Jun 7, 2007

Mailbag #6: How to lean more

Caughtilya-Rearset Stamp 1I wanted a little help on leaning. I love to lean, but am pretty scared to lean further since I don't know what's the limit my bike can take. Are there any feelers/warnings at the limit, beyond which the bike slides? If you could point out an article/site where I can find out more about this, I will owe you a dinner at your favourite POWAI poptates ;-)
-Name witheld (If you like, I can publish it... just email me)

Hmmm... sounds familiar. That pretty much sounds like me on my first motorcycle.It had cool looking but utterly useless TVS AT100 knobblies and I had the first question. Here's what happened. I read the latest issue of whatever mag was the latest and greatest back then and went out and threw the AT100s down in total disgust and asked the MRF chap to rustle up a pair of fresh and sticky Zappers. That, in no time at all, improved my confidence levels. So my friend, the first thing I would is, check the equipment. Tyres ok? Chassis straight? What you're looking for is a straight chassis, neutral feel and ideally if you really tune in, some vibration from the front and rear contact patches. This last bit is a bit of a black art and varies from tyre to tyre. Zappers are pretty decent at this, though.

Tony Elias at Mugello | Courtesy Honda motorcyclesThe second chapter in this epic happened when I met a chap I'll call Sethi. Sethi was highly regarded at my mechanics over-chai-bravado as a rally rider. Sethi liked to say things like, 'I love dirt on the road. Then I can slide it.' Well, one day, I discovered that not only did Sethi stay in the neighbourhood right behind mine, he was heading home at the same time. His rally-ready RX100 was way faster than my ride, so he said, 'I'm sorry but I won't wait for you... I'm in a hurry... just keep up as much as you can...'

That did it. Something in me (hindsight, this is) snapped. That day, for the first time, I threw my worries about lean angles, clearances, slides and crashed into thin air and followed his lines exactly. It worked, until I passed him on the inside at some corner along the way. Then it worked really well. In one fell swoop, I destroyed the banter at the over-the-chai-bravado, Sethi's reputation and my fear of angles. Well, the geometrical ones still get me...

But this isn't about me.

What I'm saying is that a lot of the lean angle business is a fine dance between balance, trust and faith. If you can already lean it in and feel good, you can try scaring yourself a little bit. Lean it a bit more, until the fear is replaced by confidence, and then lean it in a bit further again. If you're on a relatively recent motorcycle, your tyres most certainly can handle it. Just remember one thing, lean angles require commitment. The harder you lean, the less grip you have to play with in terms of braking, acceleration and line corrections. As in, don't do this if you aren't sure what lies ahead and how you plan to react to it. If your tyres are fairly new, well-inflated and generally look good, you can trust them. Then comes faith. You have to believe that more lean will not hurt you. Again, the more you lean it in, the more subtle your throttle work has to become. At the edge of the tread, you will usually feel the tyre suddenly go just slightly greasy, that's usually a good sign to stop leaning further and double the care you are taking with the throttle. Another great sign is your peg feeler scraping. That's what it does. It scrapes and lets you know that this much is enough. Obviously, all the usual admonitions about deserted roads, clean tarmac etc apply.

But that's the theory.

Practically speaking, sit down, close your eyes and focus on finding a corner that makes you feel confident, one that allows fairly serious lean and one that's easy to get to. Turn three after you leave Udaipur on NH6 is not convenient. Drag a friend and all your motorcycle kit to this corner one fine morning. Go early. And start riding. Focus only on that one corner. Take a few runs like you normally would and try and get an idea of the sort of speeds you are carrying. Say you usually take the turn at 60 kph. Now, while your friends keeps a watch – for you and for traffic, raise that barrier. This is not easy to do. Your brain will probably be screaming like an angry witch, but you have to make it listen to your plan. Raise the speed by whatever increments you are comfortable with. Say you decide to raise it by 3 kph. Sounds paltry, but will be bloody scary. Make a few runs at 3 kph, until the poor brain calms down and accepts it. One good way to test it to see if you are a little short of breath after you exit the corner. If yes, you are still tense at lean. Practice at this speed until you can breath mid-corner normally. Then raise it again. Do this until your friend throws a right tantrum, you run out of energy or your pegs drag, whichever comes first. This much improvement can happen in a space of a few hundred words, but may takes weeks in real life, so keep at it. And remember to have fun while you're at it. If it isn't fun, it isn't worth it. Remember to return another day for a few more sessions. Once you can drag the pegs at will, you are ready for the next step – hanging off and adding more speed.

Normally, I would recommend going to a track for this. And you do have some options now. But since all the tracks in our country are way down south and you are in Mumbai, I'm going to suggest public road practice, but take a friend along. His job is to help if you crash and to stop you from trying 3 kph more while there's a truck headed your way from the other side. Tell him to pay attention to his duties. He should stop you from cornering at the very hint of traffic, including bicycles and pedestrians.

If you've only practiced on a left-hander, you might do yourself a favour and do the same practice at a right-hander as well. Most of us favour one side and bikes look bad with mismatched wear of feeler bolts, heh heh.

But most importantly, if I were you, I'd wait for the rains to go away first.

For more on the subject, look for tips to help you go faster through corners and for the moment, ignore the usual bits about selecting better lines. All the best lines are designed to limit lean angles.

The writer of the mail is not a novice and the practice advice is based on the fact that he already knows the basics of riding. If you are completely new to motorcycling, this is probably not the right(est) way for you to start learning the art.

Image courtesy: Honda Motorcycles


The BATFAN said...

I know this would sound stupid. Very stupid indeed. But after having read your blog for so much time, I still don't get this.

Why lean the bike to dangerous extremes when we can lean out ourselves and do the weight shift significantly.

rearset said...

It is not a stupid question.

But there are two ways to look at it.

1) I love lean
When I'm not trying to go at the fastest possible pace, massive lean angles make a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Purely for the heck of it.

2) Learning
Once you have learnt how to handle, as you put it, dangerous extremes, you can go back to not leaning so hard, right?

vibhu said...

I had written a post long back on riding. Not much on leaning though.

I would not advice new people to lean and lean more like you said. Why ? cause it takes one slide to remove any confidence a person may have.

Madhukar said...

I think faith in machine/tyres is key point in leaning. I've started minor leaning (by foot peg scraping standards) since i've got CBZ-XT cause' she way better in feel and handling, also she's shode with MRF Zappers.
But leaning on old CBZ was no no.


rearset said...

Perhaps I should have clarified, the rider isn't a newbie. He is someone who has ridden for a while and at speed. He's even tried his hand at cornering and fallen. But he still loves lean and wants a better approach to building greater off-the-vertical confidence...

--xh-- said...

Twisties..aah, I love them.. I love leaning, and do it for the pleasure of it. After making sure that I can lean my bike at my will, what I now do is, combine lean with hanging off - extremly fun and useful. When i lean, I use countersteering, and it gives me more control and confidence.

Anonymous said...

hehe i dunno, you'd be suprised how fast the novice riders are at the races here ;-)...but yeah, i guess novice on street and novice on track are 2 different things.

My 2 cents, the faster you go through a corner, the more you will lean, this applies whether or not you hang off, having said that hanging off will let you go faster for a given lean angle than a rider who does not hang off because of the change in CG and availability of traction from keeping the bike more upright...and yes you do need to twist the throttle for any of that to work ;-).

If the objective is to feel good at lean then thats fine (as long as you dont have someone relaxed, using much less lean passing you on the outside lol). But if the objective is to go through the corner faster, then learn how to hang off and more importantly and not often realized, learn how to 'quick steer' (getting the bike from upright to required angle of lean as FAST as possible). When you learn to quicken your steering, you will find yourself needing to use much less lean through the bulk of the corner and you WILL go faster. If i were to look at any one skill i'd say this specific skill is what seperates the best racers/riders from good ones

As always, hers my disclaimer: - Dont try hanging off on the street because in a nutshell, unexpected variables means it isnt safe to commit to a corner that way

happy cornering ;-)