Are you leaning the right way?

By George Tranos

Everyone knows that a motorcycle must lean in order to turn. There are some people that don’t know which way their body should lean when the motorcycle leans. Let’s try and debunk some myths and learn some truths about leaning a motorcycle at various speeds.

Riding posture is an important element in riding properly. Having relaxed arms with a bend at the elbow and flat wrists with the knuckles above the wrist helps with good posture. Riding with arms straight out without bending the elbows makes it hard to turn. Some riders also slouch or lean back when they ride which creates straight arms. This also makes it difficult to control the throttle as any acceleration will throw the rider backwards. Leaning forward slightly will alleviate this. Correcting any improper posture will help with throttle and handlebar control.

Single track vehicles must lean to turn. At higher speed, a press on the handlebar in the direction of the turn initiates and adjusts lean. This process is called counter-steering. It is “counter” because in order to turn right, you press right. The front wheel is momentarily turned in the opposite direction (left) while the motorcycle banks to the right. Many riders believe that by leaning their body in the direction of the turn that they cause the motorcycle to lean. While this technique can help, it is the press forward or down on the handlebar in the direction of the turn that causes the motorcycle to lean. Some people say that by pressing that you unbalance the bike to cause it to fall into the turn. Once you are leaned, depending on the motorcycle you can relax the press and the motorcycle will stay leaned over. A further press will cause it to lean more or pressing in the other direction will cause it to straighten out (or lean the other way).

Counter-steering is the primary force used to turn a motorcycle and is used in regular cornering maneuvers and accident avoidance actions such as swerving. Swerving is a quick and forceful change of direction and recovery. In a swerve, you press in one direction to avoid a hazard and press back the other way to recover. You should keep your body upright when swerving, independent of motorcycle lean. This allows the motorcycle to move quickly from side to side beneath you.

When cornering at high speeds, you lean with the motorcycle. Racers and sport bike riders may lean more than their motorcycle leans. This provides you with more available lean angle. “Hanging off” the motorcycle allows the bike to corner faster as the motorcycle is more upright with the rider leaning further to the inside of the turn.

To confirm that all of this works, practice using your right hand to push and pull on the handlebars at a steady 20 miles-per-hour. You will notice that the bike will lean right when you press right and lean left when you pull back on the right handlebar. Pulling on the right handlebar has the same effect as pressing forward on the left handlebar (and visa-versa).

At low speeds, a motorcycle wants to fall over in a turn. It is in these (parking lot and U-turn) situations that you should lean your body in the opposite direction. This is called counter-weight or counter-balance and allows you to make a slow speed turn without falling over. Being at the right speed, with steady throttle and looking in the direction of the turn (by turning your head) will also help. Setting your speed with the rear brake and using the clutch’s friction zone can also assist you in low speed situations, but this is a subject for another time.

Knowing which way your body should lean depends on your speed and situation. Understanding how a motorcycle turns can help you be more in control, have more confidence and ride safely.

Leave a Reply