Taking corners is one of the most exciting aspects of motorcycling. It takes major cajones to bring yourself so close to the fast-moving ground, but riding is all about embracing the chaos and staring down danger.
Many riders struggle to get their lean angle right. While you're barely getting past 20 degrees, the MotoGP guys are practically scraping the ground so which is the right way? These tips will help you find that perfect balance.
HOW MUCH LEAN ANGLE DO I NEED?
Getting the right lean angle is all about confidence. You should know the basics of cornering and be able to factor in things like surface, weather, and grip when you judge an oncoming turn. Aim for a wide, smooth movement and give yourself as much road as possible so you've got plenty of space.
The right angle is determined by things like the motorcycle type, tires, surface, and most importantly the actual rider. As humans, we have an internal controlling mechanism that limits our lean angle to 20 degrees - going beyond that tends to throw us out of whack. Every rider needs to learn how to break through that barrier through practise and repetition.
HOW TO REACH MAXIMUM LEAN ANGLE
How far you can lean the bike comes from good cornering technique and not a simple desire to lean as much as possible. Think of the lean as a natural by-product of good riding. Forcing an intense lean for the sake of the aesthetic is sloppy riding.
You've probably seen racers stick their knees out when they take a corner, otherwise known as knee dragging. The purpose of this is to gauge the speed and angle of their lean, with the knee acting as a measuring stick, but many beginner riders just want to copy the cool look.
If you're reading this then you're still getting a feel for things, so leave the fancy knee moves to the professionals.
THE RIGHT LEAN ANGLE ON DIFFERENT CORNERS
In your search for answers, you won't find a single magic angle for taking corners and there's a good reason. Taking every turn with the exact same lean angle simply doesn't work.
Good riders know that every corner should be treated individually. Factors like the bike, environment and severity of turn will dictate how much lean is required. As a rider it's your job to read the turn and know what's required.
DO NOT USE MAXIMUM LEAN WHEN...
As you ride, you'll encounter situations where a full lean should be avoided. Most of these are common sense scenarios. Any dodgy or uneven surfaces should be approached with restraint.
If there's an obstruction before or after a turn, a wide lean won't give you much chance to reposition. You might have to make multiple turns right after each other, which means you won't have the speed to initiate a wide lean on that second or third turn.
HOW DO BIKE MODELS AFFECT LEAN ANGLE?
Different bikes and setups will determine your lean potential. The tires, bike type, and ground clearance make a big difference.
Race-focused sports bikes are designed for the deepest lean possible. A full lean unlocks maximum speed potential so racers can take corners at high speeds.
Standard road bikes obviously have less lean potential. You won't be going at race speeds anyway so it shouldn't be a big deal.
Regardless of the bike, the maximum lean angle will usually have your pegs and feet close to the ground, if you need an indicator to go off.
LEANING ON MOTORCYCLES: WHAT TO EXPECT
You won't nail it the first time and that's fine. Leaning is a skill that's easy to learn but hard to master, so you'll probably be refining your technique for years to come. For now, just learn the fundamentals and approach every corner with confidence and preparation.
Get yourself into the right position so you can take the turn as wide as possible. The best way to initiate a turn is to press forward on the handlebar grip in the direction that you want to turn.
Good leaning takes some conviction. Nervous riders will focus on just getting to the end as quickly as possible, so their head isn't in the right place. If you're uncertain, focus on your approach and positioning so you're not trying to fix things up mid-turn.
Simply put riders lean so they can turn their bike, but there's a bit more to it. A motorcycle requires the rider's momentum to make a turn, but also to keep balance. Riders lean with their bikes to counter any unwanted gravitational forces and stop themselves from falling over.
Racers lean dramatically deep to achieve the highest corner speed possible. While urban riders don't lean as far, it still helps to maintain speed on turns and keep momentum.
IS IT SAFE TO LEAN A MOTORCYCLE?
Leaning on a motorcycle is a required skill that every rider needs to learn. It's safe to lean a bike as long as you follow the recommended advice and don't go beyond your abilities.
New riders can make the mistake of over-leaning because they've seen race drivers do the same. Putting style over technique is risky and should be avoided.
HOW DO I LEARN TO LEAN ON A MOTORCYCLE?
New riders can learn to lean on a motorcycle through practice and persistence. Take it slow, learn the basics of cornering and improve with little steps.
It's all in preparation. Keep yourself loose and approach corners with a heavy emphasis on positioning. Aim for as wide a turn as possible, using all the roads available to you.
If you think extra help might be required, consider going to a professional instructor. They can talk you through the process in a controlled environment and ease any jitters.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LEAN A MOTORCYCLE TOO FAR?
Leaning is a sensation that can throw new riders off, especially because it feels like you're leaning way more than you actually are. Most newbies are terrified about what happens if you lean a motorcycle too far but find that lean angles can be executed quite deeply.
There's obviously a limit, but that depends on what you're riding with. A bike can lean over more than you initially think, but if the foot pegs are scraping the ground then you've gone too far.
The bike's lean limit isn't something to be tested so don't push your luck! Use the advice we've given and treat every turn with individual respect. Have fun but always stay in control.