Steering Explained

You are riding along a country road, and can see the road ahead curving sharply to the right. It’s a blind curve, so it’s hard to assess just how much you will need to turn. Could there be traffic coming toward you when you go around the bend? Do you need to adjust your speed and steering to get a safe lean angle and maintain a safe lane position?

What should you do?

If you’ve driven a car, you may think that steering is simple — just turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. But to steer a motorcycle you need to trust the effect and know how to lean into your turn while keeping your line balanced. You also need to understand the different types of motorcycle steering: low-speed steering, counter-balancing and counter-steering.

Low-speed steering
At strolling speeds, the motorcycle is unsteady and requires constant balancing and steering correction. To steer at slow speeds, turn the handlebar to the left when you want to turn left or turn the handlebar to the right when you want to turn right. Keep your knees against the tank, relax your arms and upper body, turn your head and eyes looking and steering where you want to go. Steering input must be smooth but deliberate.

Counter-balancing
In slow turns, lean the motorcycle only if necessary and remember to counter-balance — keep the motorcycle balanced by keeping your body upright or leaned slightly in the opposite side. This will keep the centre of gravity low, again keeping your body and arms relaxed with smooth input on the handlebar. Don’t forget to turn your head and eyes, steering the way you would at low speed. Some riders on off-road motorcycles prefer standing on their footpegs, weighting the relevant peg while steering and pushing one knee into the tank, and releasing the other knee in the direction of steering. A technique best practised under instructor guidance.

Counter-steering
Counter-steering is applied at speeds of 10 km/h and faster. You will find that when you get up to 15 to 20 km/h, the bike feels more stable, and at this speed the motorcycle must lean or pushed onto the small diameter of the wheel to make a turn. This type of steering counteracts the inertia that causes the motorcycle to remain upright and in a straight line. You make the motorcycle lean by counter-steering; it may seem to be the opposite of what you should do but that’s the only way. In simple terms if you want to lean right, you gently push on the right grip, or push on the left grip to lean left.

At medium or high riding speeds, the rider and the motorcycle should both lean into the bend at the same angle.

There are 3 different ways of Counter-steering, but really only one effective way:

  1. The Pusher: Push the Left Grip to Lean Left / Push the Right Grip to Lean Right – only One Arm or 50% of steering effort is used
  2. The Puller: Pull the Left Grip to Lean Right / Pull the Right Grip to Lean Left – only One Arm or 50% of steering effort is used
  3. The Pushler: Push the Left Grip and Pull on the Right Grip to Lean Left / Push on the Right Grip and Pull on the Left Grip to Lean Right – Both Arms or 100% of steering effort is used

Handling Bends
When you go around a bend, you are putting pressure on the available traction (the grip your tyres have on the road). Your motorcycle is fighting the inertia that is trying to push you in a straight line, as your motorcycle leans into the turn, there is also a side force on your tyres. The faster you go, the harder you have to push on the handlebar to turn or lean into the curve. The harder you push, the more your motorcycle leans and the more traction you use up; when you have used up almost all your available traction, several things could happen:

  • If you find you need to lean just a bit more to stay in the curve, you could run out of traction or ground clearance, skid and fall.
  • If you brake abruptly, you could lose traction and skid.
  • If you hit a wet or rough patch on the road, you could lose traction and fall.

The lesson is: Easy In – Faster Out. Enter your turn at a safe or comfortable speed that allows you to lean or counter-steer at a moderate angle — then, on your way out of the turn, roll on your throttle increasing your lean angle/more counter-steering as you do (or you’ll run wide), keeping your head and eyes up and through the turn looking at the exit.

My advice, go to a quiet piece of road or parking lot, and practise this. The faster you ride more steering input or effort is required – Laziness to steer will kill you!

Hein will release a video on Counter Steering in the near future, and will be published on the Bike Talk You Tube Channel.

Hein Jonker

Founder of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa Editor in Chief of Bike Talk South Africa Chief Instructor of Bike Talk Motorcycle Rider Academy Motorcycle Safety & Skills Expert for Arrive Alive South Africa

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