How to Avoid Cornering Panic on a Motorcycle

Cornering is one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics.

Why is Cornering so Exhilarating…and Scary?

According to Bernt Spiegel in his weighty book, “The Upper Half of the Motorcycle“, humans are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees due to our built-in sense of safety. 20 degrees is our maximum lean angle when running around a circle at full speed without slipping. Anything more than that and our survival senses trigger our panic response.

Image Courtesy of Bernt Spiegel’s “Upper Half of the Motorcycle”

This is why novice passengers panic when first experiencing significant lean angles. They often stiffen and lean in the wrong direction in an attempt to overcome the overwhelming sense of falling.

The act of leaning into a corner stimulates this primal fear, which can either be terrifying or exhilarating, depending on your personal risk tolerance or level of training.

You may think that miles in the saddle is what you need to build sufficient cornering confidence. Sure, over time, the mind and muscles begin to trust that the tires will grip and that the motorcycle will remain rubber side down. But, the level of trust many riders possess is not sufficient for more challenging corners.

These are the riders who panic and run off the road when a corner tightens unexpectedly, because they cannot achieve the required angle of lean.

I Don’t Need No Stinking Training

We tend to train to the level we feel is adequate for our needs, which is measured by how we typically ride. Minimal corner training may seem adequate if all you do are easy rides on familiar roads with few significant curves. But, what about when you venture off to where the pavement twists and turns more than you’re accustomed? This is where trouble lurks.

And what about when you daydream your way into a blind, decreasing radius turn too fast? Will you respond correctly to stay on two wheels and in your lane? Trained riders are much more likely to do the right thing and ride it out. Chances plummet for average riders with minimal training.

Throttle and Speed Control

Correct throttle timing and control is another important aspect of cornering control. When we sense danger it’s natural for us to decelerate. But abruptly “chopping” the throttle upsets stability by compressing the suspension at a time when you need all the grip and ground clearance you can muster.

In extreme conditions, abrupt deceleration can cause hard parts to touch and the tires to get levered off the ground. This affliction happens mostly to low-slung cruisers.

Instead, try to keep the throttle steady throughout the turn to avoid spikes in tire load and to keep the suspension in the usable range to maintain stability and ground clearance. Easier said than done when panic is flooding your system.

You Can Always Get on the Gas

One of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of corner crashes is to enter turns at conservative speeds, especially in blind corners. That way, you are less likely to need to pull off superhuman maneuvers if a hazard appears or the corner tightens.

There is really no penalty for approaching a corner a little too slow, becasue you can always accelerate a bit earlier to make up for a too slow entry. The best advice is “Slow in, faster out”.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another significant problem when cornering. Since you tend to go where you look, it is important that you keep your eyes and attention pointed toward the corner exit.

This is tough to do because we instinctively target the object with our eyes. It’s okay to glance at what you must avoid, but then look away to an escape route around the hazard.

Look where you want to go!

Foresight is Right

It’s not feasible to expect an untrained rider to magically lean the bike to extreme angles if they’ve never done so before. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.

Be on the right side of the equation by learning to lean your motorcycle beyond your comfort zone. Some purposeful parking lot practice will condition your mind and muscles to become accustomed to more extreme lean angles. Do it now before you need it!

How to Corner Better

There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days and regular Sportbike Track Days

Advanced parking Lot Courses

Parking Lot Practice on your own.

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days will give you more confidence!

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