Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School - Cornering Reference Points

Text: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst • Photography: Kevin Schwantz, Lance Holst

As your speed through a given corner rises, it becomes increasingly more important to be precise with your cornering lines. If you're riding slow enough, any number of lines are acceptable and you have a relatively broad path measuring in feet or even yards to choose from. But as the speed increases that line gets narrower and narrower. Whether you're riding on your favorite road or lapping Road Atlanta at the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School, the faster you go the more important it is to be precise and consistent with where you place your bike in the corner—down to a matter of inches.

Consistency comes from picking out specific points to reference (hence the term reference point or RP), thereby slotting your bike in the same place each time through the corner. For your favorite road, you may make one pass a week. On a track day, it's more likely to happen 50 or more times a day.

Elevation changes and blind corners increase the importance of reference points. The first lap of Road Atlanta, with its numerous blind corners, leaves most riders wide-eyed with exhilaration. When newcomers see track veterans wheelie over the blind crest under the Suzuki bridge in Turn 11, they're left slack-jawed in awe. How are riders able to carry such speed in corners that they can't see through? Reference points.

As soon as we teach students to use their vision more effectively, get their body position and steering techniques addressed, we teach them to look at the track in more detail. Specifically, we ask them to find a number of reference points for each corner. For turns that require braking to get down to cornering speed, the first RP is a beginning braking point. The next RP, which every corner has, is a turn-in point. From the turn-in point, the bike arcs inward to the tightest (innermost) point in the corner, or apex. The final RP, the exit, is typically already determined at this point but it's an excellent indicator of how effective your cornering line is.

The things that make Road Atlanta such a challenging track also make it an excellent place to learn riding technique. Its blind rises force riders to use reference points. Take Turn 11 for example: when a rider hits the turn-in point accurately and stays consistent with steering inputs, he clears the crest with confidence and awareness that the yellow line denoting the apex just past the bridge puts the bike on an arc that will carry it to the outside edge of the curbing at the bottom of the hill, the perfect entrance point for Turn 12. Reference points allow the rider to carry speed with confidence because he knows where the bike is headed to, on a part of the track he can't yet see.

Riding a flat, featureless track that provides clear vision through every corner may inspire more initial confidence, but it also allows the rider to cheat on reference point technique by looking through the corner. Riding a challenging track or road, however, requires the use of reference points and consistency with all steering and control inputs.

The Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School teaches students to choose reference points on the track surface whenever possible instead of markers posted off the track or distant features on the horizon. It may be a pavement patch or seam, a scrape, skid mark or even a bump on the surface - but any physical feature on the pavement surface is preferable to depending on something off the track itself.

As we said at the start, as speed rises, so does the need for precision and consistency. A basic street rider may be content with positioning himself either on the outside, middle, or inside of the lane, but more advanced pilots use reference points to pinpoint their locations on the road or track within a matter of inches.