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FREE TIPS, Intermediate, Learner, New rider

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

Although forum use has dropped off, I still answer questions from riders  online. 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 with asking questions on forums is that you get plenty of replies. The disadvantage is that you can get a muddle of different answers, some of which make little sense!

Looking for training

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 (at least it is in the UK) but unless you can identify the fault and figure out the solution, it’s unlikely it would achieve much aside from frustration as the rider continues to get it wrong. And if you’re analytical enough to break down what you’re doing as well as that, why ask the question in the first place?

A third, more reasonable, suggestion – although nothing to do with fixing a riding issue – was to check the bike wasn’t bent! It’s not as silly as you might think. Back in the 80’s I bought a 250 Honda that looked fine and rode OK at normal speeds but veered off course when I braked hard. It didn’t take long to discover it had suffered a bent headstock. It had clearly hit something hard in a former life. After locking the front in the wet and only saving a crash with a hefty application of right boot, I rebuilt that engine into a straight frame with a worn-out engine.

Got a riding problem?
Drop me a line via the ‘click for help’ button lower down!

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.

Hanging off

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.”

Take a look at the rider above. Although he’s turning left, it’s the same technique. And it’s completely the wrong technique for a slow, tight turn. Here are the problems:

  • leaning our upper body INTO a turn pushes the bike upright
  • an upright bike wants to go straight on

There’s a bit of physics involved here. What determines the radius of the turn is the combination of our speed and the lean angle of the bike. We can get round a tighter curve by leaning over more at the same speed, or by slowing down and maintaining the same lean angle…

…up to a point. Try to ride TOO slowly and the bike loses its ‘rolling balance’ and becomes increasingly difficult to steer accurately. Below about 7-8 mph (10-12 kph) the bike is moving too slowly and we’ll find it difficult to make a tight turn.

So we actually need to ride a little faster! It may sound wrong, but trust me on that – you can test it yourself by riding in a straight line and progressively trying to ride slower and slower. You’ll soon find the cut-off speed where the bike starts to fight back.

So on a tighter turn we do need to lean the bike over further.

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Now you might think that leaning into the turn would do the trick but it doesn’t. It’s actually the lean angle of the TYRES relative to the road surface which determines the radius of the turn. If we assume the speed is a constant, then if we lean INTO the turn and consequently push the machine upright, what we’re actually doing is making the machine want to take a much wider line than the one we wanted.

This ‘body in, weight the outside peg’ stuff is California Superbike School / Keith Code advice and it’s aimed at track riding. Riding faster, we compensate with more steering input to achieve a greater lean angle, but it’s not helpful when riding round a roundabout at 15 mph!

To negotiate a slow, tight turn, we actually want to be doing the exact opposite – we want to push the bike down into the corner by keeping our body upright. This increases the lean angle of the tyres themselves relative to the road surface. And the result is that the bike will turn on a much tighter line, without having to slow down.

Now, there is a good chance you’re reading this and thinking it goes against everything you’ve previously heard. But you can easily test it in the car park! Get off the bike, hold it upright (easiest if you stand on the left), turn the bars fully to the left, then walk it round in a half circle. Now lean the bike over and into your hip (be careful obviously!) and walk the bike around the second half of the circle, still on full lock.

It’s a bit of a shock to a lot of riders, but if you try this, you WILL find you end up well inside the point at which you started.

This technique of moving your body ‘up’ as we push the bike ‘down’ is called ‘counterweighting’, and most Direct Access instructors use it to help  new riders to cope with the tight manoeuvres required by Module One of the bike test. It just gets forgotten that it’s just as much use on the road!

Counterweighting

Here’s a photo of one of my CBT trainees practicing slow turns. Note how he’s 1) looking into the corner, 2) leaning the bike into the turn whilst bending at the waist to keep his body upright, and 3) keeping the elbows loose and bent. Gripping the tank firmly completes the skill set for slow riding.

There are two misconceptions which are often raised by riders objecting to counterweighting.

The first is that it reduces ground clearance. Well, yes, of course. But we’re negotiating a roundabout here, not Ramsey Hairpin on the TT circuit so we’re nowhere near the limit of lean. And most bikes these days will lean 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. This is a total misunderstanding of how tyres work. If we tighten the line by counterweighting, we are using a little more cornering grip, but it’s not tyres work – they deliver grip right across their profile from upright to full lean. And road tyres are designed to have a fairly consistent footprint that delivers consistent grip as we lean. In fact, the most recent tyres actually deform under cornering loads to INCREASE the size of the contact patch!

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.Read Think Ride

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!


Who am I? I’m Kevin Williams, a full-time BTEC qualified post-test instructor with experience at advanced and basic levels who is also an MSc in science and a qualified e-tutor with an NVQ in Distance Learning Techniques.

It often a big surprise just how much diagnosis and correction of riding issues it’s possible to do online. A lot of it is down to my experience – if there’s a riding problem, I’ve almost certainly seen it AND know how to fix it. If you’ve got a riding problem drop me a line direct for free advice. I can help with all aspects of riding from novice to experienced.

It does take time to to maintain this blog, so I’ve a small favour to ask. If you have been helped by one of my better riding articles, why not buy me a coffee? Each cuppa is much appreciated, keeps me awake and keeps me helping bikers! Thank you.

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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

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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