Can we talk about cornering? I’m guessing that I’m not alone in wondering if I’ll ever be as good at it as I want to be. My regular scenario goes like this.
And, of course because I’m on my way somewhere I don’t repeat any of those corners, never get the chance to put my mistakes right and the next time I see those corners is three months’ time when I next ride that road and make the same mistakes all over again.
Even when I was road testing full time and doing regular photo shoots I’d do a hundred passes at one single corner (back in the days of film, when you couldn’t see instantly if you’d got it), achieving stupendously heroic lean angles and speed, get incredibly confident and then lose it all the next time I rode around it because my tyres and brain were cold.
Cornering on a motorcycle is hard. Bends are easy – fast as you like because I can see the exit – but corners are tough. Last week I went to observe a mate of mine on one of Bennetts Cornering Confidence courses. It’s an interesting idea, run by the California Superbike School and based around a circuit made from cones that you ride at low speeds practising steering and throttle control through corners that you are increasingly familiar with. Like a track day but without the speed or the idiots who think they are winning.
The riders on the day were on everything from an L-plated KTM Duke 125 through to a Honda Gold Wing and Ducati Panigale V4. Speeds were slow and cautious at first, but by lunchtime you could see a visible increase in confidence and pace through the turns. Best bit for me was the guy on the Harley desperately trying not to scrape his footpegs and the one on the Ducati Diavel desperately trying to scrape his. Both were unsuccessful, but both came away much quicker, smoother and safer in the turns.
The purpose of the course isn’t to revolutionise anyone’s thinking or overload them with brain-frazzling ideas. Just a handful of simple techniques and the chance to practice in a safe environment. Cheaper than a track day and much more useful if you want to improve your riding.
Watching my mate on the way home, her riding was better, but not transformed. Her view however was very different. She was approaching corners with much more confidence, slowing down earlier and taking them with more throttle if not a great deal more lean. Which got me thinking, does lean angle matter on the road? A few days ago I was following a post on a facebook page about ‘chicken strips’ (hate that phrase) on your tyres. Just to be mischievous I suggested that because cornering requires you to slow down, then clearly the less you lean over the faster you must be going and, therefore chicken strips are actually a sign of riding brilliance.
It didn’t go down well – hardly a surprise – but it did get me thinking some more about our obsession with corners. My favourite biking road in the UK is just under seven miles long and it has eleven corners and twelve bends. Let’s assume each corner lasts about 100 metres and each bend is twice that. That’s 3500 metres of fun stuff out of 10,500 metres of tarmac. In other words somewhere around 33 per cent of my most favourite twistiest road is actually twisty and the other 66 per cent is some kind of straight. On most of the roads I ride that ratio of twisty:straight is far lower so I, like you, spend the vast majority of my time upright, not over. And yet, bizarrely, I enjoy pretty much every moment I spend on a motorcycle regardless of how close my head might be to the floor. The acceleration, the filtering, the overtaking, flicking through roundabouts and the just-being-out-there-enjoying-the-scenery are all every bit as exciting as the messing-up-another-corner-that-I-could-have-gone-around-quicker.
So maybe the answer to my cornering frustration is to not be so bothered about going round corners. Maybe my favourite biking road should be the one with the most spectacular scenery when ridden slowly. Maybe I should admit that I’m a rider, not a racer. Maybe I should lobby Dorna for a MotoGP round on the M25 at 5pm on a Friday with all the racers wearing ‘polite’ vests for extra safety. I still wouldn’t win, but there’s a good chance I could qualify and get an HRC contract to ride their Works NC750.
Or maybe I should shut up, leave you guys alone and go practice my cornering.