Code Break - Late Entry when Riding a Motorcycle

Up To Speed

By Keith Code, Photography by Kevin Wing

Single-vehicle sportbike accidents have become increasingly common over the last few years. Statistics indicate they've taken the lead from the classic car driver violating the rider's right of way. It's almost excusable to get taken out by a car that suddenly pulls out or turns left in front of you. But the vast majority of single-vehicle crashes are pure rider error. Could we stop this please?

I'll catch flak from those who've been riding along minding their own business and hit some oil, gravel or diesel and crashed. They'll righteously proclaim themselves victims of unforeseen circumstances. Are they?

Consider the common on- or off-ramp crash from fluids. Most cars' fuel fillers are on the left (driver's side) of the vehicle. Unless it is very peculiar, any ramp will be a right-hand bend. If the vehicle has a loose or leaky filler cap, the cornering forces will cause fuel to spray out of the tank onto the road. So you ride toward the inside of ramps to avoid this. Is it foolproof? No. Can it save your bacon? Yes.

It's actually twisty two-lane roads that are the big problem. Your side of any back road is narrow-perhaps 10 feet wide. It certainly isn't a racetrack, most of which measure 30 to 40 feet wide. This means you could go to a racetrack riding school, be sloppy with your line, and most often get away with it without running off-track or crashing. But on the road, you only have one-quarter that much available space, which means your lines are four times as critical.

Undeniably, the most common line error is turning in too soon. Turning in a couple of bike lengths too early at the entrance changes that point where you will run out to the centerline or the shoulder, depending on whether it's a right- or left-hand bend. The usual response to running wide is to add lean angle from mid-corner to the exit, which causes quite a few crashes.

You can see the entrance of a turn much better than you can the exit. Setting a late enough turn-in point that will straighten out the corner is the best guarantee of not having to add lean from mid-corner to the exit, where you can't see as well. In addition, setting up a turn in this style will allow you to properly bring the bike up out of its lean as you add throttle, rather than having to add lean. The too-early turn-in spoils that and forces the rider into this error.

A too-early entry creates a decreasing-radius turn that forces the issue. Running wide at the exit, you may do one of three things with the throttle: 1) Continue to roll on if you've already started; 2) chop it off; or 3) leave it off. Because of the weight transfer that results, all three scenarios can start a chain reaction, especially if the surface is dodgy or you're already at a steep lean angle. Using the front brake can compound this error.

If you were to practice one thing in your riding, I'd recommend you become comfortable with slightly later turn-in points. It's common knowledge that you have a better line of sight through any bend from a later turn-in point.

One of the things that keeps riders from practicing this is they're not smooth in their transition; it feels too abrupt. You can become smooth, but overcoming the early turn-in solves many more problems than it creates, so you put up with the not-so-smooth until you gain some confidence in your later entries.

As it turns out, adding lean in a corner is a major contributing cause of crashes. The likelihood of it happening can be dramatically reduced by simple practice. The question to ask yourself is this: How early can I begin to bring the bike up out of its lean? The answer: The earlier, the better.

By Keith Code
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