Cornering – how to turn a motorcycle quickly through a corner

First things first, this article will tell you how to corner motorcycles at high speed on a race track under clear conditions. Cornering a motorbike safely on a public highway is an entirely different skill which will be covered in a different article, but for now we’ll focus on high speed cornering in perfect conditions on a private road.

The first thing you need to know is that on the inside edge of the corner, the point exactly halfway round the bend is called the apex – this is marked clearly on the diagram below and it’s important that you understand what the apex is, because it gets talked about a lot in conversations about cornering.

So, let’s assume you are approaching the corner at high speed, you will need to be on the opposite side of the road to the apex, as you move through the corner you will clip the apex on the inside of the bend before moving back out to the far side of the road as you accelerate out of the corner. This is known as the ‘racing line’ or ‘ideal line’ – the path which will allow a vehicle to pass through a corner at the highest possible speed.

If you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of motorcycle cornering than we can cover in this article, we highly recommend Keith Code’s “Twist of the Wrist” book and DVD, which cover all the important lessons for high-performance motorcycle riding:

The first thing you need to figure out about any corner is the best braking point. As you approach the corner, there will be an ideal point at which you close the throttle and start braking to slow the motorcycle down. If you brake too early you will enter the corner too slowly, which isn’t the end of the world but not exactly what you are trying to achieve.

On the other hand, if you brake too late, you could enter the corner too quickly and this could be dangerous – you might not make it safely around the bend. It should be obvious that braking too early is much better than braking too late.

While you are braking to slow the bike down, you should also be changing down through the gears to keep the engine running at a moderately high speed so it will be able to accelerate as quickly as possible on the exit of the corner. Every bike is different, but as a rule you should aim to have your rev counter at about 70% of maximum when you turn into the corner.

Generally speaking, inexperienced riders should try to get all of their braking and gear changes done while the bike is still going in a straight line – experienced riders brake and downshift as they are turning, but this is an advanced skill.

Tip: Experienced riders think of each corner in terms of how many gears they should downshift – this assumes that they are always approaching the corner at their maximum possible speed from the previous corner on the track.

How corner a motorcycle - racing line shown in green
How corner a motorcycle – racing line shown in green

Once you have slowed your bike to an appropriate speed, lean into the corner so that you are aiming to clip the apex of the bend. If you braked perfectly, you should be carrying enough speed to hit the apex with the throttle all the way off, although in most cases you will have braked a little early and will need a very small amount of steady throttle to reach the apex without losing too much speed.

Experienced riders like to hang off their bikes through corners, this shifts the bike’s centre of gravity which allows it to stay more upright and keep a larger patch of tyre on the tarmac to improve traction. Again, this is an advanced skill which we will cover in a separate article.

Whether your throttle is all the way off, or you are using a little power, once you have passed the apex of the bend you should begin to gradually turn the power back on. It’s very important that you do this smoothly, as too much power too soon will cause the back tyre to lose grip and in most cases this will almost certainly end in disaster.

As you smoothly accelerate out of the bend, the bike will straighten up and swing back out to the far side of the track – at which point you’re safe to apply maximum throttle and steam onto the next corner!

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