Friday, January 07, 2011

Keith Code: The evolution of the art of cornering

Keith Code says that the art of cornering a motorcycle has already evolved through four complete phases, and phase five is now upon us. It certainly makes for interesting reading...
Mike Hailwood Barry Sheene Eddie Lawson Norick Abe Mick Doohan

Motorcyclists love corners, right? Doing 300km/h in a straight line on a ZZR1400 is all very well, but riding a properly sorted NSR/RGV/TZ/RS250 through a set of mountain twisties produces a rush of adrenaline like nothing else on the planet. Some time back, Keith Code wrote a piece on the evolution of the art of cornering, which we thought was quite interesting. Here are some excerpts:

The evolution of the art of cornering has had four complete phases so far. The neat, tidy, knees-to-tank, stretched-out-on-the-bike style of the 19-teens through the 1960s was handed down as the path of least resistance. You could say it was the ‘natural’ style of riding.

Phase two. Mike Hailwood let his inside knee come off the tank in the 1960s and practically created a stock market panic in the riding style etiquette market – it was a huge departure from tradition. Paul Smart, Barry Sheene and others followed. Then, phase three, Jarno Saarinen actually moved his butt off the seat a bit, which was emulated by many.

The fourth phase is credited to and was pioneered by Kenny Roberts Sr’s knee-down, hang-off style in the 1970s. Initially this earth-shattering look was quite personal to the rider, each having his own iteration of the new form. Cal Rayborn and Kel Carruthers were halfway guys, still clinging a bit to phase two. Some others had lots of bum off, some with lots of leg and knee off, some rotated around the tank a la Mick Doohan. A few went head and body way down and on the inside of the tank, Randy Mamola style. Some hung-off but remained sitting more upright, like Kevin Schwantz.

The torso positions for the 500cc world champs of the era; Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Wayne Rainey, were half way between – on the tank but not inside it. Most of the originals also tended to ride forward on the tank and finally everyone was stationary in their hung-off position once in the corner. The neat part of that era, with all these splinter groups, was that a fan could have instant recognition of the individual’s style and look. Not so today, when phase five is upon us.

Conceptually, hanging off couldn’t be simpler. Lower the combined Center-of-Gravity (CG) of the bike/rider combination and you go through the same corner at the same speed, on the same line with less lean angle – a brilliantly utilitarian racer’s tool with huge residual benefits, chief among them being an accurate, on-board gauge for lean angle. And true to most evolutionary progressions, function now rules the new look and style of road racers.

Take a look – riders are low and inside of their bikes. More and more we see them perfectly in line with the machine, not twisted or rotated in the saddle. The bum off/body twisted back across the top of the bike positioning, which many phase four riders had been doing, was and still is an interesting piece of self-deception. With their torso mass on the higher side of the bike, it not only neutralizes the mass of the hips being off the bike but actually is a negative, raising the combined bike and rider CG, defeating the technique’s main function and purpose.

Other notable changes in phase five include not being so stretched out as before, but not always with the family jewels on the tank either. The one new variable in phase five riders is coming further off the bike mid-corner to exit. You’ll see it on the bum-cam position next time you watch riders like Rossi in MotoGP. That and the fore/aft in the saddle differences appear to be the only options available to phase five evolution racers.

We have five choices now in how we can look and relate to our bikes. If you keep your eye on the style’s function and do some limbering exercises, all the benefits of phase five will become apparent as you become comfortable with it. Is it easy? My experience says it is not a natural style at all and riders are hard pressed to assume the new form. If it is your desire to do it, I suggest taking your time and, step by step, experimenting with each of the stages through which it has evolved. Good luck!

For more of Keith Code’s motorcycle wisdom, you could order a copy of his new Twist of the Wrist II DVD and/or enroll for classes in the famous California Superbike School


MissBusa said...

Awesome article!

wadenelson said...

Lowering one's CG has got to be a good thing, period. Beyond that, it seems to me that generating, and controlling countersteer must be at the heart of all body positioning, based on the results of your "no BS machine." So could different body english work better for riders with longer/shorter arms, different width bars, lighter/heavier torsos, etc?

Random Ramblings