COUNTER STEERING

There is nothing new here. The moment your parents removed the training wheels from your first bicycle with the tiny 8″ wheels, you have been counter-steering. Counter-steering is the concept of initiating an upcoming turn by shifting the weight of the rider and bicycle to the inside of the turn (leaning into the turn), so the bike can steer to where the rider intends. At 5 years old we had no time for physics, but I think we can all remember when your parents finally let go of the seat, resulting in the understanding of the concept and muscle memory of steering the bicycle underneath our body weight, to keep our balance on 2 wheels. Later that day, we likely figured out that in place of steering the bicycle underneath our body, we instead steered slightly and very temporally in the other direction to allow our body to lean to one side of the bike, which resulted in your first turn. Counter-steering (steering counter, or opposite to the direction of the turn) is what you used to temporarily get your body weight to the inside of the bike, to create the turn. Congratulations, you became a “counter-steer-er.”    

So why the big fuss? I learned that when I was 5.

Well, this skill is one of the most important skills to master when entering the sport of motorcycling. We have the foundation from our early experience with bicycles and can likely handle a motorcycle at slower speed with no problem at all. The problem exists at higher speeds. Motorcycles travel much faster and have tires and wheels that likely weight 8 to 10 times more than bicycle wheels. This creates a significant amount of centrifugal force at higher speeds. Add in a 500+lbs motorcycle which weighs much more than the rider, and problems begin to emerge. The faster a motorcycle travels, the stronger these forces are in keeping the motorcycle upright and traveling in a straight line. Many new riders have fallen victim to this unexpected force and have ridden straight off the road as a result. Our goal is to better prepare you for this.  

Lets talk about motorcycle wheels and tires for a moment. If I rolled an empty toilet paper roll across the floor, it would roll straight. If I rolled an ice cream cone, it would spin in a circle. This is due to the shape of the cone and the fact that one end is smaller than the other. If we connect 2 ice cream cones together at the big ends, our newly formed cone tire would steer in one direction when it is leaned on one of the cones, and the other direction when leaned on the other. So now we can see why motorcycle tires are shaped the way they are. To carve turns. There are few more motorcycle geometry concepts such as “rake” and “trail” that have a lot to do with steering and the leverage to counter-steer a motorcycle, but lets just focus on the basics.  

It is enough to say that a motorcycle turns at higher speed by leaning on to the sides of it’s tires. Counter-steering is simply a very efficient means of forcing a motorcycle into a lean.