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Doctor's Surgery, e-Learning, Machine Control, Steering

“I can’t turn right at slow speed” – sorting out riding problems online

It sometimes surprises people just how much diagnosis and correction of riding issues it’s possible to do online.

When I first set up the Survival Skills website back in the mid-90s, I was regularly answering questions on riding issues and for that reason actually created a section called the ‘Doctor’s Surgery’.

As more and more forums opened up, the questions fell off on the website but I continue to answer problems regularly online on the forums I support.

One recent example was from a rider who was having trouble on slow right handers:

“I have no problems going round left hand bends at any speed from slow 1st gear tight slow ones to legal limit open road ones. Right handers on the other hand (no pun intended) are a pain, once the speed gets up (open road speeds) I have little bother with the right hand bends but slow speed (through town) right handers I just can’t seem to do properly.”

The advantage (yet at the same time the problem) with asking questions on forums is that you get a myriad of different answers from different people, all with different takes on the topic.

One suggested a track day. I’m not sure how that would help slow control.

Another suggested going round and round a roundabout. Well, it’s a slow right turn but unless as a rider you’re analytical enough to break down what you’re doing, identify the fault and know what the solution is, it’s unlikely it would achieve much aside from frustration as the rider continues to get it wrong.

A third, more reasonable, suggestion was a bent bike! Back in the 80’s I actually had a 250 Honda which had clearly hit something hard in a former life and had suffered a bent headstock. It made tipping into right handers easy, but didn’t like left handers. But it was braking that was more of a problem. After locking the front in the wet and having the front kick out to one side, I only saved a crash with a hefty application of boot, I soon rebuilt that engine into a straight frame with a worn-out engine.

Got a riding problem? Drop us a line here, or via email at survivalskills@clara.net!

Anyway, I digress. My first suggestions were concerning posture on the bike, steering or target fixation, which dug out some supplementary information. The rider said he was comfortable with counter-steering and didn’t think it was target fixation – the problem often happened on roundabouts where he’d steer accurately round the first “left hand” movement onto the island, then struggle with a right turn. Nor was it excess speed or braking too late, which was my next thought.

And then he dropped the vital clue!

“I do lean my upper body into the turn to get weight on the inside and I weight the outside peg which makes the bike feel more stable.”

It’s completely the wrong technique for a slow turn.

Leaning our upper body INTO a turn pushes the bike upright.

And an upright bike wants to go straight on!

It’s actually the lean angle of the TYRES (NOT the bike!) relative to the road surface which determines the radius of the turn (assuming the speed is a constant), and by pushing the machine and the tyres further upright by leaning to the inside of the turn, we actually make the machine want to run on a much wider line.

This ‘body in, weight the outside peg’ stuff is California Superbike School / Keith Code advice, but it’s really not relevant to riding round a roundabout at 20mph!

We actually want to be doing the exact opposite when negotiating a tight turn – to lean the bike INTO the turn and move our body upright, so we INCREASE the angle of attack of the tyres relative to the road surface. As a result, the bike will turn on a much tighter line at the same speed.


Here’s a photo of one of my CBT trainees practicing slow turns. Note how he’s leaning the bike into the turn, whilst bending at the waist to keep his body upright. Keeping the elbows loose and bent, and looking into the turn completes the skillset for slow riding.

If you’re reading this and struggling to follow the logic, you can easily test it in the carpark – get off the bike, hold it upright standing on the left, turn the bars full lock and walk it round in a half circle. Now lean the bike into your hip (be careful obviously!) and walk it back round still on full lock. You’ll find you end up well inside the point where you started.

This technique of moving your body “upside” of the bike’s centreline is called ‘counterweighting’, and is something the vast majority of Direct Access instructors teach new riders to cope with the tight manoeuvres required by Module One of the bike test.

There are two misconceptions often bandied around about counterweighting.

The first is that it reduces ground clearance. Well, yes, but we’re negotiating a roundabout here, not Ramsey Hairpin on the TT circuit. And most bikes these days will lean to well past 45 degrees before anything touches down, so it’s unlikely to be an issue, even on a cruiser!

The second is that keeping the bike upright somehow increases grip by keeping the bike on the “fatter” part of the tyre. In fact road tyres are designed to have a fairly consistant footprint (a recent marketing campaign has even explained that a new tyre deforms under cornering to INCREASE the size of the contact patch) and race tyres are often triangular so they put more rubber on the road at full lean, so that’s not correct.

There’s also a bit of physics involved. What determines how much grip is required is the combination of your speed and radius of turn. There is a very small component related to the height of the centre of mass of machine and rider, but it’s insignificant compared with how fast you’re going and how fast you’re turning.

In other words, if the tyre delivers consistent grip from upright to full lean, it really doesn’t matter whether you sit bolt upright mid-corner or hang-off like a gibbon – you’ve still got virtually the same level of grip available. Only at race track speeds when you’re on the very edge of adhesion will body position make any meaningful difference to how much grip you have.

The response was back 24 hours later:

“I analysed my riding on the way to and from work today and realised that subconsciously I HAD been counterweighting when negotiating left hand bends but for some reason was NOT doing this on right handers. I concentrated on doing this on right handers today and IT WORKS!

“You Sir, are a genius. I felt much more comfortable and in control and as a result I enjoyed my ride a lot more. I will endeavour to apply this at all times in the future until it becomes second nature.

“Thank you again.”

Another happy customer – and all for free!

Kevin Williams is a qualified e-tutor with an NVQ in Distance Learning Techniques, as well as a qualified CBT, Direct Access and post-test instructor. If you’ve got a riding problem contact us direct for free advice. We also market a wide range of e-learning resources and online-tutoring covering all aspects of riding from novice to experienced.


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?


3 thoughts on ““I can’t turn right at slow speed” – sorting out riding problems online

  1. The keys to tight turns are:
    1) momentum – to keep the bike rolling gives it dynamic balance (ie, it keeps itself from toppling over)
    2) counterweighting – if you look at those videos, you’ll see the rider sitting bolt upright whilst the bike does the leaning over

    Counterweighting works because it’s the ‘angle of attack’ of the tyres that controls the radius of the turn – the more the tyres lean, the tight radius the bike will take for the same degree of deflection of the steering. You can try this in the carpark, turn the bars on full lock then walk the bike round in a half circle whilst upright. Now lean the bike over so the weight’s on your hip and repeat. You’ll find you end up closer to the centre of the ‘turn’ than you started. (Don’t drop the bike, Survival Skills accepts no responsibility etc. etc..)

    So by leaning INTO the corner, you push the bike upright! Thus it turns on a wider radius than if you sit bolt upright because the shift in your body mass means the bike itself compensates for the shift in balance by leaning more and turning tighter! And that’s exactly what the US cops do in those videos!

    Posted by Kevin Williams / Survival Skills | May 8, 2012, 9:31 am
  2. If u search on U Tube for like california highway patrol etc. u will eventually find police bikers going round on tight courses. just unbelievable, u can easily see how they throw the bike about with incredible lean angles but the body position is in the main upright. Thats the Way to do it. let the bike turn and u follow.

    We generally are taught to turn by leaning into the turn and thats okay in general use on the road but for slow speed it doesnt work

    Good info from the boss.

    Posted by robert craven | May 8, 2012, 9:07 am
  3. Many bikers now learn early on about counterseering techniques but fail to realise that a minimum speed is important, under something like 10/15 mph it reverts back to a normal steer response. Not many instructors would tell u to lean the bike into the turn but counterlean the body for it to remain verticle but thats what is required.

    Have a look at some videos of the american police on a slalom course and u will see how they swing the bike over and round at slower speeds and still continue without falling off.

    Posted by bob craven | December 13, 2011, 12:37 pm
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