Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Somebody asked on one of the forums I contribute to, "when I'm
running into a bend at speed and see I'm running out of road in my
lane, is the proper response to lean and counter steer even more? Of
course, I could straighten the bike and hit the brakes, but should I
"hang in there" in the bend?".
Let's just very quickly explain counter steering at highway speeds.
To deflect the bike from the vertical you need to countersteer. Once
leant over at a constant angle the bike will take some kind of a
"set" which may or may not demand rider input and depends on
steering geometry, tyres, road surface etc etc... Don't worry about
that, but if you want to lean over further (or pick the bike up
again for that matter), you have to make an extra countersteering
As regards what to do in the bend, there is very rarely a clear cut
answer. Rather than a "one solution fits all" answer, I'm going to
suggest three options, and explain the dangers and advantages of
each. Which you choose depends on some other factors including:
speed and road layout, surface
type of bike and load
experience and confidence
The thing to remember is that on the road in the dry on a half
decent surface, virtually no one loses the bike through lack of grip
mid-corner and most crashes result from braking errors or running
out of road. Even on the race track, most corner crashes happen on
the way in (brakes) or the way out (power highside). On some bikes
with restricted ground clearance or at racetrack angles of lean (not
really sensible on the road but I have to admit to having been
there, done that & eaten the tarmac) it is possible to lever the
rear wheel off the ground, but you really have to be trying hard on
Option A:- keep it simple and steer
Your correct solution in the vast majority of cases where you have
lean angle in hand, is:
i) look through the corner at your exit, not at the problem in front
ii) countersteer and use your extra lean angle to make the turn
iii) roll open and use the throttle to gently power the bike as you
steer - the aim is to avoid coasting, avoid loading the front tyre
with decelerating forces and keeping the steering geometry neutral
The throttle is a more important tool in the "look, lean and roll"
technique than many people realise. A lot of riders will coast round
a corner before opening it on the far side where the road appears to
be clear. Unfortunately it has many of the disadvantages of braking
in a corner, shifting weight and deceleration forces to the front
wheel, without slowing the bike appreciable (unless you ride a high
compression twin or single of course).
If you don't have a great deal of experience, this is definitely the
one to go for, even though it takes self-awareness and determination
to steer when all the instincts are to hit the brakes.
Option B:- Sit up, brake and lean again
Occasionally you may have the opportunity to sit the bike upright
and brake hard in a straight line, before laying the bike over again
- you'll find this one offered up in several advanced riding
I stress that I rarely use this on the road because you almost never
have the space, and where I have used it, it was sometimes the wrong
solution. The danger with this technique is that on most bends you
don't have the room and thus on a right hander it takes you into the
hedge, and on a left hander it takes you into oncoming traffic.
However where you have runoff, or there are no vehicles to worry
about, it can be a simple way out of trouble at no risk.
Option C:- Braking in the turn
Your third option is applying the brakes. I would emphasis this is
not a technique for novices, and really only applicable to
sportsbikes which will carry a surprising amount of brakes through a
bend if they are applied carefully and progressively, but bear in
i) that the front tyre has only a certain amount of grip to cope
with braking and steering. In a corner you want to ensure the
maximum possible grip is available for steering. Any braking reduces
the amount of grip for steering, and makes it more likely that you
will overload the front tyre. Apply the front brake suddenly and you
can easily slide the front wheel and lose the front end. This is the
most common form of crash in a corner
ii) applying the front brake causes the bike to sit up and go
straight on anyway - you still need to put additional steering
effort into the corner
iii) releasing the front causes the bike to fall into the corner!
Release as carefully as you applied them!
Done properly, as you are slowing down, the bike will turn a
progressively tighter line at the same lean angle - indeed it can be
the only way to negotiate an unexpected downhill decreasing radius
However, the harder you brake, the less responsive the steering
becomes as the forks compress and the steering angle changes. There
is also a potential problem with ground clearance on some bikes.
Most riding manuals suggest using the rear only, but from my
experience this gives little real deceleration with many of the
disadvantages of using the front (loading the front tyre, steering
geometry changes, trailing throttle) without the advantage of fine
control of the brake itself - if you are trying to shed serious
speed with the rear, you're going to be using a fairly hefty boot.
It is worth emphasising that losing control in a bend is a primary
cause of bike-only accidents in the UK. Most riders have committed
themselves to braking in the corners when the better option would
have been steer and lean. Even in the wet, more lean (though scary)
is nearly always the better choice.
Having said that, I would also emphasis that riders make the wrong
a) they do not understand the options available
b) they react to instinct
Hitting the brakes mid corner is an extremely powerful instinct and
one you have to work hard to overcome. With all my riding
experience, I still got it wrong a couple of months ago when I came
across a suddenly tightening corner, and even whilst I was saying to
myself "look, lean and roll" I hit the front brake, and nearly ended
up in a river! DOH!
Practice is the only answer...
And as a parting shot... Of course, the correct answer to "what do I
do when I get into a bend too hot" is not to get in too hot in the
first place by reading the corner and making some allowance for the
But that's another riding tip!