by Jerry Palladino
So many riders are deathly afraid of
leaning their motorcycle, especially at low speeds and I believe this
subject needs to be discussed.
First, you may ask, "why is this important?" Leaning the motorcycle is
of the utmost importance because a motorcycle turns by leaning. The
further you lean the bike, the tighter the turn it will make. Let's take
your average Road King. If you walked a Road King around in a circle
while it was straight up, it would take about 21' to complete the
circle. If on the other hand you leaned the bike over as far as it will
go, that same motorcycle will turn in about 16'. That's a 5' savings.
Look at it this way, when a car turns left in front of you and you have
to make a quick evasive maneuver, you can miss the car by 5' if you lean
the bike to it's maximum. If you're afraid to lean the bike, you'll have
no choice other than slamming on your brakes and low-siding. You should
learn your bike's lean limits at low speeds under controlled conditions
in a parking lot. That way, if you tip the bike over, you simply step
off of it and let the bike go. If you attempt to find your bike's limits
while rounding a turn at 60mph and you make a mistake, the results will
be disastrous. If you're not aware that a motorcycle turns by leaning,
try this simple exercise. Cruise on down the road at 20mph and keep only
your palms on the grips with your fingers straight up, push on the left
grip and you'll notice that the bike leans to the left and goes to the
left. It's the same with the right grip. The front wheel actually turns
very slightly, the harder and faster you push on the grip, the quicker
the bike will react. Now at low speeds, below 15mph, you are actually
handlebar steering. That means, whatever way you turn the handlebars,
the front tire will turn in that direction and that's the way the bike
will go. In addition, if while you're turning the handlebars you allow
the bike to lean, even the biggest motorcycle will become extremely easy
to handle at low speeds. You'll be able to maneuver and U-turn quite
easily. Of course at low speeds, you should be in the friction zone, be
putting light pressure on the rear brake and using your head and eyes,
looking where you want the bike to go. Of course, head and eyes is even
more important at higher speeds. Always keep your focus on the end of
Now here's some tricks that will get you leaning your bike and
overcoming your fears. Set up 5 cones in a straight line, spaced at 30'
apart. Get your speed up to about 20mph and begin maneuvering through
the cones by pushing back and forth on the handlebars. When performing
this exercise, you should not be using the brake or the friction zone.
You're simply counter steering the motorcycle. Keep your head and eyes
up and focus on the very last cone. As you get more comfortable with
this exercise, increase your speed, allow your bike to lean from side to
side. Your goal should be to get your pegs or floorboards to scrape
occasionally as you maneuver through the cones.
For low speed leaning, place the cones at 12' apart. During this slow
exercise, you should be in the friction zone and applying pressure to
the rear brake. Again, allow the bike to lean from side to side. You'll
find it difficult to scrape the boards with the cones set at 12' apart,
but it will help you to get familiar with leaning the motorcycle at low
The next exercise for leaning the bike is the very simple circle
exercise. It would help to have a friend stand in the center of the
circle. Focus on that persons face as you begin circling around them.
Start with big circles, 30 or 40' around, stay in the friction zone, put
pressure on the rear brake and try to tighten up the circles each time
you go around the person. Have the person in the center of the circle
tell you how close you're getting to scraping the boards or pegs.
Eventually, you should be able to scrape a perfect circle in the ground
with your floorboards or pegs. Remember to keep both feet on the pegs or
floorboards. As long as you keep power to the rear wheel, the bike
cannot tip over. Putting a foot down should be a last resort and should
be done with just a quick dap to maintain balance. Make sure you
practice this in both directions, turning to the right and to the left.
Good luck, all it takes is a little practice.
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Back to Basics Series:
A "Motorman" is the term used in police circles to identify a motorcycle
cop, or any law enforcement officer assigned to the motorcycle division.
becoming a Motor Officer, Jerry rode for enjoyment for about 25
years. Then one day, he saw a 5 minute segment on a television show
which depicted motorcycle officers training on their Harley police
bikes. The way these officers could maneuver these full size motorcycles
around like a child's toy, made it appear as if they were defying
gravity. At that moment, he knew that he had a lot to learn about riding
a motorcycle. Shortly afterwards, the agency he worked for started a
motorcycle unit. he was sent for training to Tallahassee with the
highway patrol. The training consisted of 120 hours of intensive
motorcycle training, focusing mainly on low speed handling. Jerry says,
"When I finished this training, for the first time I really knew how to
ride a motorcycle."