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By Craig O. Olsen
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, May 2014

There are few things that put a smile on your face and enjoyment in your riding more than well executed cornering on a motorcycle. Putting together a series of sequential right and left hand turns on a twisty mountain road is sheer pleasure. Being out of sync with those turns can bring terror and intimidation to your riding.

Perhaps that is what this rider experienced just before his crash on Highway 71 between Cambridge and Hells Canyon. While I do not know the details of this fatal accident, it is not a particularly difficult corner to negotiate, and it appears the rider simply lost control of his motorcycle. Unfortunately, there are a lot of riders around who demonstrate over and over that they are only partly in control of their motorcycles, particularly when cornering.

Regardless of your riding ability, a review of the fundamentals of motorcycle dynamics is helpful. Reprinted below is an Idaho Star newsletter from July 2012 on corner control by Ax. [1] Other sources on cornering technique are listed in the references at the end of this article. [2-7]

Corner Control

Running off the road in corners is the most common crash scenario in Idaho’s fatal motorcycle crashes (it represented over 40% of fatal crashes during 2009-2011). Running off the road and hitting an oncoming car; running off the road into a ditch; running off the road into a guardrail; running off the road and hitting a tree or some other solid object. You get the point – running off the road in a turn is not good.

So, what does it mean to have ‘Corner Control?’ If you unintentionally cross over the centerline or the fog line, you lack corner control. That’s just a fact. If the bike goes somewhere you didn’t want it to go, you weren’t in control. Most of the time, the rider doesn’t crash or hit anything, but whether or not there was a car or something else there to be hit was simply a matter of luck (and yes – it has happened to me a time or two…).

Picture this scene – you are riding on a beautiful twisty mountain road halfway through a right hand curve. All of the sudden, you see an oncoming car that is straddling the center line (that means halfway into YOUR lane). If you quickly and precisely change your line so that you turn tighter and move your bike to the fog line (all the way right) to avoid the head-on crash, you have corner control. If you panic, hit the brakes, lay the bike down and crash, you do not have corner control. So, how do we do this the right way?

There are several elements to surviving this scene:

• Always ride with a reserve. If you are already leaning over as far as you can, you have nothing left to avoid a sudden hazard. Riding at a 100% is for the track (and even there, a little reserve is a good idea). Riding on the street requires that you always have a reserve. Control your speed to control your lean (and to know that you can lean more if and when you need to.)

• Learn, practice, and master countersteering.

To turn left, press forward on the left hand grip. To turn right, press forward on the right hand grip. The forward press initiates the lean; the lean causes you to turn. To turn sharper (lean more), press more forward. To turn less sharp (lean less), reduce the amount of the forward press.

If you just don’t get this concept, come and take a STAR course and we’ll work on it with you.

• Body position. You should be leaning your body at least as much as the bike is leaning. It is very common to see riders with their bike leaned farther than their body. This makes turning harder. One way to help keep your body leaned is to line up your chest with the center of the handlebars (or even just to the inside). That way, as you lean the bike, the center of the handlebars goes down and keeping your chest lined up helps you lean with it.

• Arms bent. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your arms bent at all times in the turn. Riding with locked arms like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider may seem cool, but it puts you in a very poor control position. You may need to scoot up in your seat to keep your arms bent. You may need to adjust or even get a new seat, handlebars, or both. If the bike doesn’t fit you so you can stay in a good riding position, adjust it so it does. With arms slightly bent, pressing forward on the hand grips is easy and precise. With locked arms, you have to press from the shoulder and this tends to be difficult and ‘sloppy.’

• Lane position. Keep all of you and your bike well within your lane at all times. It is very common to see riders with their tires right next to the centerline. This means their handlebars, mirrors, saddlebags, and (in left hand curves) their head can be over the line (in the other lane!). If you want to take it home with you, keep it well within your lane. Put some space between you and the center line.

• Eyes on target. When riding a motorcycle, you tend to go where you look. If you’ve ever seen motorcycle racers or motorcycle police officers doing cone drills, they all very aggressively look where they want to go.

It is human nature to want to look down, or look at the potential trouble. “Oh no, I’m going over the centerline!” and we stare right at the centerline, ensuring that it happens. It takes practice and discipline to use ‘target fixation’ to your advantage. If you tend to go where you look, then look where you want to go. Simple in theory, but if you never practice it, you are unlikely to be very good at it in an emergency. If you want the bike to complete the turn, turn tighter, and make it go down the road, look through the turn and down the road. Eyes up and level with the horizon; nose pointed to where you want to go. If you want to get some guided practice with this – come and take a STAR course and we’ll help you build the habit.

None of this is rocket science, but neither is it common knowledge or common practice. If you learn, practice, and master these items, you will develop corner control. When you have corner control, not only is riding much more fun, but you also greatly increase your chances of staying out of the crash statistics.

Ride safe, ride well, ride lots. -Ax


1. Corner Control; Idaho STAR Newsletter, July 2012.

2. Cornering; Oregon Motorcycle Rider Training and Skill Development.—learning-curve/13573.html

3. Advanced Riding – Cornering; Visor Down, 23 August 2010 [series of 8 articles]. (Note: British article – they ride on the left side)

4. Tips for Cornering on Your Motorcycle; The Lazy Motorbike. (Note: British article – they ride on the left side)

5. Cornering; MCN IAM Better Riding Guide, August 2011.

6. Proper Cornering Technique; Motorcycle Examiners, September 29, 2009.

7. Stability and Cornering; Rider Education of New Jersey, Inc., 2010.

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