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Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Back in the summer of 2006, I was seduced by a magazine's big cover splash promising "Twenty pages on cornering faster". Despite reading it cover-to-cover, I could only find a couple of pages on cornering technique. The remaining eighteen pages were thinly-veiled adverts for expensive aftermarket accessories or services to get the bike tweaked. Anyway, cynicism aside, the two pages on riding were the valuable content because the best bolt-on accessory on any bike is the rider, and the most cost-effective tweaks we can do are to our own skills. A good rider can still corner well on a wallowing hippo of a machine. But all the bolt-on bling in the world won't turn an incompetent owner into Valentino Rossi or Marc Marquez. It's depth of wisdom, not depth of wallet, that helps us to good cornering out on the road.

So what did the article say? Well the writer spent a lot of time talking about "finding the apex". You may be wondering what the apex of a corner actually is, because it's a word bandied around with some freedom when talking about corners. Think of a triangle - stand it upright - the pointy bit at the top is the apex. Now, connect the three points with a smooth curved line and the point at the top is still the apex. If we now give that curved line some width, so it becomes a road, the apex is where the point of that triangle touches the inside of the corner halfway round.

On a race track, where we can use all of the surface, if we start on the OUTSIDE of the corner and if we also exit on the OUTSIDE of the corner, by just touching the INSIDE of the track halfway through the turn - the apex of the triangle - we take the maximum radius (and thus the fastest) 'racing line' through the corner. So if the corner is a nice symmetrical one, the apex is 'mid-corner', halfway round the bend.

What about 'early' or 'late' apexes, two more terms you're likely to hear in any discussion about riding a track? An early apex comes before we are half-way though the corner, and generally indicates an increasing radius turn - the corner opens out. A late apex comes after we are half-way through the corner and may indicate a decreasing radius turn - a corner that gets progressively tighter. On the track, we learn our lines by going round and round until it all flows nicely. Even on a blind corner on the track, we learn to use marker points (which is why they put cones out on track training sessions) to guide us round.

But the road is not a track, and this 'racing line' which may be the fastest way around the track, is not a great idea on the road where we have to deal with a number of other problems. For starters, we don't get the chance to learn a bend by going round it over and over, and we don't get markers (at least, not handy cones). We have to ride it as we see it, which isn't easy when most of the corners on UK roads are blind - that is, we can't see all the way through them from beginning to end. Aiming for an apex where we cannot see out the other side of the corner isn't a great idea - we could end up turning-in too early, which inevitably leads to running wide later in the corner.

But even when we can see right through the corner, cutting into the apex on a right-hander brings us into close proximity to oncoming vehicles. And on a left-hander, cutting into the apex puts us close to where there might be hidden turnings and driveways on our nearside.

As it happens, the way to learn a track (if the handy cones are absent) is to work backwards. We start by finding the direction we want to be headed on the way out of a bend - the 'exit'. Keith Code's definition of the exit is a good one to work with - it's where we can put the power on as hard as we like. Once we know where we want to be pointed at the exit, then we can find the line backwards to the 'apex', and from there back to the 'turn-in' point where we would cut across the track to clip the apex, and ultimately back from the turn-in point back to the 'entry' which is where the corner forces us to steer or run off the track.

On the road, as I explain in the articles on 'Point and Squirt', the solution is to delay turning-in to the corner to the point where we can clearly see through the exit and where the road goes BEYOND the end of the corner. So if - as is likely - our view around the corner is obscured, we simply stay on a wide line around the outside of the curve until we CAN see the exit - where we're pointed where we want to go next and can accelerate in a straight line, remember. Only when we reach this point do we decide if we should turn-in tighter, aiming to cut across the lane and exit the corner in as straight a line as possible, and this is the key to corners on the road - staying wide in the turn till we can actually see the exit.

Get this right and we avoid almost all 'running wide in the corner' errors whilst the apex looks after itself - it's not something we need to worry about. In fact, far from being an aid to cornering on the road, the apex is a red herring and even a distraction from focusing on the exit and the mid-corner hazards I mentioned a moment ago. For good cornering on the road, simply ignore any debate about the apex.

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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