Knee dragging 101: Fundamentals You Need to Know

Me and my ZX6 Turn 11 NHMS.

Turn 11 NHMS
owenstrackdayphotos.com

Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner. Every motorcycle event photographer knows that the money shot that every track day rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement. It’s the shot that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess and impresses even the most uninformed co-worker or family member. Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.

Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool.

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?

So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.

To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.

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Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com

MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  1. How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  2. As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  3. Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  4. How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  5. As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  6. As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.

My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).

The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.

The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.

Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?

Check out other track day and riding technique related posts

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Author of Riding in the Zone as well as the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Chief Instructor for Tony's Track Days and MSF instructor since 1995.

Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Motorcycle Musings, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips, Track Days
2 comments on “Knee dragging 101: Fundamentals You Need to Know
  1. Jeffrey Meyers says:

    Another great post – thanks Ken. I have done about 10 track days and have not yet touched my knee ;-( However, I would rather NOT touch my knee than have my bike and me sliding across the pavement, so I am chipping away at this, trying to increase me cornering speed slowly while developing my technique. I am looking forward to reading more about expert cornering technique! Jeff

  2. SinR2 says:

    Great post, lots of good info. Personally, I am rather slow overall but, I have no problem sliding over and hanging off my bike in corners, my knee is not always down and the first time it did hit, the track came to me really, I bounced in TURN 3 at Loudon in NH. This was about my 3rd track day and once it happened, I was able to get my knee down a lot, not all the time and not really consistently but I get down… What I need is to better position the puck, it’s clearly in the wrong spot because the bottom corner is the only part touching the ground. A (sad) side note, I have new pucks, my suit was replaced and my (scratched) pucks went with it.

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