Backin' Up | How do you safely back in a motorcycle?

The dark art of sliding a motorcycle through a corner might seem like the preserve of the track riding elite, but with some practice you too could back in a motorcycle in less than a day

Backing in a motorcycle, KTM 1290 Super Duke R

WE see this happen on track almost every weekend, a racer skilfully slews their bike at obscene angles on their way into a corner. With bike sliding along the track they scrub off speed and navigating the corner with ease. But how do you back in a motorcycle?

Why do racers slide the back wheel of a bike into a corner?

Backing in a bike happens in many forms of track riding and racing. From MotoGP to BSB, it’s a common way of getting into and around a corner quicker than just following the racing line.

The main reason it’s done, aside from looking cool as hell, is to get the bike pointing into the corner apex. Backing a bike in also scrubs off some of the speed of the last straight, not quite as effectively as braking in a straight line, but the sliding combined with braking up to the apex is more beneficial in certain corners.

What is backing in a bike?

Backing in is what happens when the rear tyre breaks traction with the road, sliding out in the opposite direction to the corner you are approaching. If you’re sliding the back into a left-hander, the rear wheel will be sliding to your right and vice versa. As the back wheel slides out it has the effect of turning the bike to face the apex of the corner, effectively lining you up for a cleaner, faster exit from the turn.

Can you practice this technique on the road?

It’s probably best to leave this to the track, backing a bike into a roundabout on the road might seem like fun but should it all go wrong, that kerb on the outside of the road will really hurt when you slide into it!

It’s also best to learn the technique on a small, lightweight bike like a Supermoto machine. The lack of weight, long-travel suspension and lower speeds carried will make learning the technique much easier than on a 200hp, 200kg superbike. Once you have the method nailed though, you can upscale it to work on any bike, just take your time.

How do you back in a bike?

First off you need to get to know the track your riding and pick a few corners that could work well. When you’re ready to get sliding, move your weight forward more than you would normally. On a Supermoto this is easy, on a sportsbike you may have to slide your body up the back of the fuel tank a few inches to get the desired result.

Once your weight is more over the front than anywhere else, start to brake in a firm but controlled manner. As the bike slows and the forks dive, you’ll feel the rear end become light and start to skip across the track. Practice this for a few laps and get comfortable with the feeling of the back wheel moving around.

As you get more confident, you’ll start to brake later and deeper into the corner and as you do, you’ll naturally introduce more lean angle into the situation. As you do this you should release some pressure out of the front brake, just as you do when trail braking, and very gently stroke the rear brake to get the bike moving about. This lean angle, combined with your body position and the rear brake pressure, is what will force the back wheel to step out at a greater angle the further you lean the bike.

How do you control a slide?

As with a car that’s sliding around a corner, steering into the slide will prevent it from getting any further out of shape. So, as the back-wheel steps out to the left of the bike, you should apply a small amount of left-hand lock on the bars to counteract it.

The first time this happens you’ll probably apply too much lock and neutralise the slide altogether, but with a bit of practice you’ll be able to accurately steer the bars to hold the back tyre at the desired angle.

You can flick your hips to help push the back end of the bike out and away from the approaching corner. This action combined with a decent feel on the brakes and the right amount of steering lock is all key to getting and holding onto the slide in a safe and controlled manner.

What about downshifts?

A well set up bike with a quickshifter and slipper clutch should be able to help you slide the back. Most are set up to meter out just the right amount of resistance without full locking the wheel. For a bike with no slipper clutch, the job will be tricker. You’ll have to manually feed out the clutch between downshifts to prevent the rear from locking completely and spilling you off the bike. The trouble here is that there is going to be a lot going through your brain, and there’s a high chance of you fluffing one or all the points need to do it safely.

What about bike set up?

Sliding the bike is as much about bike setup as it is about body positioning. A rock-solid front end with compression and pre-load wound on full is not going to dive like you want it to. That lack of dive relates to a lack of forward weight transfer and it’s going to make instigating a slide much harder. The lack of dive will also make controlling a slide more difficult, as the bike will have much more knife-edge handling.

To begin with, soften up the front end, winding out almost all of the compression damping and a fair amount of the pre-load. Next, take out some of the rebound damping of the rear shock. Having too much of this can cause the rear to lift instantly when you apply the brakes. You don’t need that, you want as smoother transition as you can get onto the brakes.

Once you’ve mastered the art of sliding the rear into corners and holding it there, you’ll find you're using less of your bodyweight to start the bike sliding and more of the bike’s front and rear brakes. Now your body can be used to mix the bikes between gripping and sliding by moving your weight forward and backwards.

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