Advanced Riding Course: Body position and knee down

Motorbikes are designed for the straights, so when it comes to the corners a little help is needed. Good body position can be really effective, making the experience safer and more comfortable

While instructing, I am frequently asked if body position is important? This is only just behind getting asked is it Neil or Niall? For the record, it is Gaelic and apparently pronounced Nee-al, so blame my parents. My Dad was Neil by the way.

Anyway, motorbikes love moving forward in a straight line, normally upright, but when it comes to going round corners some moderate help is needed, so this is where good body position can be effective. As I mentioned in the earlier cornering feature, whether aware of it or not, we all use counter steering – pushing on the left bar or pulling on the right bar to turn left and vice versa – to get our bikes round corners, but there are other ways to make this experience safer, more comfortable and more satisfying.

Climbing all over your bike while riding on the road is impractical and unnecessary, but subtle body positioning is very helpful. I use the same technique for all cornering while on the road. My general riding position is arms at about 150 degrees, body slightly crouched down, my crotch about three inches from the tank and the balls of my feet on the pegs with toes facing forward.

As I’m approaching a corner, I allow myself to slide forward against the tank and slip one bum cheek slightly off to the side. This also puts weight on the inside foot peg helping initial turn in. At the same time I lean forward bending my inside arm, while moving my head towards the mirror. When cornering, I like to keep my outside arm and leg lightly pressing on the tank. This means the rider and bike is one solid unit, giving a more secure feeling.

This movement of weight to the inside of the bike and onto the front suspension creates a lower centre of gravity and gives the rider a better feel and more control. This also helps counter steering, as it puts weight on the inside handlebar. It is important to do all of this smoothly, while staying relaxed.

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Nigella Mackenzie’s Successful Knee Down Recipe

That may seem like a lot of information, but it is basically a case of sliding slightly forward and to the inside of the bike when approaching a corner. If you sit bolt upright or even worse, off to the opposite side pushing the bike down, then to corner you will need a greater lean angle, while having less control and a much smaller safety margin. Doubly worse, it will look shit.

For track riding my technique is basically the same. The parameters of movement are just greater.

When approaching a corner, I’d be much more tucked in, with my bum pushed further back into the seat. And it would stay there for the initial heavy braking to stop the rear wheel from lifting. As I get nearer to the corner I allow the braking force to pull me forward and to the inside of the bike. Pushing weight onto the inside foot peg is important at this point, as I allow my body to slide to the side keeping my torso parallel with the bike. This is also a great exercise for giving the thighs a nice work out.

And, as on the road, I feel much more secure with my outside arm clamped to the top of the tank and my outside knee pressed onto the side. From the beginning of braking, my inside knee will also be stretched out acting as a lever, while also providing a small amount of drag. Again there is quite a lot going on here, but it should all be done in one smooth movement that doesn’t upset the bike. When it comes to body position, especially on track, it is always worth being one step ahead, which means getting comfortable before it is time to make the turn. Jumping off the bike once at the corner is no good, as it will only unsettle things and put you off line.

I base most of my riding on “if you don’t scare your bike it won’t scare you”. If I find myself on a section of track with two or three corners going in the same direction, but only 50 or 100m apart, I never worry about getting on and off the bike between them. It is much easier on the bike and body to stay in the same position until you reach the next decent straight or change direction. Chicanes are trickier. However, practicing pushing your body to the opposite side of the bike while in the first half of a chicane means the bike will easily flick through the second part with very little effort. Just watch top racers in action if you want to see good body position. They are always one step ahead at every part of the track.

Knee down time

If you haven’t got your knee down yet but want to, you should, under no circumstances, just try leaning over further and further, as that will normally end in disaster.

Decent suspension

You should ride for at least six miles, travelled preferably on track. Then begin by stretching your leg out as far as possible before continually entering the same slow to medium speed corner (30-50mph).The next step is to slide your bum to the same side while keeping your knee out. If this still isn’t working then make sure you are as far forward in the seat as possible, with your inside arm bent and body relaxed.

Give yourself fifteen minutes and if it’s not happening have a rest and try again. If you are still having trouble then buy another pair of sliders, fit some counter sunk screws and attach them to your originals. Success is then pretty much guaranteed. As you get more confident you can go back to single sliders. You may look daft briefly for a short time, but it will be worth it.

Nigella Mackenzie’s Successful Knee Down Recipe

One warm day
One warmed up flexible body
One clean grippy surface
Two reasonably sticky tyres
Two fresh Wiz knee sliders (Scottish Flag have the biggest success rate)