Stayin’ Safe: Countersteering

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Countersteering is one of the first things a newcomer learns to do when first driving a motorcycle. They may not know its name, nor even do it consciously, but they simply HAVE to acquire the technique somehow, usually intuitively as they grow more familiar with controlling the motorcycle. Without this skill, a motorcycle becomes virtually impossible to handle properly. In other words, countersteering is about as necessary to motorcycling as a motorcycle itself is.

    I myself only became fully aware of it when, after several years’ motorcycling, I got onto a motor tricycle (single front wheel, two rear wheels on a single rigid axle, i.e. no diff). The posture and hand & foot controls are identical to those of a two-wheeled bike, so sitting on that tricycle felt exactly like sitting on an ordinary bike. The difference is in how one steers, however. Much to my initial befuddlement, the trike kept turning in the opposite direction to that which I thought I was steering in. This kept happening until I paid very careful attention to what I was doing with my hands on the handlebars, at which point it dawned on me that force of habit had me instinctively and unconsciously applying the countersteering technique to the trike, where it was wholly inappropriate.

    It’s an experience every seasoned biker should have so as to appreciate and become aware of countersteering , but beware: Do it in a quiet and spacious place where there’s no traffic because it will take you by surprise.

  2. Some riders feel that it’s not necassary to know what countersteering is: “hey the bike turns, whatevah…”, but if you have to tighten a corner fast, or swerve to miss something, get it wrong and you’re in a world of pain.

  3. This is why, if you want to have a young child easily learn to ride a two-wheeler, you should never let them ride a tricycle first; they’d have to unlearn trike steering while they’re trying to learn bike steering. Instead, get them a Strider-type balance bike. By just playing with the balance bike, they’ll intuitively grasp how to steer it. Training wheels on a regular bike are almost certainly just as bad as a tricycle, in my opinion.

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