Advanced Motorcycle Riding Course: Cornering - set-up

With any corner the objective is to get through as safely as possible, and that means maximising your view ahead. Here’s how to make the road work for you

Your view of the road ahead is everything. The further you can see the more stopping distance you have available, and the more stopping distance you have the more speed you can safely use. However there are factors to consider, and where you position – where you place yourself and the bike relative to the verges and the centreline of the road – for view is always secondary to safety. For example, hugging the white lines around a left-hander will increase you view ahead, but a car coming the other way need only stray over those lines by a couple of inches to cause you serious bother. Even if you avoid a collision, chances are you’ll be rattled by the experience, prompting you to unsettle the bike.

Another advantage of a position that gives the best view is the opportunity to take a line of a greater radius through any given corner, if that option is sensible given the circumstances. This will give you the chance to increase your exit speed. It is also worthy of note here that if the speed on the approach to a corner is well below that which is safely possible then extreme accuracy will probably be completely irrelevant, in which case the overriding factor then becomes a position of complete safety. For example, there’s no point riding close to the white lines on a left-hander you could take at 60mph if it’s subject to a 30mph urban speed limit.

The key to opening up an unknown road is to get into the ideal position as early as possible. This gives you the chance to settle into that position over the course of several seconds. This immediately gives a huge advantage in the ability to observe everything going on around you. Because the bike is already in position, the nearside verge becomes very distinct in your peripheral vision, reducing the need to look at it directly with the focal point of your vision. In turn this leaves your direct focus free to scan the road ahead, and to look through the corner for dangers, further detail and reference points. That said, learning to monitor your position using peripheral vision does require a lot of practice, simply because sharing attention quickly between observational detail received from the focal point and peripheral area of vision is quite difficult.

As an exercise to develop this skill, scan an area with some detail, for instance a wall in your house or an area of your garden. Take in all the detail, then look at one spot and take your attention, not your focal point, to other areas of detail. If you don’t already do it, practice when you’re driving too, looking at the road ahead while taking in information from the verges, oncoming traffic and approaching side roads – the sooner this becomes second nature the better.

Another advantage with positioning early is that the bike feels more stable because it’s no longer changing line. It also gives you time to adopt a nice relaxed riding position for the corner.

The position for the best view through a right-hander will be available from a position well to the left. How close depends on a number of factors. Actual speed in relation to the maximum safe speed, type of machine, rider ability and confidence level and weather conditions such as high and unpredictable crosswinds are all important factors.

Let’s assume for the moment that there is no view through the corner, the road surface is perfect right up to the lefthand edge (a very rare commodity, admittedly) there are no dangers on the nearside (also rare) and it’s a calm day. Isn’t life great? In these circumstances, choose a position close to the nearside verge. In police training circles at advanced instructor level there is often talk of being inch-perfect. This does not mean riding an inch from the edge. Instead it refers to being very accurate for the circumstances, or within inches of the most appropriate position. To the uninitiated this may seem a bit close at times but in order for a rider to take the maximum safe speed through a corner they must have absolute accuracy. It’s the same story with a top racer trying to qualify for pole position; for the entire lap the positions for turn-in, apex and corner exit must be inch-perfect. The goal – making the most of the width of tarmac available to you – is the same, though the specific points themselves may share little in common.

To achieve this accuracy, a number of areas of your riding need to be considered. The accuracy of your approach speed, your machine control and your confidence level all contribute enormously to your overall level of accuracy.

While this degree of ultimate safe speed is not a necessary requirement for riders who are not engaged on law enforcement or paramedic work, where the emphasis is on being able to get from A to B as quick and as safely as possible, the majority of riders want to develop these riding skills and to achieve the same degree of accuracy if at all possible.

As discussed, this nearside position assumes perfect conditions. Position is always primarily affected by safety implications and a position for view should always be sacrificed for safety. If there are any actual or potential dangers to the nearside such as blind entrances, junctions or pedestrians they’ll need an extra margin of safety. And if the position for view into a corner is adjusted for that of safety, the speed at which the corner is to be entered must also be modified down to take into account the shorter stopping distance and slimmer safety margins.

How long you hold this position depends on the corner. The short answer is for as long as necessary, and certainly for as long as it takes to get the view through the corner. Once there the exit line then depends on the circumstances that become apparent. If, when the view opens out, there’s a combine harvester approaching from the opposite direction it might be wise to pin the fucker and head straight for the cutting heads. Given a clear view with nothing coming the other way, no offside dangers and nothing to worry about behind (e.g. possible overtaking vehicles), taking full advantage of the extra radius available may be appropriate.

How early and accurately we position, and the use of peripheral vision, are all equally as relevant for left-handers as they are for right-handers. The best view around a left-hander would be close to the offside verge were there no such thing as oncoming traffic, but obviously there is and such a position would be suicidal on a typical road (sliproads are a different matter). In which case, how about the middle of the road, or as close to the right-hand verge as we can realistically expect to get? A good starting position would probably be just left of the white lines that mark the centre of the road. I have seen some riders choose to encroach over the centre into the opposing lane and I would not recommend this in most circumstances. This only really becomes an option if you have the view for the corner and, if that’s the case, there’s no need for an extreme road position to increase view.

Just as the ideal position for right-handers must be compromised should the need arise, so it is with lefts. The main reason for doing so is usually opposing traffic but road defects and vehicles waiting to emerge on the offside all have their part to play. Again, hold the position until you can see around the corner. At this point, once again, it may be appropriate to straighten the exit radius for more speed on the subsequent straight.