Six steps to safe cornering

The golden rule about cornering

Go in wide and slow – Come out fast

At all times apply this golden rule to the six detailed steps below;

Step 1

Back off the power and brake to an appropriate speed. Go wide. This gives you the ability to see around the corner.

Step 2

Look through the corner. (Do not look down at your bike or the handle bar!) Check for surface hazards, obstructions etc
Keep your eyes focussed on the exact patch of tar where you want to be in a second or two. Your bike will naturally follow an invisible line through the corner towards the spot where your eyes are focussed. Do not look down!

Step 3

Lean forward as you go through the corner. It makes dropping the bike down a whole lot easier if you own one where the sitting position is fairly upright (Sportbike riders will be doing this anyway due to the ergonomics of their bikes)

Step 4

Use the principle of counter steering and push on the inside/low bar. Shift your weight into the corner so that your pelvis points into the corner. This helps the bike to drop smoothly down smoothly. (The skill of fast safe cornering lies in this preparation phase.)

Step 5

As you drop your bike into the corner, keep both eyes reasonably level with the surface of the road.

Put differently – when you turn left, tip your head right so that your jaw points to the inside of the corner (do not point with your forehead). When you turn right, tip your head left.

Step 6

As your bike commits to the curve, gently tap into the throttle and power through the corner. This maintains even tyre traction and stability.

If you cannot do this because of your high speed it is because you did not slow down sufficiently before the corner. Correct this in the next corner (assuming you survive!!)

In practice cornering goes like this . . .


steeringYou see the corner . . .

(Preparation phase) . . . move to the outside of the corner, sit up straight, ease off the power, check mirrors, apply brakes until you are going at the correct speed. Release the brakes. Look through the corner, lean forward arms loose and relaxed, . . .

(Corner itself) . . .counter steer and the bike drops and cuts towards the solid line. Tip your head the opposite way . . . look through the corner. The tyres bite, the exit is clear, tap into the power again and gently power yourself through the remainder of the corner. Yahooo!!!

Look through the corner
Arms bent and relaxed

Counter Steer

Turning left? . . . tip head to the right . . . eyes level with the road surface.

Tap evenly into the power and exit.

I personally only brake during the preparation phase and not in the corner itself.

Note: Once your bike is leaning over the back wheel is very sensitive. It does not like any sudden change in torque pressure caused by hard braking or sharp acceleration in a newly selected gear. Even letting out the clutch too quickly in a higher gear is problematic. In all three examples the rear wheel is likely to loose traction and slide out.

At the end of the day there is no substitute for practice and the skill of steering (and counter steering) is best taught at a motorcycle school on a suitable racetrack where you can practice safely. (See page on Schools)

Safety Checks for Motorcycle riding

Pre-ride Check

Before firing up your motorcycle you need to do a quick safety check on a few critical items. Note that for your motorcycle licence you may be asked to demonstrate these two check lists.


Check one.

Off the bike. (Also for licence)

  1.  Tyres..
    Check both front and rear tyres. Check for adequate tread, foreign objects and correct tyre pressure – a slow leak after your last outing must show up before you open up the throttle!
  2. Oil
    Check for any obvious oil leaks on the bike and on the ground surrounding it. This is not the best time to do a dipstick test as most bikes do not give accurate oil level readings cold and thus ensure that you do this when you next pull in for petrol. (See the DIY page for more details or your motorcycle manual)
  3. Brake Fluid
    Check the front brake fluid level through the indicator glass.
  4. Chain
    Check the chain for the correct tension and adequate lubrication. Also do a quick visual inspection for anything out of the ordinary e.g. slight kinks etc
  5. Front shocks
    Check the front shocks for any oil leaks.
  6. Mirrors
    Physical inspection for cracks, properly secure etc
  7. Luggage
    Check that your panniers and top box are properly secured and locked.


Check two.

On the bike. (Also for licence)

  1. Mount the motorbike while applying the front brake.
  2. Take it off the stand. The examiner will look to see that you are comfortable will the saddle height as you go through the rest of this list.
  3. Open up the petcock (fuel tap) (This took me awhile to get used to!)
  4. Check the odometer reading to see how many kilometres you have done since you last filled up. Bear in mind what you did on your last outing. High speed riding or rough trail conditions will require you to fill up sooner.
  5. Open up the tank and do a visual inspection, especially if you are planning an out of town trip.
  6. Check indicators, front and back, left and right. You can do this by placing your one hand in front of the lens and watching for the reflection off your hand.
  7. Check headlamp – both hi and low beam. Your headlight must be on throughout your test and while you are riding generally.
  8. Hooter (horn). Ensure that it is working
  9. Adjust rear view mirrors.
  10. Turn on the ignition. Check that the neutral light is on. If not, take the bike out of gear.
  11. Rock the bike forward and backward to ensure that it is indeed in neutral. Also ensure that you have removed your disc lock if you use one!
  12. Choke. If the motorbike is cold, open the choke. If not, tell your licence examiner that the bike is warm and you will not be using the choke.
  13. Pull in the clutch and start the bike.
  14. Allow the bike to warm up so that it runs smoothly and evenly with the choke in the off position (this should take less than 30 seconds under normal conditions) A motorcycle that stalls as you are changing gears and negotiating a corner may lock up the rear wheel and toss you onto the tarmac.

Choosing the right Motorcycle

Selecting the right Motorcycle to suit your needs, lifestyle and expectations

Recently a man I know retired at 52 years of age after selling his business for a large sum of money. He set about fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams – i.e. owning a red Ducati! No expense was spared in fulfilling his dream . . . he owned the sportbike exactly 2 weeks before selling it!!  He then bought a  tourer. 

Is this a poor reflection on the make or model? Not at all. What the bike delivered and what he expected were very different. Just because the motorcycle is well packaged does not automatically make it the right bike for you, your needs, lifestyle and expectations. Their are different types of motorbikes, each offering a different experience. Some motorcycles are so specialised as to offer no overlap with other types of bikes. It follows then that you need to identify exactly what you want from owning a motorcycle.

Imagine a perfect afternoon/weekend/ holiday on two wheels, the type of things you would like to do, the places you would like to go to, the speed you want to get there in, the amount of luggage you need to take and whether you will have a pillion passenger. Will you be combining your biking with any one of your other interests e.g. photography, camping, socialising, touring etc. Using this information and mind set you are ready to make your choice.

This would be a good time to ignore the writing/ranting of various road bike testers that work for Fast/Performance Bike magazines. They consider any bike that is not as fast as last year’s World Superbike winner as a DOG. This is simply not true. Each bike is designed with a particular market in mind and to use the ‘formula one’ category as the only yardstick is ridiculous.

Types of Bikes

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Big Trail Bikes[/tabtext] [tabtext]Sportbikes[/tabtext] [tabtext]Cruisers[/tabtext] [tabtext]Motorcross[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent]


Motorbikes between 300cc and 650cc with single cylinder, four stroke engines are better described as trail bikes rather than off-road (also called thumpers). They can easily handle sand roads, even well defined paths but are too heavy for very uneven rocky terrain that requires both speed and manoeuvrability.

In short, they can handle anything that a general purpose 4 x 4 vehicle can when ridden by an experienced rider although deep water river crossing may be an exception to this.

“Big trail bikes of more than 650cc are not trail bikes at all but tourers with a trail bike appearance.”
This statement always causes some reaction from BMW 1100GS, 1150GS and 1200GS owners.

It is true that well trained riders successfully ride difficult trails. Despite this, rallies like the Roof of Africa and the Paris to Dakar attract bikes of around 600 and not 1100cc. Careful reading of Ewan McGregors and Charlie Boormans much published round the world trip on BMW1150 Adventure bikes reveals that although the bikes were an excellent choice most of the time, they were too heavy when the roads ceased to be ‘roads’ and became ‘trails’. The off road event called the GS Challenge attracts large numbers of big GS owners. An unreasonably large amount of these riders however drop their bike (more than once) during this event.

Long distance travelers like Gideon van Oudtshoorn, Chris Scott, Nik Boseley and Simon Thomas all reveal in their own way that trail riding with bikes more than 600cc is not always the best choice.



Modern sportbikes are a combination of high revving engines and lightweight construction. Bigger is not better! and sportbikes walk a middle road – usually four cylinders and less that 1000cc. This makes them smaller and lighter.

They demand a crouched riding position to reduce wind resistance. Racing fairings and a small windshield further reduce drag and enable it slip through the air. Their lightweight frame and complex adjustable suspension are inherited directly from the race track.

Customisation is common but only to increase speed. The quest for ultimate performance brings sportbike riders together and biker clubs are a common phenomena.



Cruiser riders want a complete motorcycle package that makes a big statement.

This package excludes performance but focuses on an attitude and a lifestyle. The bike is an holistic work of art combining colour, sound, texture and flowing lines. Genuine cruiser owners never ride a stock bike off the showroom floor but customise it into a unique fashion statement.

Ironically the uniqueness is to be found in a very narrow band of icons e.g. skulls, flames, leather and chrome to name a few. ‘Hi tech’ is not part of the cruiser package with everything from biker apparel to brake technology being from an era when things were a lot more simple and down to earth. All of this compromises rider safety a little but this is OK . . . the cruiser rider is aware of this and rides accordingly? Because this is a complete lifestyle-package riders who own cruisers are very gregarious, even more so that sportbike owners. [/tab]


Light weight bikes (80 – 95 kg) built for speed and manageability. For this reason the engine may well still be a two stroke although four strokes are now quite common. Engine sizes fall between 125cc and 600cc with the bigger engines being more trail and enduro bikes than true motocross.

The bikes are single cylinder because of the need for lots of torque at low revs Non essentials are dispensed with to keep the weight down and therefore kick starters are still the norm. Few are street legal. Everything about these bikes is high i.e. seat height and ground clearance. Wheel rims are large i.e. 21″ on the front and suspension travel long e.g. 30cm on the rear and 27cm on the front to soak up the rough terrain. Seats are small and uncomfortable as they are mainly ridden standing up or for short periods of time. Fuel tanks are very small at between 7 and 8 litres.

[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

So what do you consider when buying a bike

When you have narrowed down the field in your search for a motorcycle you will probably come home with a hand full of brochures or notes. One thing is for certain – there will be tables and tables of numbers. Numbers you need to know something about right? (We do not want to choose our motorcycle based on the colour only now do we?!)


The right engine capacity for you

This can range between 50cc and 1800cc.
Generally, bigger capacity means big power, big weight, big fuel bill and big bucks.

  • Anything below 250cc is considered a small motorbike.
  • Anything from 250cc to 650cc, mid range;
  • 650cc to 1200cc is a big bike while anything bigger than that is a monster!
  • Bikes bigger than 300cc are not suited to radical off road conditions as they are too heavy.
  • Pillion passengers should not be accommodated on anything less than 500cc if distance is involved.
  • Screaming, nimble performance is found between 650cc and 1000cc
  • Comfortable long distance road touring is found between 900cc and 1200cc
  • Comfortable long distance off road trial riding is found at 600cc.

Anything bigger than 1400cc is all style and attitude and is only found in cruisers. In cruiser design, big engine capacity does not translate into huge power or acceleration. For radical off road racing or travelling an off road bike of less than 400cc is needed. This is especially true the faster you want to go.


A cruiser style tourer with a V twin engine. Note the tank bank and the leather and studs panniers. The large bag at the rear attaches to a vertical steel frame bolted to the bike – convenient, but ensure that only the lightest of items is in the top half of the bag.


How many Cylinders?


You have a choice. You can either have the “growl, grunt and thump” or you can have maximum performance – but you cannot have them both.

Fewer cylinders sound great and are associated with biker attitude and popular cruiser culture.
Fewer cylinders however limit the motorcycle’s maximum rpm. This impacts performance, acceleration, horsepower and torque at the top end of the rev counter.

At lower revs however there is little to choose between 2, 3 and 4 cylinders – in fact 2 cylinders delivers more torque at low revs. The fewer the cylinders in the engine, the more the bike is suited to trails, off-road and MX conditions because of the need for more torque at low revs.

The more cylinders there are, the more the bike is suited to long distances on tar road due to the increased smoothness of the engine. Vibrations generally decrease with an increase in the number of cylinders. Important for long distance touring. Screaming, howling performance is more characteristic of a four cylinder motorcycle where the engine is able to rev up to 10000rpm and beyond.


Seat height


Ensure that the seat height allows you to reach the ground comfortably with at least one foot flat on the road surface. This does not sound that important but it is when you are riding at slow speeds, in traffic, on uneven road surfaces or in confined places that you will appreciate its relevance. Most bikes can be lowered a little so speak to yourdealer.

Cruisers generally have lower seats around 70cm from the ground. The average bike is 80cm while the off road motorbikes are over 90cm in height


How rake angle affects handling


Some motorcycles, especially cruisers have an amazing straight line stability. It is easy to point them in the general direction and open up the throttle. They are not so easy however to whip around the sweeping bends of a mountain pass at high speeds.

Other motorbikes by comparison, especially sportbikes are easy to throw from one curve into the next. Their handling however it twitchy and they have to be “driven” even when the road is dead straight.

This nimble handling characteristic (or lack of it )is derived from the rake angle among other things.

The greater the rake angle the greater the straight line stability. The less the angle the quicker the handling response. In extreme cases a damper has to be fitted to a sportbike where the handling is so unstable as to be a problem. (See wheelbase below for more)

Generally sportbikes have a rake of 24 degrees while cruisers are closer to 30 degrees.



From “Proficient Motorcycling” David L Hough.
Bowtie Press. (see bike schools page)





Strongly related to handling and rake angle is the length of the wheelbase. This distance tells a lot about the intention of the bike designers as flickable, responsive handling deteriorates the longer the wheelbase becomes. Conversely put, the bikes straight line stability improves as the wheelbase gets longer.

Sportbikes have a wheelbase of between 135 and 145cm and naturally have the quickest handling characteristics. Sport tourer’s wheelbases are between 146cm and 155cm. Dual sport (enduro bikes) are found in a narrow band between 147cm and 150cm. Big tourers and cruisers have similar wheelbase lengths of between 160 and 168cm and therefore display the greatest straight line stability.

Standard motorcycles by definition have an a midrange wheelbase length of around 150cm.

In theory anyway a motorcycle with the same rake angle as another but with a shorter wheelbases will therefore be slightly more ‘flickable’ when it comes to riding those twisty canyon roads.

If you intend to travel long distances with a pillion passenger your motorbike should have a wheelbase of more than 150cm


Just how heavy?


The weight of a motorcycle is very important. For one thing it should not be so heavy that the rider cannot manoeuvre it in and out of confined spaces at the local shopping mall. The rider should also be able to pick it up should it fall over (and it will!!)

If you buy a bike approaching 220kg you will find that your wife/girlfriend will generally find it too heavy and will not want to learn to ride herself. The motorcycle will also be unsuitable for off road even if it has an off-road appearance.

Scooters are to be found at the bottom of the scale at 80kg. Most motorbikes fall in the 160 to 220kg range. Big bikes like cruisers and sport tourers can be anything from 220kg to 360kg.


Pay load (GVWR)


This refers to a bike’s total weight carrying capacity i.e. rider, pillion passenger (if present) and gear. If you know that you will generally have a pillion passenger and perhaps camping gear, you will need to ensure that the motorcycle has the necessary permissible gross weight carrying capacity for your needs. Some ‘big’ bikes have a surprisingly low rating e.g. The Harley Davidson FXSTD/1 Deuce and the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Drifter are both big cruisers. The HD can a take a payload of 200kg while the latter can only take 160kg

Compare the more upright ergonomics of this BMW R110RT to the Yamaha opposite. Note the higher rise of the handlebars relative to the seat, the shorter reach to the grips and the forward position of the footpegs. This results in the body weight being transferred to the butt. The full fairing displaces a lot of air thus protecting the rider from the wind blast.




Suspension is a complex topic and varies greatly from bike to bike. Off road bikes have suspension systems with a lot of travel, maybe 27cm on the rear wheel. Street bikes have about 12cm of travel while some cruisers have very little offering a hard ride especially at the tail end.

Sportbikes have complex adjustable suspensions systems to match a variety of variables including tyre choice, weight of the rider and road surface. More modern systems have a single adjustable monoshock at the rear while more conservative motorcycle designs have dual shocks with little or no adjustments possible.


Gear Boxes


Motorcycles designed for fast acceleration have 5 or 6 speed gear boxes with gear ratios closer together. This includes small Motocross bikes as well as sport bikes. These bikes have to be driven hard with frequent gear shifts.

Bikes designed for a more leisurely pace like tourers, cruisers and even dual sport bikes have a 5 speed box with the gears spaced further apart.
Special protective gear

Depending on the bike you chose there is protective gear specifically designed for that type of bike. This is particularly true for sportbikes and off road racing.


Torque and horsepower?


Sport bikes have high revving engines in excess of 10000 rpm while cruisers, touring bikes and dual sport are low revving engines offering maximum torque around 5000rpm. A basic understanding of the difference between torque and horsepower is a good thing.


Long distance road touring


A trip of 1500km should be done on a quiet bike with at least three cylinders, an engine of around 1000cc or more, a large windshield, full fairing and a comfortable moulded saddle. The bike frame should offer lots of space for a top box, panniers and a tank bag. The exhaust system should not obstruct the bike’s payload capabilities. The wheelbase should be more than 150cm if you intend to tour with a pillion passenger.

Generally the quieter the motorcycle is the more relaxing for the rider after hours and hours on the road.

The longer the travel is on the suspension, the more relaxed the driver when touring long distances.

For touring, an aftermarket moulded seat is often a necessity. The larger the seat is, the more comfort it offers.

The more one is exposed to the wind, the more tiring the trip becomes. Many bikes have optional wind shields and fairings that offer more protection.




Compare the more upright ergonomics of this BMW R110RT to the Yamaha opposite. Note the higher rise of the handlebars relative to the seat, the shorter reach to the grips and the forward position of the footpegs.

This results in the body weight being transferred to the butt. The full fairing displaces a lot of air thus protecting the rider from the wind blast.

bike ergonomics

(Diagrams from the January 2001 Edition of “Motorcyclist”)

The ergonomics of this Yamaha YZ600R shows us why it is a sportbike i.e. the higher footpegs, the flatter seating position and the longer reach to the handlebars. The fairing is designed to smooth the bike and crouching rider through the air causing as little displacement as possible.

Standing on the footpegs to negotiate a bad piece of road is not really an option with this style of sportbike.


(Diagrams from the January 2001 Edition of “Motorcyclist”)