Fear and Lean Angle: Part 3 by Nick Ienatsch. March 31, 2020
How do we replicate the lean angles of Chris Peris and Kyle Wyman discussed in Part 1? Close our eyes and just “run it in there?” If just the belief that the tires will grip was the answer, we’d all run our bike’s maximum lean angle. Fear and a sense of self-preservation hold us back.
This article will discuss some specific ideas, beyond “run it in there,” to increase your lean angle comfort, backed with the how and why—and maybe a little of my preaching.
Let’s Start With Preaching!
But first, permission. You have the Champions Riding School’s permission to ride with at least a 30-percent margin of safety on the street. This means riding with your friends, riding for the pleasure of motorcycle joy, controlling your speed. When the instructors street ride, we have this margin in lean angle, throttle position, braking—and speed.
Once you have ridden on a closed-course track, the dangers of the street become crystal clear and our encouragement to “ride with a reserve on the street” makes perfect sense. What if you and your friends decide to attend at least one trackday or track school per year? What if you all run down the local dragstrip on occasional Friday nights?
Knowing that you are going to a controlled environment to “let it go” helps street riders maintain priorities: Enjoy the ride, get home safely.
Consider setting a maximum speed limit with your street-riding friends. When ChampSchool instructors street ride together we will rarely see backroad speeds above 85 mph. Yes, that’s still speeding and illegal, but nowhere near as dangerous as soaking the throttle and putting our liter bikes over 120 mph in just a few seconds. Do we do that? Yes, on the racetrack, every lap. On the street, our maximum speed limit of low-80s keeps the group together and makes that next corner entry a little easier to deal with. This gets back to what I wrote in “The Pace 2.0: Ride quick, but not fast on the street.”
This consideration is part of our Marine Corps Level 3 training; we ask these type-A personalities to have group discussions on how fast they should ride; to literally set a maximum mph number. This discussion comes during our real-world-speed braking practice as Marines learn that every additional mph adds length to stopping distances. It’s a real-numbers way of setting aggression limits for street riders, and in the past two and a half years of classes we’ve gotten terrific feedback on this part of our curriculum. “It changed everything,” group leaders tell us. “Our groups say together, the smaller bikes aren’t taking big chances to keep up, and we get fewer tickets. A lot less craziness and a lot more fun.”
The single overarching principle to remember as you explore limits on motorcycles is to keep your explorations linear. Progressive. Step-by-step. A good example is braking markers on the track. If you feel you can brake 30 feet deeper, go two feet deeper 15 laps in a row because 26 feet deeper might be the limit.
The mistake to avoid in lean-angle exploration is snapping or flicking the bike around. Remember that grip is made up of lean angle combined with brakes or throttle, so adding any of those (lean angle, brakes, or throttle) aggressively will at some point lose grip. This is why dirtbike training is so helpful: aggression loses grip and the relatively slow, soft world of dirtbike riding teaches this.
It is also why track riding is so helpful. You can run handfuls of laps in a row, playing with more and more lean angles. If those experiments stay smooth, a warm tire will warn you that the limits are close. As the front tire reaches its limits on corner entry, the handlebars/clip-ons will go light in your hands as the tire tucks, turns-in, or folds slightly. As the rear tire reaches its limits, it will begin to creep outward and then slide. Both tires will break grip linearly if the rider is adding throttle, brakes, or lean angle linearly. And at the right time: See Where Not to Increase Lean Angle below.
Being Chris And Kyle
As Kyle and Chris illustrate to me every time we ride together, I am over-slowing my motorcycle at corner entry to run the lean angle my brain is comfortable with. So, quit slowing your bike so much. To carry more entry speed, don’t just think, “brake later”. Try these ideas instead:
1. Close the throttle slower. This will calm your brain, encourage your hand to more-smoothly squeeze your brake lever, which will keep your speed higher for longer.
2. Instead of braking later, which will eventually put you in a struggle with a collapsed fork at the turn-in point, brake lighter. Lighter initial braking will help you with trail-braking if you’re struggling with that vital concept.
3. Begin your brake release sooner in the corner. This is not “jump off the brakes early” by any stretch! How we release the brakes must be as smooth and linear as how we initiate braking, so begin the smooth process earlier so you are off the brake earlier. An abrupt or fast brake release is often the culprit for a front-end loss of traction as the rider rebounds the fork and unloads the tire too aggressively.
4. We have a terrific built-in lean-angle sensor: Our inside knee. If your inside knee isn’t touching the track surface, you are over-slowing. Touching our inside knee to the tarmac has two caveats however! A) Your tires must be hot. B) Your body position must be good (Rossi, Marquez, Quartraro, Beaubier, etc.). For all of us who street ride: If you or someone in your group is carrying the speeds and lean angle necessary to drag a knee on public highways, the hospital is in your group’s future because a rider dragging their knee is well into the 30-percent safety margin street riders require to survive.
5. Your track’s big sweepers are excellent places to play with increased lean angle. Pushing subtly on the inside bar will add lean angle, and you can play with this gently so your line changes gently. Don’t swoop across the track because you’ll take someone out, but gently add and subtract inside bar pressure.
Where Not To Increase Lean Angle
Many riders have low-sided (front tire loses grip, tucks and the bike crashes) due to increasing lean angle at the corner exit, increasing lean angle while accelerating. You might think that the rider who holds or adds lean angle at corner exit will eventually high-side (rear tire loses grip, the bike snaps sideways, and then crashes) and you are correct. Whether the front or rear tire loses grip in this scenario depends upon bike geometry and tire temperature, but one of them will not be able to stand the addition of lean angle while accelerating. Get the point here? Adding lean angle while accelerating will hurt!
If we must add lean angle because our bike is too wide in the corner, we must roll the throttle shut and load the front tire. The slowing motorcycle will tighten its radius and the front tire will be loaded before it must work to redirect the bike. These are subtle little movements of the throttle, subtle use of the brakes if the radius needs to tighten further. They are subtle because at the limit, the rider must move weight forward and back gently.
Once again, we are seeing that lean angle is a risk, especially if riders “dip” the bike at corner exit, quickly adding lean angle while accelerating. The vital mistake is not that your bike is running wide, that’s going to happen occasionally as you push—the vital mistake is that you try to fix your line with additional lean angle while the throttle is significantly open or opening. Close your throttle, load the front tire, get direction, and salvage what’s left of the exit. Next lap or next weekend, practice being slightly slower mid-corner so you, like Freddie Spencer, are at maximum lean angle for as short of time as possible. (See Fear and Leaning: Part 2)
Fear and Lean Angle: Part 4 Next Tuesday!