There’s so much that goes into riding a motorcycle well. To get better we focus on perfecting our mechanics and riding technique, whether it’s by taking MSF classes, doing track days or just being proactive each time we go out for a ride. But being able to shift and brake smoothly, get a knee down and throw your weight around is only part of the equation.
To really excel at riding, you need to be able to read the road for what it will be presenting you. In other words, you need to know when and where to apply your bike control skills when you reach certain types of roadway. Roads are not flat straightaways. With different constructions techniques like camber, crowns and differing radii, you need to be aware of how your inertia may work for you or against you.
Knowing how to read the road ahead of you will enable you to break it down so you can know exactly where to point your bike and which controls you should be using. Let’s take a look at how you should approach each different cornering situation.
Camber and Crown
Because roads exist in the real world where rain is present, they need to be built to accommodate water drainage. That’s where road camber and crowns come into play. Both of these elevation changes in the road present obstacles for you as a rider. They will affect how you can lean into a corner and the speed in which you can take it. By being able to recognize the angle of the crown or camber, you can properly adjust your speed and handling to make it through the corner as efficiently and safe as possible.
Camber can be described as an elevation change from one edge of the road to the other, most often seen in corners. You can think of it as banking like on a NASCAR track. But it is not engineered into the road for handling. Camber is there to improve drainage. That means, you may encounter a situation where the camber is working against you in a corner not for you like on a circle track. This is called negative camber.
Negative camber or off-camber corners present a tricky situation because physics are now working against you. The road is slanting downwards on the outside edge, which, when combined with your centrifugal force, can pull you wider into the turn. In order to counteract the forces, you will need to increase your lean angle. But, your lean angle is also diminished because the side of the road that your bike is leaning towards will be at a higher elevation.
By being able to look ahead and recognize that you will be entering a corner with negative camber, you will be able to adjust the that way you are riding. You will need to be a bit more cautious with your speed as your traction and available lean angle will decrease. You also need to adjust your line to allow for a slower turn with a diminished lean angle. You can box off the turn by staying on the outside of the corner later before you turn in. A delayed apex will allow you to keep the bike more upright as well.
Many two lane roads are also built with a crown in the center to help with water drainage. The crown will also create camber in the road. On right hand turns, the crown will create a positive camber, which will make cornering easier. For left hand turns, though, you will encounter a negative camber. When there is a crown and you encounter a left hander, use the same tactics as if you would in a pure negative camber situation. Also be aware that the crown may not actually be in the center of the road.
The radius of a corner is determined by the rate of change in how tight a corner is. A constant radius is one that has the same rate. If a corner opens up towards the end of the turn it is an increasing radius. One that tightens as you continue through the corner is a decreasing radius and is the most challenging.
Being able to look ahead and see through the corner makes it a bit easier. You can definitively tell which type of radius you are approaching and adjust accordingly. But that isn’t always the case. When you are approaching an unknown corner, it’s important to take it at a reserved pace. You can adjust your throttle accordingly once you can see through the corner. Taking on a decreasing radius corner too fast and too tight can lead you to early apex and go wide through the center line on a right hander and off the road on a left turn.
A decreasing radius turn should be approached similarly to one with a negative camber. Enter wide and stay wide longer with a delayed apex to stay in control throughout the whole turn. By staying wide, you have more options to choose the best line to take in case you need to veer away from obstacles, debris or road imperfections. The wider line also provides a greater field of view of what lies ahead on the road. Once you have made it through the apex, you can begin throttling out of the corner like normal to pull you through.
Experienced riders can trail brake through the corner, but that is for another discussion.
For any cornering situation, it’s important to be smooth with your controls so that you do not upset the suspension of the bike. Roll on and off the throttle with ease and use light pressure on the brakes.
By being able to read the road ahead of you, you will be able to conquer corner with ease, speed and safety.