Holding Your Line


Keith Code
(reprinted with permission)

Predicting a Line

If you always knew precisely where the bike was going to be, as far up ahead as you could see in corners, what sort of impact would that have on your everyday riding, touring, track riding or racing?

Think of how easy it would be to have good throttle control if you always knew where you were going to be! Isn't throttle control easy when you know your line is "good"?

This could easily lead you to believe that having a good line was the key to good throttle control but it's not. In fact, it is the opposite: Good throttle control is the answer and opens the door to "good" lines.

It is true, one of the great results of good, standard throttle control is the bike holding a predictable line in the corner; and all riders realize that having the ability to accurately predict the result of their line would result in a far more positive riding experience in any cornering situation.
Would that be true for you?

The Purpose

I'd like you to take a look here at some data on this subject and at the end I've prepared an exercise you can do to gain better control of your line and more confidence in predicting it.

Throttle Control Virtues

At the Superbike School we spend a lot of time and put heavy emphasis on Throttle Control. From a technical perspective, all that goes right and most all of what can go wrong in a turn starts and ends with how well you conduct that precision control device on the right hand bar known as the throttle. A predictable line is one of the many positive results of controlling the throttle accurately.

It's easy to communicate how easily good Throttle Control solves common problems and puts the rider in "full" (the best it can be) control of the bike. We sing its praises and tout its many virtues--when we get it right.

Riders generally deplore their own shortcomings in being able to maintain it when fear and panic seize them. They understand its simplicity; they grasp its importance immediately and see areas where they could improve throttle control just from a classroom briefing on it.

Running Wide

Running wide is a major concern for all riders. Name a situation (other than in multiple radii turns) where running wide is a benefit. If you are at a loss to find one, I understand, no one ever has. How do you handle running wide?

This is a huge concern and it brings up such questions as: Should I just trust the tires? Should I just lean it over more thinking "the bike can do it"? Should I stand it up and go for the brakes? What do you do?

Contrary Feelings

Let's start out with our Survival Instincts and see how they may cause problems. When the bike is running wide the last thing your instinct tells you is: "You need more gas here". In fact, it is quite the opposite. It tells you that rolling on the gas will make it worse and you will crash.
This is a Survival Reaction, we call them SRs for short.

This particular Survival Reaction (SR) may be based on the very first day you rode a bike at slow speed in a parking lot. Perhaps the bike felt like it was falling over and you gave it some gas and that stabilized it: that stopped the feeling that it was going to fall over. It may have even felt like it brought the bike up.

This second one is a false perception. The bike did not "come up" but it did stabilize. If stopping the bike from falling inwards mistakenly becomes confused with "coming up" your right hand on the throttle would have a very strong opinion about this in the future, i.e., gas on = bike comes up; as opposed to the truth of the matter which is: gas on = bike stabilizes its lean angle.

A related misconception that many riders have follows along this same line.
Most riders say the bike comes up as they begin to roll the throttle on more aggressively towards the end of the turn. Contrary to that feeling, the bike does not "come up" from throttle application when you are exiting a turn.

You Choke, You Lose

In running wide, even a momentary hesitation is enough to cause anxiety.
Perhaps you find yourself in a turn running a bit wide (or at least you think you are) and that very brief hesitation, which is composed of you thinking it through and mind wrestling with the instinct to roll off, is enough to make it all go wrong-the throttle roll-on stops or even backslides towards OFF a bit and the bike does try to run wider.

By the way, this is another area of false perception that many riders have.
They say the bike goes into the turn on a tighter line when they roll off the gas but, guess what, they are actually steering it inwards. Left to its own, the bike comes up and runs wide.

Back to the point. Even with terrific reflexes it takes time for you to subdue the Survival Reaction (SR) that created that hesitation and finally make the decision to roll it on. A half a second is short for this type of thing. In reality it takes more like a second or even two to regain your control. That is a lot of space, that is a lot of running wide, that is a lot of anxiety and that is most of any short turn.

Precision Control

Superlative Throttle Control is a precision activity. Easy for those who can do it and very confusing (probably based on the contrary evidence from false perception as above) for those who cannot.

Finding the right amount of gas to stabilize the bike and hold its line isn't even vaguely easy, it is hard. Initially, you have to break through some pretty tough barriers just to maintain good throttle control to get the bike to hold a predictable line, especially as the speed increases.
Unfortunately, even after you have done it successfully in one corner there is no guarantee it will be solved in other turns!

Throttle control must be looked at from the angle of a fluid and continuous maintenance of the bikes attitude in the turn, i.e., enough weight transferred off the front and onto the rear of the bike to maintain its best and most neutral handling attitude, not too much or too little. And more importantly, maintaining the suspension in its optimum stroke-range with the throttle. This requires a continuous roll-on.

The point is this: your ability to maintain good throttle control is an absolutely necessary and integral part of conquering the SRs connected to running wide.
Being able to judge your line has everything to do with your sense of confidence in any cornering situation.

Note: Throttle control is well covered in "A Twist of the Wrist", Volume II, as those of you who have read the book already know.

Any Solutions?

Not yet. Without first hand knowledge of how it feels and looks my words are not likely to make running wide disappear as a problem for you. Another thing I should mention, there is no iron clad, fits all situations type answer to it. But there are answers.

Here is a drill to improve your ability to predict your line.

    1. Find yourself a curvy road. A familiar one is best. A calm track day
      would also be perfect.
    2. Back off your speed enough so you are certain you won't run wide.
      Set your speed that way for each turn you enter.
    3. Get the bike fully turned into the corner so you are happy with
      where it is pointed.
    4. Begin your roll-on as soon as possible after #3 is settled.
    5. Estimate where exactly you think the bike is going to be at its
      widest point on the turn's exit. Don't choose blind turns to do it. You are trying to predict at what point ahead you will come the. closest to the center line (in right hand corners on the road) or the road's edge (in left hand corners on the road). Your final and widest exit point.
    6. Maintain a fluid, seamless and continuous roll-on throughout the
    7. Do not adjust the steering or lean angle of the bike (unless you
      really have to).
    8. Evaluate your estimate from #5. How did you do? How close were you
      to the point you thought was going to be your exit?
    9. Experiment with slower and/or more aggressive roll-ons until you get
      the feel for what it takes for that bike to hold a predictable line.

Run Wide Adjustments

Here are some classic errors and problems that counter your efforts to maintain a predictable line:

Throttle errors:

  1. You roll on the gas too soon. Before it is fully leaned into the
  2. You roll on the gas too aggressively. This over-extends the forks
    and increases speed too much, both make it run wide
  3. You roll on a little bit and stop. That alters your line. This
    counter-steers the bike up (wide again) when weight transfers forward.
  4. You go on and off the gas in the turn. That makes the line
    unpredictable and it widens it.

Line Errors

    1. You start into the turn too early, forcing a wider line through it .
    2. You start into the turn too far to the inside, again this forces a
      wider line through the middle and exit of the turn.
    3. The turn is too much of a decreasing radius turn. Do it in constant
      or increasing radius turns until you get the hang of it.

The Usual Bike Setup Errors

    1. You have an overly stiff a spring in the front of the bike. That
      holds the front up too high and makes it want to run wide.
    2. You have too much compression damping in the front end of the bike
      holding the front up too high. This makes the bike want to run wide.
    3. The rear ride height of the bike is too low. This rakes the front
      out and tends to make it run wide.
    4. The tires are worn and you have to fight the bike a bit to hold it
      in the turn. This also makes it run wide.
    5. Too much rebound in the rear and too little in the front. This holds
      the back down and the front up. Wide again.

As Good As It Gets

How many turns it will take to build confidence in yourself and, eventually, the bike I can't tell you. I do know that it will all come down to achieving a high degree of good, solid control of the throttle.

It goes like this: you can't trust the bike or the tires until you can trust yourself and your right hand to do the right thing. That's as good as it gets. It is a tried and true route to confidence and accuracy in your lines.

Very best,


© Keith Code, 2006, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



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