Steering a motorcycle may not seem all that difficult; after all, a motorcycle rolls on two wheels and is much lighter than any other form of motorised transportation. However, there is a correct way of steering any motorcycle regardless of size or type, and it is called countersteering.
Misconception about steering
The most common misconception is steering a motorcycle by shifting our bodyweight through the hip and/or the thighs. Is that not what MotoGP riders are doing by hanging off their bikes and dragging their knees and elbows? Well, it is actually something easier than that, even when you are sitting straight up on the bike.
The technique is called “countersteering.” Now before you dismiss this, keep in mind that this technique has been taught to police riders and by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in the US since the mid-70s. It is also being taught by all professional advance riding coaches such as Keith Code, who wrote books about it titled, “A Twist of the Wrist” and “A Twist of the Wrist Vol. II.” There is also a DVD for Vol. II.
ALL professional riders countersteer. Watch closely as the start to tip their bikes over into corners.
What is countersteering?
We shall spare you the physics dissertation and get right down to how it is done. Instead, just remember these two points:
Push on the left side of the handlebar to steer left.
Push on the right side of the handlebar to steer right.
Yes, you read that correctly. Push with the palm of your hand on the left side of the handlebar to turn left and push on the right side handblebar to turn right. NOTE: Push the handlebar straight outwards towards the front of the bike, not press downwards toward the ground.
To stand the bike back up from its lean, push on the opposite side of the handlebar. For example, you are leaned over into a left turn – push on the right handlebar and the bike will start to stand up.
Do note that you can also pull on the opposite side of the handlebar to initiate countersteering. For example, pulling on the right handlebar will make the bike turn left, and vice versa. On a powerful, heavy bike travelling at high speeds, you may even need to push and pull at the same time to overcome the bike’s inertia and snap the bike over. MotoGP riders usually push and pull to countersteer.
How quickly the bike leans and turns into the corner depends on the amount of force you applied to the handlebar. A soft, slow push results in a slower rate of lean – for example, applicable to a long, sweeping corner. A hard, quick push returns a quicker rate of lean – good for sharp corners.
When do I countersteer?
And that is it! Easy is it not?
Of course, the handlebar and wheel steel needs to turn into the direction of travel when at crawling or parking speeds. Countersteering is effective above certain speeds when the front wheel's rotation has built enough speed to generate some gyroscopic force.
We are acting against this force when we countersteer, causing the bike to lean and turn.
How much of this force at what speed depends on the type of motorcycle i.e. the lighter the motorcycle, the less you need to countersteer. But we shall cover more of that in future articles, so stay tuned!