tire grip. Only tires with good grip allow crisp lean angles. In addition, the tread depth and air pressure must be correct.
Insufficient ground clearance due to slack spring elements. Massive components such as the frame, engine housing and manifold system can mercilessly lever out the bike. Possible remedy: change the chassis setting (increase the spring base and possibly the compression damping).
External circumstances. Rain, traces of oil, new road surfaces or bitumen strips are potential sources of danger.
Correct curve line
Not only when it gets tight, but at the latest then everyone should remember the mantra of guiding their eyes: look in the direction of the exit of the curve, steering impulse, push down! In principle, the following applies: wherever we look, we go. Look far ahead and direct your gaze to where you want to go, i.e. the right lane, not the forest or possibly the guardrail. With the right eye there are the best chances of getting around the corner unscathed.
And what if we do have to brake in full banking in the middle of the curve? Is it because we have miscalculated, are too far inside or outside, an obstacle blocks the planned path or dirt on our lane makes another line necessary? Then everything has to happen very quickly. The foot brake is taboo, the dynamic shifting of the wheel load would cause the rear wheel to break away too quickly. The means of choice is the handbrake, which we put on carefully, never jerkily, but with great force. Now it depends on whether we have room straight ahead and want or have to stop completely, then we can straighten the motorcycle with a brief steering impulse and come to an upright stand.
If, on the other hand, we want to or have to stay in lane, perhaps not even braking to a standstill, then a strong pressure on the inside of the handlebars keeps the bike in the lane and thus on the road. Here again, eye guidance is important. If we want to straighten up and come to a standstill straight ahead as in the first example, then our gaze must be directed straight out of the curve. If we want to stay in lane, logically our view remains in the direction of the exit of the curve.
Provided there is a good grip, you can decelerate properly when braking in an inclined position. However, we have to apply the brakes very sensitively, which is best practiced during safety training. The dosage depending on the incline could be done by a modern ABS cornering.
There is yet another opportunity that we can use braking and steering at the same time, depending on the situation: when swerving during emergency braking. The latest studies by the Institute for Two-Wheeler Safety (ifz) with 100 volunteer test drivers have clearly shown that a lane offset – perhaps saving – can be achieved even during emergency braking with a strong steering impulse. Here, too, good visual guidance helps, as does an experienced use of steering impulse technology.
No leaning without liability
Grip describes the adhesion potential between the tire and the road. So that this connection can transmit as much force as possible, the more or less soft rubber must be able to interlock in the more or less deep pores of the asphalt. A clear goal in tire development: the best possible “grip” on wet and dry roads, and that in as many temperature ranges and road surfaces as possible.
Modern rubber compounds guarantee safe wheel guidance even at low temperatures. Because if the rubber compound were too hard and brittle in the cold – this is called glass behavior – the small peaks of the asphalt (technical term: micro-roughness) would not interlock with the rubber, and the adhesion would be less. The warmer and therefore more visco-elastic the tire becomes, the deeper the asphalt tips can dig into the rubber.jkuenstle.deModern rubber compounds guarantee safe wheel guidance even at low temperatures.
However, the tire only has the right grip when it glides over the teeth in the asphalt with a slight slippage, i.e. minimal slipping. In the process, the rubber deforms and then only returns to its original shape with a delay (technical term: rubber hysteresis). This can be clearly understood if you press the thumbnail into a warm sports tire: the impression of the nail remains for a certain time.
The road surface has a more or less good coefficient of friction, depending on its condition, which is designated by the quantity µ (read: Mü) and has an influence on possible lean angles and braking distances. On country roads, the grip can be better in spring than in autumn, because over the winter the small water inclusions in the road surface, especially in the round stones, break open due to the frost and form fine points. Once the salt and dust are thoroughly rinsed out, the tires can interlock very efficiently in these roughened surfaces.
Unfortunately, in busy bends, the car tires polish these tips smooth over the course of the summer, which again worsens the grip.
Asphalt structures under the microscope
The so-called micro – roughness , the surface roughness of which is between 0.001 and 0.1 millimeters, significantly improves adhesion, especially when it is wet. The macro-roughness, on the other hand, has a depth of between 0.1 and 10 millimeters and above all improves the coarse interlocking between tires and asphalt on dry roads.Illustration: Müller; Photos: MOTORRAD archiveRough is not always rough. The depth of the roughness in the asphalt is crucial.
Soft rubber compounds can interlock perfectly in the rough race track surface. In addition, the water seeps into the depressions when it is wet.
Even the grippy asphalt road offers by the microroughness best conditions for the speedy and safe cornering.
The smooth road asphalt with the round polished stones should be treated with caution when it rains; such coatings are often found in Mediterranean countries.
In road construction, extremely smooth surfaces are only found on lane markings such as zebra crossings; the asphalt there is painted or covered with plastic. Especially when it is wet, such road markings are very dangerous; they can become almost as slippery as ice.
The tire – an underrated genius
The tire contact area creates the contact between the road and the motorcycle. The sketch shows a 180 mm sports tire with a pointed tire contour at a lean angle of 48 degrees.
The cornering force of the tire results from approximately 38 cm² of contact area. It should also be taken into account that usually only part of this area is in complete contact with the ground. Tires that are too cold do not mesh with the road.
If tire temperatures are too low, special rubber compounds, for example for sports use, can lead to glass behavior: The rubber is then too hard to interlock with the rough surface (blue).
Only when the temperature rises does the warm tread of the tire (red) form an almost form-fitting contact with the road.