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Cornering, a practical approach

Take your bike out on an empty stretch of smooth, wide and straight road. Wondering what a straight road has to do with cornering? Well, this is where the corner starts, or in this context, I tell you how it happens. Keep a steady 65 to 70 on your speedo. Sit upright, both hands straight or as your normal pose would be while riding your bike. No crouching please. With your left hand, push the left end of the handle bar forward a little; a few centimeters to be precise. Observe carefully what happens. The bike would start veering off to the left. This is how a corner should start. But why did this happen? Pushing forward with your left hand made the bike lean to its left. The leaning is what caused the bike to change direction.

Note that pushing the handle bar with your left hand means you are actually turning the handle right. But the effect here is that the bike turns left. This is called countersteering. Wait! We are still on a straight road; and by now, you must have come out of the turn to avoid crashing into the pavement. Did you notice how you straightened it? You have done the opposite of what you did to turn left. You just pushed forward with your right hand. Pushing the handle bar forward with the left hand (for a left turn), rather than pulling it towards you with your right is actually the correct approach for smooth and stable cornering. You should actually put your weight on the wrist you are pushing with. This is the best way to get a feedback of what your front wheel is going through, and to avoid minor undulations and potholes affect your stability while cornering. Feedback here would be in the form of a slight resistance from the handle, which would be trying to straighten itself out. If you are not feeling this resistance, then the front is giving you little or no feedback in the corners. The best way to counter this is to go in for a fatter front tyre. I badly wanted one, but unfortunately, a 3 x 18 Michelin Gazelle refused to rotate once my mechanic fixed it; the mud guard clearance was too less for the tire to rotate freely.

No leaning away from the bike towards the direction of the turn is required to initiate a corner. Instead you can actually lean opposite to the lean of your bike to start a corner faster. A few zig zags on the straight, pushing the handle and understanding how your bike behaves when you do so would get you the hang of how countersteering works. Now, let’s move on to a real corner.

A corner would almost always be taken at a speed that’s lower than what you were doing while riding straight. So, all the braking and downshifting should be done before you actually initiate a turn. Ideally, once you have reached the correct speed and started the corner, you should just roll over the accelerator to keep at the same speed or accelerate slightly. But this is possible only on a race track or at turns that you are already familiar with. When it comes to hill riding, the degree of the turn would keep varying and you may have to decelerate and even downshift to keep the revs at the optimum. So, make sure that at no point should your engine be revving so high as to cause a compression lock when you re-engage the transmission after downshifting.

Photo by: Yogesh Sarkar

Keeping your head straight to compensate for the tilt of your body and bike is one thing you have to do while into a corner. Ideally, your nose should be perpendicular to the ground, whatever the angle your bike is tilted at. Concentrate only on the path that you would be taking while going through the corner. Other things of importance should be in your peripheral vision.

Opinions differ when it comes to leaning at the corners. Leaning in this context means leaning your body away from the bike so as to affect the angle at which the bike is tilted when you are at a corner. On a tire that has a round profile, there’s no need to lean away from the bike till such a time that the tire has used up all of its useable tread and is in the danger of running out of tread. So if you are a cornering freak, first thing to do is to throw away those flat profiled tire, and get a rounded one. Knobbed or button tires are a definite no if you are planning to put it to road use. Best tires that I would suggest are Zapper 100/90, Geocruiser 100/90, and my favorite, FKR Ranger 120/80. A 110/90 rounded tire would be the perfect match for a 2.75 / 18 front that comes OE on almost all Indian bikes. Any fatter rear and you would run out of tread on the front tire before you can make full use of the tread on your fat rear tire.

Well, coming back to leaning at the corners, let’s talk about why leaning is not suitable if you are not on a race track. Imagine taking corners at your leaning best and you suddenly discover that you have a pothole to dodge. You can’t change directions fast if you are leaning away from the bike. Neither can you brake hard if you are leaning away. Of course, braking hard is not something one does at the corners, but in the Indian context, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Leaning while cornering on roads can at best be used to maintain your cornering speed once you have a full view of the road ahead.

Another aspect that affects cornering is the way your brake into a corner. Rushing into a corner and braking hard is not a good approach. Braking hard means using your front disc. Even while at a corner, a bike might have a tendency to straighten out when using the front brakes. So, if you brake hard into a corner, you would not be able to turn fast enough, resulting in the need to make corrections once you are into a corner. A better approach would be to slow down gradually as you approach a corner and have the least possible application of brakes the nearer you are to the corner. These are things that comes with practice, whether the hills or the track. So just get your bike out and head for those hills, or your favorite set of twisties and try out some of the things that I have tried to put forth.

One Comment

  1. Great Article.

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