Curves and Cornering
Vicki Sanfelipo, RN – Author of "A Crash Course for the Motorcyclist"
Some people call me a "curve junky." I love riding curvy roads on my motorcycle. Of course, curves can be fun but, they can also be dangerous!
First, here's one of my favorite stories about how curves can be fun:
In 1998 I took a five-week leave of absence from my job at the hospital and hit the road to teach Accident Scene Management classes on the weekends while I explored new areas on my motorcycle during the week. I met a woman from Georgia online, Susan Brown, who invited me to ride with her in the mountains north of Atlanta. We met at a little diner. I was not sure what to expect and laughed with delight as she rode in on a Honda Nighthawk in a full one-piece sport biking suit. Our riding styles could not have been more different. I rode a Harley FXR. I was having some problems with a blown head gasket so I had to carry paper towels with me and wear chaps so I could wipe the oil off my chaps when I stopped. No big deal for me as I was always fixing my bike. It was still running, right? We stopped at the bottom of Bell Mountain because Susan wanted to explain to me that the next leg of the journey to the top of Bell Mountain was a sport biker’s dream. Then, as she prepared to leave me behind (so she thought), she said she would just see me at the top. "There's no way you can get lost," she told me. Much to her surprise I never lost sight of her, though I was scraping footboards. The ride was fun, but seeing the look on her face was even more fun.
Now, for an example of the danger that's always present when you "hit the curves":
A few years later, I got a call from a friend who was fairly new to riding. He wanted to go for a ride and show me a curvy road he had found. Of course I was in. He led the way and challenged me to keep up with his bike, which was smaller than mine and more maneuverable. Not bad, I thought, as he handled those curves pretty well. Eventually he pulled over and invited me to lead the way. Little did I know I was about to experience a moment where my heart was in my throat. After riding for a while with Len behind me, I noticed a car coming in the opposite direction just as I was coming out of a curve. I looked in my mirror just in time to see Len took the same corner too fast and had swung out into the opposite lane -- with the car bearing down on him! He backed off the throttle and struggled to pull the bike back into our lane, narrowly missing a head-on collision. After that, I adjusted our speed to a more manageable level for the novice rider. As we chatted about the incident over lunch he explained to me that he had been told, "Never brake in a curve." I told my friend that "never" is a very strong word. While you should slow down before a curve and accelerate through it, there are times you may get into a curve a little too fast and touching the back brake to slow down is necessary. He asked how I would have handled getting the bike back into the right lane at that moment and I told him I would have shifted my weight and leaned more to the right while rolling on the throttle. He was surprised to hear me say that I would have rolled on the throttle. Just shows there's always a lot to learn about taking curves and proper cornering and just riding in general.
Learning to negotiate curves and proper braking is a lifelong learning skill. One of the websites I found that does a wonderful job of explaining proper cornering can be found here: Learn More
Another common reference is Total Control by Lee Parks. He wrote a book and has a program that teaches advanced motorcycling skills like the ability to clutch, brake and corner. Here is a four minute YouTube from Total Control: Watch Now
An 8-minute video that will take more time for you to watch but does a good job of explaining throttle management and counter steering is Bike Cornering Bible: Watch Now
I would also like to caution you on riding beyond your ability, particularly when you are riding with others where you may feel pressured to keep up. I was teaching seminars at the AMA’s Women & Motorcycling conference in West Virginia. I was traveling with a group of friends after the conference to the Dragon’s Tail in North Carolina. As we headed out of town into the Shenandoah Mountains the road became very twisty with constant turns that were getting tighter as we climbed higher into the mountains. I was leading the group and I started out slowly, watching the group behind me to see if they were keeping up as I progressively began taking corners faster. Suddenly, as I came out of a corner I heard the screeching sound of metal on the pavement. I glanced in my mirror to see a bike on its side sliding across the centerline toward a drop-off with no guardrail. I got my bike safely pulled over in a downhill slope with little shoulder. I saw my friend laying in the oncoming lane and the bike at the edge of the drop off. Several of us had our cell phones out but none of us had reception. I put someone in charge of oncoming traffic and got up the hill to check on my injured friend. It just so happened that the group of cyclists who were following us had taken my seminar -- "Preventing Further Injury at a Crash Scene" -- just two days prior. They were doing a great job controlling traffic coming around the curve. Finally, we heard a voice in the distant valley saying, "Are you alright?" We asked them to call for help and 15 minutes later an ambulance arrived. I asked my friend what happened and she said she got into the turn a little too fast and touched her brake. She said she went down so fast she really didn’t know what had happened. We went back to inspect the surface of the road and found several soft tar patches. This goes to show you that it would have been better to slow down before the curve than to have to adjust speed while in a curve.
Skilled riding enhances the joy of riding. Many people who are learning to ride will ask me how they can get good at cornering, starting and stopping smoothly, etc. I always tell them to ride a lot and never be satisfied with their current level of knowledge. They should always be asking themselves, "What can I do to be a better biker?" Challenge yourself to learn something new.
Vicki Sanfelipo, RN/EMT
Have you had any closes calls on curvy roads?
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