There are a few basic or core skills that all motorcyclists are going to have to learn, one major one is steering. Without learning how to steer you are not going to get very far, follow this guide and that won’t be a problem.
How to steer a motorcycle for beginners? There are two ways to steer a motorcycle, one is by using counter steering or push steering and the other is by just turning the handlebars to go the direction you want to go. Counter steering is used whenever you are travelling over 15mph, normal steering is used when you are travelling below 15mph.
The biggest factor when deciding how you are going to steer a motorcycle is what speed you are travelling at. For slow speeds you are going to use one set of skills and techniques.
For faster speeds you are going to use another. To find out how you should handle turning or steer at each of these speeds, read on.
This article is not going to cover the steps needed to actually take a corner, if you want to know about that you can read this article I wrote “Motorcycle Cornering For Beginners”.
It’s an in depth article covering all aspects such as speed selection, picking a line, dealing with hazards etc. Everything you would need to know in order to safely and properly take a corner.
The basics of steering a motorcycle.
There are a few basics that we need to cover before we can get into how to steer. The first is, make sure you are not leaning on or putting weight on the handlebars.
The handlebars are not there to keep you on the motorcycle, they are only there for you to provide inputs to the motorcycle. You should be using your legs or thighs to squeeze the tank to help keep you on the bike. (If you notice your wrists start to hurt after riding for a while, it’s probably because you are using the handlebars to hold on to the bike.)
Second, you always want to keep your head and eyes up, looking where you want to go. Don’t look at the ground in front of you, that’s not where you want to go.
Doing this can lead to target fixation problems later down the road. Target fixation is no joke, most crashes you see are when a rider runs over the road is due to this.
Read this Wiki article if you want to know more. It’s a really bad habit to get into and hard to break.
With that being said, let’s move onto the techniques.
Steering a motorcycle when moving slowly.
When you are travelling at slow speeds, below 15mph or so, you are not able to use counter steering, so it’s pretty straight forward. Turn left, go left. Easy right? Not so fast. There are few tips I want to share with you
First, let the motorcycle lean if it wants to, don’t force the motorcycle to lean. Let it do its thing so to say. This can feel incredibly strange the first few times, but it’s fine.
Just make sure to keep your body upright and shift your butt and weight to the side away from the lean. Sort of just let the motorcycle lean under you.
Second, avoid using the front brake when the wheel is turned. If you need to stop, straighten the bars and then apply the brake. If you grab a fist full of front brake when the bars are turned, you are going to drop the motorcycle.
Third, keep your head and eyes up and look through the turn. I can’t stress how important this is. Your motorcycle will go where you look, so look where you want to go.
When you travel at about 15mph or so, you are going to have to start to use counter steering. This might sound like a fancy term but it’s pretty simple once you understand the principles involved.
How can I learn to steer a motorcycle when moving slowly?
The best way to learn how to steer slowly on a motorcycle is to get out to an empty parking lot and practice. Set up some pylons or markers and get used to it. To help you out, here are few drills you can run through to help build your confidence and improve your skills.
1. Slow Weave:
Set up the markers as shown in the diagram below.
Then starting at one end go weave through the markers while travelling around 5mph. Do this a few times.
When you are comfortable with this, you can try to run it a few more times, but this time try to go as slow as you can without putting your foot down. If you do have to put your foot down, it’s fine. Just continue and keep trying.
This exercise is great for giving you a feel for how to balance and move around objects when moving slow.
2. Slow Weave With U-turn:
This is similar to the previous drill, except at the end you are going to come to a stop. Then from a stop you are going to try to u-turn as tight as you can.
Then return the the start and repeat as many times as you want. I would say around 15-20 times is a good number of times. Make sure you alternate which direction you turn for the u-turn part of the drill.
3. Slow Circle Race:
Start by setting up the markers as shown in the diagram below.
When you are ready to start you are going to go around the course roughly 8-10 times. Your goal is to go as slow as you can during the straights and through the turns.
During the turns you may need to increase your speed slightly. But try to go as slow as possible. After you have completed the drill going in one direction, switch up and go the opposite direction.
A few points.
Treat these drills as if you are on a public road, keep your head up and practice scanning in the distance. You will find you will actually feel more stable if you focus on what’s in the distance and use your peripheral vision to watch what is in front of you.
During these drills you are also going to want to keep the clutch partially engaged in the friction zone and you will want to drag the rear brake. The friction zone is the point when you are releasing the clutch that you can feel the engine start to engage. Dragging the brake will help you smooth out the ride and prevent some of the wobbliness from going slow, it’s important to get used to doing it if you want to ride slowly with confidence and control.
When it comes to throttle, don’t worry if you are revving a little high. Try and find a good constant RPM to keep the bike at. Then just feather the clutch in and out when you want power.
Stay off the front brake, the rear brake will provide all the braking power you need. Grabbing the front brake while moving slow is not a good idea, it will probably make you drop the motorcycle.
Steering a motorcycle when moving faster than 15mph
When you are travelling faster than 15mph, you are going to have to use counter steering. Some people will tell you to just lean your weight over and the motorcycle will turn. This is not true, you can read a whole article I wrote “Counter Steering Vs Leaning” explaining just this.
In order to initiate a turn or steer a motorcycle you are going to want to counter steer or push steer to make the bike go the direction you want.
You do this by pushing on the side you want the motorcycle to go. So if you want to go to the right, you push on the right hand grip. This makes the handlebars turn to the left, but you will go to the right. Hence why they call it counter steering.
Calling it this can confuse new riders, so it’s best just to remember to push on the side you want to go.
When you start to turn, you will notice the motorcycle will lean, this is fine. You want this. Let the bike do this.
But, unlike with slow speed steering, you don’t want to remain upright or shift your weight to the opposite side. Instead go with it, let your body lean with the motorcycle. Don’t worry you won’t fall off.
What is counter steering on a motorcycle?
Counter steering is the process of turning the handlebars on a motorcycle the opposite direction you want to go, in order to turn the direction you want to go. This happens when you are travelling above 15mph or so.
However this is an overly simplified explanation of what is actually happening. There is a lot more to it, let’s talk a little about why this happens.
Counter steering is the principle that once you’re travelling above a certain speed (around 15mph), in order to turn your motorcycle you need to turn the handlebars in the opposite direction than you actually want to turn.
There are a few forces at work when you are turning a motorcycle. The first is a centrifugal force that is being applied against your tires when you turn your handlebars while moving. At slow speeds, the force is not enough to cause the motorcycle to become unstable. So the bike overcomes the forces and begins to turn in the direction your tire is pointed.
If the strength of this force increases to a point that it causes the motorcycle to become unstable, the motorcycle tips or leans over away from the direction your tire is pointing.
Once the motorcycle is leaned over, the gyroscopes created by the wheels prevent the motorcycle from tipping over. Like with a spinning top. It’s these basic principles that cause the motorcycle to counter steer.
The fancy term for it is precession. This is what happens when you apply a force perpendicular to a gyroscope’s axis of rotation. Your turned front wheel acting as a gyroscope, the perpendicular force being the momentum from travelling forward. This increases the angular torque and causes the motorcycle to lean over.
TDLR; Fancy science words to tell you to use counter steering when travelling “fast”.
How can I learn to counter steer?
If you are already out riding a motorcycle, then you are already counter steering. You probably just don’t realize it. But if you are completely new to riding, there are a few drills to help you get more comfortable with the whole process.
Here are a few good drills for that:
1. Counter Steer Weave:
When you are starting out, you need to experience exactly what counter steering is under a controlled setting. Remove all distractions and just focus on it. This drill is going to do just that, it will get you used to how it feels when a motorcycle counter steers and how to initiate it and cancel it.
To do this drill, follow the diagram below and set up some markers in a parking lot.
Then starting with enough distance, get your motorcycle up to around 15mph or 25 kph. Using only the palm of your hand, push on the left or right side to weave around the cone.
When you get past a cone and need to change directions, work on only pressing with the other hand. Avoid pulling the bars. The idea is to get used to how much pressure is needed to cause the bike to turn the amount needed.
Follow the diagram to get an idea how to run the drill.
Make sure you keep your eyes up and use your peripheral vision to clear the markers. Treat this like you are on the streets.
2. Counter Steer Circle:
After you have a feel for how to make the motorcycle counter steer. You need to work on getting comfortable with leaning the motorcycle over in a turn. This can feel a little strange and unsettling the first few times you experience it. That’s why it’s better to get used to it in a safe environment before you do it on any public roads.
To run the drill begin by setting up some markers following the diagram below.
Then starting at a slight distance away, get your speed up to around 15 mph or 25 kph. Follow the course around for a few laps. When you want to turn right, press the left side of the handlebar.
Just like the previous drill. When you want to get out of a turn, start to press the other side and straighten the motorcycle out.
Your goal is to learn how it feels to lean a bike over, gain confidence that it will not tip and practice getting out of a lean. When you are comfortable with that speed, if you want, you can try to increase the speed slightly and try again.
Run the course as many times as you need to get comfortable with this concept. I suggest you limit your speed to under 25mph to be safe, but if you are confident and you want to go faster, then you do you.
Just like with the previous drill treat this like you are on the streets. Look through the turn and keep your head and eyes up. Don’t focus on the markers, you don’t want to get into that habit as it increases your chance of experiencing target fixation.
I hope this article helps you be better at steering motorcycles. Until next time happy riding!