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The 'Point and Squirt' approach to corners
This particular article has its origins in some heated debates that took place online on my regular bike forum. It concerned the difference between what some called 'conventional' cornering lines, and what I have been teaching since 1997 as the 'Point and Squirt' technique. Point and Squirt has its origins in a series of articles published in the 1980s in the old Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine, one of which showed some cornering diagrams which featured a 'late apex' line. I'd long since realised that running wide on the exit to bend was best avoided and the late apex line got me thinking, and also experimenting - not just with late apex, but with a quicker steering input to make the best use of it. That was something that went pretty much against the grain at the time. It was usually stated that machine inputs should be smooth. The trouble was, smooth was usually interpreted as 'slow'. But the fact is that quick steering inputs can be also smooth. It's all in the timing. I developed over many despatching miles, and when I started training it was a natural way to cover cornering.
Let's go back to basics. Riding a bike requires us to be able to:
- change speed
- change direction
That's all that the machine itself can do. Of course, there are other issues:
- managing stability
- managing risk
But it's our ability to change speed and direction first and foremost that allows us to manage stability and risk in a bend. So what I teach on my Survival Skills Performance cornering courses is all about getting these basics right.
Here's the first point to consider. It's easy to get a motorcycle to either change direction OR change speed. We can mix-and-match, but it's not so easy. So whenever we can, it makes sense to separate the braking and acceleration forces from cornering forces. On the approach to a corner we can achieve that quite simply - we get all deceleration, whether by closing the throttle or braking, completed upright before the corner. Once we've finished steering - which is the moment the bike is clear of the curve and upright again - we accelerate positively. So it's this late turn-in and the upright acceleration which gives the technique the 'Point and Squirt' name.
What we don't try to do is 'chase the Limit Point' by accelerating whilst still leaned over in the curve, as it says in 'Motorcycle Roadcraft'. With Point and Squirt, when the machine is leaned over, it's ONLY having to deal with the cornering forces.
Now, here's the second point. To minimise risk, we need to respond to hazards, whether that's the shape of the corner itself, the presence of other vehicles and places they could turn, the state of the road surface and possible stability problems, or other issues such pedestrians and animals. To manage the risks posed by those hazards, we have to SEE them - or at least realise that we CANNOT see them! So until a mid-corner hazard forces a change of position on us, our line around the bend is dictated by what we can see. The line that gives us the best view of the road ahead is what I call the 'Vision Line', and we follow it from the moment we enter the corner to the point at which we can clearly see where the road goes next. To maintain the view, we usually position ourselves towards the outer edge of our lane, just so long as we don't put ourselves at risk from oncoming vehicles (on a left-hander in the UK) or blind entrances or debris at the edge of the road (on a right-hander).
And thirdly. We need to know where we are in a bend - we need some kind of road map. And this is where I borrow from track technique - we can define ANY corner in terms of:
- the 'entry' - where the bend forces us to steer or run off the road
- the 'turn-in point' - where we can see the exit
- the exit - where we're upright again and pointed to where we want to go next.
Once we realise that committing ourselves to turning-in to a corner when we can't see our way out of the bend is liable to lead to us running wide later in the corner, then it's fairly obvious that we should only turn-in and attempt to widen the line around the final part of the corner when the view opens up for good. It's this view of the way out - the exit - that locates the 'turn-in point'. Using a late 'turn-in point' minimises the risk of turning in too early, and running wide later in the bend.
Why the controversy? Firstly, I was told "it's in Roadcraft already". It isn't, although there are common elements such as the wide 'vision line'. But the Point and Squirt approach emphasises the advantage of separating from the steering the inputs that make the bike do a 'rocking horse' on the brakes or under power. It also emphasises the late turn-in, late apex line. And it requires a moderately quick steering to make the direction change when the view opens up. Whilst it's always possible to interpret 'Roadcraft' that way by reading between the lines, none of these elements are made explicitly clear as they are in Point and Squirt.
A more negative view was that Point and Squirt is a racing technique. Because I was talking about braking rather than simply rolling off the throttle, it was assumed that it must be all about dashing up to the corner before braking late and hard, and that the late 'turn-in' would result in the rider banging the bike over on its side before firing it out with a handful of throttle and wheelspin. Clearly that's NOT what I'm suggesting. Of course, if we want to, we could brake later and harder, then maximise acceleration out of the turn, but getting through the corner quicker isn't the raison d'etre. A moment's thought will show that because Point and Squirt is about views and lines, it works just as well with a police-style 'acceleration sense' approach to riding.
What else? "Point and Squirt line's 'late apex' requires a big steering input which could destabilise the bike." It's true that Point and Squirt gets the bike turned over a shorter distance, but if we're travelling a little more slowly, it's not a problem - in any case, there's nearly always plenty of grip available to steer the machine, mid-corner it's braking and accelerating grip that's in short supply. We also get the bike upright sooner which is a benefit.
And "by taking a very late apex and making a more rapid change of direction, a rider is prevented from reducing the severity of a bend by 'maximising the radius of the corner'." Whilst in theory, this wider line 'works the tyres less hard' - that's the very explanation given in a West Midlands BikeSafe video, the reality of what riders do with a wider line is very different. We all use it to carry more speed, not lean over less. The benefits are non-existant! What was really ironic in the West Midlands video was that having explained the benefits of the maximum radius line, the police rider then demonstrated a sequence of perfect Point and Squirt lines!
A more reasonable response was that it doesn't apply to all corners. I'd totally agree, but I'd point out that it all comes back to the view. If we can see clearly right through the corner from one end to the other, then there's no need to delay our 'turn-in', and we can indeed open out our line to 'maximise the radius' but in the UK at least, it's rare to find a corner where there is nothing blocking our line of sight. Turning in too early means we're relying on guesswork to figure out where the road goes. Even then, the wide exit means our steering must be spot on. If we get it wrong, we'll run wide. What defines Point and Squirt is that delayed 'turn-in' which is controlled entirely by our view of the way out of the bend. That means it applies to any corner where we can't see the exit on the way in, which happens to be most bends in the UK. And it's also an excellent way to negotiate mountain hairpins where running wide could be catastrophic.
Nothing about Point and Squirt is particularly unique - you can find elements of it in various different books. What is unique is that way it's all put together, and how it pulls all aspects of cornering - assessment of the bend, managing risk along the way, choosing a line and timing machine inputs - into one neat and self-contained system.
Funnily enough, right in the middle of the big online debate Andy Ibbott used his MCN column to explain how to "Separate throttle and steering and never run wide again". Covering precisely the theory behind Point and Squirt, he stated:
"We need to get the bike pointing in the right direction before applying the throttle".
My point exactly!
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