Leaning The Bike - Code Break

The 1G Club

There are distinct phases that riders must punch through on the road to improvement. All of them are based on personal battles waged against fear. For a newer rider, even the simple sensations of leaning the bike over are strange.

Humans rely on the force of gravity as a constant. More than any other factor, things move and feel the way they do because of gravity. Every action of your body and your bike is measured and adjusted because of it. We gain intimate knowledge of gravity to maintain balance in our upright stand, walk and run positions. This relies on a sensitive and detailed data-acquisition process that we involuntarily obey to avoid the consequence: falling down.

Our most familiar orientation is perpendicular to the planet, and all of our internal balance and visual machinery likes to keep it that way. Cornering motorcycles is diametrically opposed to those sensibilities.

The world begins to distort as we lean over. Once our visual orientation gets out of sync with our internal-balance machinery, it causes both the most rewarding and most terrifying sensations in riding. This is directly observable in new riders when they resist leaning by holding their bodies erect and pressing the bike down and away from themselves in a turn.

As riders become more accustomed to some lean angle, they can go one of two ways: 1) Continue as above to resist it; or 2) Get sucked into the tantalizing sensations of cornering, often beyond their skill level. This is generally accompanied by scary entry speed.

The barriers then are both physical sensation and visual orientation, and I believe there is a make-or-break point. That point is 45 degrees of lean. At 45 degrees, the forces are a bit out of the ordinary. Along with the normal 1g down, we now also have a 1g lateral load. As a result, the bike and our bodies experience an increase in weight. That's not native to us, and acts as both a distraction and a barrier.

Once we become comfortable with 45 degrees and attempt to go beyond that, the process begins to reverse. Immediately we have more lateral load than vertical load, and things begin to heat up. Riders apparently have difficulty organizing this. Suddenly, we are thrust into a sideways world where the forces escalate rapidly. While it takes 45 degrees to achieve 1g lateral, it takes only 15 degrees more to experience nearly double that (depending on rider position and tire size).

Paying your dues and joining the 1g club is the good stuff of riding. It opens up worlds of control, worlds of problems and worlds of rewards. Putting your knee down at 45 degrees is very doable. Up to 45 degrees, riders can be pretty rough with the bike. Current suspension and tires will forgive them. Once past that point, however, it's a brand-new game. Just as we have to re-wire our senses to deal with the new forces, we must also adjust to using less force and more finesse.

Problems arise when we instinctively resist leaning with the bike. Speeds seem higher and, as the rider is out of alignment with the bike and the lateral g-load, he struggles to stay on the bike. Now the arms and body come into play, stiffening up. This tires us out from the physical tension, which ultimately upsets the bike's handling. Much like a counter-leaning passenger, it tends to make the bike stand up and run wide.

Awkward and uncomfortable body, neck and head positions result from this. Shoulders and hips twist away from, instead of into, the turn, putting peculiar S-curves in the rider's back. This alone can upset the body's orientation machinery.

About 15 years ago, I developed an exercise called The Steering Drill. It looks very simple and can be done in a parking lot. The student simply rides away from the coach at about 25 mph and weaves the bike back and forth. That simple drill has 25 correction points. In other words, with low speeds and no panic, riders can make 25 different errors while weaving their bike back and forth. Each of those errors, while not deadly in a parking lot, can snowball into real problems out on the road. There is something to every rider action, no matter how simple it may seem.

Toni Elias, charter member of the 1g cornering club, on the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V at Mugello, Italy.