Better Riding: How to lean into corners
Reader Praveen Dhawan asked us how he could lean the bike in corners without falling off. This is quite a common question even at the TWO school that Indimotard and OVERDRIVE conduct through the year at Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore. So here is a simple exploration of a complex discussion.
Bikes have both of their wheels in one line and I'll spare you the physics of it but you cannot turn the bike at speed without it leaning over into the corner. The lean angle required to complete a turn is directly proportional to the speed at which you are travelling in the corner and inversely proportional to the radius of the turn. The faster you go, the more lean you'll need for the same corner. And the tighter the turn, again, the more lean you'll need. If the turn is tighter and your speed is higher, you'll need even more lean angle.
Positioning your body to the inside of the turn allows the motorcycle to be more vertical increasing your ground clearance
When you lean the bike over, there is a force that pushes the contact patch towards the outside of the turn, an additional component of force that pushes the bike down (which reduces your clearance) as well as, of course, the forces related to whether you're on steady throttle, decelerating or accelerating. It is a complex time when traction is usually less than when you are fully vertical and that is the reason why cornering can feel oddly unsettling until you get used to it. Which is why, ideally, you would want to complete the turn at the minimum possible lean angle on your motorcycle.
To make matters worse, your body has it's own balance sensors and a deeply personal point where your brain thinks the lean angle is sharp enough and any further is hazardous. This might be 67 degrees for John Hopkins and 21 degrees (from the vertical) for a new rider.
The easy trick is to understand that your body is part of the cornering equation but not attached to the motorcycle firmly. You can reduce the lean angle of the motorcycle by placing your body to the inside of the motorcycle what we call hanging off. But forget hanging off, even if you just turn your body so that your chest points towards the corner, lean forward and down so that your face ends up above the rear view mirror, you'll reduce the lean angle by a fair bit.
Remember, fast cornering is about minimising the lean angle and not the other way around. If you scrape pegs at 40kmph around a given corner, there is no way you can manage the same corner at 45kmph. But if you can create clearance with body positioning at 40kmph, you might be able to up the corner speed further.
The more complicated way to make corners easier on yourself is to make the bike feel more stable, which in turn will make you feel less busy, more confident and hence allow your brain to permit deeper lean angles and more speed. This is a multi-faceted skill that has lots of components, which we will discuss in another edition of Better Riding.
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