Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Art of Safe Riding - Turning

The real fun and thrill of motorcycling lies in taking fast turns. For a true blue motorcyclist, the straight portions of the roads exist just to take him from one turn to the next! Here, the main aim is to get across these turns safely and quickly. The less time you spend going around a corner, the more you enjoy doing it!

The rider's body position during the turn has a great effect on how smooth and steady he is during the turn. His weight should be distributed between the handlebars, the seat and the foot-pegs. Elbows should be slightly bent to absorb the road shocks and counter braking forces, and the legs should be kept ready to shift the body weight and take an active role in controlling the bike. An upright body position helps keep you alert and gives a higher line of sight in traffic. While leaned into a turn, keep your body in the same plane as the bike, although you may prefer to keep your head vertical. In short, keep the angle of your body parallel to the angle of the bike and your head upright. When you corner, there is a balance point where your body weight will seems to disappear from the bike, making you and your bike as one single entity.

Basically, all corners can be sub-divided into three parts: the entry, the mid-turn and the exit. For a fast and a quick turn, all these three need to be integrated into one fluid movement. The start of your corner is from the moment you can see it. From this time on, you should start planning your braking, estimate the speed and the gear at which you will enter and the type of line you would take through the entry. Set yourself up to enter the turn at its extreme outside. If it were a left hander, you would be on the extreme right of the road (or lane) and vice versa for a right hander. Finish braking just as you begin to lean your bike in and your eyes should be looking ahead hunting out the apex. The apex of a corner is the point where you are closest to the interior of the corner. If on an unfamiliar road and the exit is not visible, try to stay out as wide as possible. Match your speed to the curvature of the turn that is visible. Going towards the inside too soon, you may find that if the turn tightens up, you would exit far out into the opposite lane (or into the divider) with injurious results.

As you tighten your line towards the apex of the turn, your eyes leave the apex and hunt out the exit. Sweep towards the apex on a partial throttle (engine not accelerating, but not giving any engine braking either) to balance the bike. At this point, you will be at maximum lean. On an unfamiliar road, look at where the point where the two opposite edges of the road converge. If this point appears to come closer to you - the turn is tightening up. If the point goes away from you - you're getting to the exit and it's opening out. If it stays constant then the turn is continuing at a constant radius. Once past the apex, start straightening up the bike and feed in power progressively, smoothly accelerating out of the turn towards the next.

Remember: slow in and fast out. Complete all your braking and gear changing before leaning the bike into the turn. Hold constant throttle while turning and increase power while straightening up and exiting.

The perceived safest area of a turn is on the inside and this is where the problems begin. The rider steers in too early leading to an early apex. This then leaves most of the actual steering for late in the turn and often results in inadvertently drifting wide at the exit. A proper cornering line for a constant radius turn begins with a wide entrance from the outside of the turn. This is followed by a definite turn-in that gets most of the steering done early and sets up for a late apex (somewhere around the mid-point of the curve) and a straighter line at the exit. By using a late apex (see figure above and photo below) on the street, you get to do more braking while straight up, you get a better view of the exit of the corner, and you minimize the amount of time you are near the edge of the road (or the centerline). Along with all this, make yourself look farther into the turn and you will end up feeling more in control. By placing your attention farther ahead, you give yourself more time to prepare for whatever comes up and you get fewer surprises.

Now that you have learnt about the best cornering line through turn, the way to go faster is to get more weight transfer without more lean. Remember that leaning is just a method of transferring weight to the inside as you hurtle through a corner. The farther you can lean, the more weight you can transfer and the faster you can go through the corner.

Transferring weight without increasing lean is called 'hanging off', and involves sliding your body off the seat towards the inside of the turn. To start with, try sticking your knee out towards the inside of the turn. That is a little weight transfer. See if it helps. But be sure to make all such weight shifts while the bike is upright. Once comfortable with the knee out, try sliding your butt towards the inside of the seat, along with the knee sticking out. You will have reached the limits of hanging off, and the cornering speed, when your butt is completely off the inside edge of the seat and your knee, along with whatever is on the bike that drags, is skimming the pavement around the turn. Obviously, you shouldn't be attempting such riding on normal public roads. This riding on the limit is strictly for the racetracks.

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