Start your journey into better biking here!
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
Of course you have - you'd be a very lucky rider if you hadn't. I'm a realist. That's why my training courses are called Survival Skills. Remember, any bend can get worse out of sight and this is a classic biking problem - the ever-tightening corner that just seems to go on and on. Unfortunately, by the time we spot the bend is tightening, it's often too late, and we're going to run wide. If we run wide on a right-hander (in the UK) we will run off the road. It's a common bike crash. But if we run wide on a left-hander we'll cross the centre line. If we're lucky, nothing's coming the other way and we get away with it. But if we're unlucky, we meet a Scania coming the other way. Running wide into oncoming traffic is a major killer on roads not just in the UK but anywhere in the world. And it's worth mentioning that when we hear about head-on collisions between a bike and a car on a bend, whilst riders often assume it must have been the car driver on the wrong side, it's nearly always the rider who's crossed the line.
I've yet to meet the rider who doesn't make mistakes, so whilst it's easy to say it's a mistake we shouldn't make and that a good rider would avoid getting sucked into a corner too fast, the fact is that it's often not so easy to spot a decreasing radius corner until it begins to tighten.
'Limit Point' analysis is no use if the bend tightens out of sight - we'll already have set our speed based on what we could see before we commenced leaning. And one technique I would advise anyone on two wheels to avoid is what's sometimes called 'chasing the Limit Point'. It's normally explained with a statement such as:
"The Limit 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 limit point out of the corner."
'Beginning to open out'. Think about that for a moment. What happens if we're NOT seeing the end of the bend? What if the bend suddenly tightens up again? Now we've been conned into accelerating towards a second apex in a corner that's not over yet. In fact, hardly any of our rural bends are actually smooth corners, they are nearly all complex shapes with multiple radii in a single bend. So rather than try to add speed as the bend appears to open up, ask yourself "how could this go wrong?" If we can imagine a decreasing radius, downhill, off-camber corner with a wet surface that's covered in loose gravel lies just beyond the point where the bend appears to open out, it's a good incentive to delay acceleration until we really can see our way out of the corner and down the next stretch of road which has completely straightened out. This will avoid the "OhMiGod the corner's tightened up again and gone downhill and it's off-camber and... etc" problem!
In fact, the best clues to dodgy corners are nearly always the road signs, specifically the red and white triangular warning signs. They are placed to warn us about hazards that have caught others out and are often out of sight. So the moment we spot a bend warning sign, particularly when it's backed up with a SLOW marking, it might be a good idea to go into a corner a little slower than the Limit Point might have suggested. And if we're lucky enough to glimpse a black and white chevrons sign, that's almost certainly where the corner gets awkward.
It may be the Worst Case Scenario, but that's what we have to plan for on every single blind bend. And we do that not by setting our speed to the 'distance we can see clear and stop', but by using the Limit Point to set our entry speed considerably lower, so we have a built-in safety margin in case the bend gets worse just out of sight. A cautious entry speed allows us to deal with a tightening bend by adding leaning angle, rather than hitting the brakes immediately. Apply the Survival Skills approach to riding once again - anticipate where things will go wrong, and don't assume you've got everything right until you're upright and accelerating away again.
But even a cautious rider, looking for trouble in bends still won't get every bend right, and so right now we're looking at a bend that needs some quick revisions to our line and lean. What are our options for getting out of trouble mid-corner?
Here's our first option, which often mentioned on post-test training courses. Stand the bike up, brake in a straight line and then lay it over again. Hmm. It needs some room, even though once upright we can brake very hard indeed. And if we're already on a wide line around the outside of the lane, we're don't have the space to straighten up - we're straight off the road. So there's a variation on the theme where we actually turn TIGHTER before we stand the bike up - this way we can maximise the straight line braking distance. But unless we absolutely have to lose a huge amount of speed - or stop - then if we have the room to lean in, pick up, brake hard, and lean in again, we probably could have made the bend in the first place. And if we don't get the bike slowed enough...
...we've just guaranteed we're going to run out of road. So although I've mentioned this option first, it's really to move it to the back burner, behind some alternatives.
So are there better options? I mentioned above that we if we're going to maximise the space for upright braking, we need to tip into the corner first. If we have this additional lean angle in hand AND we're confident enough to use it, we could just keep the throttle open - which stabilises the bike - and keep the bigger lean angle going right through the rest of the corner. This should deal with a corner that tightens just the once, onto a sharper radius, so long as we didn't make the mistake of turning-in too early.
But what about a corner that progressively tightens up? We can only increase the lean angle so much before we run out of ground clearance. So we may have to exploit some basic cornering physics - a motorcycle cornering at the same angle will turn on a tighter line if we reduce the speed. These are techniques we explore on the Survival Skills Performance: SPORT two-day advanced riding course.
So how do we reduce speed to turn on a tighter line?
The simplest solution is shut the throttle. The bike WILL slow, and it WILL turn tighter (provided we're not going downhill at the same time). Don't slam it shut as that will destabilise the bike, but roll off smoothly - this allows us to cope with the change in steering geometry. We can help out a little by applying the rear brake, but if we're already generating engine braking, there's often not a lot the rear brake can achieve before the rear wheel starts to lock, triggering the ABS or skidding on a non-ABS machine.
So if we need to tighten the line even more, then there's only one way left - and that's to apply both brakes together. The weird thing is that we see racers braking into bends all the time, yet the technique is frowned on in bike training. It's true there's a risk, because sudden applications of the front brake mid-corner can make the bike sit up and go straight on - which isn't what we want particularly on a left-hander - or if we're really hamfisted, we can even lock the front wheel.
So the point I'll make here is that most the crashes happen as a result of a panic-grab, when the rider is surprised by events, rather than through a controlled application. Braking into bends is actually surprisingly easy just so long as we ease the front brake on to allow us to adapt to the geometry change. Here's the big plus. With the brakes on, we'll lose speed very rapidly - and as the speed comes down, our line tightens equally rapidly. So we rarely need to brake hard to adapt to a decreasing radius corner, just smoothly and progressively.
So to sum up, if we enter corners mentally blind to the possibility of them getting tighter out of sight, that's when we're most likely to arrive too fast AND to make the panic-grab at the front brake that causes all the problems. But if we are more pragmatic and anticipate that what's out of sight could get awkward, then we're far more likely to respond in a controlled way to a decreasing radius corner when we do get it wrong.
By admitting we can make mistakes in judging the radius of a corner, we have taken a huge step to improving our risk management and margins for error out on nice twisty roads.
Survival Skills Rider Training
...because it's a jungle out there
IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice.
Copyright © 1999 - 2019 Kevin Williams and Survival Skills Rider Training