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Lean angle, throttle and motorcycle training

One of the issues that I see new riders have issues with is cornering, and specifically how to balance lean angle with the throttle whilst cornering. It’s not helped that when we look for information on riding skills we’ll find a mass of contradictory advice.

One thing that is constantly in my mind at all times when I’m writing the content for my motorcycle advanced rider training courses, is that I must to make sure that I avoid giving bad advice – and that can be goo motorcycle riding safety tips that are written in a way that can be misinterpreted. It’s not just the rider’s own safety that’s at issue but also public safety. Duty of Care is something all training providers need to consider, whether they are teaching skills face to face or via a medium like riding skills books or online advice. So here’s my take on the issue.


Opening the throttle to power out of a bend

Articles on riding skills in motorcycle magazines often advice riders they should be opening the throttle from the mid-point of the corner and powering out in the second half of the corner. The reasons given are often to do with how it changes the machine’s geometry and makes it more stable. Yet that’s really advice best suited to race tracks where we know exactly where the track goes next – even on a road we know well, that kind of riding commits us to a line which doesn’t take into account the road surface just out of sight.

As riding techniques go, it’s not a good one for a road rider because if we’re in a constant radius turn, trying to power out of the turn will make the bike want to turn on a wider radius and that means we’re going to run wide in the corner UNLESS we add more lean angle. More lean angle AND more throttle instantly presents another problem – we’re rapidly eating into available traction from the rear tyre, and we could be looking at a wheelspin and even a highside in slippery conditions.

(PS – don’t tell me centrifugal force doesn’t exist – I know that but it’s a useful way of visualising the forces)

It’s easy enough to test. Find a nice big empty car park – the local railway station on Sunday is a good bet, then start riding in circles. Make it easy, don’t make the circle too tight, but you’ll find that to maintain constant radius at a steady lean angle, you need to hold a constant speed too – that requires just enough ‘maintenance’ throttle to stop the bike slowing down.

Now, try opening the throttle gently to see what happens. If you try to keep to the same lean angle, you’ll find the the circle you’re riding in rapidly gets bigger. If you try to keep the radius of the turn the same, you’ll find you rapidly need to increase the bike’s lean angle.

And that’s why we shouldn’t open the throttle until we are way past the apex of a corner and more or less pointed where we want to go next.

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Close the throttle if the corner tightens

So what about cornering where for some reason we need to turn a bit tighter? Maybe we’re a bit off-line and running wide or maybe there’s something that’s on the line we wanted to take. If we go back to riding in circles and gently close the throttle to see what happens, we will find that as the bike slows, so the circles gets smaller without us having to change lean angle.

That would be a good idea if we’re close to the ground clearance limits of the machine, either because we’re cornering quickly or because the machine itself imposes restrictions on how much lean angle can be achieved. It would be a good idea if the corner is giving clues that it’s going to get tighter and tighter and tighter.

In fact, we can go further – we can apply the brakes lightly to bring the speed down even faster!  As lean angle stays the same and speed comes down, it doesn’t impact on grip. So the slowing down option certainly works and if the corner looks like it’s tightening up a lot, that’s almost certainly the best option.


Keep the throttle steady and lean if the corner tightens

But it’s not the only option. We can also tighten our line by leaning further yet I’ve just read an article by a well respected author on motorcycle riding techniques who says the ‘lean over more’ advice is dangerous – even potentially lethal – even though it’s commonly taught on motorcycle training courses.

Hold up! They’re strong words.

Are they accurate? The reason training providers teach riders NOT to shut the throttle in corners is because to be done well, it needs to be done smoothly, because of the way the machine responds to sudden changes in input. Shut the throttle suddenly and the bike loads up the front suspension and that either makes the machine sit up (in which case it tries to go straight ahead) or risks losing grip at the front (in which case we fall off and slide in a straight line anyway). It’s worth remembering that sudden inputs of any sort are generally bad riding techniques.

And of course we won’t always be running out of road or ground clearance. As riding techniques go, the ‘lean over more’ option is fine so long as we’re not trying to make a major direction change and have plenty of lean angle in hand, because it does maintain stability in the turn. Something that motorcycle training normally points out is that we should be cornering with lean angle in hand and for minor steering errors or corrections to the natural variation of the radius of a corner on a rural road, I really cannot see the problem with the ‘lean over more’ advice as being valid advice on motorcycle training courses, so long as the ground clearance allows, particularly when combined with body movement.

It’s a real weakness of motorcycle training in the UK and the EU that these riding skills and riding techniques are not taught on post-test training, let alone CBT or basic training. The focus of the DSA Module One test is less on learning skills that equate to rider empowerment out on the real road, and more on jumping through hoops in unrealistic exercises. In conclusion, for me the real issue is about learning a wide range of riding skills that work and are relevant in different situations, skills that we can deploy from our ‘toolkit’ as and when we need them, and not to get caught up with the dogmatic opinions on one side of any debate or the other.

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Survival Skills Rider Training offers motorcyclists of all standards advanced riding training. Advanced riding is the use of riding techniques that use the advantages of a motorcycle to offset our vulnerability.

Run by BTEC-certificated advanced instructor and longtime motorcycle courier Kevin Williams, Survival Skills offers competitively priced post-test training for all riders. Survival Skills was one of the first motorcycle training schools to use the approach of structured training to teach core basic handling skills including braking, cornering and throttle use, mental skills such as observation and anticipation, as well as riding strategies based on risk management techniques, all geared to more effective rider performance.

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Survival Skills has delivered advanced rider training since 1997 and was one of the very first schools to offer structured, flexible motorcycle training courses with an instructor qualified at compulsory basic training, direct access and advanced level.Kevin’s experience encompasses 16 years as a motorcycle courier and over a decade and a half as a full-time instructor, and our courses are tailored to the differing needs of experienced, newly qualified and returning riders.

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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?

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Lean angle, throttle and motorcycle training

  1. Agreed Paul… I’d always rather find I COULD speed up in a bend rather than MUST slow down.

    Posted by Kevin Williams / Survival Skills | November 23, 2012, 6:41 pm
  2. when you toe hits the floor thats a clue………………………you’re at max lean angle time to either adjust your body tho probably too late for that or 2, start panicking and hope the bend doesn’t tighten up or a car comes in the opposite direction REMEMBER….SLOW IN FAST OUT

    Posted by paul pilcher | November 23, 2012, 6:19 pm
  3. But throttle on / throttle off also upsets the bike’s balance on the suspension, whereas steady throttle / countersteering doesn’t. It may not be dramatic if you are nice and smooth with the throttle, it CAN be on a bike with a lot of engine braking and / or snatchy fuelling.

    It depends entirely on the road and the radius of the bends but it seems to me that it’s a pointless exercise if all you’re doing for is to maintain a constant lean angle. I’m always a fan of doing simple things and it seems to me that by opening and closing the throttle and alternately loading and unloading the suspension, you’re making life MORE complicated rather than simpler when there’s isn’t any real need, particularly as most car drivers will just turn the wheel more to get round the corner.

    Posted by Kevin Williams / Survival Skills | November 23, 2012, 5:23 pm
  4. Good point David – the trigger for many riders’ shut off / brake response is fear of lean angle… knowing your options and making a conscious decision to countersteer will help riders understand just how much more the bike has in hand than they think.

    Posted by Kevin Williams / Survival Skills | November 23, 2012, 5:18 pm
  5. One opinion I personally would add with regards to leaning in more to tighten a turn is that, for most beginner to middling riders, there will be more lean angle and more grip available than they think; they’re far more likely to be at their own personal (artificial) limit than close to the physical limit of the machine, unless the road surface is slippy or they are actually dragging the peg already, or are riding a machine with poor clearance.

    Posted by David Precious | November 23, 2012, 5:02 pm
  6. I know you take issue with the whole ‘chasing the limit point’ style of cornering, but it works quite well in concert with your advice above, in variable radius corners. As the corner is about to tighten, the limit point will move towards you, so you can smoothly roll off to shed speed in good time (it helps to be in a sensibly low gear). This also gives you that tightening effect you are talking about naturally. As the corner opens out again you can roll on gently to corner on a positive throttle. If you really _want_ to do CSS style quick-turns on the road and clip an apex, arguably the place to do it is the point where the limit point jumps away into the distance – i.e.. the road is opening out, Then, if traffic allows, you _can_ treat the final part of the corner a little more like a bend on a racetrack, flick the bike into it and wind the throttle on as you see fit, clipping an arbitrary notional apex on the way. Written down like that it all seems a bit pointless, really. Although it can blow a few cobwebs out…

    Posted by Ken Haylock (@khaylock) | November 23, 2012, 4:32 pm
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