Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School - Cornering Lines

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

The Line is something that racers, and even street riders who take their riding seriously, are forever looking for and striving to improve. At the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School we don't believe that there is only one correct line. Watch videotapes of Schwantz throughout his career and you'll see he often made use of unconventional lines allowed by the agile handling of his Suzuki RGV500 and his occasionally unorthodox riding style and racecraft. His cornering lines often varied over the course of a race as his bike's fuel load lightened and his tires' traction deteriorated. Or perhaps it was something that he picked up from watching his competitors strengths and weaknesses as he sized them up for the final laps. In fact, Schwantz is famous for being able to pass using unconventional lines and his spectacular riding style.

The line through a corner also depends on the bike you're riding, your strengths and weaknesses as a rider, and the available traction from wet or dry pavement. Kevin likes to tell students with his signature smile, "If there really is only one right line around the track, the race would be pretty boring after everyone filed through turn one on the first lap, wouldn't it?" With all these variables, the line isn't something that can be defined by (as a student at one of our recent schools suggested) drawing a chalk line around the track (Road Atlanta is 2.52 miles around - think of the amount of chalk!) or down your favorite road. But there are some definite parameters to guide you to finding your own perfect line. And at the school we often place cones at key points on the track to help students get their bearings.

As we mentioned in our previous column on reference points, the acceptable line through a given corner gets narrower as your speed increases. At street pace the many acceptable lines may be several feet from each other, but pick up the pace and that variance often narrows to a matter of inches. Our end goal is to make riders comfortable placing their bikes anywhere on the track or road - but always doing so at the speed appropriate for that line. As we discussed in our previous column, reference points for our beginning braking point, turn-in point, apex point and exit point are what we use to define our line. We strive to join the points together in a flowing line, not using a simple, straight connect-the-dots style that's often seen in riders learning the basics of lines and reference points. Those three or four reference points per corner (depending on whether you need to brake or not) are just the most basic framework. In fact, as KSSS students find out by watching the video of Schwantz's line around the track, there are often several additional reference points between them to help the rider define the line in ever-increasing precision.

We teach that your exit point is an excellent indicator of how effective your turn-in point and apex point were. (And, of course, you know by the speed you're carrying at your turn-in point how well you chose your beginning braking point.) If you're running out of track at the exit of the corner and forced to either lean the bike over further or roll out of the throttle or brake to avoid running wide, then you know that your apex point (and likely your turn-in point) came too early, which leaves more cornering to do later in the corner. Conversely, if you find yourself at mid-track (or the middle of your lane) when you'd prefer to be using up more asphalt, then you have the option of either turning in and apexing earlier, or simply running more speed through the corner to let the momentum carry you to your desired exit point. Which brings up a point that many students struggle with at Road Atlanta, particularly between Turn 2 and Turn 5 in the esses section, and that point is that you don't need to (and, in fact, it's often not desirable) to use every inch of track going into or out of many corners. At KSSS we teach riders to be as efficient with their lines as possible - in other words, don't use any more racetrack than needed. That just adds unnecessary length to the distance you cover in every lap and it may actually slow your times if you're goal is to cut fast laps. It can also put you in an unforgiving situation when riding on the street, where you need to allow a cushion of space to hold in reserve to allow for unforeseen circumstances that all street riders need to stay prepared for.

We'll continue to examine the factors that define the proper line in our next cornering line column.