Code Break - Leaning Your Motorcycle

Lean On Me

By Keith Code, Photography by BMW

First impressions can have a lasting effect. We all have a sense of gravity and know it makes things fall over and go boom. The first time a new rider lifts a streetbike up off its sidestand can generate a fear of leaning. Straddling a bike and leaning it to one side or the other a few degrees, we feel how the weight rapidly increases. We know instantly there is a point past which we cannot save it. It's enough to spook someone into losing interest in riding at all!

While first impressions are sometimes difficult to overcome, it's even worse when every time you see something it reminds you of that moment. Mounting or pushing a bike from the side, we are reminded that vertical is safe while lean is perilous. It's easy to develop a negative frame of reference.

From the rider's perspective, straddling the bike in a vertical position, it weighs zero pounds. A 400-lb. bike is perfectly manageable by anyone who can touch the ground with both feet. But any lean of more than a few degrees sparks that sinking feeling-gravity will win. On that same bike, at only 20 degrees of lean, we have an 80-lb. weight to pull straight up, but we are rather awkward and weak in a straddling position.

New riders quickly gain the sense that forward momentum is their friend. It completely relieves them of the balance problem-the bike does that all on its own once past walking speed. Inevitably, that secure feeling from momentum deteriorates as speed nears zero. Until the rider achieves some sense of body/bike balance coordination, the final 3-to-0 mph is daunting.

That is the reality that awaits timid riders every single time they stop. Result? You see the tenseness in their body; both arms holding fast to the bars; torso, shoulders, neck and head rigid. We get over this to some degree-some more than others.

From a training perspective, starting out on something small like a Honda CRF100F and gradually building balance and eventually confidence by going up one bike size at a time would be the optimal solution. Putting most any average-sized new rider on a 350- to 400-lb. sportbike, with its stubby bars and tall seat height, is just wrong. I think all dealerships should have a new rider section with a progression of bikes from minis up to the top-of-the-line stuff, and make potential buyers sit on each one in turn.

Meanwhile, there are several ways riders try to relieve this gravity/balance problem. As the bike slows into that 3-to-0-mph zone, an aggressive pull on the front brake, while the feel of balance is still strong, looks rough but works. Others try the feet down, outrigger method, sliding their boots along the ground. Still others use the touch-and-go method, where they tippy-toe the bike to a stop. Some use the alternating flat-foot duck-walk scheme, applying pressure on the fall side once they sense some slight change in lean angle. Straight up and down is safe; leaning is dangerous.

In the end, maintaining balance by turning the bars toward the fall side is the solution. Most riders are, however, completely backwards on this point. Falling to the right, they correct by turning the bars to the left, which moves the contact patch out from under the bike so it loses that support. Turning the bars toward the fall side allows the contact patch to support the bike. The slightly panicky bar-swiveling from not understanding this point is similar to watching someone ride a bicycle for the first time. Which method do you use?

By Keith Code
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