When Gottlieb Daimler invented the motorcycle back in 1885, he had no idea how it would handle, that it would handle at all or even know what handle meant! His bike had training wheels to help him negotiate the turns, and it probably steered like a boat! Way back then, nothing was known about centre of gravity and the geometry of spinning wheels.
Motorcycles are always at their happiest being straight up from the ground when you are moving. The geometry being that, as the tire spins, the force of spinning causes the motorcycle body to want to stay upright. Now, that’s fine if you travel in a straight line all your life. But, on our highways and byways, we have such things as corners, bends and curves. So, how do we negotiate these?
The art of cornering is achieved by learning how to “push” the handlebar grip into the corner while maintaining a proper “lean” angle through the turn. This is a skill that is developed with experience. It is summed up rather simply by the phrase “Push the right-hand bar to turn right, push the left-hand bar to turn left”. But, before that actually happens and before a turn is actually negotiated, a momentary or even subconscious “steer” is given “counter” to the desired direction. In other words, “steer left to turn right”. This “steer” in the opposite direction actually causes the “lean”, because it shifts ever so slightly the centre of gravity in the middle of the rubber on the road from the front wheel.
The rider of a relatively light sports bike with a short wheelbase can initiate a “lean” by shifting body weight. These bikes are designed for going in and out of corners at high speed and taking winding roads. The next time you’re watching MotoGP, notice how the riders lead with their inside shoulder and see how comfortable and relaxed they look. Poetry in motion! But for heavier bikes with a longer wheelbase such as tourers, cruisers and choppers, shifting body weight is less effective. That’s why these bikes are properly designed for straight line performance and highway use.
When you are leaning into the corner… I don’t mean leaning the bike in… I mean leaning yourself relative to the bike, and as you turn, move your inside shoulder forward and in. This moves your weight where you need it and positions your arms to comfortably steer. As you come out of the turn, this is the easy part because motorcycles always want to be stable and will bring itself back up-right.
Now, you may be surprised to know, but you can learn more about bike-handling skills by riding in the rain! True! You can learn more about riding on a wet road because you have more time to think and therefore you can feel how the bike reacts. You need to slow down more than usual and make turns straight up, instead of leaning. Remember, painted lines are a hazard. The same goes for manhole covers and railway lines. And watch for oil on the road. Those telltale colourful rainbows on the road surface are very unforgiving. Ride slow, straight up and take your time because your tires respond slower.
Wear a good helmet, protective leather motorcycle gloves, one piece leathers or two piece jacket and pants, and leather boots. In the words of Velvet Underground:- “Looking for another place Somewhere else to be Looking for another chance To ride into the sun”.