You and your motorcycle

Controlling your motorcycle

The secret of good control

Having the skills and experience to control your motorcycle will make you a much safer rider. Control means being able to make it go where you want and at the right speed, to keep it balanced and stop it effectively.

This section gives you some tips on how to keep good control of your motorcycle, having the correct body position and using the controls correctly. To perfect them, you'll need lots of practice and training from a skilled and experienced motorcyclist. It's a good idea to take training and refresher courses at an approved motorcycle training school.

Body position

To control the motorcycle properly, your body must be in the correct position and the controls should be adjusted so that you can operate them easily.

Seat

To be comfortable when you ride, sit far enough back in the seat so that your elbows are slightly bent when your hands are on the handlebars. This will allow you to turn the handlebars without having to stretch.

Hands

Hold the handgrips firmly enough that you won't lose your grip if the motorcycle hits a bump.

Elbows

Have your elbows slightly bent, but not away from your body. As well as being more comfortable, this position gives you more strength for steering.

It also allows you to hold your body back in the seat when you brake hard, and to absorb any shocks coming from the front wheel.

Knees

Keep your knees against the petrol tank. This will help you balance as the motorcycle turns.

Feet

When the motorcycle is moving, keep your feet firmly on the footrests. A firm footing will help you keep your balance.

Don't drag your foot along the ground. If your foot catches on something, you could lose your balance.

Keep your feet near the controls, not on the pillion footrests. This lets you use the controls quickly if you have to.

Try to keep your feet level. If you let them drop down, they could get caught between the road and footrests when cornering.

Posture

Your back should be straight, your head and eyes up.

A good riding position should:

  • feel comfortable
  • allow you to move smoothly with the machine
  • enable you to quickly and effectively use the controls.

Try the exercise below to get the right posture.

Getting the right posture

1
Getting the right posture

2
Getting the right posture

3
Getting the right posture
  1. Make sure the motorcycle is on its centre stand. Stand up straight on the footrests and balance properly.
  2. Lower yourself onto the saddle, keeping your balance.
  3. Rest your hands on the hand grips. Adopt a relaxed position so that your arms are not supporting your weight.

Turning

Learning how to turn correctly is something new riders tend to find difficult. The only way to learn how to make good, safe turns is to practise and to follow the tips below.

Limit your speed

New motorcycle riders often enter turns too quickly. This means they can't hold the turn and they tend to cross into another lane of traffic or go off the road, or they brake too hard and skid out of control.

Take care on turns

Approach turns carefully until you learn to judge how fast you can actually take a turn. Make sure you slow down before the turn and increase your speed smoothly coming out of it.

Use countersteering when turning

Changing direction on a motorcycle is different to steering a car. Both you and the motorcycle must lean to turn. The sharper the turn and the faster you're going, the more you must lean.

Don't be afraid to lean with the motorcycle when turning

Don't be afraid to lean with the motorcycle when turning

The best way to lean your motorcycle for a corner is to use a technique called 'countersteering'. As you approach a bend, look in the direction you want to go, and briefly and gently apply light forward pressure on the handlebar on the side you are looking towards.

  • If you are looking left, push left.
  • If you are looking right, push right.

While it seems the wrong thing to do, it gets the motorcycle leaning for the corner. If the corner tightens, apply another brief and gentle push and the lean angle will increase. To exit the corner, accelerate smoothly and the motorcycle will tilt back upright.

Prove this to yourself. Find a quiet road and, while travelling in a straight line, press the handle bar gently. The motorcycle will move in the direction you pushed.

For slow-speed turns that are less than 20km/h, for example, a U-turn or a 90-degree turn at an intersection, you will need to turn the handlebars and shift your weight to keep your balance. Try this out in a quiet area.

Remember to look where you are wanting to go and don't look down.

Braking

Your motorcycle has two brakes - the front brake (for stopping) and a rear brake (for stability). You need both of them to stop safely.

The front brake is the more powerful of the two. It provides about three-quarters of your stopping power. On a modern motorcycle it provides approximately 90 percent of your stopping power.

Progressive braking

  • Gently apply enough braking force to start the transfer of weight to the front wheel.
  • Progressively increase the force on the front brake to make full use of the front tyre gripping the road surface.
  • As the motorcycle slows, ease the brake pressure to avoid locking the front wheel. If this happens, fully release the brake immediately. Then re-apply gently and smoothly (progressively).

Braking tips

  • Use both brakes every time you slow or stop.
  • Apply the front brake slightly before the back.
  • It's best to brake before, rather than when going through, a curve.
  • If you must brake in a curve, use both brakes gently.
  • On a slippery surface make sure the motorcycle is upright. Use both brakes gently.
  • In a quiet place, practise applying both brakes without locking the wheels. Relax your arms and remember to look where you want to go.

If you don't know how to control a rear wheel skid, or if you are scared of applying both brakes firmly, you should get instruction on emergency braking skills from a motorcycle instructor or riding school. It may save your life.

Changing gears

There is more to changing gears than simply getting the motorcycle to accelerate smoothly.

For example, crashes can occur if the gears are used incorrectly when changing down or turning.

Changing down

It's important to change down through all the gears as you slow down or stop. This way, you have enough power to accelerate quickly if you need to.

Make sure you are going slow enough when you change into a lower gear. If you are going too fast, the motorcycle will lurch and the rear wheel may lock up. This is more likely to happen when you are:

  • going downhill, as the motorcycle will tend to pick up speed on a downgrade
  • changing into first gear, as on many motorcycles the speed range for first gear is very low.

Under these conditions, you may need to use the brakes in order to slow down enough to change down safely.

Gear changes in a turn

It's best to change gears before entering a turn, because a sudden change in power to the rear wheel can cause it to lock or spin, resulting in a skid.

Starting on a hill

It is more difficult to get the motorcycle moving uphill than it is on flat ground. There is always a danger of rolling backwards into someone behind you.

When starting on a hill:

  • use the front brake to hold the motorcycle while you start the engine and change into first gear
  • change to the foot (rear) brake to hold the cycle while you operate the throttle with your right hand
  • open the throttle a little bit for more power
  • release the clutch lever gradually; if you release it too quickly, the front wheel may come off the ground or the engine may stop - or both
  • release the foot brake quickly when the engine begins to slow down (this means the engine is taking hold)
  • accelerate gently and take off as normal.

< previous | next >

Last updated: 10 June 2010