Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School - Steering Techniques

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

There seems to be a debate these days over whether counter steering or lower-body steering is the most effective way to steer a motorcycle. The extremists who think it has to be one or the other are missing the point - using the upper and lower body together is by far the most efficient way to steer a motorcycle.

We discussed proper body position in the previous issue and using the right body position is key to steering a bike effectively. Your initial steering input should begin with counter steering - pushing forward on the inside bar to use the front wheel's gyroscopic effect to bank the bike into the corner while pressing down on the inside footpeg - another proof of Sir Isaac Newton's dictum: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

The is effective because once counter steering banks a motorcycle into the turn, increasing lean angle is a matter of pivoting the bike around its center of mass. The greater the lean angle, the tighter it carves through the turn. More than footrests, footpegs essentially function as levers sited on either side of, and slightly below the center of mass. Pressing down on the inside footpeg helps pivot the bike around its center of mass and steers it into the corner with less effort from your upper body at the bars.

Throughout Kevin Schwantz's career on Grand Prix bikes, which weighed between 250-286 pounds and produced upwards of 175 horsepower, he found that the lower he could put the steering input into the chassis, the more stable the bike was. Consequently, while he did use counter steering to initiate the corner, from that point on he used as little upper body input as he could. Instead, he relied on weighting the inside footpeg and using his outside thigh to pull the fuel tank (located above the center of mass) to the inside of the turn and finish the steering input. As a result his arms could stay more relaxed on the bars and the bike more stable.

Kevin's motorcycle competition career began at a young age in observed trials where he learned the value, even necessity, of using lower body inputs to control his motorcycle. This lesson he applied all the way through his world-championship-winning career, and it continues to serve him in SuperTT (Supermotard) racing.

While pushing forward on the inside bar, weighting the inside footpeg, and pulling the outside thigh toward the inside of the corner might sound overly complex, in practice you'll likely find that you've already been doing it to some degree. When focusing on using the upper and lower body to steer the bike more effectively, most students at the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School feel that someone's installed power steering on their bikes. It turns in much easier, with less effort, and with a little practice it becomes second nature. The added stability this technique gives you is most appreciated while topping one of Road Atlanta's many blind crests.

From the apex (the point at which you're closest to the inside edge of the pavement) of the corner on, weighting the outside footpeg gives a couple of advantages. First, it helps stand the bike up off the edge of the tire to generate a larger contact patch and allows the rider to accelerate. Second, it helps transfer the rider's weight through the rear contact patch to the ground, increasing traction.

This is another lesson that Schwantz learned from a trials-riding mentor. Transverse a steep slope of loose dirt on a trials bike while weighting the uphill footpeg forces the rear contact patch away from the hillside and causes the rear tire to lose traction and slide downhill. Ride across the same side hill while weighting the downhill footpeg forces the rear contact patch into the hillside, maintains traction, and allows the bike to ride straight across the hillside. Whether you're riding across an incline or leaning a motorcycle over on the pavement, the principle applied is the same.

Practice using your upper and lower body together and you'll find that your motorcycle steers easier, with less effort, and remains more stable.