Tips for Surviving Alpine Switchbacks on a Motorcycle

This article was originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.

photo Caroline White

Their names are infamous; Pordoi, Sella, Gavia, Gardena, and of course Stelvio. These are just a few of the mountain passes that snake up and over the mighty Italian Alps and jagged Dolomites. Riding these epic roads is not for the faint of heart or the weak of skill. Riding the steep hairpin switchbacks isn’t fundamentally different than riding any other twisty motorway, except these roads are turned all the way up to 11. But with a little knowledge and pre-trip cornering practice you can tackle the wicked Alpine passes with enthusiasm, rather than dread.

Sharpen your cornering skills – You’ll need to be really good at looking well ahead, judging entry speed, selecting effective cornering lines and leaning the heck out of your rental bike. You also need to understand techniques for managing both uphill and downhill hairpin turns. Article Link

Keep your momentum up hill. photo Caroline White

Maintain uphill momentum – On the way up the mountain gravity works in your favor to help slow for turns. But, slow down too much and the bike will want to fall over. Minimize instability by getting on the gas early, but not so early so you run wide.

Control speed going downhill – When riding downhill gravity works against your attempts to scrub speed. This means you need to brake with greater force. To be safe, brake earlier so you can brake with less intensity.

Trailbrake – Get the bike slowed and help it to turn by braking past the turn-in point and then taper (trail) off the brakes as you lean more. Hold light brake pressure until the bike is pointed around the turn before fully releasing. Article Link

Use the rear brake – Apply the rear brake just before the front to minimize forward pitch and keep the wheels in alignment. Maintain light pressure on the rear binder for a moment after releasing the front brake to help “hook” the bike around turns.

Use Effective Cornering Lines – Enter from the outside or middle of your lane and don’t turn in too soon. Aim for a “delayed apex” that is about 3/4 around the curve so you’re pointed safely down the road and not at the oncoming lane or outside edge of the road. Cornering Lines Article

Drive out of each corner –Gradually accelerate as soon as the bike approaches mid corner to maintain speed and stabilize the chassis. Well-timed acceleration ensures a predictable path of travel.

Look where you want to go! Ken Condon photo

Use smooth brake-to-throttle transitions – Smoothly release the brake while simultaneously rolling on the throttle to avoid abruptness that can squander traction and cause your bike to exit wide.

Practice slow speed turning – You will need excellent slow speed control to prevent mid-corner tip-overs on the countless tight “slower than first gear” switchbacks. Maintain stability using steady clutch and throttle control. The tightest turns may require some rear brake and counterweighting. Article Link

Look where you want to go – The eyes are a powerful tool for helping direct your motorcycle. But, too often when we are anxious we look down and toward what we fear, which increases the likelihood of a mishap. Look at the solution, not the problem! Article Link

Dealing with tour buses and bicyclists is part of riding the Alps. photo Caroline White

Watch for buses and bicycles – If you ride the Alps someday, you’ll be sharing the ridiculously narrow Alpine passes with tour buses and bicycle riders. Look well ahead and plan accordingly to avoid a collision. Expect to stop and wait until it’s safe to proceed.


Do yourself a favor and bone up on your cornering skills before you hit the Alpine switchbacks. You’ll have a more enjoyable and safer experience.

Some related Videos:

Discussing Hairpin Turns during Street Training

A ride down the Gardena Pass in the Dolomites in northern Italy.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

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Body Position Tips for More Effective Cornering

Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo:
Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo:

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.

Easier Turning

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.

Let’s Dance

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

The basic body 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.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.

Side-to-Side Transitions

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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Non-Sportbike Track Training Days are available. Click the photo.


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Video: Cornering Seminar with Ken Condon

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At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.

My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.

And finally, I bring a stack of books for people to buy.

OK. On with the show. It’s over an hour long, so find a comfy chair.



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Video Lesson: Cornering Finesse

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and show some of the nuances of body position, cornering lines, countersteering and visual skills.

This is the sort of cornering detail we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.


I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.

Share you thoughts and comments below.

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Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo:
Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo:

Guest contributor Ed Conde shares his experiences about how track days have helped his street riding.

The Next Level

I came to riding late. I did not begin riding until I was pushing 50. I tried to make up for lost time by training and reading everything that I could find. I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Course and the MSF Experienced Riding Course multiple times. The books and the courses definitely helped my street awareness and slow speed skills. However, I felt that these tools did not adequately prepare me for riding at speed on the street.

I tried improving my street riding by working on a skill or two each time I rode. I regularly practiced threshold braking, swerving, and weaving in parking lots. All of this helped a lot, but I felt that something was missing. I found that something when I began to do track days.

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

  1. Observation and feedback from track professionals.
  2. Action photographs that captured my riding and body position.
  3. The ability to repeat the same corners at speed without cars or other distractions.

Observation and Feedback from track professionals – There simply is no substitute for having an expert follow and observe you riding at speed. The difference between my perception of my riding and what experts saw was pretty sobering. I suspect that most of us are not as good as we think we are. Track instructors and control riders noticed that that my body position needed improvement, that I needed to relax, that my lines needed improvement, that my shifting needed work, and that my throttle/brake transitions needed to be smoother. This was a bit shocking considering how much time I had devoted to riding technique.

Action photographs – Photos do not lie! I have hated some of my track photographs because they captured all of the things that I was doing wrong. Track photographers often take photos at different curves and from different vantage points. My track photos gave me great feedback on my riding, although I did not always like what I saw.

The ability to repeat corners at speed – Being able to repeat the same corners at speed allowed me to see how changes affected my riding. It is impossible for me to duplicate this on the street where corners vary and hazards abound. While I practiced skills like trail braking, countersteering, downshifting, cornering lines, and body position in parking lots, everything changed at street speeds. Braking and downshifting from 30mph in a parking lot was a lot different than braking and downshifting from 65mph into a hairpin at the track. In addition, following an actual road was more realistic, for me, than following a cone course in a parking lot.

Are track skills useful on the street?

Folks often ask if the skills I learned at track days are transferable to the street. My answer is absolutely! Where else can you work on your riding skills safely at actual road speeds? While many skills learned at a Basic MSF Course or a “Ride Like a Pro” Course are extremely valuable, slow speed skills are often opposite to those I need at speed. While favoring the rear brake and counter weighting may improve my slow speed riding, it hinders my riding at speed.

Body Position Practice

Perhaps the best example of personal improvement from track riding is in my body position. (click on photos for larger image)

Figure 1

Figure 1 is a video screen shot of my first track day with Tony’s Track Days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009. At the time, I felt like I was riding well and actually passed most riders on the track. Looking at the photo now, I can see that I am almost scraping hard parts even though I am not riding fast. My upper body is leaning away from the turn and my eyes are not looking through the turn. I am pushing the bike beneath me dirt bike style which made me feel like I was really leaning.

Figure 2

Figure 2 is a photo from 2011 taken near Bear Mountain, NY. I am trying to work on lessons learned at the track. I am no longer pushing the bike beneath me and my head is turned somewhat. The centerline of my jacket is now in line with the center of the bike. Despite some improvement, the footpeg is almost scraping at a modest lean angle.

Figure 3

Figure 3 is a photo from 2013 at the Tail of the Dragon. I had actually been working hard on skills learned at the track before this trip. The centerline of my jacket was now inside the centerline of the bike. My head turn was much better and I was beginning to weight the inside half of the seat. This photo is a big improvement, but I was still almost scraping my left footpeg at a modest lean angle.

Figure 4

Figure 4 is after multiple track days in 2014 and 2015. My head and shoulders are now lower and well inside the centerline of the bike. The head turn is better and almost all of my weight is on the inside half of the seat. I am not scraping despite a more pronounced lean angle. While I will not usually hang off this much on the street, I will use the better head & shoulder position and the weighting of the inside half of the seat on all my street rides.


Safer and More Confident Cornering

I will definitely use the skills that I have been learning at the track to ride better while conserving lean angle on the street. By keeping lean angle in reserve, I will have a safety margin if I need to tighten up my line during a curve. I will continue to attend parking lot courses because many fundamentals are learned best there. I will continue to practice slow speed skills with counter weighting, head turn, and dragging the rear brake. I will continue honing my street awareness skills and ability to anticipate trouble. However, I will not neglect training at speed with the help of professionals. I still have a lot to learn, but look forward to the challenge.

Anyone can do a track day. photo:

Editor Ken: Even if you ride a cruiser, tourer, ADV bike, or whatever, there is a track day for you. Non-Sportbike Track Days are available, as well as “traditional”sportbike track days . Either type of track day allows street riders to advance their skills in a safer environment than the street.

Share your comments below. Note that comments from those who have not commented before need approval before they are posted, so be patient, they will be published.

Ed Conde
Ed Conde

Ed Conde is an administrator and webmaster for the group New England Riders (NER). He enjoys finding the best motorcycle roads, views, and restaurants and posting them to the NER Best of the Northeast website.
His real job is running the federal government’s alcohol countermeasures laboratory and testifying at impaired driving cases. Ed enjoys learning about riding and marvels at the skills of top racers, motocrossers, and trials riders. He and his wife Debra ride all over the Northeast on their motorcycles.

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4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Cornering Lines

Multiple corners require creativity.A “cornering line” is the path you follow around a corner. Riding a narrow, single-track vehicle means we are able to select the left, center or right positions within the lane. The “basic” cornering line starts by entering the turn at the outside edge of the lane and then continues to the inside or “apex” (near the middle of the corner), and ends with the motorcycle exiting toward the outside of the lane. This line is commonly known as the “outside-inside-outside” line. To learn more about the importance of road lanes, read this website:

Why Bother?

A lot of motorcycle riders don’t understand the benefits of cornering lines, believing that it’s good enough to simply keep their tires between the painted lines. This is fine when the road is predictable and speeds are low. But, as speeds increase and the road becomes more challenging, precise cornering lines become more important.

Cornering lines are a must when you ride on a racetrack, partly because the pavement is so wide that you would be silly to not use the available real estate. Riding from pavement edge to edge on the racetrack is the equivalent to using the whole width of the lane.

However, be smart! Don’t get too close to the oncoming lane or the outside edge of the road. Do not cross the painted lines (or lean into the opposite lane), but use the lane to your advantage.

Before we start, let’s define what an apex is. The apex is the “inside” point in the basic outside-inside-outside path of travel.

Here are the 4 primary benefits of riding cornering lines:

1. Straightens the Curve

Entering the curve from the outside, apexing near the inside and exiting toward the outside straightens the curve by increasing the corner radius, which requires less lean and preserves traction. It’s important to have traction in reserve in case you have to increase lean angle or execute a mid-corner maneuver.

By entering the turn wider and “apexing” around the curve, your bike will be pointed safely down the road at the exit. Apex too early and you’ll run wide.

2. Gives a Better Angle of View

This is the primary benefit for street riders. Entering a corner from the outside also allows a better angle of view into the corner so you can get an early look at the corner’s characteristics and identify any mid corner hazards so you can adjust your corner entry speed for safety.

3. Increases Cornering Confidence

Actively thinking about and choosing a deliberate path into a through curves makes you a Corner Master who rides with a plan. The result is a more preemptive attitude that puts your eyes, mind and body ahead of the corner.

4. Increases Cornering Enjoyment

Riding cornering lines increases the engagement you have with your bike–and every corner you encounter. Riders who unconsciously stay in the middle of the pavement are passive about their riding and miss out on the opportunity for deeper involvement.


DELAY your Turn-in

When you begin your turn (and how quickly you turn) has a significant impact on cornering precision and safety. New or nervous riders are anxious to get the turn over with, so they tend to turn in too soon. This places the bike at the apex too early, pointing the motorcycle toward the outside of the curve. To finish the turn and stay in the lane, the rider is forced to increase lean angle past the apex  at the time when they should be reducing lean angle. This is a common reason for corner crashes.

Not only does the delayed apex point the bike safely toward the corner exit and not at the outside edge of the road, but it also provides the best angle of view into the corner. Wait, wait, wait…now turn.

Quick Turn

To execute the delayed apex line requires a quick turn-in using firm countersteering. The harder you press on the inside handgrip, the quicker you will turn. Pull on the outside handgrip while pushing on the inside grip to turn in even quicker. Also, pre-position your body to the inside before the turn-in to help the motorcycle fall into the corner with even less effort.

Executing a precise cornering line requires coordination between the timing of your turn-in and the amount of countersteering intensity. Turning in too late and with not enough handlebar force can result in a “missed” apex, causing your motorcycle to stay in the middle or even outside portion of the lane, not near the inside as desired.

Sequential Corners

The basic outside-inside-outside cornering line is the obvious choice if the corner is isolated from other corners with a straight before and after the curve. But, multiple corners strung together can make the outside exit unusable and dangerous.

An outside exit that is appropriate for a single turn may prove too wide if the next corner bends in the opposite direction. In this situation, you have to ride an “outside-inside-INSIDE” line. This means you stay inside all the way to the exit where it becomes the entrance to the next corner. Depending on the relationship between corners, you may end up with an “outside-inside-MIDDLE” line.

Below is a video of Ken using cornering lines on a twisty road:

The trick to seamlessly stringing together a series of corners is to look well ahead  to identify each corner’s radius and determine what the proper entry is for the following corner. The best riders interact with their bike and the corners in a way that turns the road into a dance floor, making the mastery of cornering lines not only safer, but also very satisfying.

Do you use cornering lines?

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How to Survive Downhill Curves

Cornering errors are responsible for at least half of all fatalities. And of those corners, downhill curves are the most challenging. But, with some knowledge and practice you can master these tricky turns.

Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.
Look, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Note the lower guardrail installed to make the guardrail less lethal to crashing riders.

Before I describe how to deal with downhill turns, let’s revisit the basic cornering process.

  1. Look Well Ahead: This is obvious, but not instinctual for many. Riders who are nervous tend to look in the near distance. Discipline yourself to look well ahead so you can get a handle on what’s coming up.
  2. Slow: This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use your brakes and/or downshift to reduce speed, but you MUST consciously evaluate whether you need to adjust speed so you can negotiate the corner with plenty of traction and skill to spare. If in doubt, slow down! You can always get on the gas if you slow too much.
  3. Lean: You initiate lean by countersteering. The amount you must lean is determined by your speed and the radius of the turn (your body position also affects the amount of necessary lean). If you enter a turn at a speed that requires you to lean to the limit of your comfort level, then you’re risking a crash. The solution is to learn to lean, dammit. If you’ve never explored near-maximum lean on your bike (in a safe place, please) then you are poised to be a victim.
  4. Accelerate: Once leaned, you need to crack the throttle and continue to accelerate gradually through to the corner exit. The basic explanation for why you need to do this is that it stabilizes the suspension and chassis. Gradual acceleration also loads both tires for maximum grip.

The line (path) you choose around the turn is also important. The “outside-inside-outside” path is the gold standard, but should not be cast in stone. The delayed apex line is one that every rider should know about and use in many cases. This is when you allow the bike to orbit around the corner before bringing it in tight to the apex. An article explaining cornering lines is in the works.

Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate.
Slow to a speed that allows you to accelerate. Notice how the centerline and edge of the road visually converge to indicate a tightening curve and downhill slope.

Downhill Curve How-To

Okay, with the basic cornering technique in mind, let’s discuss how it applies to downhill curves.

  1. Look Ahead: No difference here, except that what you should see are the telltale signs of a downhill curve: pavement sloping away from you, indicated by how the centerline and edge of the pavement visually converge in the distance. If these visual clues come together in the near distance, then the hill is steeper than if they converge farther away. Also, look for roadside objects to help you determine how tight the curve is and how steep the hill is (read more here).
  2. Slow: The main difference between a flat curve and a descending curve is how gravity pulls you and your bike’s mass down the hill. This means that you need to scrub more speed before the curve, otherwise you will find yourself going too fast mid-corner.You also need to begin braking earlier so you have more time and space to slow. Waiting too long will cause the bike to pitch forward, causing the rear tire to get light which can lead to instability. Trailbraking is useful for downhill turns as a way to smoothly slow the bike as you tip into the curve.

    Trailbraking not only gives you more time and distance to get the bike slowed, it also helps direct the bike around the curve. That’s becasue the bike will turn more easily when the brakes are lightly applied (too much brake force can have the opposite effect). The chassis geometry shortens as the suspension compresses and the front tire contact patch gains more of the available traction.

    Also, consider that gravity is pushing the bike downhill and releasing the brakes fully will cause the bike to accelerate in the direction the front wheel is pointed. Waiting to release the brakes until the bike is pointing around the corner helps the bike get pointed toward the corner exit. Usually trailbraking is done with the front or both brakes, but in this situation, dragging the rear brake only is another way to scrub off speed without overstressing the front tire to prevent the front tire from washing out.

  3. Lean: Initiate lean using contersteering, so no real difference here. However, a quicker turn-in is often needed to avoid running wide. I often coach riders to “let the bike drop” into the curve when entering a downhill curve.
    Will your ability and experience with lean angles allow you to do this? Or will you ride off the road?
  4. Accelerate: Accelerate? You want me to accelerate, even when gravity is already pulling the bike down the hill? Yep. Even though gravity is going to cause your bike to speed up, you still need to stabilize the bike and manage traction. The trick is to slow down enough before the curve so you can crack the throttle ever so slightly and hold that throttle setting or accelerate as you round the bend. This will get some of the weight off the front tire so the bike will track easily around the corner.Note that the steeper the curve, the later you will brake and the less you will accelerate, but you still need to accelerate. If you enter the curve very slowly, then you may need to keep the clutch in and then ease it out as you tip into the curve. But, get the clutch out immediately after tipping in to avoid freewheeling down the hill, which causes most bikes to feel unstable and track unpredictably. It’s better to introduce some measure of drive force ASAP.

The line you choose around a downhill curve should have you entering wide to the outside. As you tip in, you let the bike drop inside to a delayed apex (farther around the curve), then let the bike exit toward the outside of the corner.  This straightens the radius for better traction and the need for less lean angle.

Remember to continue to look where you WANT to go, not where you are afraid to go!

Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.
Body position helps drop the bike into the turn while requiring less lean angle.

What about body position? When cornering at normal speeds, you want to drop your inside shoulder to engage with the bike. This helps you lean with confidence, but also allows the bike to remain a bit more upright.


Do not hesitate in acquiring these skills, because one day you too may find yourself facing a curve that you cannot handle. The best place to begin is in a parking lot where you will learn to lean your motorcycle with authority (parking lot drills are a feature of the RITZ Book). This means mastering countersteering and learning to turn quickly.  Once you feel pretty good about your progress, I suggest you attend a track day where you will explore the limits of cornering and braking in a safer environment. Many racetracks I’ve ridden have at least one downhill corner where you can practice all day long. Sign up for personal instruction if you want to fine-tune your cornering skills, including downhill curves.

What tips can you offer for downhill curves?

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How to Not Suck at Cornering

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This is a rider who sucks at cornering.
This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Hot on the heels of the The Power of the Quick Turn article is this followup post about what happens after you tip into a corner. Too many riders struggle with cornering, not necessarily because they are afraid to lean, but becasue they do not understand how to properly complete a turn.

Cornering Basics

By now you know that motorcycles must lean to change direction and that leaning is done by countersteering. Read about countersteering HERE.

Once the bike begins to lean, countersteering pressure is reduced and other dynamics take over that cause the motorcycle to arc around the curve, including front end rake and trail geometry, as well as something called camber thrust. Camber thrust is the term that describes how a tapered object (a motorcycle tire leaned over) orbits around its axis when rolling along a surface (the pavement).

In other words, the rounded profile of a motorcycle tire acts like a tapered styrofoam cup when it’s rolled on its side. Give it a push and it rolls in a circle.

Here is how author and  fellow USCRA racer Tony Foale describes camber thrust:

“As the inside edge of the tyre is forced to adopt a smaller radius than the outer edge, then for a given wheel rotational speed, the inner edge would prefer to travel at a smaller road speed, this happens if the wheel is allowed to turn about a vertical axis through the point of the cone. Just as a solid cone on a table if given a push.”

For our purposes, all you really need to understand is that your motorcycle is designed to track around a curve with minimal effort once the bike is in a lean. Front end geometry (caster effect, rake,  trail, etc.) all make this possible. If you want to read more, go to Tony Foale’s website and learn all about it.

If your bike is properly maintained and has relatively new tires with nearly the original profile intact, you should be able to initiate lean and then maintain that lean angle without introducing any significant handlebar inputs. Problems occur when the rider messes this process up. Most bikes will track predictably and with little effort as long as the rider doesn’t interfere with the process or introduce counterproductive inputs.

Variations in Machine Design

Some riders insist that they cannot round a corner without using significant handlebar pressure to keep their machine on the desired path. Instead of being able to relax and let the bike carve the path, they fight the bars all the way around the curve. It is possible that the machine is to blame, but these days this is rarely true.

While I have ridden bikes with really bad cornering dynamics, the vast majority of modern machines offer balanced, neutral handling that requires little-to-no mid-corner intervention. The only reason for handlebar adjustments are because of mid-corner changes in turn radius, camber or surface condition. A smooth constant radius curve, ridden well, requires almost no additional handlebar pressure.

It’s important to note that different types of bikes handle differently. Sportbikes are responsive to steering inputs, while cruisers tend to be slower steering, but more stable. Still, if the rider does all the right things, then the differences in machine does not make that much of a difference. The trick is to have the knowledge and skill to complete a corner proficiently.

Basically, it’s usually much more productive to evaluate the user instead of blaming the machine.

User Error

To repeat…once the necessary lean angle is established, most bikes are happy to track around a corner with little effort. So, why do some riders struggle with this part of the cornering process? The answer lies in a few areas.

  1. Tension at the handlebars. The front of the bike needs to be free to move up, down, and side -to-side in response to both large and small changes in the road surface. Being stiff on the handlebars interferes with this motion and causes the motorcycle to feel reluctant to turn. It also asks the tires to work harder to stay in contact with the surface. Another problem with stiff arms is that you are inhibiting the slight countersteering corrections that may need to occur to deal with changes in camber or other variations in corner surface. Loose arms allow fluid reactions.
  2. Poor body position. Think of your bike as your dance partner who wants you to lead. In the case of the cornering dance, a slight dip of the shoulder to the inside of the curve will encourage smoother cornering. In contrast, a rider who stays upright or leans outside is stepping on the bike’s toes, causing it resist fluid cornering.
  3. Not using the Throttle Correctly. For the motorcycle to track around the corner predictably and smoothly, the suspension must be stable and in the middle of its travel. Smooth, gradual acceleration throughout the curve produces the best results. Be sure to slow enough at the beginning of turns so that you can comfortably roll on the gas all the way to the exit. Unfortunately, a lot of riders fail to use steady throttle in corners. This is a problem, because changes in speed and drive force alter the arcing path the motorcycle takes. Abruptly chopping on or off the throttle upsets this stability and causes the bike to lift and fall in and out of the established angle of lean and introduces forces that result in a wobbly or weaving line around the corner. Note that acceleration typically makes the bike drift wide and deceleration can either cause the bike to drop into the corner more or cause it to stand up, depending on how abruptly the throttle is chopped and how the machine /tire combo responds to this input.
  4. Not Looking through the Turn. You tend to go where you look, so look where you want to go! By keeping your visual attention through the turn and toward the corner exit, your mind is able to better manage the corner. The other advantage is that the landscape slows down when you look ahead. This reduces anxiety and helps complete the concerning process. Looking ahead will not suddenly make you a cornering master, but without habitually looking ahead, you will never become one. Keep your eyes up.
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!

Cornering Technique

Okay, so let’s break it down.

  1. Look well ahead.
  2. Countersteer to initiate lean for the corner.
  3. Crack the throttle as soon as the bike is leaned. Use gentle drive at first and then progressively feed in more drive force. Roll on with more authority as lean angle is reduced near the corner exit. Steady drive creates steady cornering.
  4. Relax! If you established the correct angle of lean for the turn, the bike should require only slight adjustments in handlebar pressure. Corners that tighten will require you to press more on the inside bar to lean the bike more, but keep the throttle as steady as possible.
  5. Finish the turn. You’re not done yet. Keep looking toward the corner exit and roll on the throttle a bit more to let the bike drift toward the outside of the curve. This facilitates the “outside-inside-outside” cornering line, which I will discuss in a future post.
  6. Rinse and repeat for the next corner.

There is so much more to learn about the cornering process, but this is a good start. Implement these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a cornering master.

What tips can you share that help you to corner with more confidence?

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The Power of the Quick Turn

Most motorcycle riders initiate lean in a somewhat lazy manner. In most cornering situations and at normal street speeds it is perfectly fine to gradually ease into a corner with light pressure on the handlebars.

But, when the pace picks up and the corners become less predictable, a sluggish, indecisive turn-in will cause you to run wide at corner exits. The ability to turn quickly gives you a survival tool for managing misjudged corners while also increasing an overall sense of control and confidence. Booya!

Cornering 101

Before we get into quick turning technique, you must understand the basics of how a motorcycle changes direction. Motorcycles must lean to turn. Leaning is done primarily by introducing countersteering pressure on the handlebar: press forward/down on the handlebar on the side in which you want to turn.

A delayed apex requires a delayed, quick turn-in.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.

Not sure you understand countersteering? Read This Article NOW. FYI, you can quicken steering by pushing on the inside handlebar while also pulling on the opposite bar.

Practice the quick turn technique in a parking lot. And then apply it on your next ride.

How Quicker Turns Help

Turning the motorcycle within a shorter distance and period of time gets the bike to change direction early.

The quicker the bike is leaned, the earlier the direction change is completed, which affords you a greater margin of error to handle a misjudged turn radius or a slightly overspeed entry. Look at the diagram and you’ll also see that a quicker turn-in means you are not leaned over as long.

Another benefit of a quick turn is that it allows the bike to reach maximum necessary lean angle before or at the turn apex (the innermost part of the corner), which means that you can get on the gas sooner for both greater corner stability (bikes like being under drive when cornering) and greater exit speed (for you performance riders): Tip-in and then crack the throttle.

Quick Turns and Cornering Lines

The quick turn technique can be used for most, but not all corners. Some corners are laid out so that a gentle, sweeping entry is best. But, most other corners benefit from a quick turn, especially turns we call “exit” turns that require a slower entry and an early drive out of the corner.

A quick turn is also useful as a way to achieve a delayed apex cornering line. Delaying turn-in by a half-second or so keeps you outside a bit longer at the turn entry for a wider angle of view and points the motorcycle toward the turn exit, rather than toward the outside edge of the lane. Novice riders often dive for the inside of a corner as they react to anxiety about not being able to make the turn. This can easily result in an early apex and a blown exit. Ouch!

Instead, wait for it, wait for it…okay, turn, NOW.

Quick Turning and Traction

As you might imagine, giving the handlebar a good shove introduces an abrupt force to the front tire. That’s why you want to limit using the quick turning technique when traction is limited, such as on wet or contaminated pavement. A quick turn uses more traction at the beginning of the turn, but uses less at the apex and exit. Even though more traction is used when turning quickly, good tires in dry conditions have more than enough grip to handle the extra force.

To minimize the risk of tucking the front tire, you must get most of your braking done and start easing off the brakes before you introduce forceful handlebar inputs. However, it is beneficial to maintain some front brake force as you countersteer, which compresses the front suspension and loads the front tire for more rapid turning response. Ideally, you would release the brakes a split-moment after you press on the handlebars.

I’m talking about releasing the brakes almost immediately after initiating lean. If you want to maintain braking pressure longer (trailbraking), then you’re better off not turning in quickly. To manage traction while trailbraking your turn-in must be gradual, because you’re combining both turning forces and brake forces.

Timing & Intensity

A well-timed quick turn should result in a single handlebar input that establishes necessary lean angle and allows immediate throttle application (very gradual at first).

Turning in too hard and/or too early could result in the motorcycle hitting the inside of the curve. To prevent this, you will need to delay turn-in from where you would begin to turn for a slow turn-in. To fine-tune how rapidly the bike turns in, you can also reduce how hard you press on the handlebars. The harder you press, the more rapidly the bike will fall into the lean.

NOW is the Time!

I don’t care if you ride a GSXR on the racetrack or a Harley on the street, you must master the quick turn technique NOW. Being able to use immediate, authoritative handlebar pressure gives you a MUCH better chance of surviving a too fast corner entry. Learning the quick turning technique will allow you to get the bike turned early and efficiently and minimize the chance that you will panic and grab the brakes or run wide into the oncoming lane or off the pavement. Don’t delay! This just might happen on your very next ride!

Learning to turn quickly isn’t difficult, but it does require excellent countersteering skills and precise timing. Turning quicker also requires more forceful handlebar pressure and the trust that the tires will stick under the stress of more forceful handlebar inputs. Practice is what will convince your mind and muscles of the power of the quick turn. Do it!


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Guest Writer: When Do You Lean?

The ability to lean a motorcycle with confidence is a fundamental part of riding. Unfortunately, humans do not come hardwired to lean much more than about 20 degrees, which is the lean angle where we start to lose traction  when we run in a circle on grass or dirt. Motorcycle riders must get beyond this lean angle limit for even basic maneuvers. This requires a leap of faith that the tires will grip. Practice is important to train your mind and muscles to lean beyond your comfort zone so you will be able to lean more if necessary. Once greater lean angles become more comfortable, the next skill to refine is timing so you reach maximum lean angle at the right point in the corner.


Paul Duval at full
Paul Duval at full lean.

Meet Paul Duval

Paul Duval is the latest RITZ guest writer. Paul is a fellow track day and MSF instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, and professional educator. Let’s listen to Paul’s take on the importance of accurately timing maximum lean angle.

Timing Maximum Lean Angle

After many years of racing and instructing on the racetrack, there is one persistent mistake I see riders make when trying to ride faster: Using too much lean, too late in the corner.

Who is making this mistake?

Everyone is susceptible to this problem. Novice and intermediate track day riders often make the mistake of  increasing lean angle late in the corner in an attempt to get their knee down. Especially vulnerable riders are those with a lot of “natural talent” who got fast so much more quickly than everyone else. They end up riding fast, but without the knowledge and precision necessary to manage that corner speed.

What’s the Problem?

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.

You may say, “What’s the big deal, I’m knee down and cranking?!” Yes, you may be fast, but this mistake WILL eventually lead to a crash, and probably a BIG one.

The problem with reaching max lean angle well after the apex of a turn is that this is precisely where you want to be on the gas.  Other riders will be already picking the bike up and driving hard.  This will encourage you to match their drive, but you are still adding lean angle.

Remember this:  Adding lean angle AND throttle at the same time is how high sides happen. The opposing forces of changing direction and accelerating can easily exceed available traction and will cause the rear tire to slide.   When this happens, slides are extremely quick, unpredictable, and hard to recover from.  All of your momentum is going exactly the wrong way.

Why do I keep doing this?

There are a few reasons people make this mistake.

Weak countersteering skills:  Newer riders haven’t yet mastered the “quick turn” technique of using counter steering to get the bike leaned over.  They bend their motorcycle into the turns gradually and often pass the apex entirely before the bike has changed direction.  Now they are running out of real estate and HAVE to lean it over to finish the turn.

Lack of reference points:Beginner and Intermediate track riders often use other riders as their reference points. This leads to a lot of crazy entry lines, none of which help the rider get the bike to change direction before the apex.  They commonly ride around the entry point as well as the apex, then crank the bike over to finish the turn.

Charging the corners:  Faster riders who make this mistake are at the most risk.  They rush into the corner at a pace that does not allow them to consistently hit their marks.  They will blow by a tip in point, drift wide past the apex, and then attempt to recover to get back on the “fast” exit line by adding a little more lean and a little more throttle.

Even with all this effort, they wonder why the faster guys are still pulling away.  They aren’t even cranked over like I am!!!  Hmmmm???  You may get away with late lean angles for a while, but eventually, you will push this mistake too far. Highside city.

The Solution?

The correction for all these riders is pretty similar.  And it’s not what they want to hear:  SLOW DOWN your corner entry to a speed that you can actually handle.  I mean a speed at which you can identify reference points, and ride an accurate line from tip in to apex that allows you to OPEN the corner after the apex, rather than tighten it up.  You need to learn to time your throttle inputs and your lean angle so that as you drive out of the corner and standing the bike up progressively as you roll on the gas.  BRAAAAP!  Wheee!

A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside. copyright Riding in the Zone.


Thanks Paul. Paul mentioned the importance of being able to turn quickly. By being able to countersteer with authority, you are able to get your motorcycle from upright to leaned so that the majority of the direction change is complete BEFORE the apex. With the change in direction mostly complete, you can reduce lean angle as you roll on the gas. Traction is managed and all is well. Post your comments below.

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The “No Countersteering” Myth

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A MCN reader recently wrote telling about his enthusiasm for Reg Pridmore’s “body steering” method of initiating lean for cornering. What follows is my response.

“I have 44 years experience riding and currently ride six days a week commuting and sport riding. Three years ago I read Smooth Riding the Pridmore Way by Reg Pridmore. This book completely changed my knowledge of corning a bike. For years I subscribed to countersteering as noted in this article. The Pridmore way is to body steer the bike and keep your upper body relaxed and smoothly controlling throttle, clutch, and brake. It took me a few months to re-learn corning, but now I am much more proficient and safe on the bike. His book goes into the details why this is better and how to master these skills.  It is my opinion that there is an alternative to countersteering and I feel it is much safer to use the geometry of the bike versus fighting the physics of corning with the handlebars. “

Countersteering is not negotiable.My response:

This discussion has been going on for over a decade and has even sparked an Internet rivalry between Pridmore and Keith Code, who advocates and emphasizes countersteering as part of the California Superbike School as the best way to initiate lean. Having ridden the CSS No BS bike (which has handlebars mounted rigidly to the frame with a working throttle), I can confidently tell you that body “steering” alone will not allow a rider to corner in any meaningful or effective way on a 400 to 800 pound machine. See the video of Code riding the No BS bike to see how little body position has on direction control.

Yes, body “english” can enhance many aspects of cornering process. I am a very big proponent of body positioning for both street and track riders to aid quicker turning, refine cornering lines, increase ground clearance, preserve traction, and allow the rider to interact more with the bike and the road. But, body positioning alone cannot cause the average street bike to initiate a corner efficiently or quickly enough. That is done by countersteering.

Countersteering uses the geometry of the bike to essentially unbalance the machine, causing it to drop into a lean. There are many other aspects of the process, but that’s all most riders need to know. You mention the other important aspect of masterful cornering, which is relaxing the arms as much as possible once the lean is initiated and using smooth control inputs to maintain control.

I have no doubt that your revelation and enthusiasm for Reg Pridmore’s fine book and teachings are genuine, but I can guarantee that you are using countersteering (in combination with body positioning) to lean your bike into a corner. What is happening is you have replaced some of the “handlebar only” countersteering inputs you have used routinely for many years with a body position technique that is “pre-loading” the bike for the corner.

This shift in the center of gravity causes the bike to fall into the turn easier, making it feel as if you are not putting any pressure on the handlebars. This is a technique taught by Lee Parks in his Total Control curriculum and which I teach to track day students. Next time you go for a ride, pay very close attention to the amount of pressure you are putting on the handlebars as you initiate lean. If you concentrate enough, you will surely notice that you are introducing handlebar pressure. Because there really is no alternative to countersteering, only reducing the amount of pressure needed.

Additionally, the act of moving your body in the direction of the turn causes handlebar inputs. You would have to consciously resist pulling the outside bar or pressing on the inside bar to eliminate any countersteering force, which would be very difficult to do.

I’m glad you feel more proficient. Keep doing what you’re doing, but you’ll be better off if you know what is really happening. Good luck.
Ken Condon

I received a reply from the reader. He is sticking with his belief that he is not countersteering.

Please share your thoughts below.

Listen to the Countersteering PODCAST

See the video segment about countersteering from the RITZ DVD:

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Countersteering Will Save Your Life!

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Getting a big (or small) motorcycle to turn requires more than just body weight.
Getting a big (or small) motorcycle to turn requires more than just body weight.

It’s hard to imagine that so many so called “experienced” riders either fail to understand the importance of countersteering or fail to recognize that countersteering is how motorcycle really turns.

Let’s Get This Straight

A motorcycle turns by leaning. Once the bike is banked over, the geometry of the chassis, as well as the rounded profile of the tires and hard-to-describe forces cause the machine to arc around the curve. So, to turn a bike you must get the motorcycle to go from upright to leaned…precisely and efficiently.

I Don’t Need No Stinking Countersteering

A lot of riders believe that they are able to maneuver their motorcycle by simply leaning their body or by looking into the turn. While these are helpful techniques for assisting the bike to turn, they alone cannot effectively cause a 500+ pound machine to change direction.

“Yeah, but I can turn my bike without countersteering.” Um, not really.  Sure, you can cause the bike to drift into a turn, but that’s not what can be called “turning”. Also, consider that most people who don’t think they are countersteering really are, they just don’t know it. Pay close attention the next time you are making any sort of turn and notice how you put a slight amount of pressure on the inside handlebar.

Read The “No Countersteering ” Myth

What Really Happens

In case you don’t already know, THE most effective way to get a motorcycle to go from upright to leaned is to introduce handlebar inputs. By pressing forward (and to a lesser degree, down) on the handlebar on the side that you want to turn, you essentially unbalance the bike so that it “falls” into a lean. Press on the right handlebar to initiate a lean to the right and press on the left handlebar to turn left. Got it?

You can enhance this effect by also simultaneously pulling on the other handlebar. This is how racers achieve quick changes in direction in chicanes on the racetrack.

Once the bike is leaned, then the front tire will steer slightly into the direction of the turn. You must relax your arms to let this natural balancing effect occur otherwise it will feel as if the motorcycle is not able to maintain the cornering path. Press, and then relax.

Why You NEED to Know How to Countersteer

Countersteering is used whenever you need to change direction. This applies to basic cornering maneuvers, as well as evasive maneuvers, such as swerving. It’s also important to be able to countersteer with authority when a corner suddenly tightens more than you expected, or when you approach a tight corner at a too-fast speed.

Not being able to get your motorcycle turned quickly will eventually result in an off-road excursion or collision with an oncoming car or a guardrail. Seriously!

Prove It To Yourself

If this makes no sense to you, then it’s time to practice. Take a look at the video clip below from the RITZ DVD for more information on countersteering and to see some drills that will help you master countersteering.

Read this article that Ken wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine about countersteering.

Listen to the Countersteering PODCAST

Add to the list in the comment section below.

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