Riding around corners is one of the most difficult things you can do on a motorcycle, and also one of the most rewarding things to do when you get it right. But what's the difference between cornering on road and track, and why should you never mix the two?
Similarities and differences
On the face of it, a corner is just a corner. It's a curve of road that you ride along, turning your bike into it and straightening it at the exit. But behind their skin-deep similarities, there are vast differences between how to ride a corner on a race track, and how to do it on the road.
Cornering on track
Track riding happens within a very controlled environment. There's no speed limit, but if you're riding in the right group, your fellow riders will be travelling at similar speeds to you. Corners are mostly wide, open affairs with no obstacles blocking your view of the route ahead. In a race environment, the idea is to make the fastest progress possible, within your abilities, your bike's abilities, and track conditions. This is seldom hindered by objects in the way, such as a downed bike, and when that's the case, the race speed is controlled by marshals waving a set of flags.
Hit the apex
The apex is the point where you meet the inside edge of the corner's tarmac, keeping your arc through the corner as shallow as possible. A shallower arc means you can carry a higher speed without breaking tyre grip or reaching limits of lean angle, therefore reducing your lap times. Hitting the apex is key to being fast through corners on racetracks.
Cornering on the road
The single biggest difference between road and the track is this: the road is an uncontrolled environment. You share the road with traffic coming the other way, sheep wandering out of fields, slow-moving tractors shedding mud from their tyres, and the odd gaggle of pedestrians out for a walk.
On top of all these factors, your view is hemmed in by hedges, hills, dry stone walls. This is why your road speed is always limited by your need to stop within the amount of road that you can see is clear ahead of you. Your cornering line is also tightly defined by the slim width of tarmac available to you. So with all these factors in play, how do you go about the business of cornering?
Avoid the racing apex
Trying to hit racing corner apexes on the road is a very dangerous pastime. Apexes involve brushing the very edge of the road, running the bike into the potentially dirty and holed gutter on left handers, and towards or over the white line on right handers. In countries where they drive on the right, this is of course the opposite way round.
Track-style riding in general – searching for the apex, and pushing the limits of your own abilities in an uncontrolled environment – can lead to unexpected results. Hitting the apex on the road usually means you're sacrificing view of the road ahead, giving you less time to react to things that surprise you.
It's exactly this moment of surprise – when you ride round a bend and see a pedestrian in the middle of the road – that can cause crashes. Your eyes widen, your pulse quickens, and in a moment of panic, your training is left behind and instinct takes over. The front brake is pulled in, the front tyre tucks, and you're sliding straight towards a dry-stone wall. The list of examples could go on and on.
The limit point
Usually on the road, it's your vision that limits cornering line and speed, rather than your bike's abilities, your own abilities, tyre grip, or lean angle. Therefore it stands to reason that you need to be aware of how to judge that your cornering speed is suitable for any given environment.
Introducing the limit point, or in IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) speak, the Limit Point of Vision. The limit point is the furthest point ahead where you have a clear view of the road, where the right and left sides appear to meet, or where a crest in the road blocks your view of the road ahead. The limit point is nearly always moving along the road, in relation to your speed and position. From the saddle, you'll be able to see whether it's moving down the road towards you, or away from you, or even staying relatively stable.
If the limit point is coming towards you, it's time to slow down, as the part of road that you can't see is rapidly approaching. If the limit point is moving away from you, it means your vision is giving you more information than is necessary to safely In this situation you could speed up if it's safe and lawful to do so.
You could be faster by avoid the traditional apex
Forget traditional racing apexes. Increase your limit point by staying to the outside of the road surface in a corner, but not so far out that you'll be a danger to oncoming traffic. This allows you to see further through the corner, and may allow you to increase corner speed if it's safe to do so. Again, this is a benefit of avoiding the traditional racing apex when riding on the road.
Three things to remember
- Don't ever mix track and road cornering. The results can be unpredictable and dangerous.
- Remember that the road is an uncontrolled environment. You never know what's round the next bend.
- Remember to slow down when the limit point is coming towards you. Then you'll always be approaching a bend at a manageable speed.
Find out more...
You always have the option to find out more about cornering and safe road riding. There are some fantastic organisations out there to help you develop skills, enjoy riding more, and become safer at the same time. Don't be afraid to ask questions: you'll be a better and safer rider if you understand the why and how of good practices. Here's a list of local Hertfordshire riding groups:
• Bikesafe. Book a short course online: http://www.bikesafe.co.uk/
• IAM Herts & Beds Advanced Motorcyclists riding group: http://www.hbam.org.uk/
• IAM Middlesex Advanced Motorcyclists riding group: https://www.iamroadsmart.com/groups/middlesexmotorcyclists