A few days ago I asked what people had the most trouble with when learning to ride, and almost all of us mentioned cornering. Corners are what makes motorcycling interesting for me so I've spent my whole riding existence sailing through corners, enjoying good tires and suspension mods but not paying very much attention to the mechanics of how I got through the corners. I could coast around corners faster than most other riders could power through them (bicycle training coming through), so why work on improving?
Because I could do it even better, that's why.
When I think back to my days of teaching new riders, the mantra Slow, Look, Lean and Roll comes up. When I think about my cornering objectively, I realize I'm doing some things right, and other things not so right.
1) Slow- this one doesn't give me trouble. I always slow to a speed that will allow me to stop in the distance I can see through, as well as negotiate the corner. How fast can a rider go around a corner? Unless it's a sharp left or right, the posted speed limit should be safe. If a vehicle can't safely get around a corner with Blind Grandma behind the wheel, your local DOT will probably post a local speed sign for the corner. If a rider can't negotiate a turn at the posted speed, the rider needs more training. Some one-on-one with an experienced rider leading the way really helps in this case.
2) Look- another one I have down. Well, at least the head turn part. Looking also involves something taught in the old ERC. Search, Predict, Act. This is where I spent too many miles enjoying the scenery instead of working on my technique. I know there's a fair amount of time spent in the classroom talking about cornering lines and apexes, but until recently I didn't make the connection of using SPA in every corner. Now I'm Searching for the entry, apex and exit points, Predicting how things will work out using various lines and speeds, and then Acting on my predictions. This is where things begin to get better for me, and leads us to
3) Lean AND Roll- even with the words of the Chief Instructor in my memory "Lean AND Roll, all in one", it took me too many years to start working on this. It's all one process, not two distinct things. I find that making a conscious effort to a) reduce braking force b) begin the lean and c) gently
roll into the throttle -all at the same time- makes my motorcycle feel so much more stable. It's almost embarrassing how much easier it is getting through corners.
OK. With all that being said (typed), when do I start to turn? I try to time it so I go from the outside of the corner and hit the apex about two-thirds of the way through the corner. Sure, I can stay on the inside of the corner all the way around if the speed isn't too high, but then I would be deviating from the proper technique and setting myself up for a nasty surprise if I'm in unfamiliar territory. The outside, late apex, outside path has been taught for ages, but it seems a lot of riders are leery of getting too close to the outside edge for fear of going off the road before the turn is initiated. This sets one up for an early apex turn, causing many riders to go wide at the exit if they don't stop rolling on the power. I avoid this by waiting longer than I used to before turning in. The key is the head turn. Instead of staring at the roadside obstacles, I focus my vision through the corner and know from experience that when I turn the bike will go where I'm looking. I have yet to fail to go where I was looking, and past students have not been shy about sharing experiences of going where they were looking, be it the road or the ditch they were looking at.
Now that I've typed all this, I don't really know how to sum it up other than by asking
When Do You Start To Turn?