Dirt Bike Riding Tips: Corners
Learning the fine art of cornering a dirt bike isn't easy, but since corners are a basic component of motocross tracks and off-road trails it's worth your while to spend some time perfecting (or at least improving) your cornering technique, especially if you'd like to start racing motocross. Corners offer a great opportunity to pass other riders and you can make up a lot of time if you learn to hit them just right. There are many variables that go into riding corners well: speed, traction, terrain, body position, and brake and throttle control. The key is being able to bring all these components together in one fluid motion. Way easier said than done.
No two corners are ever the same, especially on a motocross track. Once you've ridden through the corner all the other riders go through and rearrange it, so always expect the unexpected from one lap to the next. Although cornering techniques vary depending on the type of corner, there are a few basics that are common to all corners. Keeping your head up while riding is always important, but it's natural for the eye to focus on the inside of a corner (especially if it's a tight corner), so train your eyes to look through, not into, the corner.
You also want to try and maintain a lower center of gravity in the turn by moving from a standing position upon entering the corner, to a seated position just before the corner's entrance point. Shift your weight to the front of the bike roughly where the seat meets the gas tank, keep your elbows up, maintain a straight line from wrist to elbow, extend your inside leg, and weight the outside footpeg. This helps to give both wheels better traction, keeps the front end down, and prevents the rear wheel from sliding out. The following image of the Honda rider has a red 'T' drawn through the rider to help you visualize good body position when riding through a corner.
Throttle and brakes:
It's best to do most of your braking and gear selection before entering the turn. Braking before the corner is even more important on righthand (clockwise) turns because you'll need to take your foot off the rear brake in order to extend it for the turn. Try to be in the correct gear so the only control you need to focus on is the throttle. Sometimes you'll be rolling on the throttle while still feathering the brake which is fine, but try to do everything fluidly and lightly. Don't stomp the brakes or twist the throttle - feather the brake and roll the throttle. When moving from standing to sitting, slide forward, don't actually stand and sit (you can practice this while the bike is stationary on a bike stand).
Leaning into a corner:
Leaning into a turn can feel strange, especially in the beginning. It's natural to want to put your leg out for balance, but your leg isn't meant to be a counterbalance and you should try to keep your feet on the pegs as long as possible, both before and after the turn. A general rule of thumb is to start extending your leg around the same time you begin moving from a standing position to a seated position. Keep your toes slightly up and your foot skimming close (but not too close), to the ground. If you're going too fast, have poor body position, or don't have your foot raised high enough, your foot will get caught in the dirt. The consequences are possibly wrenching your knee (very painful), or maybe a crashed bike, which allows other riders to pass while you pick up your bike, regain your balance, or wait for an ambulance. The more tired you are the harder it is to keep your foot raised high enough, which increases the likelihood your foot will get caught in the dirt as shown in the photo sequence below.
Flat corners can be tough because there's no dirt for the tires to grab in order to keep the wheels from sliding out. Slow down. Try to find even the smallest berm, lump, divot, or bump to give the tires a bit of traction. Brake and throttle control are very important in flat corners as is moderation in speed. If the ground is hardpack, slow down even more. Flat corners are not the place to make up speed, and if you hit the corner too fast you'll lose control of the bike and end up losing even more time.
Bermed corners are usually the favorite corners on a motocross track. They allow you to hit the corner faster than a flat corner because you have more traction, and the dirt berm acts as a kind of guide rail to keep the bike from sliding out. That doesn't mean you can plow into the corner at full throttle though. Throttle and brake control still apply, but there's a bit more margin for error than there is with a flat corner. You'll be leaning the bike over much more than in a flat corner so keep your foot high enough to avoid catching it in the dirt. and watch for ruts. The one drawback to bermed corners may be that to utilize the berm you'll usually need to take the outside line which isn't always the fastest, so look ahead (as always) for the best alternate line.
Rutted corners are kind of like slotted bermed turns. It's really important to look ahead in order to line up the bike so both the front and rear wheels end up in the rut, kind of like a slot car. Once in the rut don't accelerate too hard because it might cause the front end to wheelie, which brings the front wheel out of the rut. Don't forget - just because you made it through the ruts successfully in the first lap, the ruts won't be the same the second time around so look ahead for an alternate line in case the ruts get too deep. Once the ruts start getting too deep the sides of the ruts can start grabbing the foot pegs, chain guard, and bottom of the fork tubes.
Dirt bike cornering videos:
Proper cornering techniques require many little pieces and parts to come together in order that they be executed correctly, and the only way to have the parts coalesce is to practice. Circle drills are a great way to improve corner technique and they don't need a huge amount of space. The following video is from Shane Watts and, as always, he shows the why behind the what. Wattsy explains why to do the drill, how to do it, and even offers suggestions for building the circle track. This probably isn't a good drill to practice on a full stomach though. The second video is Ricky Carmichael offering some tips for getting through rutted corners.