Q&A on Body Position
A virtual classroom on body positioning on a motorcycle.
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Most riders sit pretty much upright in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with that, however they are not utilizing a simple tool that helps the motorcycle turn, engages the rider in the “dance” between human and machine and increases ground clearance when needed.
We Need More Clearance, Captain!
Positioning your body to the inside of your motorcycle when cornering means that the motorcycle does not have to lean as far for a given speed and turn radius.
Hanging off makes this so by shifting the combined weight of body and machine to move the center of gravity lower and to the inside.
Hanging off not only increases ground clearance, it also keeps the contact patch closer to the center of the tire and adds a degree of “power steering” to help initiate lean. By pre-positioning your body just before turn-in preloads the bike so it falls swiftly from upright to leaned. It can be unsettling the first time you do it as the bike turns so much easier, so experiment gradually.
Body position has an additional benefit of encouraging interaction between you, the bike, and the road. Move your body through a series of curves like you would a dance partner across a dance floor and you’ll be flirting with the Zone in no time. Lead with your eyes and shoulders and your motorcycle will willingly follow your lead.
Active body positioning isn’t just for sport bike riders. Try it on whatever motorcycle you ride.
Body Position “Levels”
You don’t have to hang off like Marc Marquez to benefit from body positioning.
When speeds and lean angles increase, it’s beneficial to use a more “active” body position that provides a greater amount of turning ease and ground clearance. There are three levels of body positioning for cornering: The “basic”, “intermediate”, and “full” hang off techniques.
The “basic” position
Use the basic body position for typical street speeds. This position involves simply leaning your upper body off-center, towards the inside of the turn. Position yourself as if you are kissing your mirror. Keep your inside shoulder low and forward while your eyes look through the curve. Your butt stays more-or-less centered on the seat.
The basic position is easy to do and is not intimidating, making it good for people just learning to hang off.
The “Intermediate” position
The intermediate stage is the body positioning technique I use when riding on street twisties. It is appropriate when riding more aggressively, but is no where near the level of extreme positioning typical of racers.
Learning this is quite simple. All you have to do is lean your upper body into the turn while rocking your hips so your inside sit-bone supports most of your weight. Rocking onto your inside butt cheek just before the corner positions your arms perfectly to countersteer with your inside arm and shoulder pressuring on the inside handlebar and your outside arm slightly extended and relaxed.
Rock onto the inside butt cheek just before the corner so that your body is in position as you countersteer. This is a very simple and effective technique.
The “full” hang off position
The full hang off position allows the most aggressive riders to achieve faster corner speed without dragging hard parts. Hanging off has a lot of benefits, but can cause problems if not done correctly. Here is a basic tutorial:
- Get your weight on the balls of your feet.
- Use your legs (a little of your arms) to lift your body into position with your butt on the inside edge of the seat.
- Position your shoulders and head inside and low (kiss the mirror).
- Keep your hips perpendicular to the motorcycle.
- Keep about 2-4 inches between your crotch and the fuel tank.
- Rest the inner thigh of your outside leg against the tank.
- Support a little more than half of your weight with the inside foot.
- Hold the grip like a screwdriver with the forearm more or less in line with the handlebar.
- Relax your arms by supporting your weight with your legs and torso.
- Rest your outside arm on the top of the tank.
Avoid rotating your hips around the tank, which can result in a “crossed” body position where the upper body is positioned over the center of the bike. Instead, keep space between your crotch and the tank so you can move laterally across the bike.
Jack Your leg Into the Tank
For extra support, you can press your outer thigh into the gas tank. With the ball of your foot on the outside footpeg, straighten your ankle to make firm contact between the peg and the tank. Extending your leg in this way helps support your body with your legs, not your arms. The cutouts in sport bike gas tanks are ideal for positioning your inner knee. Adding Stomp Grip® or TecSpec® can help make the contact even more secure.
Try not to use your handlebars when moving from side to side. Doing so can upset the chassis and traction. Instead, use your legs and torso. Get your upper body over the tank, keeping your arms bent. I find that more rearward footrests help with this.
Also, be sure to get your body in position before you initiate lean (often while braking for the turn). Waiting too long can make the corner entry rather stressful and chaotic. Pre-positioning your body results in a quicker turn in (the benefits of quick turning is a topic for another day). It takes some practice to brake while in the hang off position, but it is a technique that must be learned (another future blog topic, I think).
Hang at Your Own Risk
You should be discrete when hanging off on the street. Not only is a full hang-off posture not often necessary, it also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Even when hanging off on the racetrack, it’s not always necessary to hang off like Marquez. Hang off just enough to match your corner speed. Hanging off more may make for better photos, but it’ll wear you out sooner and could actually decrease control.
Slow Speed Maneuvers
One exception to the “inside” body position is when making slow speed maneuvers. In this case, you want to keep your body upright, on top of the bike. This is because stability is almost non-existent and adding body weight to the inside of the bike will lever the bike to the ground. Read about slow speed maneuvers here.
Body Positioning is discussed in the RITZ book. Parking lot drills are also provided so you can learn to make proper, “active” body positioning an integral part of your riding.
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