You’re riding on a crowded motorway, trying to find some ‘breathing room’ to settle into. Just when you think you’ve found a good spot, a truck decides to move into your escape route, then starts to drift into your lane.
Suddenly, you’re handlebar-to-hubcap with the truck, with barely any room between you. It’s a scary situation. Your heart skips a beat, your brain freezes up, and you turn your handlebar away from the truck in a moment of mild panic. When your bike edges towards it, as a result, you realize it’s the wrong move. Fortunately, the truck sees you and moves back into his lane.
Later, you’ve escaped the city and are enjoying some winding country roads.
But instead of gliding through the twists and turns, you seem to be fighting your bike, drifting closer to the center line on the outside, and to the shoulder on the inside. After a close call, you decide to slow down and work through the twisties at a slower pace.
For starters, one thing you did right was to slow down in the twisties rather than to keep forcing your bike through the curves. You should never ride at a pace faster than you can handle – let your comfort level be your guide.
That said, a good understanding of the concept of countersteering is likely lacking in both situations. But don’t feel too bad. This counterintuitive riding principle can sometimes trip up even very experienced riders.
Countersteering means that a rider must push or press the handlebar grip in the direction of the curve, effectively pointing the front tire in the opposite direction of the curve, to initiate motorcycle lean and successfully navigate roadway curves at speed.
Riding a motorcycle requires you to manipulate the handlebars differently depending on your road speed to steer the motorcycle in a given direction. For lower speeds and tight turns, you would manipulate the handlebars by direct steering, meaning the rider must pull on the grip of the handlebar in the direction of the turn, pointing the front tire in the same direction for low speed maneuvering.
However, at moderate to higher speeds, the law of physics steps in and you must apply countersteering to enter roadway curves or perform evasive maneuvers, such as swerving to avoid a hazard.
Sound wrong? To a lot of riders, it feels wrong.
But anyone who has ever successfully ridden a bicycle or motorcycle has used countersteering – whether they realized it or not. (NOTE: This principle applies only to two-wheeled, single-track vehicles, not trikes or motorcycles equipped with a sidecar.)
The primary application of the countersteering principle is this: to navigate roadway curves on your motorcycle, push forward on the handlebar on the side corresponding to the same direction of the curve.
Think of it this way, create a visual picture that feels more intuitive, and a mantra that’s easy to remember:
In practice, what that forward push does is initiate a lean in the direction of the curve – and the lean then enables the rider to properly navigate curves at roadway speeds. To upright the motorcycle exiting a curve, you would use the same principle in reverse. Gradually rolling on the throttle as you complete your corner exit.
That is counter steering explained and how you navigate curves on a motorcycle effectively.
Most of the time, even if you’ve never heard of countersteering, you do all this without thinking. Your body knows the principle even if your brain doesn’t quite grasp it, enabling you to get around on two wheels without much trouble. But in certain situations, such as those described at the beginning of this article, it can be beneficial to have a clearer understanding of the principles involved.
When in the act of countersteering, body placement and biomechanics play crucial roles in how effectively and safely the rider can navigate the motorcycle through a curve at roadway speeds.
When beginning to initiate countersteering, leaning the upper body into the direction of the intended curve can help in achieving the desired lean angle more quickly and smoothly.
When in the act of countersteering, the body should be kept aligned with the steering axis or positioned slightly to the inside of the curve. Lower body stability can be accomplished by gripping the motorcycle with the legs and keeping the knees close to the tank.
Shifting body weight distribution to the inside peg can aid in navigating curves, while simultaneously maintaining weight on both pegs helps stabilize the motorcycle, allowing for smoother and more controlled navigation through curves.
All of these efforts work in tandem with countersteering to ensure the rider is able to navigate curves effectively, maintains stability, and to have better control.
To exit the curve and straighten the motorcycle, use countersteering again and align the body with the bike’s steering axis should help in smoothly returning to an upright riding position.
If you don't countersteer on a motorcycle, especially at higher speeds, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to navigate curves at roadway speeds effectively.
At very low speeds, such as when maneuvering in a parking lot, countersteering is not generally needed. Instead, direct steering is used, meaning the rider turns the handlebars in the direction they want to go.
At moderate to high speeds, if the rider tries to turn the motorcycle by only shifting their weight or by trying to steer directly without countersteering the rider will not be able to navigate the motorcycle through curves effectively. The rider may feel that the bike is resisting path of travel through the curve, making it difficult to navigate curves and corners.
If the rider persists in trying to force direct steering in curves verses countersteering, they risk losing control of the bike.
Without proper countersteering, the rider tends to understeer the motorcycle, meaning it will not follow the path of travel as sharply as intended, and could run wide in a curve.
In the first illustration, the problem is caused by stress. You suddenly find yourself in a scary situation, and a bit of panic sets in. As a result, instead of your body doing instinctively what it already knows, your brain tries to take over.
“Turn away!” it tells you. It then tells your arms to turn the handlebar away from the truck – which we now know will move your motorcycle closer to it.
If you can’t enjoy winding roads because you have trouble making your bike do what you want, chances are, it’s because you’re not countersteering properly. It’s very common – many incidents are caused by ‘not making the turn’ and drifting off the side of the road. So, good technique is about enjoyment, control, and safety.
It’s simple, really – so simple you might want to kick yourself for not realizing it sooner: push left, go left; push right, go right. Go with the flow instead of fighting against those curves by trying to muscle your way through them! Let those natural forces of physics work in your favor by using that mantra.
Not ready to practice on your own?
The Harley-Davidson® Riding Academy is a great place for motorcycle riders—both new and experienced— to learn how to better control their bikes through countersteering, body positioning, and braking.
It could be that you are a new rider who just doesn't feel secure on their motorcycle, or you've been riding for some time and have not had the chance to take formal riding classes.Whatever the case, you are always welcome at the Academy, and with locations across the U.S., you’re likely to find one nearby (and you could get a discount on your motorcycle insurance).
Relax your body and your mind. Put these principles into practice. Give a gentle push and lean into the curve naturally. Don’t force it. You may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it becomes to make your bike do your bidding.
A nice by-product of proper countersteering technique is how much less effort is required to steer even a large motorcycle. Gaining this knowledge can be a real breakthrough moment for smaller riders who might think they cannot safely handle a large motorcycle, such as a cruiser bike or touring model.
Of course, a larger discussion of proper cornering technique is merited to fully (and safely) enjoy those winding roads. But basic understanding of the principles of countersteering on a motorcycle will help you turn the corner – pun intended! – on becoming a rider who’s prepared for any situation and gets the most from every ride.