Riding bends on a motorcycle has to be the most popular subject any IAM Roadsmart Observer gets asked about.
When you first meet your Observer, we normally ask why you decided to take – the excellent – IAM Roadsmart course. The answers come in many forms, but nearly always there is something in the answer about taking bends, improving cornering confidence or how to ride bends on a motorcycle more efficiently.
It is totally understandable after all riding bends smoothly and efficiently is one of the most enjoyable things you can do on a motorcycle, so why not extract maximum pleasure from riding them?
It’s impossible to talk about riding bends on a motorcycle, without an understanding of the limit point. If you want to know more about the limit point, take a look here for a breakdown of what the limit point is and how you can use it.
If you are completing either the RoSPA or IAM Roadsmart courses, then talk this through with your Instructor/Observer. Riding bends on a motorcycle is as much an art as it is science. An in-depth discussion over a cup of tea will always explain more than any article or youtube video can cover.
All of that said … let’s get on with riding bends on a motorcycle, which typically starts some distance from the bend.
There isn’t a start or an end to a riding plan. The plan constantly develops and changes with the information that can be extracted from what is going on around us. Consequently, planning how to ride a sequence of bends starts a lot earlier than we might first imagine.
Even when racing, the same bend is never exactly the same lap after lap. More rubber may have been laid or there might be different riders to consider. Information is the key, and it is the same on the public roads.
A bend in the tree line, a building roof “square” onto you, rather than side-on, and how the limit point is moving are just a some of the numerous pieces of information that come together to help form the riding plan.
Bends typically go around obstacles, that is why the bends are there. The obstacles were too difficult to move and so the road goes around them.
If the obstacle was too difficult to move, there is a good chance you can’t see through it and so the best cross views “around” a bend often occur before you get there.
In the diagram above, the bend goes to the right. Everything – except the road positioning – can apply equally to a left-hand bend.
From point 1 on the diagram, you can get an early look to the right through a gap in the trees. Picking out the blue car across the fields helps you build a picture of what to expect from the approaching bend.
The sneaky peek across the fields alerted you to the presence of the blue car, which is something you can’t see from point 2 on the diagram. Armed with information on the blue car what else can you do to help ride the bend efficiently?
The limit point will have been coming back towards you as you approach the bend. Depending on how the limit point is moving, you can adapt your speed and also consider “Safety, Surface, Stability and View”.
The mantra describes the sequence used to help decide where on the road you need to be.
For example, you don’t want to come to the left-hand curb if you are going to be bouncing along a broken up road surface, just because there was a better view around the corner.
A Demon on the Brakes
One of the most common beliefs when riding bends on a motorcycle is that to be “fast” you have to be a demon on the brakes – sometimes referred to as going deep on the brakes. The theory is, if you hold the speed between the bends longer, you are quicker overall. QED: brake as late as possible.
Taken to the extreme you get what racers call trail-braking. The art of braking so late, that MotoGP riders are still braking hard while cornering.
It is an amazing skill, and for road riding, it is one of the very best ways to destabilise your motorcycle and limit your ability to manoeuvre, at a time when you want to maximise smoothness and stability.
Speed through the bend, thanks to a consistent and smooth line is a much quicker way to make progress. It might feel faster to be hard on the brakes, but for every bit of slowing down you do, you then have to speed back up.
By the turn-in point (point 3 on the diagram) the blue car has moved closer to the bend (shown the grey). You are off the brakes, the motorcycle will have settled and you have added enough power to maintain a constant speed.
Constant (or neutral) throttle, isn’t a completely closed throttle. Rather it is enough power to maintain a constant speed to the apex and is one of the main differences between road and track riding.
Most racers are off the throttle to the apex and then fully back on the herbs – as traction allows – from the apex out.
On the road, a closed throttle would result in you slowing down. With an open throttle, you are accelerating, neither of which is what you want.
Accelerating into a bend typically results in pushing wide on the exit. Picking an apex too early in the bend causes a similar problem.
Slowing down means you were too hot at the turn-in point and are still trying to get to the correct speed for the bend as the apex arrives.
Add the two things together – wrong apex and arriving to hot – and you will almost certainly run wide on the exit.
Having arrived at the turn-in point, at the right speed and in the right gear, you are now looking for the limit point to start moving away.
Once you see the bend is opening up, and the limit point is moving away, you can look for the exit point and start to accelerate towards it.
So where is the apex? That is going to depend on the blue car and being able to see both curbs.
If you aim for the white line in the centre of the road as your apex, that blue car is going to be a factor. If you both arrive at the centre line apex at the same time, there is every opportunity for a clattering of mirrors or having to take avoiding action in the middle of the bend.
In this example, there is also no point in running around the outside of the corner as it is just inefficient and riding bends on a motorcycle is about efficiency and progress.
Your road position at the turn-in point gave you the best view – having considered Saftey, Surface and Stability naturally – and in this example, an apex in the middle of your side of the road gives a good blend of safety and progress.
Wash Rinse and Repeat
If there is one bend, then there will be another, and as mentioned back at the start, the process of riding bends on a motorcycle starts earlier than you might imagine.
As soon as that limit point starts to move away, look at where it has gone, and begin building the plan for the next bend.
IAM Roadsmart or RoSPA
Both organisations offer advanced motorcycle rider courses that are excellent value for money. Both courses cover riding bends, cornering confidence and a lot more as well.
There are also training organisations that will give you a one day course on bends, but if it is value for money as well as good training you are after, read our thoughts on motorcycle training before parting with your cold hard cash.
There is a quote attributed to Giacomo Agostini which I can’t verify. I guess you don’t win 15 World Championships without getting misquoted at least a couple of times. Nonetheless, the quote – with due respect for the laws of physics and adhesion – goes …
… it isn’t about going fast on the straights, it is about not slowing down for the corners.Giacomo Agostini (allegedly)