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Corner Entry: Steer w/ Your Elbows!


Voodoo

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Corner Entry: Steer With Your Elbows:

 

I’ve seen this issue posted on several other threads recently and found myself discussing this topic with a few newer riders lately, so I thought it might do some good for a wider group up here. It’s just a single aspect in the broad spectrum of techniques for riding better that I find myself focused on, but it I’ve found that it can lead to the “discovery” of other aspects if practiced correctly, and I’m a big believer in focusing on one thing at a time.

 

It’s helped me quite a bit, so here goes…

 

When it comes to corner entry, don’t steer with your hands, steer the bike with your elbows! shocked.gifshocked.gif

 

“Huh, how do I wrap my elbows around the grips????” O.K., not literally, but symbolically for sure. Here’s what I mean:

 

Most everyone I speak to adheres to the “Push right to go right,” mantra, or they get caught up in the whole counter steer vs. body steer debate. Wherever you fall in the “philosophy” spectrum, remember, the best way I've found to get your bike turned in quickly and “solidly” i.e. the bike is stable, ready and willing for the next input is to combine the right body position with the correct handlebar pressure. Both together, not one or the other.

 

But, I find the biggest two mistakes people make on corner entry is the use of stiff arms to accomplish the “push” part of the equation and a “rigid” body position that doesn’t adjust for the new attitude of the motorcycle leaning into a corner.

 

First, stiff arms are a very bad thing for riding. Think of it this way; when you hold on to the bars with a rigid grip and stiff arms, you, in essence, become part of the chassis of the motorcycle. Every bump or minor road inconsistency gets translated up through your arms into your body. That means the suspension has to work harder than it normally would, since you are “fighting” the natural motion of the suspension to absorb inconsistencies on the road, and your rigid body negates your sensitivity for what the bike is really doing. Remember, the bike is designed to move around a bit to accommodate changes in the road, speed, etc. Let it move!

 

Secondly, a rigid body tends to move counter to the lean of the motorcycle instead of “leading” the bike into the lean. This is a basic C of G issue and the results are that a rigid body requires much more lean angle to make the same corner at the same speed than a body that leans ahead of the bike.

 

So, how do we fix this? By “Steering with your Elbows!”

 

Instead of thinking about your hands pushing on the bars, next time try and picture your elbow leading you into the next turn. If you want to turn right, point and push your right elbow into the turn. Turn left? Point and push your left elbow into the turn. What does that accomplish? For starters, it forces you to bend your arms (at least 45 degrees). That, in turn, lets your arms become suspension for your body (an isolator if you will) allowing you to keep your upper body supple while the bike’s suspension accommodates for any road undulations, etc. Also, it moves your upper body forward and into the turn, instead of straight up and stiff. (another reason why I personally don’t like BarBacks, IMHO). It might even force you to use the balls of your feet on the pegs as opposed to hooking your heels.

 

Try this:

 

Sit at your desk with your arms stretched out and rigid holding on to the corners of your keyboard as if it were the handlebars of the motorcycle. Now turn it to the right and to the left. What happens? Your shoulders move back and forth as you turn the keyboard, but the rest of your body stays straight up and down. Right? (That’s what happens when I do it.)

 

Now try it with your elbows bent and think about leading into the “turn” with your elbows instead of your hands. What happened that time? Did your upper body have to move forward and into the turn as well? I hope so, ‘cause mine does when I try it and I’d hate to think I have some weird skeletal structure defect (although that’s certainly always possiblewink.gifwink.gif). With your back straight, you should have to bend at the waist and shift your weight forward and into the turn. That’s how it should be on the bike.

 

That's also a good way of "staying ahead" of the bike instead of getting caught behind it in a turn, etc.

 

So, there you go. Steer with your elbows. It works for me so I thought it might be worth sharing.

 

And remember, “THOUGHFUL” riding occurs all the time, in every corner. Be deliberate.

 

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Thanks David,

 

Makes mucho sense. I think I'm kinda doing what you say when I concentrate on relaxing my upper body but I'll try the elbow method. It seems easier to do one thing that effects all the other part rather than try and control all the parts individually.

 

However, I'm not gonna steer my keyboard anymore. People are staring.....

 

Mike

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Could it be that by forcing yourself to flex your elbows and thereby taking most of their strength away you are forced to rely more on your legs/weight shift -which is what those of use who preach body steering advocate?

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Excellent David. When I kayak, one of my main visualizations is leading the stroke with my elbows rather than my hands. This forces a complete trunk rotation as opposed to a less effective arm stroke.

 

Back to the motorcycle--the only thing I'd add is to include the head into the equation, i.e. lead with head and elbows. My visualization is trying to kiss the rear view mirror. Watch an animal and you'll always see the head leads body movement. That's one reason looking through the turn is so important.

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GJBike Said: Could it be that by forcing yourself to flex your elbows and thereby taking most of their strength away you are forced to rely more on your legs/weight shift

 

That's exactly it. It takes away the crutch of arm support and forces correct body position/suspension. But, instead of having to think about bending at the waist and supporting yourslef with your legs and shifting your weight forward, etc, etc, just think about your elbows and the rest should happen automatically.

 

mjames said: the only thing I'd add is to include the head into the equation, i.e. lead with head and elbows.

 

I completely agree. smile.gif

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When you try to kiss the mirror, is it angled at the rider behind you or at yourself? I've got some ugly riding partners, so I imagine I would stiffen up at the thought.

Ken

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David, thanks for the post. I find these kinds of ideas very helpful. It seems to be the only way to “collect” the numerous fundamentals of turning into a simple easy to execute riding principle.

 

By the way, I’m not sure I was doing it properly before but now I can turn my keyboard very well smile.gif.

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OK........ I gotta admit that I actually tried this today.... was laughing out loud as I imagined how the exaggerated movement would look like to someone else... I have to admit that this is a great concept for getting someone to counter steer without getting them all confused about the concept itself...

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David, first I want to say "thanks" for a thoughtful contribution to this forum. This is good stuff indeed. Second, I think you might be on to something. I've only tried it in the garage, like others, but I plan to do some riding this weekend and see how it feels. One question I have is about the transition after the countersteering is initiated.

 

More specifically, a countersteer is only useful to hasten the leaning of the bike. From there, the result ("wheel track running to the outside") must be arrested. This is especially true if you are body steering, too, because your body is going one way and the bike is going another.

 

So I can see the benefits of your suggestion: primarily loose arms and forced body position. But "arresting the countersteer" tends to put you right back where you were.

 

Honestly I can't wait to experiment.

 

My own philosophy of the interchange between body steering and countersteering is very simple. Use countersteering when body steering isn't enough, particularly in the rate of turn for a given time period (i.e., I need to do it quicker than body steering will allow).

 

Not long ago I rode more than 40 miles on the Natchez Trace without touched my handlebars once. That's possible because the turns are sweeping, the road is level, and there were no obstacles to avoid. It just proves the point that countersteering with your arms is not necessary, strictly speaking, unless conditions call for it. Most conditions do call for it, of course, and in fact 95% of the time it would be impossible to ride a motorcycle without hitting things unless you countersteered with the handlebars. But just countersteering without understanding bodysteering is a very novice approach.

 

In fact, body steering has distinct advantages: a) you aren't working against the bike as much; b) you pay more attention to where your body is; and c) movements are gentle rather than violent.

 

I really like the emphasis you've placed on riding loose, too. I got to thinking about this three weeks ago while stuck at an airport. I wrote down four reasons for riding loose:

 

1) To feel control inputs. Think of a tuning fork, which you can loosely hold by the handle or grab around the tines. One method allows you to sense movement and the other does not. I forget which magazine I read that in somewhere.

 

2) To let the bike right itself. We think of them as inherently unstable, but that's only true until they get to speed. A helicopter is inherently stable if it is moving. A motorcycle is the opposite. But the steering geometry on these things is designed to keep them stable at speed, and if we fight that we'll be in a world of hurt.

 

3) To not pass along your tension to the bike. Every control input is so precise and these things are so maneuverable that it's easy to weave the bike just changing seating positions or noticing an interesting billboard or whatever. Some of the most dangerous car drivers out there have their hands in the 10 and 2 o'clock positions, firmly planted.

 

4) To ensure that other things aren't going on in your mind. If I'm riding well I'm loose. If I'm tight, my mind is cluttered.

 

Your excellent essay got me thinking in one other direction. I've often thought that "push left to go left" can be a little overdone precisely because it encourages stiff arming the handlebars (with tension), promoting a posture where the arm is not bent. I know that "pulling right to go left" doesn't sound as good and might be more difficult for a beginning rider to master, but it's easier to be "relaxed and in control" with that mindset. I don't pretend to think I'll change everybody's mind about that, but expanding our perspective is good.

 

Thanks again for some good thoughts! I'm looking forward to our tearing up Laguna Seca together. Or at least I'm looking forward to watching you do it!

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Recourses said: One question I have is about the transition after the countersteering is initiated. More specifically, a countersteer is only useful to hasten the leaning of the bike. From there, the result ("wheel track running to the outside") must be arrested.

 

That’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure that I’ve experienced it the same way. I’ve always felt that the “transition” into a lean actually stops itself once the throttle is applied to stabilize the line. To get the bike to lean deeper, it’s always felt to me like I had to apply progressively more force. Once I apply the throttle, the bike stabilizes where it is against the force of the throttle -- meaning that after the initial lean is established, the throttle is used to “tune” it -- more throttle opens up the lean and less closes it down further. Of course in situations where I might have misjudged the corner, I use additional countersteering, more body lean and a whole lot of cursing to get the bike to lean more…definitely BTDT.

 

So, now that I’m actually thinking about it, my goal is to get the “initial” lean (and body position) set quickly and then modulate the continued angle using the throttle. Steering it in with my elbows just makes it a whole lot easier for me to get turned in fast, loose and smooth. Does that make sense? I’d go out and do some testing to report back, but the snow plow is still blocking in my bike. wink.gif

 

 

Recourses said: Most conditions do call for it, of course, and in fact 95% of the time it would be impossible to ride a motorcycle without hitting things unless you countersteered with the handlebars. But just countersteering without understanding bodysteering is a very novice approach.

 

My point exactly. However, the countersteering part is a fairly easy thing for a rider to visualize and experience, so they tend to rely on it way too heavily. Therefore, any simple tools I can find that make the “body” part of the equation less of a conscious effort, the better. In fact, my ultimate goal (which I have to believe is a level at which many pros do operate) is the elimination of all “conscious” things involved in the equation except, “I am here, and I want to go there.” My apologies to RDF here, since I’m sure these were his words at some point, at least in part.

 

Recourses said: Thanks again for some good thoughts! I'm looking forward to our tearing up Laguna Seca together.

 

Can’t wait!!!

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laguna-corkscrew.jpg

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In reply to:

The countersteering part is a fairly easy thing for a rider to visualize and experience, so they tend to rely on it way too heavily. Therefore, any simple tools I can find that make the “body” part of the equation less of a conscious effort, the better. In fact, my ultimate goal (which I have to believe is a level at which many pros do operate) is the elimination of all “conscious” things involved in the equation.


 

Yes, yes, yes. I think the big thing we should take away from this is the point of putting body steering and countersteering together in one smooth motion.

 

I also see your point about arresting the countersteering result with throttle. But riders who muscle the bike with aggressive countersteering aren't likely to have the skill to modulate a lean with throttle, I guess.

 

Now you've given me some fun exercises this weekend. My bikes needs washed, and we are expecting heavy rains, so I was going out anyway! smile.gif

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Ok, I've been working on smoothing out my lines and this may be the trick. Can't wait to try this on the ride home.

 

One of things I've been working on is keeping my weight off the bars to keep a light touch. For example, using my knees on the tank to hang on when braking. Also trying to figure out and implement some of the techniques discussed in Code's "Twist of the Wrist II".(such as trying to keep my weight on the outside peg to keep mass in the center when turning)

 

I'm still looking for better street applications also. It seems most of the diagrams I see are for a track application. (Code has only mentioned traffic twice so far and I'm almost to the last chapter). Those approaches aren't healthy at Deals Gap

 

Anyhoo, thanks for the tip. It's helped me visualize an approach I'm eager to try. (better than quite a bit of the Code book I might add)

 

Thanks

 

 

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  • 1 year later...

Just a quick question... am I reading this right?

 

Not long ago I rode more than 40 miles on the Natchez Trace without touched my handlebars once.

 

You rode for -40- miles without your hands on the bars? Perhaps its just my lack of comfort level after just getting out of the MSF course and not having a lot, well, any practical road experience, but doesn't that make ya just a wee bit nervous?

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Adam, you are reading it correctly, and no, it doesn't make me nervous. Remember that the Natchez Trace has only gentle, sweeping curves; wide run off areas; remarkable sight lines; and virtually no intersecting roads. Besides, when riding like this you are paying attention! tongue.gif

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Francois_Dumas

Umm... yes, well... I will add a few more miles 'hands on' before I will try what I know is possible. I kinda like the scratch-free looks of the bike as long as it lasts. wink.gif

 

On a more serious note, I will try the elbow-trick too. I was taught to steer the bike with the hips first of all, which I assume is what you mean with body steering?

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Yes, hips are a part of body steering, in that you should bend forward at the hips (vs. waist) and also shift weight to one of those big bones in your rear. But body steering moves far beyond that, too. Given what you are working through, it's best to concentrate exlusively on smooth counter steering, along with proper upper body positioning. That's 80% of the battle! thumbsup.gif

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Francois_Dumas

Okay, I have been trying 'elbowing my way' through bends now. Biggest problem for me is to find bends, actually ! For some reason most roads here are all straight ahead !! frown.gif

 

It does have an effect indeed..... a bit too much when I first tried it! I went into the curve leaning too much and cutting the corners a bit short. Takes experimenting a bot to 'get it right'. But it DOES help you lean into the bends with more ease, especially the faster ones! (Not that I am cornering aything fast yet, mind you wink.gif ).

 

Fun stuff !!!

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David,

 

Although I thought your post was too long (no offense) I am open minded and actually read it all. Then I tried it, despite having some reservations about how it might work. Well, I have to say that it really did work.

 

For some reason, left turns have always been more difficult for me than right turns. Perhaps it is because I have to lean towards the yellow line, and trucks coming the other way tend to get to me a bit.

 

Anyway, the elbow technique seems to be helping me.

 

Thanks very much.

 

Bob

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David,

 

Although I thought your post was too long (no offense) I am open minded and actually read it all.

 

Bob,

 

Glad you managed to get through it and it helped you out. I'll work on my brevity. tongue.gifgrin.gif

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David,

 

Although I thought your post was too long (no offense) I am open minded and actually read it all.

 

Bob,

 

Glad you managed to get through it and it helped you out. I'll work on my brevity. tongue.gifgrin.gif

 

I'll get you started:

 

Glad. I'll be shorter.

 

grin.gif

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I've been doing this for a few years now, but with a slightly different method........I try to lead with my shoulder. Since I've never done a track day, I don't have the experience or knowledge that you gentlemen have. Is there a difference between using shoulder or the elbow??

 

PS: Learned this from racing offroad bicycles, where the cornering inputs are VERY subtle. Good stuff Voodoo. Thanks for sharing thumbsup.gif

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Is there a difference between using shoulder or the elbow??

 

It doesn't really matter what you use, your shoulder, head, elbow, etc. The key is that you need to remember to keep your arms loose rather than stiff and get your body forward and down into the corner. I've just found that focusing on the elbow does the trick since it forces the arm to bend and loosen as it brings your body down, but whatever floats your boat and makes it easiest for you. thumbsup.gif

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JerryMather
David,

For some reason, left turns have always been more difficult for me than right turns. Perhaps it is because I have to lean towards the yellow line, and trucks coming the other way tend to get to me a bit.

Bob

 

Bob--

For your left turns set the bike to the rightside of the lane and turn in a little later or closer to the apex of the turn, This way you won't be hanging over the center line or double yellow and the bike should be centered in the lane when you come out of the turn. You'll need to use a little more body steer or counter steering to get the bike to turn in quickly to do this. Making a left turn to close to the center lane on a blind turn can have very unfortunate results if there's a car traveling in the opposite direction. blush.gif

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David,

 

Although I thought your post was too long (no offense) I am open minded and actually read it all.

 

Bob,

 

Glad you managed to get through it and it helped you out. I'll work on my brevity. tongue.gifgrin.gif

 

That's better. grin.gif

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  • 2 weeks later...

I used this technique last weekend while carving up the best roads in the Catskills, and I gotta say that it works great.

 

Thanks for teaching me this!

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  • 10 months later...
Errrr...40miles with no hands on the bars!!!! David, what about PTTR eek.gif?????

 

Load the left side case with all your tools, and slide your butt a bit.

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Cross steering is another reason loose arms matter.

 

There were a few times I thought I was going down in lefts as the front tire flew out from under me. Why? Liekam helped me understand as I turned in I tensed, my stiff left arm pushed producing a dramatic countersteer at exactly the wrong moment.

 

Relaxing has corrected the problem dramatically. My lefts are solid as my rights (which ain't saying a lot yet grin.gif)

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chadhargis

One of the skills I've been focusing on over the past year or so is being relaxed on the bike. The observations here support my theory. If you are relaxed, and not "fighting" the bike, things seem to come much easier and your speed seems slower. I find if I tense up, I begin to make more mistakes and then fear starts to creep in which can induce panic if it is allowed to continue.

 

If this happens I, "slow down to go fast". By backing off the pace a bit, relaxing, and re-focusing on the ride, I find my speed will increase and I'll be having more fun.

 

I've also been trying to use more body steering and smoother inputs such as easing off the brakes as I lean the bike over. This keeps the load on the suspension and keeps the bike from "bouncing".

 

That's the thing I absolutely love about riding. There is always something else to learn. I enjoy being a student of riding.

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  • 3 years later...
When it comes to corner entry, don’t steer with your hands, steer the bike with your elbows!

Oh... my... goodness... I've ridden for nearly 30 years. I read this advice yesterday then thought about it and used it on my commute home. Unbelievable. I have a feeling that I've just learned one of the great mystical secrets of riding. Its completely changed the way I feel on not just turns, but things as mundane as changing lanes. I've always counter-steered by pushing down with one hand, and pulling up with the other. But if you think "elbow" you get the same done with absolutely zero sense of stiffness. It sounds like Zen-like crap, but it gives me the feeling of being more at one with the machine. I can't wait to get out today.

 

Simply a remarkable tip.

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I cut my teeth riding in the dirt. There is no argument in the dirt, counter steer will get you into a turn and throttle will tune your position and radius. Just leaning will get you a dirt sandwich.

 

JMO, but people that think they are turning into a corner with body lean are just consciously leaning and unconsciously counter steering.

 

A simple experiment is to just pick a big empty paring lot. Drive down one of the painted lines and just counter steer. Your natural reaction is to fall in the direction of pressure. Try counter steering and remaining upright with your body. The bike will stabilize when you release pressure or add throttle. The bike will lay in the direction of the turn and you will be just a bit out of alignment with the bike.

 

Its actually kind of fun to simulate a slalom with just counter steer. Imagine pilons spaced 7 - 10 yards apart. Effortless to just weve using only a relaxed body and counter steer.

 

OK, fire away.

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