Fear and Lean Angle: Part 3 by Nick Ienatsch. March 31, 2020

Chris Peris
Chris Peris (pictured) and teammate Ben Walters have won five WERA Heavyweight endurance titles in a row, and Chris is often the fastest rider in the race. How do these riders find and live at the limits of lean angle, especially as those limits change throughout the race? If lean angle is risk, how can we explore our own risk limits? – Army of Darkness Collection

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.

Marine Max

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.”

ChampSchool Level 3 training days, this one at Cherry Point Marine Base, focus on bike control at real-world speeds. Here, instructor Mark Schellinger leads a warm-up lap down a straight into a right-hand U-turn delineated by the small green cones. Even U-turns involve trail-braking and are dependent upon setting your speed to match the radius of the corner at the lean angle you are comfortable with. – Nick Ienatsch

Linear Additions

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.

Roger Hayden
The Hayden brothers are all national and world roadracing champions; Roger, seen here being timed by dad Earl Hayden, is a ChampSchool guest instructor and built his craft on dirtbikes from the time he could walk. Many of the skills and techniques necessary to thrive on street/roadrace bikes can be learned in the low-risk environment of the dirt and there are some fantastic schools to help all riders: American Supercamp, Rich Oliver’s Mystery School, Colin Edwards Boot Camp, Gary LaPlante MotoVentures, and others. – Hayden Collection

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.

Nick and Judy
Let’s add a vital, life-saving street-riding technique to the discussion of how we release the brake as we trail-brake into corners: Never release the brake and then wrap your braking fingers around the grip. Release the brake, but leave your fingers out and resting on the brake lever. Many street curves are blind, and we don’t want to “put away our brakes” by wrapping our braking fingers around the twist grip. Emergencies can be just around the corner, and we don’t want to waste reaction time getting to the bike’s most-important component. – 4theriders.com

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.

Honda NSR250
When Speedwerk’s Steve Long invited me to race his Honda NSR250 last year, every session was quicker as I pushed past my lean-angle comfort limits. My current comfort limits have been established on liter bikes at ChampSchool, especially with the Yamaha FZ1 and MT10 on street tires—Dunlop’s excellent Q3+. Long’s Honda on race tires had lean-angle and grip limits that, even after two weekends, I never truly exploited. But here’s the point: You will achieve more and more lean angle if you do it in small, measured bites. Staying healthy has a remarkable effect on your riding progression. Big bites hurt. – E-tech

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.

One popular way to crash a cruiser or touring bike is to slam/flick/whip/toss/huck/throw the bike into the corner, adding lean angle in such a rush that the undercarriage doesn’t just touch and drag, but hammers into the pavement and rebounds the bike wide or simply lifts one or both wheels off the ground. We don’t grab the throttle or stab the brakes, so let’s not be abrupt with additions of lean angle either. – Chris Carr

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)

In a revision of last week’s illustration, Yellow rider risks losing front-tire grip under acceleration because they did not get direction in the red circle. This rider is adding acceleration but can’t give away lean angle, so the front tire will eventually let go, especially on Traction Control-equipped bikes that have electronics to control rear-wheel spin. We want to take away lean angle as we accelerate; if we can’t do that, we must adjust our entry-/mid-corner speed and line until it is possible. – Limore Shur

Fear and Lean Angle: Part 4 Next Tuesday!