Riding Tips: Choosing Your Line

Street and trackday strategies for choosing the best path.

Keith Code riding tips
Sure the right line will get you around the track faster, but there’s more to path selection than simply that.©Motorcyclist

Some people have a knack for ordering, arranging, and creating space. Artists put brushstrokes exactly where they want them to create illusions of space and the things in it. Designers configure materials into forms and objects of beauty or usefulness. Architects build functional and pleasing spaces for people to live, work, or hang out in. They have a plan and a purpose.

Lines are how you handle space with a motorcycle. They’re where you place the bike and the arc you use to get through the corner. Lines define the real estate used to negotiate the turns, which make up the angles of entry, middle, and exit. How you arrange and use the space on the asphalt, from initial tilt-in to completion, is your line. Starting out creating your lines—or following others’—with the simple purpose of getting through the corner is fine, a solid and very practical purpose. But it’s not the only one, just as a painting can have very different kinds of brushstrokes or an architectural masterpiece can have various but meshing styles.

In a racing or trackday sense, line selection is about speed and efficiency. Choosing a line that permits a higher entry speed into the turn, the greatest mid-corner speed, or the best drive out obviously depends on the turn. Beyond the theoretical best line, you might need to alter it to set up for a pass on the entry or exit of a turn or even in the middle of the corner. You will choose a different line when it’s advisable to “pick the bike up” earlier on the exit of the turn. One to strategically drift to the middle in a double-apex turn, which is the proper line to set up for the second part of it, applies there. Then, too, lines will vary depending on horsepower. Generally wide and swoopy for lower power, and more point and shoot for motorcycles with big grunt coming off the corner.

For the most part, these lines come into play when the bike and the track are in perfect condition—you discover and refine lines to reduce lap times and increase control of the machine. Life isn’t so simple, so you will want to change your lines for “road reality.” When the road, or the track, is slippery in places, your line should change to avoid low-traction surfaces. You will choose a line to reduce lean angle when you know the road is greasy, and your braking line must be different, generally more upright, to increase margins when you’re unsure of the available traction.

Line selection goes beyond maintaining traction and placing the motorcycle ideally for the next task. It greatly influences visibility on the road. You’re wise to choose late entry lines that give you a deeper look into the corner or that provide extra margin so you’re prepared for possible hazards in a blind corner. Smart line choice allows you to avoid bumps or damaged pavement you know or suspect are there. Especially on the street, the right line will have room left over in case you must alter your course.

Understanding which line to choose for your purposes—which space you and the motorcycle will occupy at any given instant—is a major accomplishment. The ability to consistently repeat your chosen lines itself is a major plateau of rider skill and something all great riders work tirelessly to perfect.

Some of the above line strategies are quite close to one another and may receive a similar handling by a rider. That’s not the point. The point is to have a single purpose in mind, each time you come up to a corner. It could be the first time or the hundredth time through it. That isn’t the issue either. Having a purpose and a plan is.

Keith Code, credited as the father of modern track schools, founded his California Superbike School in 1980 and currently operates programs in 11 countries and on six continents. His "A Twist of the Wrist" series of books and DVDs are thought by many to be the bible of cornering.