Ride Like Mackenzie: Road Cornering

Join the one and only Niall Mackenzie as he teaches you the basics for successful road cornering

Posted: 11 October 2002
by Niall Mackenzie

On your marks:

Cornering's what bikes are all about, and there are few feelings better in this world than blasting out of a corner knowing you couldn't have possibly done it faster this side of being woken up with a blow job.

But fast cornering isn't something you can just go out and do straight away. It's a precise science that takes time to perfect. And to be honest, you never stop learning. Unless you can honestly say you hit every corner perfectly on every ride, wherever in the world you might be, then you can always improve.

Starting at the beginning though, before you even think about honing your personal corner attack methods, go through the usual routine of warming your bike, tyres, suspension, body and head over a few miles and shaking out the cobwebs before really going for it and remember, like all aspects of good riding, smoothness is the key. Raggedy, rough riding, heavy last-minute braking and choppy throttle action might feel as if you're riding as fast as the bike can manage, but truth is you're not only way slower than the bloke breezing through the bend in one flowing swoop, you're an accident looking for a hedge to happen in.

Good cornering starts long before you reach the actual corner and there's a lot you need to do before you reach the bend in question so once you're upon it, the only things to concentrate on are tipping in, hitting the perfect line, and driving out the other side as fast as possible.

So, before you corner you will need to:

1. Know where the bend's going

Sounds obvious, but on the road and especially on roads you don't know well (or at all) you can't set up for a corner without an idea of how tight it is and how fast you can attack.

Fortunately there are loads of signs telling you what an approaching bend is going to do, and they are:

  • Road signs: the more signs, chevrons and paint on the road (double lines, 'slow' mottos, etc) a corner has, the more severe it's going to be - every time there's an accident at a corner, more warnings go up. Also, if you see those wiggly 'twisties ahead' signs, they'll always wiggle in the direction of the approaching bends so if they go left then right, so will the road. And finally, road signs'll warn you of any mid-corner junctions - see one of these coming up and back right off. The time you ignore it will be the time you end up in a tractor.
  • Hedges, trees and lamp posts: can you see any? If these line the corner they'll indicate where it goes. You can't rely on these 100% as they might actually follow another corner you can't see, but they're a good advance warning system all the same.
  • Approaching vehicles: how are they managing the corner? If a car comes around the bend towards you doing just 20mph but slithering and really leant over, the bend's probably a tight one.
  • The vanishing point: no, this isn't a duff horror movie, as you look at a corner it's the point where the kerbs from either side of the road meet as the corner bends out of your sight. If this point is getting closer as you go around the corner, it's tightening up. If it's moving away from you the corner's opening up and if it stays a fixed distance away, guess what? The corner's staying constant.

2. Get your bike set:

And by this I mean get all your gearchanging and braking down in plenty of time so you arrive at the corner unflustered, off the brakes, at the right speed, and in the right gear so the motor's ready to pull you through the corner fast when you ask it to. And after last month's gearchanging practice, you should find you can use a lot of engine braking to slow you down and just brush the brakes as a belt and braces if you need 'em.

3. Be on the correct line:

This one's all based on vision. See, as well as the basic giveaways to how a corner will behave I've already outlined, you can open up or close down your field of vision massively depending on your road position. This may not sound very exciting, but the more you can see the faster you can go (and the safer you are too). Don't believe me? Well see how fast you can go with your eyes shut then...

The aim is to put your eyes in the best place for maximum vision and look as far and wide ahead as possible. Just by sitting up on the bike and craning your neck one way or the other you can alter your field of vision dramatically. What this means is that for maximum vision around a right hander, you want to be as far to the left side of the road as you can safely go, and for a left you'll want to be as far right as you can without risking a head on should a car appear at the last minute. Not only will positioning yourself like this open up your field of vision, it'll also put you on the right line for fastest cornering too.

And if you can see miles down the road and can see a corner coming up, don't wait until the last minute to position for it, do it as soon as you see the turn coming so it's one less thing to think about.

Continue Niall's road cornering tuition



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