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Six steps to confident cornering

Published: 07 May 2016

Updated: 18 April 2016

Breeze round bends, shimmy through chicanes – here’s your plan for confident cornering

veryone wants to be better at going round corners – but many riders are held back by lack of confidence. A superb way to build it is with tuition – either on the road, as part of a trackday or at a track-based training school – where an instructor will help to unlock the skills of cornering. Trouble is, that costs money. Surely there should be a way to help yourself practise better cornering?

Well, there is – and this is it. We’ve developed a six-step plan for more confident cornering. Inspired by old-fashioned self-help books, where repeating a sentence triggers a positive thought, we’ve got six phrases for you to remember. Read how the six simple steps work and then, when you’re riding, mutter the trigger phrases to yourself. You’ll remember exactly what to do and you’ll be cornering with confidence in no time.

1. Elbows down, chin up
The way you sit on the bike affects control. Sitting upright, taking your weight through your arms may be alright on straight roads but it’s not good for cornering. Make “elbows down, chin up” your mantra before you get to a bend.

For effective cornering, you should be leant forwards slightly with relaxed, bent arms. Elbows should be low, in line with the handlebars if possible. Keep a light grip on the handlebars and don’t lean on them to support your weight – you may need to gently grip the tank with your legs.

Don’t let your vision drop. Instead, tilt your head up and point your chin to the furthest bit of clear road you can see. As long as you keep your chin up, you’ll be able to see well ahead.

2. When am I turning?

Keep asking yourself this question. As soon as you see a bend ahead – and you’ll see every one in plenty of time if you’ve kept your chin up – start to prepare for the corner. That means moving the bike over to the left of your lane for a right-hand bend or in the centre for a left-hander.

How far over do you go? Only as far as you feel comfortable. By spotting the corner and setting it up early, you have time to make preparations. If there’s a chewed-up surface on the left, don’t go too far out there. If there’s oncoming traffic in the other lane, don’t get too close to the central white line.

A wide position has several benefits – but the main one is the improved view it gives and the confidence this brings.

3. Sort the gears

With a proper look at the corner, it’s time to adjust the speed. You can start to slow as you move into position, but it’s better to separate the tasks: get into position early, then adjust your speed. Braking should be progressive – gently on, build pressure, ease off smoothly. The key is to finish any braking while still travelling in a straight line. You do not want to still be on the brakes when you start to tip the bike into the corner. 

If you can smoothly manage the speed on the throttle, that’s ideal – and that’s the point of this stage. Sort the speed and get into the right gear: go down to an appropriate lower gear for riding through and out of the corner. So once you’ve scrubbed speed off with the brakes, go down a gear. Again, this is best done with the bike in a straight line as it will be smoother, then you’ll be free to concentrate on turning into the
corner without trying to change gear
at the same time.

The reason our prompt command emphasises gears, not brakes, is that you don’t want to go into the corner on the brakes and you don’t want to go in on a shut throttle either. You must never accelerate into a corner – that’s just about the most dangerous thing you can do – but you do want a slightly positive throttle. So after changing gear you should be able to open the throttle fractionally, not enough to accelerate but just enough to avoid slowing any further. This keeps the bike stable, transferring weight from the front tyre to the rear and increasing the feeling of control. Just be extremely cautious not to overdo it – remember, never accelerate into a corner.

4. Pegs!

A common confidence-sapper is turning into a corner too early. It can feel right – until the bike starts running out of road too quickly, heading for a hedge or an oncoming car. The trouble is, having seen the corner there’s a natural subconscious tendency to drift towards it, away from the wide position that gives a good view and a safe, sweeping line through the corner. Especially after you’ve devoted a second or two to braking and changing gear.

That’s where the quick check of “Pegs!” can help. Some regard this as just a track-riding technique, but it’s also a
road-riding technique that makes a huge difference to control – and confidence. It’s called peg-weighting and will work however you sit on the bike, but is most effective with the balls of the feet on the footpegs. 

If you’re drifting out of position after changing gear, just give a very gentle press on the outside peg (the left-hand one when approaching a right-hander, for instance). This will counter the tendency to creep in from the wide position. Maintain the pressure until you decide it’s time to turn, then press on the inside peg. The effect is subtle but pronounced.

5. Turn that head

Maintaining good vision ahead at all times is essential – particularly when coming up to a corner. Remind yourself to keep your chin up and twist your neck to look into and through the corner. Never look at anything on the outside of the turn – whether it’s a tree, an oncoming truck or even a field full of naked sunbathers – because you go where you look. So turn that head and keep looking to the bit of road where you want the bike to end up.

When you get a clear view all the way through the corner, that’s when you turn the bike. That’s the point when you transfer pressure from the outside footpeg to the inside one – but there’s much more you can do to turn the bike. 

Try pivoting your hips in the saddle slightly at the same time, as if pointing your crotch at the inside of the bend. This accentuates the pressure on the inside
peg, with the outside thigh pushing against the tank to help. 

Dip your inside shoulder into the corner and lean your upper body to that side, into the corner. We’re not talking about moving in the saddle – don’t do anything to unsettle yourself or the bike – just gently shift the upper body. Dipping the shoulder helps you turn your head, while leaning across so your chin goes from being in line with the centre of the clocks to in line with the brake (or clutch) master cylinder really helps the bike to turn. 

Then there are the handlebars. There’s no greater source of biking arguments than what’s variously called counter-steering, positive steering, active steering or, as we at RiDE prefer to think of it, steering. The simple fact is that whatever instructors
call it, the technique of putting pressure on the inside bar makes the bike turn into a corner. Don’t worry about the name: when you decide to turn, just give the inside bar a very gentle nudge. Don’t slam it, punch it, push it, shove it – just smoothly apply light, gentle pressure.

Find the way to turn the bike that works best for you. It’s not about trying to get big lean, just about being confident and happy with turning the bike. But – and this is easily the most important thing – don’t stop looking where you’re going. Keep your chin up, looking down the road and turn that head.

6. Drive, drive!

There’s a pleasing World War Two submarine-commander feel to the final stage, but this is where your hard work pays off as you tell yourself to “Drive, drive!”. From the midpoint of the corner you can start to very gently open the throttle to drive to the exit. If you sorted your gears well, entering the turn on a very slightly positive throttle, this will be effortlessly smooth. 

When the bike is leant over, you have to use small and steady throttle openings – don’t just whack it to full gas midcorner. However, you don’t need to ride out of the corner and pick the bike up before getting on the throttle. Opening the throttle will do two things: push the bike out of the corner on a widening line; and stand it up for you. 

By smoothly opening the throttle, you’ll start to steer the bike out of the corner. If the corner starts to tighten again, rolling off again will drop the bike safely back onto a tightening line. If the corner opens, continuing to accelerate will take the bike out of the turn. The key is that initial twist of the throttle: it must be smooth, it must be steady at first, and it must be at the appropriate time to put you on a good exit line. 

This is the pay-off for the preparation. Going into the corner in a good position, with the bike steady on a slightly positive throttle, turning well onto a good line, is what lets you drive smoothly and safely out. Use the verbal cues to bring it all together and you’ll be cornering with greater confidence.

Words Simon Weir  Pictures Rory Game

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