Riding Technique: Four Ways to Steer a Motorcycle

  • AUTHOR
    Honda Riders Club of America
  • POSTED
    Dec 15, 2009
  • POSTED IN
    Street

By: Freddie Spencer

There's always been quite a debate over the proper way to steer your motorcycle, but at the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding school, I teach the exact techniques I used while contesting the 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix World Championships on my way to three world titles.

The year I won both the 250cc and 500cc championships, I had to find ways to conserve my energy and strength when running two 50-minute GPs back-to-back, and in doing so discovered that there were multiple ways to affect how the motorcycle steered and transitioned. It was during that time that I began to exploit the same techniques that I now introduce on the first day of every school: the four ways to steer your motorcycle using countersteering, peg weighting, outside knee pressure against the fuel tank and brake/throttle application. These techniques work no matter what kind of riding you enjoy.

What we teach our students is that these are not four independent methods to pick and choose from; each method should be used in conjunction with the other. For now, let's take a brief look at each component:

Countersteering

Countersteering is the act of pushing on the inside bar (or pulling on the outside) in order to make the motorcycle initiate the corner. Push left, lean left, push right, lean right. The motorcycle's front tire actually turns in the opposite direction of the corner momentarily before the bike leans in and arches in the direction of the corner. However, a rider that relies solely on countersteering will be at a disadvantage when compared to a rider that uses the four ways we teach.

If a rider relies entirely on the movement of the handlebar/clip-ons to turn the bike, he or she must use muscle at a place where you need maximum feel for what the bike is doing. Let's use a tight left/right s-turn as an example. In order for the motorcycle to transition through the corner using only countersteering, the rider must use a firm grip, forcing the bars and then relaxing. This not only becomes physically tiring when done repeatedly, but also works to upset the chassis if done abruptly. We teach our students to get away from muscling the handlebar.

Peg Weighting

Think of a motorcycle as a big gyroscope, and at speed that gyro wants to continue moving in a straight line. You've got gears turning, pistons, wheels and brakes...multiple moving parts that make turning the motorcycle all the more difficult. However, the footpegs are set low and act as an inside axle of the gyro, where a rider can maneuver his or her weight and use considerable leverage and pressure to affect how that gyro reacts. But peg weighting is not just about placing the weight there, but when the rider places the weight there--a discussion we have when you sign up for the school.

Outside Knee Against the Fuel Tank

Using the outside knee against the fuel tank leads to a tightening of the torso muscles, which in turn allows the rider to take the weight off the arms. Why is this important? Because anything that helps alleviate a tense grip at the handlebar will help the rider receive better feedback from the chassis and tires. And relaxed arms and hands are the instruments of smooth throttle, brake and clutch control.

Brake/Throttle

The final part of the steering equation we teach at the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School involves application of the brake and throttle. We teach that the most important aspect of each corner is the entrance, dubbed Zone 1 in the school. Brake and throttle usage in Zone 1 are essential to successfully navigating the rest of the corner. Both brake and throttle input have a tremendous affect on how the motorcycle steers when used in conjunction with the other methods I've described above.

Braking for a corner loads the front tire, compresses the front suspension and tightens rake and trail, allowing the motorcycle to steer more quickly. Trail braking well past the turn-in point allows the rider to continue slowing the bike and help it steer, adjusting the line if need be while maintaining the load factor on the front tire. The throttle is used in much the same way; rolling it off and squeezing the brake will cause the motorcycle's line to tighten, cracking the throttle off idle after the brakes are released arrests the bike's lean angle and helps hold the desired line.

One of the reasons we use such a diverse methodology when teaching students how to most efficiently steer their motorcycles is because a rider will use different techniques depending on the situation. On the racetrack, a rider can hang off the bike and use body and peg weighting more than on the street. During street riding, more importance may be placed on countersteering and brake/throttle application. But the important thing is to understand how all of these inputs can be best utilized to help maneuver your motorcycle.

At our schools, we provide a detailed explanation of each of these methods and how they work in unison. Combined with supervised drills and lots of track time, students can see how these techniques improve their riding in a practical environment, on the racetrack and in everyday street riding. The many miles I've covered street riding and the years I spent battling it out with riders like Kenny Roberts and Anton Mang have culminated in a series of techniques that I believe in--techniques that can be learned and applied to everyday riding to make you a better, safer rider.

For information on the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School, call toll-free 888-672-7219 or click here to go online.

Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Honda Riders Club of America.

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