The U-turn

It may look easy, but a smoothly executed U-turn on a motorcycle is more challenging than you might think.

How do you perform a U-turn that looks effortless? Consider these tips and practice them in the safety of an empty parking lot, and you’ll find yourself more easily turning your bike around on the street:

It’s All in the Eyes
The old adage “You’ll go where you’re looking” holds especially true when it comes to U-turns. That said, don’t look down, and keep your line of vision going through the turn, constantly focusing your eyes ahead, where you want to go, rather than towards the road surface below. Let target fixation work for you and not against you.

Ride Within the Friction Zone
The friction zone is the area where your clutch is slipping enough to transmit some, but not all power from the engine to the rear wheel. Don’t try to U-turn in neutral, and don’t do with a gear fully engaged, either; riding within the friction zone will give you more control over the bike through the throttle, which helps modulate the motorcycle’s lean angle through subtle adjustments. Trim just enough clutch to get you through it, but not so much that will make the bike run away with you.

Drag the Rear Brake
Avoid using the front brakes during U-turns, as the forks are more sensitive to diving at low speeds. Take your fingers away from the front brake completely, that will rove the temptation all together. Gentle dragging or feathering of the rear brake creates stability, enabling better control while you’re maneuvering your bike through the turn. Remember that the rear brake, when applied, slows the rear wheel down that slows the bike down, and that effect gives you time to finish the turn.

Keep Your Weight Mass Centralized
There’s a natural tendency to stick your leg out when you turn (making it ready to break a fall), but your motorcycle will be more manageable when peripheral mass (i.e. you!) is closer to the bike. Keep your feet on the pegs; if necessary, you might be helped by putting some weight on the outside peg, in a similar but more subtle way than you would while riding off-road.

Practice Turning Both Ways
For whatever reason, most people find it much easier to make tight left turns than right turns. To develop a more balanced U-turn skill set, practice doing figure 8s in an empty parking lot. The drill will build your muscle memory for both sides of your body. Similarly, try riding in a wide circle and narrowing your path so you’re forming an ever-narrowing spiral; once you can’t turn any more tightly, exit and try it again the other way. Remember to keep looking where you want to go, especially when you’re changing directions.

A very important note here: Your head and eyes (your mind) controls the body that controls the bike. Move your head and eyes through the turn quickly and the bike will follow quickly. Take long with your head and eyes, and the bike will return the favour.

Have a look at this video clip to see a U-Turn in action:

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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