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Defensive Riding, Machine Control, Mental, Progress, Steering

Too hot into a corner – what to do?

You’re into a corner too hot – what do you do?

Here’s a query I answered some time ago… it’s a repeating problem, as well as a hot topic of debate so it’s well worth a rewrite.

Say you realise that you haven’t taken enough speed off as you go into the corner. The bike is not in a “straight line” at that point so do you tap the back brake, roll off the throttle a bit?

Both of these I would have thought would change the weight/position and affect control as you go through the corner and you risk locking something up or going in a different direction – however if you don’t you also risk hitting the kerb, fence, wall of the corner so what do you do?

There’s a good deal of conflicting information about what to do at this point. Some instructors will say “don’t touch the brakes and lean the bike”, others will say “don’t touch the front but apply the rear”, yet others (me included!) will say “use both brakes but carefully” .

 

 

So who is right?

Good question – so rather than just say “me” , I’ll try to lead you, the reader, through my own thought processes to let you make up your own mind.

My first observation is that setting the bike (and rider) up for braking on the approach to a bend is the key to avoiding the situation in the first place…

…but the bottom line is that if we have already made the error, we have to do something to get out of trouble NOW! Being wise after the event is all very well but we have to survive the event first in order not to make it again! So simply saying we shouldn’t make the error in the first place is disengenuous to say the least!

My second observation is that hardly any bend accidents are down to riders hurtling into a 40mph bend at 80mph, they are down to a rider going into that 40mph bend at 50, 40 or even less than 40! Nor do riders often dramatically overshoot – many accidents happen when the rider runs wide by a matter of centimetres – either tangentially off the road or over the centre line into oncoming traffic.

My third observation, and this is confirmed by police accident studies over different decades and across different continents, is that the BIKE could have made it if the RIDER had given it the right input. It’s not a machine limitation we’re running up against, it’s a rider issue.

And so, fourth observation. These are “saveable” accidents if only the rider had applied done something. As we can do only two things on a bike, the rider must have failed to:

  • change speed
  • change direction

 

Can we avoid braking in a bend?

Ideally, we wouldn’t brake mid turn. That would be the perfect solution to an “in too fast” error.

With the right ‘defensive’ mindset we’d set ourselves up for braking upright on the approach, which means we could brake firmly – right up to locking point if necessary – and having identified our “in too fast” error we could easily lose any excess speed in a very short distance indeed whilst still approaching the bend.

And that’s one of the things I teach with what I call “Point and Squirt”; that we set the brakes up on the approach to a bend ready to apply them in case we detect a problem that requires a lower speed than we initially believed.

It may not satisfy the purists who suggest a good rider should be able control their speed with ‘throttle sense’ but the point is if things don’t go as planned for both riders, the rider who’s set the brakes up can ditch the excess speed with far less fuss than the rider who’s attempting to slow by rolling off the throttle, and the former is also better set to enter and negotiate the corner without the distractions of thinking “I’m going in too fast – what do I do?”

But even with defensive techniques on the approach, sometimes we STILL end up carrying too much speed for comfort into the corner… pragmatism says “we’ve made the mistake, we still need to get round” .

We have two choices:

  • steer and lean more
  • decelerate

Unless the road is physically blocked to further progress or the bend is tightening out of sight, adding lean angle by positive steering into the bend will always be my number one option.

What are my reason for this thinking? Many of the “running wide” accidents happen when the rider was ALMOST getting round the bend – if they’d just been able to add a bit more lean, they WOULD have made it.

99 times out of 100, the bike will have limits beyond that of the rider. Ask yourself – do you often ground a peg cornering? I can’t remember the last time I did that on a road with a modern bike! The only exceptions really are older machines that had wide engines and low frames (like my old 400-Four Honda and BMW twins) and some modern customs with limited ground clearance where the tyres out-perform the chassis.

It’s also positive pro-active response, and encourages us to look at the road, not at what we’re afraid of hitting.

 

No dice, we’re going to have to slow down

OK, so we didn’t get the speed off before the bend. And for some reason, just steering round it isn’t good enough either; there’s a more major problem ahead we can’t deal with by leaning, so it’s going to force us to slow.

I know sceptics who will say we shouldn’t put ourselves in that position. But sometimes it’s an honest mistake. I’m fallible, I get it wrong. Sometimes it’s forced on us by the road layout; can we anticipate ALL decreasing radius turns?

And even the best riders may be forced to slow by circumstances; what if there is a horse round the corner? Would you pass at speed just because you’ve been told you shouldn’t slow down mid-turn? Or would it be realistic to go into that bend at a speed that anticipates slowing for a horse? Of course not. We have to be pragmatic and just slow mid-turn.

But there’s also a big advantage of slowing over steering. What is it? Quite simply, if we slow, the bike turns tighter… or we can reduce lean angle! Slowing in a bend gives us more options.

 

So can’t we use engine braking or the back brake?

We’ll get a bit of deceleration out of the engine, by rolling off the throttle. It may be all we need to get round the bend.

But if that’s not going to work, then it’s going to have to be brakes.

Now at this point, many experts will say avoid the front and only use the rear. But…

…if you have a bike with a lot of engine braking or you were in a low gear at high revs, the rear tyre is probably already close to the amount of deceleration force that can be applied – just a bit too much and it’ll lock.

So, if engine/rear brake aren’t that’s not going to get us round it’s over to the front to see what that can do. We don’t have any choice now, do we?

 

So can we use the front mid-turn? And how much?

The answers are “yes” . And “with care, quite a bit”.

OK, given that most riders (and some instructors) believe that applying the front whilst leant over is a Bad Idea, what’s led me to these conclusions?

If you think about it, it’s obvious really; if you aren’t already sliding the tyres mid-turn then there is grip to brake with! Only if you are already falling off is there no grip for braking.

And if you are sane, you’re not going to be riding on the road hard enough to slide the tyres. Even in the wet if you’ve not already crashed, there is grip for the tyres to brake. It may not amount to much, but it’s this ‘spare’ traction at the rear that allows us to apply shut the throttle or apply the rear brake.

So it should be obvious that if we’re not sliding the front tyre, so we can use the spare grip to decelerate with the front brake!

Having debunked the myth that you can’t use the front mid-turn, we have to understand two things:

  • a sudden grab doesn’t give the bike time to settle on the tyre and grip and can lock it
  • on most bikes as you apply it, the bike tends to want to sit upright and go straight on

So our application has to be smooth and progressive, gently adding countersteer to compensate for the sit-up action. We’ve also got to remember this when we release the brake – ping it off and the bike will suddenly topple into the corner because of that extra steering action – release it smoothly.

Now remember what I said a moment ago about the advantage of slowing in a bend – that the bike turns tighter or uses less lean angle? We should be able to see two possibilities:

  • assuming the turn is constant radius, then as the bike slows, the amount we need to lean it to get round a constant radius bend decreases – so we can feed in more and more front brake. So if we’re confronted by something like a slowing car ahead or worse, , if the road is blocked, we progressively feed in more front brake as the bike comes up, right to the point where we’re upright and braking hard.
  • assuming the turn is a tightening decreasing radius turn, then as the bike slows on a steady application of front brake, it’ll turn tighter without us having to add more lean angle until we’re at a comfortable speed/lean angle to negotiate the turn.

In either case, application of the front brake has solved two major causes of motorcycle accidents.

The advantage of using the front over the rear is that it’s the “stopper” of the pair and allows us to get rid of a lot of speed far more quickly than engine braking can. Realistically, the rear really only steadies the bike up or fine tunes our speed mid-turn!

 

Conclusions

If we mentally plan ahead and consider whether we’ll need to use the brakes, we’ll be quicker to react and much more likely to use the brakes positively when we DO find the bend’s a bit slower than we expected and shed any excess speed before we start to turn.

And if we learn how to trail brake into a bend and have confidence we can lose that 10 or 20mph in just a few metres, then that takes away much of the fear of “too fast” and negates the biggest problem that causes bend accidents – freezing and doing nothing!

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About Kevin Williams / Survival Skills

Motorcycle trainer, motorcycle author, motorcycle safety consultant, motorcycle forum moderator, former courier and ever a recreational rider. Is there a common theme here?

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