Often find yourself struggling to judge corner entry speed? Unsettling the bike with mid-corner gear shifts? This guide will get your planning and corner entry speed right on the money. Ride faster and ride safer.
How to feel comfortable in downhill corners
Downhill corners are by their very nature quite tricky to deal with and are easily misjudged. To start with, looking at a bend from above always gives the impression that it is less tight than it actually is. Speed control is also difficult and the steeper the hill, the harder it gets. To cope with this, most riders quite rightly err on the side of safety, slow right down and generally choose a low gear to control speed. This works to a point, however the combination of a steep hill, a heavy bike, and minimal available engine braking can make the job much harder.
In order to cope with this situation many riders take an inordinately low gear to control speed. As a result, the machine ends up very sensitive to the throttle and difficult to control in the corner. More importantly, with the machine headed downhill the weight is already biased forward onto the front tyre, even when travelling at a steady speed. Any speed reduction, whether by deceleration or braking (front or rear), shifts even more weight forward, lifting it from the rear tyre. What we have to ask ourselves now is: “Is it wise to put all the braking effort through the back tyre alone by using the engine with a very low gear, when in fact it’s the front tyre that now has the most grip potential?” This is a particularly important factor as we are now going to ask it to turn into a corner.
In pure tyre grip trade off terms we are probably already using a considerable amount of the rear tyre’s grip for braking so we can quite easily overcome its overall grip as we turn into the corner. So what is the solution? Why not open the throttle slightly to ease pressure? This is not necessarily wise; if the corner has a constant radius then you need to keep a constant speed at least for the first part to keep the constant radius or the bike will run wide. You could, of course, always lean the bike a bit more, but there is only a finite amount of grip available and this is easily exceeded in these circumstances.
A surprisingly small amount of braking can have much more effect in controlling speed than selecting even the lowest of gears. So to regulate speed downhill, for sure, err on the side of safety but use the available tyre grip to its best advantage – there is plenty of grip at the front because that’s where the weight is – so practice using both brakes into the corner to maintain a constant speed. Take the brakes to the point where you want to accelerate, now just ease the pressure on the brakes, the transition is much smoother and the bike never feels like it’s running away with you. As your confidence improves try taking the next gear up, you will find that downhill speed control is much easier using the brakes and as a bonus the throttle response is not so sensitive and makes the exit easier.
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