Steering Through Sticky Situations : Riding in the Twisties !

While motorcycles are more maneuverable than cars, they can’t go around corners as quickly. It’s a simple matter of traction - four big tires grip the road better than two small ones.

But motorcycles can corner as quickly as you need them to if you ride them correctly.

Traction : A Sticky Matter

The reason four car tires grip the road better than two small tires is because when you have larger tires, and more of them, more rubber touches the road.

Motorcycle tires are designed to operate at a certain temperature; they need to heat up a bit before they provide proper traction. Professional racers keep their tires in warming machines prior to going out on the track, but even then, they wait until they have heated up their tires before they get on the throttle. You probably won’t require racing levels of adhesion from your tires, but applying too much throttle in a curve before your tires are warm is a quick way to crash.

A variety of factors contribute to your bike’s traction. The material your tire is made of plays a role. Softer, stickier rubber grips better than harder rubber. Tire temperature affects traction, too, since the colder the tire, the harder the rubber. A tire that has been heated up through use has more gripping power than a cold tire. The shape and depth of your tread contribute to traction. The surface of the road also plays a role. When cornering, the contact patch of your tire is critical to traction. The contact patch is the part of the tire that actually touches the road.

The relatively small amount of rubber in the contact patch is the main reason motorcycle tires can’t corner as well as cars. Plus, unlike cars, motorcycles lean when they turn. As your motorcycle leans, the contact patch of its tires decreases, meaning that you have less traction available in a turn.

To further complicate matters, when you accelerate, decelerate, or brake, you upset the chassis of your motorcycle, causing it to move around. This causes the amount of pressure on your tires to vary, which in turn causes the size of your contact patch to vary.

Gravity Is Your Friend

I’ve made taking a curve on a motorcycle sound like going on a ride at a carnival, and there are similarities, but on a bike, you’re in control. By practicing proper cornering techniques, you can actually make all this commotion work for you instead of against you.

Get your braking done before you turn. Apply the brakes when the motorcycle is upright, before you lean over to turn. If you brake when you’re leaning over, you’re much more likely to skid than you are if you brake when the motorcycle is upright. Remember, when you’re leaning over, you have less traction available.

Because of that lack of traction, you must use the throttle smoothly in a corner. Maintaining a steady engine speed keeps your bike settled in a curve, while jerky use of the throttle upsets your bike. The smoother you are with your throttle, the more control you have over your bike.

Smooth throttle control is one of the primary reasons for choosing a smaller, less powerful motorcycle for your first bike. The more power available when you twist the throttle, the harder it will be for you to develop smooth throttle control. Bikes that have abrupt throttle response, a characteristic of bikes with narrow power bands, are more difficult to control, while bikes with a broader power band deliver smoother, more controllable power.

Don’t accelerate or shift during a corner, since this will upset your chassis. Wait until you’ve finished the turn and your bike is once again upright to accelerate. As you develop your technique and become more proficient at taking curves, you will be able to apply power slightly earlier as you exit a corner. When you do this, you make the motorcycle’s dynamics work for you, because when you accelerate, you place more weight on the rear of the motorcycle, thus increasing your traction. As you become more familiar with your bike’s reactions to throttle input, you can use that increased traction as you exit a corner.

Dangerous Debris

You always need to scan the surface of the road for debris, like leaves, sand, fluids, and gravel buildup, but the situation in which these conditions will most often lead to a crash is when you encounter them in a curve. These materials tend to accumulate on the outside edge of a curve, so pay close attention to that part of the road when scanning a corner.

Approach areas where shade covers the road with extra caution, especially in the morning, when shaded areas can be slippery from dew or frost. You may not be able to see debris like sand or oil in a shaded area. When you are unsure of the condition of the road, slow down.

If there is debris on a curve, slow down to give yourself time to maneuver around the debris. If you are unable to avoid the debris, don’t panic and hit the brakes, since that will make you more likely to lose traction and crash than if you maintain a steady speed through the corner. If you’ve slowed down to a safe speed before entering the corner, you should be all right. If you are going too fast and need to slow down in a corner, stand the bike up for a brief moment, brake, then immediately lean back into the curve. If you do this for more than a split second, you will run off the road, which sort of defeats your purpose.

Don’t Panic

If you find yourself going into a curve too fast on dry pavement, don’t panic. Just lean harder into the curve. The more you lean, the sharper you turn. You need to trust the capability of your tires. Although motorcycles have less traction than cars, they have more traction than you might imagine. Just watch a Grand Prix racer go through a curve leaned over so far that it looks like he’s riding sideways. That should give you an idea of just how much traction a motorcycle can have.

Leaning harder actually slows you down. By leaning harder, you can scrub off excess speed with your tires. The most important thing is to keep a cool head. Unless you are going at a ridiculous speed, if you don’t panic, you should be able to make just about any corner.

Your safest bet is to make certain you’re not going too fast when you enter the corner in the first place. If you’re in doubt, slow down even more. You can get in a lot less trouble by going too slow through a corner than you can by going too fast. If you’re riding within your abilities, you should be able to stop a bike at any time, as well as maneuver around any obstacle, whether you are going straight or around a corner.

Cornering Lines

The path you take through a corner plays an important role in both safety and speed (the safest line through a curve is also the fastest). By selecting the right route, you increase your visibility and make yourself more obvious to oncoming traffic. The most important thing is to stay in your lane. One of the leading causes of fatalities among people who treat public highways like racetracks—hotshots who ride at unsafe speeds on twisting public roads - is straying over the center line and getting hit by oncoming traffic.

When going around a corner, treat your lane like it’s the only part of the road that exists. The oncoming lane might as well be a cliff or a solid wall of rock, because under no circumstance can you ride there when going around a curve.

When approaching a corner, move to the outside of the lane before entering the turn. This lets you see farther around the corner, and it also makes you visible to oncoming traffic earlier. When you enter the corner, turn hard, moving away from oncoming traffic as you negotiate the curve. Racers take this line through a curve because it is the fastest way to do so, but you do it on the street because it affords you the best visibility of oncoming traffic and any hazards that might be on the road ahead.