Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Timing is everything.

It's a perfect Sunday morning. Ambient temperature is close to 70 degrees. It's been dry for days. There's just enough moisture in the air to make the breeze blowing into my jacket and helmet feel refreshingly cool. Morning sunshine warms the pavement. There's enough heat to make the road want to embrace my tires. Not enough heat to make the tar snakes move out from underneath me.

Miles of curvy road await me. When I reach the end I turn around and do it all over again in the other direction. Running this stretch North to South is so different than South to North. It's like being on two different roads. I love the way each direction requires a different approach.

Coming into this curve I roll off the throttle. Third gear works perfectly for this stretch. I never have to touch the brakes. I can lean and lift the bike with just a movement of my right hand. Having set my speed I move to the right for this left-hander. I turn my head and find my target at the exit of the curve. A gentle roll of the throttle is followed by a slight press on the left handgrip. This corner takes a late apex to set up for the next curve. I hit my spot. Swoosh!!

I am worshipping at the Alter of The Perfect Corner. While it is almost a religious experience, I am not yet prepared to meet my Maker. Nor do I wish to suffer mortal pain in pursuit of enlightment.

Yet all too many riders are doing just that. Failure to negotiate corners is the biggest cause of single vehicle accidents. ( as in motorcycles ) Police reports will often attribute it to "failure to negotiate due to excessive speed". It's not that riders are going too fast for their bikes. Most bikes are far more capable than their riders. No, the riders are going too fast for where they're looking. We know that because the crash happens in the last third of the corner. Either they run wide and leave the roadway or they cross over into oncoming traffic.

Cornering can be the sweetest fun you've ever had on a bike. It can also be the most hazardous. Like many females in literature, cornering can be both beautiful and deadly. Let's see if we can improve your chances of success.

I'm talking about street riding here, not racetracks. I've done a lot of both and they're two different worlds. This is a commuter blog. Let's stick to the environment we're going to spend a lot of time in. So forget about any "Ricky Racer" tips you read about. Things like trail braking, using two fingers on the throttle so two fingers can use brakes, and so on. At some point a rider might want to add subtle little things. Like Arnold, the Governor of California, and former Mr. Olympia said, "You can't define bone". In other words, you first need big muscles, then you can go for that defined look. Same way, here. First we get good, THEN we get fast. Not many riders actually have good technique in the first place.

As they say in life, "Timing is eveything".

The same is certainly true in successful cornering on a bike. In order to get the timing correct, think of it in this order:

Slow- before the corner
Look- look as far through the corner as you can see
Roll- a gentle roll on of the throttle
Press- a press on the handlebar in the direction of the turn to lean the bike.

( here's a hint: all the transitions happen while the bike is still straight up and down. ALL of them. )

Ok, I can hear you thinking. "That sound so simple, why even write about it?" Truth is, it's a case of "easier said than done". If it's so simple and easy why do so many riders get it wrong and pay the price?

Do this for me. Check out your own cornering. Be honest with Yourself. If you lie to Yourself you will get caught. You live with Yourself and the truth will become known. I would bet that there's a good chance you'll find yourself still braking while leaning the bike. Check out the form of people you ride with.

Remember the homework assignment I suggested in June? Note how far you really look through a corner. How good are you at target acquisition? Finding a target and STAYING on it.

The process I listed above is only the start. There's a lot more involved and with some pretty interesting dynamics involved. In the next post we'll finish the discussion and tell you why all these things make such a critical difference.

Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Steve Williams said...

I'll have to check myself when I ride to work later. As I try and mentally visualize how I corner I think I do everything but roll on the throttle while still straight up. I'm not sure if I am confusing a curve and a turn though. I know in a turn I slow, look, press and then get on the throttle. I'm always looking for that gravel and such.

In curves I probably do what you say but it's transparent now and I would have to consciously watch what I do.

I will say that I always look as far into the curve as I can and I adjust my speed so that I can stop within my sight distance should something suddenly appear. And it never seems to be fast enough for people. They want to ride or drive as speeds that just seem impossible to stop if a car was suddenly stopped on the road.

I guess it is one of the reasons I ride alone. I ride at my pace. And I stop constantly to take pictures.

Great post. You're insightful instructor qualities are evident.


MJ said...

I know that I brake before the corner and then slowly twist the throttle as I am turning. I will try to apply your techniques during my ride to work tomorrow.

Happy and safe scooting!!

irondad said...

you'll find that cornering and turning are essentially the same thing as far as sequencing goes. The big difference is speed and what you do with the handlebars. In a turn like going around a block you will actually have to turn the bars instead of countersteering. The throttle application will depend on the circumstances and speed. Good for you on the looking part!

thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned for the next post to get more details. Good luck on your ride!


Bucky said...

I have read your posts about Ready, Aim, Fire, and am using them to refine my techniques learned in the MSF Beginner Class. I have been riding 1-1/2 years, 7000 miles on Kawasaki Ninja 650R.

There are considerable hills nearby rising up the Blue Ridge Escarpment (look at US-178 south of Rosman, NC). I am relatively slow in the twisties, but do much better on the uphill turns than on the downhill.

I am accelerating due to gravity more than I would like, though nowhere near the bike's capabilities, only my own lack of capability.

What is the proper speed/throttle technique under these conditions?

irondad said...

First off, thank you for reading! Uphill cornering is a lot less work than riding downhill, for sure.

Your capabilities will increase soon enough. I commend you for knowing where you are right now and riding accordingly.

If there's a long downhill stretch between corners, you'll need to just ride normally. Brake earlier and a little more than what you would on flat ground. The goal is to get down to a speed that is lower than what you would enter the corner at. Why?

There will be an interval of time between when you release the brakes and smoothly roll on the throttle. The bike should still be straight up and down at this point. You still want all braking done and to be back on the throttle before you lean the bike. During the transition the bike will be gaining speed again since you're headed downhill. Ideally this speed gain should put you just about where you want to be to enter the corner. Practice will help you learn to judge how much speed to scrub for the grade and corner.

It's important to set your entry speed so that you're comfortable applying at least steady throttle through the downhill corners. You don't want to "load" the front wheel with braking forces anymore than you have to. Cornering demands enough of the front tire as it is.

If there is a shorter distance between corners, try riding in second or third gear. Your bike should be capable of fairly high road speeds in these gears. Chose a gear that brings the revs up. Not all the way to redline, but close.

What this will do for you is allow you to use the throttle like a rheostat for the engine. Ideally you won't need the brakes. Rolling off a little will provide enough engine braking to set your entry speed. Rolling on a little will lift the bike for the corner.

Once you get a feel for this technique, you can actually use the throttle to help set your lines, too. A little bit of roll off can bring you in a little. A small bit of roll on can move your line outside. Remember the goal is to make the exit of the first turn the entry to the next one.

Hope this helps. Keep me posted?

Take care,