How to countersteer a motorcycle? You’re riding on a crowded motorway, trying to find some ‘breathing room’ to settle into. Just when you think you’ve found a good spot, a truck decides to move into your escape route, then starts to drift into your lane.
Suddenly, you’re handlebar-to-hubcap with the truck, with barely any room between you. It’s a scary situation. Your heart skips a beat, your brain freezes up, and in a moment of mild panic, you turn your handlebar away from the truck. When your bike edges towards it as a result, you realize it’s the wrong move. Fortunately, the truck sees you and moves back into his lane.
Later, you’ve escaped the city and are enjoying some winding country roads.
But instead of gliding through the twists and turns, you seem to be fighting your bike, drifting closer to the center line on the outside, and to the shoulder on the inside. After a close call, you decide to slow and work through the twisties at a slower pace.
What is countersteering?
Countersteering is the act of pushing your handlebars in one direction so that your bike goes in the other. This may sound strange, but chances are you’ve been doing it for years. It’s important to remember that countersteering is subtle.
In some cases, you may not even realize you’re doing it. Riders usually countersteer when edging to the right or left at high speeds. We’re not talking about 90-degree turns here.
All motorcycles need to lean in order to turn, it’s just a matter of how much and for how long. We’ve all seen those clips of Tom Cruise riding on a motorcycle with his body inches from the ground as he takes a tight turn. Hopefully, you’ll never get that close to the pavement.
Let’s say you want to veer to the left. When you push on the right side of your handlebars, the centripetal force will cause the bike to dip to the left. You will then shift your body weight naturally to stay in the upright position.
This combined with the centripetal force should send your bike veering to the left. The whole thing usually occurs in the span of a few seconds or less, so it’s easy to miss unless you’re on your bike.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. The idea of turning in the opposite direction you want to go can seem downright confusing, but, if you don’t take our word for it, try it for yourself.
How to countersteer a motorcycle?
Countersteering is the technique you consciously or unconsciously apply to initiate that lean. In short, you steer left to lean right, and vice versa. To fully understand the theory, you need to get your head around camber thrust, roll angle, and centripetal force. But to ride you only need to understand the practice.
To really get a feel for it, get going down a straight piece of road at a moderate speed—anything over 10 mph (16 kph). Now, still holding the handlebar, open both your hands so only your palms are in contact and your fingers point straight up—so you can only push the bar, not pull. Now push with your right hand, and see what happens.
You’ll experience a momentary dip to the left, and then the bike will bank slightly to the right. Combine countersteering with a quick weight shift to the inside footpeg, and voilà—your bike responds instantly and goes where you want.
How does countersteering work?
By turning the handlebars in the opposite direction, the bike wants to continue forward. Since it can’t because the wheel is not pointing straight, it leans and wants to drop to the ground. But instead of dropping to the ground, it turns. Yes, the motorcycle, at that point in time, is actually falling to the ground. But due to centripetal force and good traction, it doesn’t.
The trick is to take advantage of this. If a motorcycle simply turns its front wheel towards the direction of the turn, torque, which is a rotational force that is introduced due to inertia, will rotate the bike and make it lean towards the opposite direction – so it might crash to an oncoming vehicle for example.
To counteract this, the bike needs to lean towards the direction of the turn, so the center of gravity can move to the inside – counteracting the outside-torque with the assistance of gravity.
To lean towards the turn at high speed, all the rider has to do, is to lean the bike. But since inertia is keeping the bike upright, its not an easy task to do. So all you need to do to get some help with leaning the bike is to turn the handlebars towards the opposite direction of the turn. This will allow torque assist you with leaning the bike.
If the bike does not lean enough, gravity will not be strong enough to counter these outward forces, therefore the motorcycle will not turn fast enough. If it leans too much relative to its speed, gravity will be much stronger than the outward forces, so the motorcycle will experience a low side crash.
The same will happen if there’s not enough friction on the wheels – it will drop to the ground and continue sliding towards the direction it was moving at.
Why countersteering is so important?
Shenanigans aside, countersteering is about so much more than just looking cool on your bike. It’s pretty much the only way to turn when traveling on the highway or quickly dodging debris when driving off road.
The bike moves quickly with minimal movement on your end for faster response times and less risk.
If you see something you’d like to avoid, such an oncoming car or a rough patch of road, use this maneuver to get out of the way without having to brake.
What’s the difference in steering between a motorcycle and a car?
Motorcycles cannot initiate a turn as fast as a car can.
If a car driver wants to avoid a hazard at high speeds, all required is an aggressive turn of the wheel. Assuming there’s sufficient traction, the car will change direction.
A motorcycle must first lean before it can start turning. This means that compared to cars, motorcycle riders must plan the turn a bit in advance. How much in advance depends on the weight and geometry of your motorcycle.
Sportbikes can take about half a second to lean, while heavy cruisers can take one second or even a bit more.
It is very common for riders to drive their motorcycle straight into a pothole while at high enough speed. Why? Because due to their speed, they simply don’t have enough time to change direction and go around it.
And depending on the pothole, it is advised that you face it head-on, instead of sideways because you thought you had enough time to avoid it. Keep this in mind when riding on a road with many potential hazards.
What happens if you don’t countersteer
If you ride fast enough, you will no longer be able to turn the motorcycle in the same direction you turn the handlebars. Something a little more possible at slower speeds by using your body. This is due to inertia. The bike wants to continue forward.
If you turn the handlebars to the left, you will find that the motorcycle leans to the right in order to continue going in the same direction it was going at.
If you see videos or photographs of motorcycles initiating a lean at high speeds, you’ll notice that the front wheel is pointing on the outside of the turn.
Do you push down or forward when counter steering a motorcycle?
The primary application of the countersteering principle is this: to initiate a turn on your motorcycle, push forward on the handlebar on the side corresponding to the direction you want to turn. In other words, turn the handlebar in the opposite direction of your turn.
Do you lean when you countersteer?
To negotiate a turn successfully, the combined center of mass of the rider and the single-track vehicle must first be leaned in the direction of the turn, and steering briefly in the opposite direction causes that lean. The rider’s action of countersteering is sometimes referred to as “giving a steering command”.
At what speed do you start countersteering?
Actually, a motorcycle can be countersteered at any speed, but the effects of countersteering begin to be more noticeable and more advantageous to us as a rider around 12mph.
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