3 Reasons Motorcycles Run Wide In Corners

Running wide in corner can be catastrophic; here are the fixes

Ambulance at crash
You want real world? The Angeles Crest Highway, which crisscrosses Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains, was closed due to this crash. The rider ran wide in a left-hand corner and fatally impacted the cliff. Heart-breaking for family, friends, first-responders, and the motorcycle industry.Nick Ienatsch

When you read the title of this article, you might have muttered, “Riders run wide because they’re going too fast for the corner, idiot.” While your final word is certainly correct, “You’re going too fast” isn’t fine enough and flies in the face of the pointy end of our sport: competition. Track-record holders, whether at the club level or Isle of Man, by definition go faster than the competition and survive the experience so, “You’re going too fast” doesn’t work as a fix for running wide in a corner. It’s too general, and the further you get in two-wheel mastery the more clearly you see how exactly this sport must be performed and taught. Let’s Begin In A Parking Lot I’ve written much about the equation “Radius Equals MPH” and it’s a simple thought regarding how speed affects a motorcycle’s cornering radius. Get in a parking lot, ride in a circle at the same lean angle, and experiment with gentle acceleration, deceleration, and then deceleration plus light braking. You already inherently know this equation, but a short time in the parking lot brings it into focused clarity and moves it way up in your priorities of “how to ride great.” This parking-lot session will help you in many ways. You will realize that if you want your bike to continue to tighten its radius, it should be slowing. That means off throttle or off throttle plus light braking, depending up on your speed and the corner’s radius, grip conditions, camber, and line of sight. You will realize that if you’re happy with your bike’s radius, you can hold “neutral” or “maintenance” throttle, which is steady, light throttle where the bike is maintaining its speed but not yet accelerating. In some corners, you will hold neutral throttle for multiple seconds so get good at being patient with the throttle.

You will see that when you accelerate your bike will run a wider radius at the same lean angle, so you realize that significant acceleration is only available when you can see a clear corner exit and can take away lean angle. If you believe you’re going to add lean angle as you accelerate, watch my “100 Points of Grip” video from your hospital bed so that you will have the information and confidence to ride again.

All this realization will take about 15 minutes in a parking lot. You will quit believing that speed is the culprit and start to believe that the rider’s control inputs are the culprit when trying to solve the running-wide-in-a-corner problem.

Reason Number 1: Off The Brakes Too Early

And that’s if the rider braked at all. Let’s change that with a question: Why does a rider close the throttle? What is his/her brain saying? Slow down. So for the rest of your riding life, rather than close the throttle and hope you slow down, close the throttle and sneak on some brakes. The faster you approach a corner, or the tighter the radius of the corner, the more brakes you will use.

The corner won’t change for your speed, you must change your speed for the corner.

When you let go of the brakes, you are not just letting go of your speed adjuster, you're also releasing your "front geometry" adjuster. Jump off the brakes quickly and your fork springs rebound quickly and your bike wants to run a wider radius. At the Yamaha Champions Riding School, we resolve missed apexes (running wide) by having the rider use the brakes just a few feet longer. Longer use of the brakes points the bike into the corner better.

Crashed Kawisaki
Horrendous damage comes from “highside” crashes, where the rear tire breaks traction wildly, slides instantaneously, and re-grips abruptly, throwing itself and the rider into the air. Rear grip is lean angle versus throttle, so we must work hard at “taking away lean angle as we accelerate,” and that means getting the bike pointed on the brakes (or off-throttle if you’re riding sedately) and being ultra-smooth with throttle application.Nick Ienatsch

Reason Number 2: Too Aggressive Initial Throttle

Notice I didn’t write, “Too early initial throttle”? Riders with insanely smooth initial throttle control (which will be you if you get focused on it) can sneak that throttle open early to arrest the bike’s turning and to hold the radius. It’s when this initial throttle gets aggressive that the bike rocks back on its rear tire and the steering geometry changes quickly; the bike is being told to stand up off the corner.

Students coming off small-displacement bikes onto YCRS's 600s will struggle with this because a low-horsepower bike doesn't accelerate at small throttle settings like a YZF-R6. We work hard on this initial throttle because on day 2 students are invited to ride all our Yamahas, including the YZF-R1, FZ-10, and Super Ténéré. Fast, torquey bikes will make this initial-throttle issue very, very clear. If you are struggling to keep your fast bike on line, use the brakes slightly longer and fine-tune your initial throttle.

Reason Number 3: The Rider's Body Position Isn't Helping

You begin to work hard on your lighter, longer braking and continually fine-tune your initial throttle, yet your bike still runs slightly wider than what you intend. Get your head in the game, literally, by leaning slightly at the waist, bending your inside arm, and putting your center of mass (chest/shoulder area) and your 30 pounds of head and helmet to the inside of the bike’s centerline.

This movement doesn’t have to be radical, but it needs to be to the inside of the bike’s centerline. This head and chest/shoulder movement puts weight on the “inside axle of the gyro,” the inside footpeg. The multi-gyro machine we call a motorcycle turns better.

We add this body position to every program we run, including the cruiser clinics and police motor-officer training days. At YCRS ChampSchool and ChampDay, both run on racetracks, we get our riders simulating the body positions of championship-winning riders, whether it's MotoAmerica's Josh Hayes or MotoGP's Jorge Lorenzo.

Notice how all the best riders are inside of the bike’s centerline, and that’s what we push to fine-tune apexes at YCRS and what you can use to help put your bike on your desired line consistently.

Bradley Smith riding with Zac
The first rider is a new-to-the-sport student, the second is MotoGP star Bradley Smith. Smith’s experience on the world stage has convinced him of the importance of body position to reduce lean angle and help the bike steer and stay on line (the third student is doing a good job too). The first student paid careful attention to Smith’s body position and went on to enjoy a safe and an enjoyable racing debut (good job, Zack).4theriders.com

Final Thoughts

Of the above three reasons for running wide, the first one is the main culprit if the bike runs wide early in the corner. The rider is letting go of the brakes too early or perhaps not even braking at all. If this is you, make a major change in 2018 and begin turning into the corner with the brake light on. See my "Brake Light Initiative" article for a full treatise on this vital subject.

The second reason, too aggressive initial throttle, is the culprit if the bike runs wide midcorner to the exit of the corner. The rider says, “Let’s go” too early, before he/she can see the exit and take away lean angle. This rider needs to let the bike turn longer under deceleration or neutral throttle, and learn to pick up the throttle so gently that his/her bike quits turning but isn’t yet accelerating.

The third reason involving body position is fine-tuning for riders who are braking well and smooth with the throttle but are inconsistent on line exactness. Get that upper-body “line adjuster” in play to add precision.

More Next Tuesday!