Scores of riders have sheepishly questioned me about a particularly perplexing problem: why they struggle more making either right or left turns. It turns out that many riders have this fear, and it’s frustrating. Imagine that half your turns are hampered by an unknown, seemingly unapproachable anxiety having no apparent source and no apparent reasoning behind it. Imagine you feared right turns and you lived in Nebraska where the only curves were highway cloverleafs? Or you were a dirt-track racer who couldn’t turn left?
So-called “unidirectional phobia”—the perceived inability to make either right or left turns—isn’t evidence of a mysterious brain malfunction. There are many reasons a rider might suffer from this problem: a mental scar from crashing on one side or the other; confusion over the mechanics of countersteering; or just a simple lack of practice. Fortunately, there are actual technical solutions to this problem.
Confidence steering in any direction all begins with being a “good passenger” on your own motorcycle. What does a good passenger do? Nothing—they just sit there and enjoy the ride, following, not countering, the motions of the bike. A bad passenger counters the bike’s movements, staying rigidly upright when the bike leans, pushing the bike away in corners instead of moving in harmony with it, unintentionally countering the intended steering and cornering motions. How do you fix this tendency in yourself?
Pushing the bike down and away to steer might seem intuitive—probably because it maintains the body’s normally correct, upright relationship to the planet and its gravitational force. But the more you try to remain upright, the more lean angle is required to get through a turn—which lessens your control and increases the possibility of a crash. Why struggle when you can counter this adverse effect by simply following the bike while you turn it? This might even feel better to you and improve your confidence and control of the bike. There is also a good possibility that this will open the door to conquering your directional fear, whichever form that may take.
Simple parking-lot maneuvers can tell you a lot about how you turn. Find a parking lot and do a quick side-to-side steering maneuver. Is the motion jerky, using brute force to stuff the bike underneath you, instead of using efficient countersteering technique to get the bike to smoothly change direction? You may also notice a hitch or rigidness in your body as you approach what you consider maximum lean, or an exaggerated movement at the hips, or some other attempt to keep the body upright. A general tenseness in the body is common when a rider isn’t comfortable on the bike.
Practice alone isn’t enough to resolve the matter. Because our natural tendency is to maintain an upright orientation to the world, it feels correct to turn a motorcycle that way. For this reason, ask a friend to observe you turning in and offer suggestions; even better, hire a good riding coach. I can assure you that the bad side will be more obvious to your coach than to you.
Think carefully about your connection to the bike. Keep your upper body loose. Relax your shoulders, and drop your elbows until your forearms are level with the tank. Sit back a few inches, move your head one helmet width toward the inside, and point into the corner with your chin. Get comfortable in the fully crouched position; make yourself one with the fuel tank. Practice correct cornering technique in a parking lot, led by proper countersteering that uses palm pressure, not muscle strength, to turn, reinforced with your body following the natural motion of the bike.
By the way, if you consider yourself in this unidirectional category of rider, count your blessings. Some riders have bidirectional phobia, and it’s only by their force of will and love of freedom that they persist in riding at all!