Riding Skills Series: Countermeasures
By Jason Black
Photography: Dean Groover
1. Whether you realize it or not, countersteering is as necessary and vital to your riding as using the brakes. If you're not familiar with countersteering, it's a term used to describe the physical action of steering the bar or clip-ons momentarily in the opposite (yes, opposite) direction of the turn in order to initiate a corner.
The actual physics of countersteering are complicated, and while many people think it requires only a simple explanation, panels of physicists have debated exactly why angular momentum, torques and vectors affect your motorcycle. As riders, we don't need to know the physics, but it is important to have an understanding of how our motorcycle works. We're not going to tell you why, but here is a quick how.
2. Most new riders who have not taken a Motorcycle Safety Course are under the impression that in order to arc through a corner on a motorcycle, the rider must lean and turn the front wheel in the direction of the corner.
In fact, the opposite is true. At speeds greater than 15-20 mph, the rider must initiate a turn by first turning the front wheel toward the outside of the corner (i.e., push on the left bar to go left, push on the right bar to go right). This is a momentary action that rolls the motorcycle off its axis, leaning it in the direction of the bar/clip-on that is pushed. As the bike reaches the desired lean angle, the tire falls into the arc of the turn.
The arrows in the photo above illustrate, from the rider's point of view, the motion needed to initiate a corner. Push forward on the left bar to go left; the opposite to go right.
3. Here's an exercise to practice countersteering. Find an empty stretch of straight road. While riding at steady throttle at a slow speed (35-45 mph), pick a spot on the road ahead and use it as an imaginary obstacle-a point where you'll want to swerve.
As you approach your target, choose the direction you want to maneuver the bike. For the first pass, begin your turn well back from the point you want to avoid and make sure you don't target fixate. Apply slight pressure on the desired clip-on to arc the bike around the "obstacle," then apply pressure on the opposite side to swing back onto your original line. The motion involved in pushing/pulling the clip-ons should be a controlled movement; jerky actions will upset the chassis. As you become more comfortable, advance your initial turn closer to the target. This will require a more forceful action at the clip-ons, but remember to keep your motions smooth. With practice, you can quickly and accurately place the bike using exact countersteering inputs.
4. Remember: At low speeds (less than 15 mph) countersteering doesn't have any effect on turning the motorcycle, but as speeds rise the force of the input required increases. It takes less effort to steer a motorcycle traveling at 60 mph than it does to steer at 100 mph.
Countersteering can be used in two ways: subconsciously or consciously. Those who use it subconsciously perform the action without knowing it, and therefore have less of an understanding of how their motorcycle works. Those who consciously use countersteering-both racers and street riders alike-are able to place their motorcycles precisely where they want.
Whether you are enjoying your favorite road or find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation, the ability to knowingly countersteer your bike and place it where desired gives you greater control in any situation that arises.
This article was originally published in the December '99 issue of Sport Rider.