Knuckle to Knee Dragging | Code Break

I love to survey riders. What do they want from riding? How would they like it to feel? How would they like it to look? Want is consistently answered with smoother, faster and increased confidence. Feel runs the gamut through smooth, solid, stable and predictable. Look also ranks smooth above all, followed by fast, which translates into hanging off, knee on the floor. That is the dream. All sportbike riders are somewhat crestfallen until that magic moment finally comes: the krchchshh of getting a knee down. If only the photographer had been in that corner, on that lap! In the evolution of our species we've gone from knuckle dragging to knee dragging.

An alluring picture of what they wish to look like can hamstring anyone. These are most often gleaned from dramatic magazine or TV shots stored in their library of mental images. Riders envision themselves in these poses as an end unto itself, but going for the look without some understanding of its utilitarian under- pinnings is, in a word, wrong.

The look of cornering has had four phases-so far. The neat, tidy, knees-to-tank, stretched-out style of the 19-teens through the '60s was handed down, eye to muscle memory, as the path of least resistance: the natural style of riding. Phase 2: Mike Hailwood let his inside knee come off the tank and practically created a stock market panic in riding-style etiquette. Paul Smart, Barry Sheene and others followed. Then Jarno Saarinen moved his butt off the seat. The fourth phase was pioneered by our own Kenny Roberts Sr.'s knee-down, hang-off style in the '70s.

Initially this new look was quite personal, each rider having his own iteration of the form. Cal Rayborn and Kel Carruthers were halfway guys, still clinging a bit to Phase 2. Others had lots of bum off, some with lots of leg and knee off, some rotated around the tank la Mick Doohan. A few went head and body way down on the inside of the tank, Randy Mamolastyle. Some hung off but sat more upright like Kevin Schwantz. The torso positions of our other 500cc world champs of that era-Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Wayne Rainey- were halfway between; on the tank but not inside it. Everyone was stationary in their hung-off position once in the corner. The neat part was that a fan could instantly recognize each individual rider.

Not so today. Phase 5 is upon us.

Conceptually, hanging off couldn't be simpler. Lower the combined center of gravity of the bike/rider and you go through the same corner at the same speed, on the same line with less lean angle. It's a brilliantly utilitarian racer's tool with huge residual benefits, chief among them an accurate, on-board gauge for lean angle.

True to most evolutionary progressions, function now rules the new look of roadracers. Riders are low and inside of their bikes. More and more we see them perfectly in line with their machines, not twisted or rotated in the saddle. The bum off/body twisted back across the top of the bike, which many Phase 4 riders had used, remains an interesting piece of selfdeception. Having their torso on the high side of the bike not only neutralized the mass of their hips being off the bike, but actually raised the combined bike/rider CG-thus defeating the technique's main purpose.

Other notable changes? In Phase 5 they're not as stretched out as before. And no more family jewels pressed against the tank either. The one new variable is coming farther off the bike from mid-corner to exit. You'll see it on the bum-cam the next time you watch riders like Valentino Rossi in MotoGP. That and the fore/aft in the saddle differences appear to be the only options available to our Phase 5 racers.

We now have five choices in how we can look on our bikes. If you keep your eye on the style's function and do some limbering exercises, all the benefits of Phase 5 will become apparent as you become comfortable with it. Is it easy? My experience says it is not natural at all, and most riders are hard pressed to assume the new form. If it is your desire to do it, I suggest taking your time and experimenting step by step with each of the stages through which it has evolved. Good luck.