Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it
tighten up on you?
Of course we have. The classic problem bend is the ever-tightening,
decreasing radius bend that just seems to go on and on.
Misreading a bend in this fashion is often a result of over-reliance
on the vanishing point (or vision point or limit point - call it
what you like). The big problem with the vanishing point is it is a
single, constantly moving snapshot that cannot give you any idea
where the road goes or what obstructions lie beyond the furthest
point you can see. It is wholly inadequate as a means of reading a
bend, and even potentially dangerous.
For instance, if as is often stated: "the point moves away from you,
telling you that the corner is beginning to open out, so you can get
back on the gas and chase the vanishing point out of the corner",
what happens if the bend suddenly tightens up again? The vanishing
point has trapped you into accelerating into a tightening corner.
All we can do is make an educated guess beyond what we can see. It's
a bit like a weather forecast - the further ahead we guess, the less
accurate that guess is likely to be. Do we really want to commit
ourselves into a corner on what is effectively a guess? I don't
Unfortunately, by the time you spot the bend is tightening, it's
often too late. So how do you avoid getting sucked too fast into a
corner that tightens?
The first trick is to spot the problem in the first place. Not to
put too finer point on it, hardly any riders use the most obvious
clue - the road signs. If the council have gone to the trouble of
sticking up a triangular warning sign, painting slow on the road and
putting a black and white chevron, on the far side, then don't you
think you should pay them some heed? They will give you direction
and some idea of the tightness of the corner - the more warning, the
more dramatic the change of speed or direction.
As soon as you see the bend, lift your eyes and look as far round
the corner as you can see - not just at the vanishing point. You can
usually see over or through the hedge and get a general overview of
the layout of the bend. There are plenty of clues like lines of the
hedges, trees, tops of other vehicles and the speed they go into and
out of the bend, telegraph poles, faces of buildings, etc., that
give you a lot more info about where the road goes than the
vanishing point can. You shouldn't rely on one, but the more clues
that point the same way the better.
Then go in at a speed and lean angle that allows you to deal with
the worst case scenario. THIS is where the vanishing point comes
into its own - it allows you to set a safe entry speed. Now imagine
things get worse. What's the worst bend you can imagine? How about a
decreasing radius, downhill, off-camber bend with wet surface? You
need to be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear in
case things get worse still and there turns out to be a car parked
around the corner. This cautious entry will allow you to deal with a
tightening bend by steering, rather than slowing.
As you negotiate the bend, to avoid running into trouble in the
middle of the bend, only twist the throttle and accelerate away when
you can see the exit - the point where you can drive away from the
corner in a straight line. This will avoid the 'ohmigod the corner's
tightened up again' problem!
But I'm a realist. Although it would be nice to get every bend
right, we all foul up, which is one reason this site exists in the
first place and my training course are all about Survival Skills.
So what is the second step? Simple, it's to anticipate the problem
and recognise that it can happen rather than pretend that we can
ride the mythical perfect ride, and having taken that on board, to
understand and practice the correct "get you out of trouble"
technique. When we have done that, we have taken a huge step to
riding more safely.
Unfortunately this is where things aren't so straightforward. What
IS the correct technique? The problem is that the answers vary
depending on where you look. Rolling off the throttle mid-turn is
bad enough for accurate steering, and slowing down with the brakes
mid-corner is a dodgy affair and the cause of many serious and fatal
So one suggestion is to pick the bike up, brake in a straight line
and lay it over again. Errr, yes. Well, if you have the room that
required, you could have made the bend in the first place.
Another option is to brake with the rear. Unfortunately, you can't
scrub off a lot of speed this way, you still compromise stability
and there is always the risk of locking the rear, and if you aren't
careful, having the rear overtake the front.
So what about the front brake? After all, you see racers braking
into bends all the time. Certainly most sports bikes on modern tyres
will allow some braking into a corner, but we don't have race tyres
or steering geometry, nor yet race track grip. Few riders have the
skill to do it confidently and getting it wrong is going to have you
and the bike going down like a sack of spuds.
So what do we do instead to get out of trouble?
The answer lies not in slowing down to decrease our turning circle
but to use the alternative method of doing the same thing. Add lean
angle using countersteering.
So the complete answer to a decreasing radius bend is slow down in,
cautiously round, fast out. Be prepared to tighten your line
mid-turn and don't commit yourself until you can see the way out.
Fun AND safe!