Stayin’ Safe: Countersteering

This exaggerated static demonstration illustrates the countersteering effect. The rider presses forward on the right end of the handlebar to make the bike lean right and go right. He presses left to make the bike lean and turn to the left.

Conversations about steering a motorcycle inevitably come around to “countersteering.” You may have even taken a rider course where they taught, “press left, go left” and “press right, go right.” Even so, you may be among the population of riders who still don’t quite get the left and right of it all. Countersteering remains, well, counterintuitive.

Without getting into a physics lesson, the thing to know is when a motorcycle travels at any speed above a walking pace, if the handlebar is turned, the chassis will react with a counter response. In other words, the handlebars, fork and front wheel will be pointed slightly “counter” to the direction the bike is leaning and turning.

I find that riders get a better understanding of how countersteering works when they try a throttle-hand-only exercise. In an open parking lot, establish a straight line and steady speed of about 15 mph. Remove your left hand from the handlebar while keeping your right hand on the throttle. With throttle steady, press forward and pull back slightly a few times. Notice how the bike responds. Press forward and the bike immediately leans and turns to the right. Pull back on that throttle side (equivalent to pressing forward on the left end of the handlebar with your other hand) and the bike leans and turns left. Experiment with different amounts of pressure. Got it?

Now repeat the same straight-line exercise with both hands lightly on the handlebars. Take turns pressing forward on each end of the bar independently with the palm or heel of your hand. The bike will always lean and turn toward the side that you pressed. The more firmly you press, the more pronounced the turn will be.

Continue to practice until the behavior becomes comfortable and you can execute it with confidence, knowing exactly how the bike will respond. You’ll soon join the riders who’ve come to view countersteering as something they count on during every ride.


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