Motorcycle Counter-steering

One of the most important things you’ll ever do on a motorcycle (besides braking) is to turn. Turning on a motorcycle, just like on a bicycle, requires you to lean the motorcycle in the direction you wish to turn. In order to do it safely, you should know a few things about how the motorcycle works, and what inputs are required by you to make it turn when and where you want it to.

At lower speeds, it’s pretty basic; you lean in the direction you want to turn. This is most easily done by shifting your body weight in the direction you want to turn. This doesn’t work when at higher speeds, mostly above 10-20mph, unless influenced by some outside force, such as wind or being struck from the side by something like a car.

Something many new motorcycle riders may not understand (or perhaps may not even be aware of,) is the effect of countersteering. Countersteering involves turning the front wheel in the opposite direction you want to turn the bike. That’s right, when you abruptly turn the front wheel to the right, the natural reaction of the bike is to lean to the left, in turn causing the bike to turn left.

Physicists have tried to explain in many ways just how angular impetus, torque, vectors, and gyration affect your motorcycle while at speed. We, as riders, really don’t need to bother with the physics involved in countersteering, but it is important to know the basics of how motorcycles work in order to operate it safely.

Counter-steering is achieved by turning the handle bars in the opposite direction you want to turn.How then, you might ask, does turning the front wheel in the opposite direction you want to turn, cause you to turn the direction you DO want to turn? When you’re moving at more than about 5 to 10mph, what causes you to turn is leaning. Leaning to the right will make you turn to the right. So when you’re moving and you abruptly turn the front wheel to the left by countersteering, the natural reaction of the bike is to lean in the opposite direction, which is to the right.

This happens because of the momentum caused by the wheel moving left, forcing the bike to lean (and turn) right. Just as would happen if you were traveling very fast in a car and turned the wheel to the right, provided you had enough traction. The result would be the car flipping over (leaning) to the left.

The proper use (and knowledge) of countersteering will enable you to quickly and accurately place your bike on the path you want. This can make your Sunday ride in the canyons or on the track much more enjoyable. More importantly, will provide you with the tools necessary to help get you around that obstacle in the road that may otherwise cause you to crash.