Advanced Motorcycle Riding Course: Hanging off

In a car you sit in your seat, as fixed and as immobile as the engine bolted into the engine bay. But on a bike moving yourself around can have a pronounced effect on weight distribution and the way your bike uses its tyres

In reality, on the public road, the advantages to be gained by hanging off is very small. However in moderation moving off the bike a little can be a useful catalyst to promote the rider to be loose and relaxed – a crucially important thing.

Weight shifting or hanging off can be anything from the smallest movement of your upper body to the full-blown, backside-off-the-seat, letting-it-all-hang-out style of the top racers. There are a number of well-documented reasons why it’s useful. The laws of physics obviously have something to do with it and, while I’m no expert in physics, I do know that if bodyweight is moved to the inside of the corner then the angle of lean required to get round at a given speed will be usefully reduced. 

The obvious knock-on advantage here is improved ground clearance. As you grow more confident, corner speeds increase and your average retro, street bike or tourer will run out of ground clearance, given good dry roads, long before the tyres run out of grip. Less lean angle can also mean a larger tyre contact patch for a given speed, which is particularly important with modern sportsbikes. Here ground clearance isn’t the issue but running off the edge of the tyre is a distinct possibility. Using a reduced angle of lean through a turn is also important when driving the bike hard out of a turn as the radius opens. Another advantage of weight shift is that a disproportionate amount of additional weight is automatically applied to the inside footpeg, which can help the bike turn. In more extreme circumstances, at higher speeds – generally only on the track – an offset body position, particularly the leg, creates an aerodynamic drag that can also help the bike turn. Even more extreme weight shift at high angles of lean encourages you to get your knee down which, with practice, can be an excellent and precise gauge of lean angle. 

We occasionally hear of riders saying kneedown can also save a slide turning into a crash. While this is undoubtedly true in Grand Prix racing, for the rest of us mere mortals, if the front tyre recovers mid-slide trust me, it would have done it anyway, kneedown or no kneedown.   

If you do decide to use a shift of body weight as a technique for a particular corner, it must be done early enough so as not to adversely affect the focus of the rider on the essentials of safe cornering. Get it out of the way early to give you time to concentrate on your speed and road position. Likewise, you should not be looking to shift your weight as you turn or while you are riding through the corner either – doing so will only upset the bike’s balance. 

For gentle turns and modest angles of lean there’s little point shifting weight around – you’ll derive little benefit from it and it can look quite ridiculous. If on the other hand you’re approaching a corner through which there’s excellent visibility and you can see there are no dangers aside from the corner itself (no conflicting traffic and a good road surface), it may well be worth hanging off for a correspondingly high angle of lean.

There are differing schools of thought on its use. Some police training schools don’t encourage or even allow hanging off. At the Thames Valley police driving school we do, probably because over the last ten years four out of the five instructors have racing experience. Shifting bodyweight is a personal thing and if you don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t do it. I most certainly wouldn’t recommend the technique to an inexperienced rider – far better to get the basics sorted first. I know plenty of superb road and, to a lesser extent, trackday riders who use very little bodyweight shifting while riding with no ill effects whatsoever. Their safety and speed comes from being precise and smooth with their machine control and ultra-accurate with the way they use the road or track. 

If you do decide to try it for the first time, make sure the weight shift is minimal to start with, maybe a knee out or just some extra lean in the upper body. A cautionary note here though – always keep the arms bent. I often see riders shifting only their upper bodyweight as they lean into a corner but using no corresponding forward movement. As a result the outside arm straightens completely which can destabilise the bike. 

Lastly on this point, I’ve tutored a number of riders, particularly track riders, who have asked for help regarding suspension setup because of a perceived handling problem. Invariably they spend endless hours adjusting their bikes’ suspension but get no nearer to a solution. The key on many of these occasions is related to a rider input problem rather than a machine problem. Just sorting out their own riding style and how they interact with the bike held the answer and more often than not the problem was due to weight shift at the wrong time or in such a manner that it seriously disturbed the bike’s stability. Virtually all well-maintained modern bikes, particularly in the sports and sports-touring classes, handle exceptionally well on their standard settings and on good tyres, so ensure your own riding technique is in tip top shape before you stray too far from the standard settings on the bike.

More guides to improve road and track riding available in the Advanced Riding section