Why Do Motorcyclists Lean Into a Corner? Myth Busted

At some point, very soon in your riding career, you will have to navigate a corner. Most people don’t know how to safely navigate a corner, never mind why you might need to lean into the corner.

When a motorbike enters a corner, friction generates a turning or centripetal force. That force generates a torque around the bike’s center of gravity, which tips the bike out of the curve as you move forward. To stop the bike from tipping over, you need to lean into the curve. If you are not leaning in enough for your cornering speed, the centripetal force will overcome gravity and throw the bike and you out of the turn and into the ditch, or worse.

How do you lean in corners on a motorcycle?

So I made some changes to my everyday riding style. These changes make me a safer and better-prepared rider for the unexpected events on the road.

Old habits are hard to break. When I first started to learn to ride a motorcycle properly, I was taught the good, old-fashioned, slow, look, press, and roll technique of cornering a motorcycle.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s pretty simple: It’s a technique topped by the motorcycle safety foundationOpens in a new tab. for cornering a motorcycle. So, you slow before the corner while a motorcycle is still going in a straight line.

You do all of your slowing down while that motorcycle is still in a straight line (straight up and down), then you look in the direction you want to go, you press on the handlebar on the intended turn side, and you roll on the throttle all through the corner.

I was out for a ride the other day, and I noticed for the first time that my riding habits had changed entirely.

I trail brake on every corner now, so before we get into this too far, let’s define what trail braking is for those of you who may not know.

When you’re trail braking, you still do most of your slowing down before the corner, so I’m still slowing with my front and rear brakes just like I always did, and you still do that.

Look, and you press on the handgrip in the direction that you want to turn. The difference is that you maintain slight pressure on that front brake into the corner.

Where, before you let off the brakes, then you look to press and roll. You maintain just a little bit of front brake, and you maintain that pressure into the corner.

Up until that point where you start to roll on the throttle again, you’re maintaining that slight pressure.

On the track, the advantage of doing this is that it allows you to go into a corner faster, but we’re not interested in speed on the street.

On the street, it has nothing to do with the speed. The advantage is that you keep the front forks compressed, which gives you some advantages that we’ll talk about later.

Let me make this disclaimer up front. I still think slow, look, press and roll is the best technique to teach new riders.

As an instructor, you see all kinds of potential riders that come into a new writer class. Some have experienced, and some riders don’t.

Some riders who say they’ve got a lot of experience struggle a whole lot when they start riding the motorcycle out on the parking lot.

I believe slow, look, press and roll is the easiest technique to teach, and it’s the easiest technique to master for riders who’ve not developed good brake and throttle control yet.

I had this discussion at the international motorcycle show with Nick Inetch, a huge proponent for trail raking, and he also runs the Yamaha champion riding school.

In this presentation, he hinted that the MSF should disregard that old slow, look, press and roll technique, and teach trail breaking to brand new riders and all riders coming through that class.

So let’s. Look at those two aspects. Is it best to teach new riders this technique, and is it safer? One of those I agree with, and one I still have some questions about.

So first, should trail-breaking be taught to brand new riders? Nick states that he’s had success teaching new riders at his riding school, and I have no reason to doubt that, and I bet he’s – got success with the technique.

But I also think he’s, teaching a different set of students than those who come through the MSF class.

So why do I say that he’s, teaching different students? Well, currently, the two-day cost for the champions riding school is $2,200. That’s not counting the cost.

If you rent a motorcycle from them, you can add insurance to that and gear rental, and it gets a little more expensive for two days of training.

So those numbers add up quite a bit, but the cheapest option is $2200 bucks. For two days now, for riders spending that kind of money, they’re serious about learning to ride a motorcycle.

They’re committed to getting better, and they’re putting their money to show their intent to become a good rider.

Everything I’ve heard about the school states that it’s well worth the investment to go, that you get good training out of it, but the cost of an MSF class for two days is two to three hundred dollars.

That includes a motorcycle, helmet, and gloves, and many riders here are only interested in getting their license.

Some are only interested in doing the bare minimum to pass and get their license so that they can get out on the street.

There’s a difference between the rider who shows up for the Yamaha champions rider school and one who shows up in a parking lot for MSF class.

There’s the difference in the student’s desire to learn, and the cost of that class and they’re showing up for it shows that difference sometimes.

That’s why I still believe it’s the best technique that’s; slow, look, press enrolls to teach new riders, and for that matter, it’s something that you’re comfortable with. I see no reason to change that technique out on the street.

However, I agree with Nick that, in the hands of a competent writer trail, breaking is still a safer technique.

If you’ve taken the MSF course, it will be drilled into your head never to touch the brakes, especially that front brake in a corner.

Some instructors are so adamant about it that riders have visions of that tire sliding out from under them with the slightest amount of pressure on that front brake while in a slight lean.

The reason this is taught in the beginners class is that if you are leaned over, and the front brake is applied abruptly or aggressively, which new riders often do, you can cause a crash.

That doesn’t mean that it can never be used on a motorcycle leaned over, but it has to be done correctly.

I like how nick describes traction. A motorcycle tire has 100 theoretical points of traction.

If you go above that 100 points, the tire will slide and lose traction. Those points are also variable.

So, on an improperly inflated tire on a slick surface, you can more quickly run through those hundred points of traction on a surface with debris.

Cornering is all about managing those 100 points. When you lean a motorcycle over in a corner, you use some of your 100 points.

The farther you lean, the more points you use, but if I lean a motorcycle over and use 40 points of that 100 points traction, I’ve still got 60 points leftover of traction for braking.

One word on traction and how you apply those points are critical. A motorcycle tire is very good at handling a heavy load, meaning you can ask a lot of that tire before it loses traction, but it’s not good at handling an abrupt load.

If you grab the brakes, the tire will lose traction. So how does this look with the brake hand? Well, let’s say I’ve got an emergency, and I want to use all 100 points of my braking. I’ve got to get this motorcycle stopped

If I squeeze that brake – and it sounds like 10, 20. 30. 40. 50. 60. 70. 80. 90. 100. That’s about as fast as I can talk here in Texas, but you get the picture.

You want to use all 100 points, but you’re progressively squeezing that break to get to those 100 points.

In the same situation, if I go 5100 and I grab the front brake, that tire is very likely to lose traction.

It doesn’t function well with an abrupt load. Still, it can handle a lot of load if it’s progressively applied. Because of this, you must use the proper braking technique in a corner.

You can practice this with zero risks to sit on your motorcycle in the garage with the engine off and the motorcycle in neutral.

You want to squeeze that front brake slowly, and at first, you’ll hear a small click right.
You hear a little click coming from the brake. That’s, the switch that engages the brake light just past that click the brakes begin to squeeze on the caliper, so squeeze gently on the brake and roll.

The motorcycle back and forth with the motorcycle in neutral.

When you can roll back and forth, and yet you feel some resistance from the brakes, that’s the amount of pressure on the brake that we’re talking about when you’re trail, braking into a corner on the street.

It’s not heavy braking on the street; we’ve already done all of our heavy braking before leaning the motorcycle over. We’re just maintaining that light pressure on the front brake as we lean the motorcycle into the corner.

You may be asking what the advantage of doing this is? Keeping a little bit of pressure on the front brake gives the rider a few advantages.

It keeps the forks compressed by keeping the forks compressed, it effectively shortens the motorcycle’s wheelbase, allowing it to turn sharper. So when you apply that front brake, that slight pressure keeps the forks compressed.

Because your forks are not running straight up and down, a little bit of an angle brings the front tire up and back, and it shortens the wheelbase of the motorcycle, allowing it to turn sharper.

So even just moving the fork up and in, just a little bit, will allow your motorcycle to turn sharper at that entry of the corner.

If you release the brakes, the opposite happens. So if you use that slow, look, press, and roll technique, you release the brakes before getting into the corner.

The weight goes to the back of the motorcycle, the forks extend, reducing the motorcycle’s turning radius a little bit.

It also gives that front tire more traction. If you add weight to the tire, it has more traction. If you remove weight from the tire, it has less traction.

So right at that point, where we’re wanting that front tire to work by using slow, look, press and roll, and we’re rolling on the throttle.

We’re, reducing weight from that front tire, and then we’re, asking it to turn into a corner where, if we keep just a little bit of pressure, we’re giving that tire more traction and right when we need it at the turn end of the corner.

By keeping slight pressure on that front brake, you’re keeping some weight on that tire, and you’re giving it more traction.

If there’s an obstacle in the road, if the turn is sharper than I thought it would be, or if I need to slow for any other reason in the corner, I already have the motorcycle in the proper position to stop.

If I use slow, look, press, and roll, I see something mid-corner; the MSF teaches if you’re mid-corner to straighten up first and then brake.

You’re going to run out of your lane and then brake, or use slight pressure on the brakes, and then as you can straighten the motorcycle up more, you can go to more aggressive braking.

The problem with this is that the motorcycle already has most of the weight on the rear tire, so you’re coming in, you slow down, you look, you press, you roll!

You’re effectively reducing traction, or you’re extending the forks on the front of the motorcycle.

Then, if something’s there, I’ve got to get it straightened up, and then I’ve got to go progressively to the brakes again, so that reduces your stopping distance and gives you more to think about to get that motorcycle to a stop.

However, if I’m using trail braking and I’ve maintained slight pressure, so I’m still keeping weight on that front tire, I’ve already loaded that front tire, and I’m ready to apply more braking smoothly.

It will keep the motorcycle in a much more balanced position, and give me a massive advantage over the rider using the slow, look press, and roll technique.

When most people hear the words trail breaking, they think to track and go faster around the corner. Still, it offers some advantages for the street rider, and it has nothing to do with speed.

It has everything to do with keeping the motorcycle in the best position if something surprises you out on the track.

So, if done correctly, in my opinion, it makes riding safer for the rider who has good brake and throttle control on his motorcycle.

It’s not a beginner technique, but it’s an excellent intermediate to an advanced level technique that I think riders in those positions should work on.

So why have I adopted this for my everyday riding? Because I hear some riders say yeah, trail break on occasion, but most of the time, I use slow, look, press, and roll.

For the reasons I mentioned before, if I find an unexpected event mid-corner, I want to be prepared for it. If I’m using that slow, look, press, and roll technique, I’m off the brakes, and it takes me longer to get the bike ready to brake aggressively.

Suppose I’m already trail braking going into the corner. In that case, I’m in a much better position to handle objects in the road or corners that are sharper than I initially thought or any other unexpected event that may occur.


Keith Mallinson has been a motorcycle enthusiast for the past 20 years. He has owned a variety of bikes during this time, ranging from sport bikes to cruisers. Keith has a passion for all things motorcycle related, including riding, maintaining, and customizing his bikes. In addition to his personal experience with motorcycles, Keith has also kept up to date with industry news and trends. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and insights with others through his motorcycle blog. When he's not out on the open road, Keith can be found tinkering in his garage, planning his next road trip, or spending time with his family.