There’s something undeniably cool about seeing a skilled rider, mid-corner with their knee on the deck (on track, obviously) – and I couldn’t help but feel envious of other MCN staff members as they came back from track sessions with their sliders bearing the scars of the day.
As a recent sportsbike convert who had never ridden on track before, my knee-sliders were conspicuously clean by comparison. So, when the opportunity arose to take the MCN Fleet Honda CBR650R to the Circuit Based Training Knee-down School at Mallory Park, I didn’t need a second ask.
The afternoon started with a classroom session about cornering theory. Despite over 40 years' riding experience between the four of us, there were some surprising gaps in our knowledge about how a bike goes around a corner.
With our heads bursting, we rode out to the small section of the circuit used for our training before putting our sidestands down to practice body position. Our instructor, Sean Hayes, manhandled us into the correct position for a left hander.
I couldn’t believe how far off the bike he was positioning me. It seemed far beyond the point I’d normally be on my bike – and felt completely alien.
After three or four laps I still felt nowhere near skimming Tarmac with slider but I got a hand signal from Sean indicating I was actually very close. With renewed determination, I gave it slightly more throttle on the approach and tipped it in as hard as I dared. Apparently, it was hard enough.
Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t my knee that hit the deck but the footpeg’s hero blob. So rather than feeling elated, I had to double check I didn’t need a change of underwear.
At this point, Sean brought everyone to a halt for some feedback. If I was going to get my knee down, he explained, I’d need to hang off a little more meaning the bike would turn in tighter and I was going to run out of track in the inside of the turn.
This was the first time I can remember, in any vehicle tuition in my life, being told to go faster. And it only took a couple more laps before I heard that satisfying scrape of slider on asphalt.
Everything seemed to fall into place after that, and I suddenly felt confident to drag a knee at will on every lap. And I don’t mind telling you, it felt incredible. In my mind, I was channelling Rossi, Marquez and Stoner, I felt like a hero, should I have been a bike racer? Have I missed my calling? Well, no.
Next it was time to reverse the lap to baptise our right sliders, and I went from Pirro to zero in a heartbeat. Sean had warned that most riders favour turning one way or the other. He was right.
The first few laps were soul-destroying, like I’d never turned right in my life. I dabbed a footpeg one lap, then I over-egged the turn-in and had a little excursion across the grass. In the end I headed to the allotted ‘safe area’ to have a quiet little word with myself.
Then, as if by magic (Ok, it was actually after a chat with Sean), right handers started to make sense, too. I wouldn’t say that I got the hang of it with the same natural fluidity and grace as the lefts, but I felt confident enough.
With two defaced sliders, and grinning from ear to ear, I headed for home – conscious that crashing on the way back would only ever be construed one way in the office.
The most unexpected outcome of the day – and the biggest reason I’d recommend attending – was the way I felt riding on the road afterwards. Newly-aware of how far the bike could be pushed in a turn and feeling more comfortable moving my weight around, I found I was taking corners more quickly than before – yet felt miles away from the limit and with dramatically more control, like I had all the time in the world to assess the road ahead.
This, Sean says, is the underlying reason for running the sessions in the first place. "Maybe 9/10 people manage to get their knee down on the day,” he explains. “And we’ve had a few who have come back for another go (for half the price) and managed it then.
"I don’t really care whether people get their knee down or not, as long as they leave here a better rider afterwards. It’s called knee down school, and getting your knee down is a laugh but really it’s a cornering school and getting your knee down is just part of it."
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MCN Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves takes us through the steps to ruining your knee sliders.
1: Get in the right position
The ideal mid-corner body position on a bike is with one bum cheek on the seat, your outside thigh gripping the tank and knee pointing forward. Your upper body should be forward over the tank and mid-corner your head and shoulders should be off the bike with your inner arm bent and outside arm straight. Foot position is important, you need your inside foot to be on its toes while the outside can be flat on the peg. A lot of riders reach for the ground with their knee, this isn’t necessary if you get your body position correct.
2: Keep hanging off
It’s common for riders to try and get back into the middle of the seat too quickly after the apex of a corner, unsettling the bike on the exit. Resist the temptation and stay hanging off the side of the bike as long as possible. Unless you’re at a track with a very long start/finish straight you will hardly spend any time in the middle of the bike.
3: Keep the throttle closed
Road riders often accelerate through a corner, however on track you want to enter the corner on a closed throttle so you need to increase your corner entry speed. The bike will also turn more easily on a closed throttle.
4: Roll through the bends faster
Rolling through the corner on a closed throttle will mean you carry more corner speed and you may need to select a higher gear than usual. If you can master all of these points, you’ll be getting your knee down in no time.
It's worth bearing in mind that getting your knee down won't automatically make you faster. Don't fixate on it, or you might end up using poor technique and actually go slower.
Top tips overview: How to get your knee down
- Toe on inside peg, flat-footed on the outside
- Move inside bum cheek off the seat
- Keep inside arm ‘soft’ and point elbow towards the floor
- Outside arm straight, pushing the bike away from you
- Lean forward and move head towards your inside hand, to the outside of the screen
- The more you move your head and shoulders in towards the corner, the easier it is to get your knee down
- If you’re reaching for the corner with your knee and riding ‘twisted’ it will never happen
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