Text: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst • Photography: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst
Whether you're going to hang off the bike on a racetrack or stay centered on the bike while riding on the street, proper body position starts at the footpegs and works up from there. Anytime you're not using your feet for shifting or using the rear brake, place the ball of your foot (the front of foot just behind the toes) on the footpeg which allows you to shift your weight more effectively than hooking your heels on the pegs as most street riders are prone to do. Having the peg just ahead of the heel presents a couple of problems. First, most riders then point their toes out where they drag the ground prematurely (very distracting, if not scary). And second, the only way to lift your rear off the seat is by using your quadriceps in your upper leg. Placing the balls of your feet on the pegs allows you to use your calf muscles as well and keeps your toes away from the asphalt.
Next, sit near the tank on the front of the seat to stay connected to the bike with you lower body and keep your weight biased toward the front tire. Your back and arms should have a natural relaxed bend to them to allow your body to absorb bumps without feeding them through to the chassis. You want your body to act like part of the bike's suspension, not part of the chassis. Finally, grip the bars like you would hold a bird in your hand - tight enough to keep the bird from getting away but not so tight as to crush it.
It's important to remain relaxed on the bike. Remember that once a motorcycle is in motion, the gyroscopic effect of the wheels and engine keeps it stable and going in a straight line. The rake and trail of the steering geometry keep the bike going straight even after the front wheel is deflected by a bump or rock on the road. The tire contact patch is behind the steering axis, which allows it to self-center. When a nervous rider clamps down hard on the bars it actually interferes with the bike's ability to straighten itself out. Stay relaxed and trust the bike.
While there isn't a need for it on the street, we teach students at the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School to hang their weight off the inside of the bike to keep the bike more upright for a given speed around a given corner radius. This then gives you two options: either benefit from more traction from the greater tire contact patch or increase your speed until you again reach your maximum lean angle.
While you're still getting set up for the corner, begin shifting your weight by pivoting your lower body around the back of the tank to slide about half your rear end off the seat. Doing this in advance of the corner keeps you from being rushed as you bend the bike into the turn and allows you to weight the inside footpeg to help turn the bike in. As the bike leans into the corner, then shift your upper body off about an equal amount to your lower body so that your back is more or less parallel to the centerline of the bike but offset to the inside about four to six inches. Take a look at the photos of KSSS instructors Jamie James and Lee Acree to see what this looks like in practice.
Hold your outside thigh against the tank so that it supports most of your body weight and allows your arms to be relaxed at a natural bend. As you exit the corner pull your body back up with your outer thigh and weight the outside footpeg to help the bike stand up and to transfer traction to the rear tire. Be careful not to pull yourself up with your arms as it will cause the front tire to get light and could initiate headshake while accelerating off the corner.
It's important to not hang off so drastically that it compromises your body's connection with the bike or your ability to control the bike should you lose traction from the front or rear tire. Also keep your head upright, looking four-to-six seconds in front of the bike at all times. Most riders find it helpful to keep their heads close to perpendicular to the ground, which gives a better sense of balance and visual orientation as well. If you stay tucked in behind the bubble, your vision of the road ahead will be compromised.
The next article in our Riding Skills Series will relate how body position and weighting the inside and outside footpegs relate to steering a motorcycle most effectively.
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