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The Handle Bars

Just about every wobbly bit you can throw at a bike hangs off these damn things.  Without them we would be in serious trouble, but most of our serious trouble comes directly as a result of our use of them.

Newton’s third has a field day with us when it comes to the handlebars. They are without a doubt the most powerful control you have on your motorbike and unfortunately we use them more for hanging onto than for any control input.  When we accelerate all our upper body weight goes backwards and we “hang on” to the bars.  When we brake all our upper body weight goes forward and we lockout our arms and push against them.  When we “lean” into a corner we hold onto them to stop ourselves falling off the damn bike and when we straighten up again we use them to pull ourselves back onto the bike.

If you don’t believe me on that last one, try getting yourself off a bike and back again whilst it is stationary without using the handle bars.   Some advice; put a soft mat on the ground!!!


But what are those handle thingy’s for then???

 Well basically for controlling a bikes lean angle.  Period.  Sorry, I know you thought they were used for steering and all that but a bike can steer itself, the bars just pitch it off centre and the bike reacts like a coin would and turns.

Take a look at any picture of a bike mid corner and you’ll see the front wheel pointing in line, not turning!!! 

Now I know the entire purist dynamic physicist mathematicians out there will be upset with me and talk about slip angle, capsize speed and all that, but basically what I am saying is right.  Once you get a bike lent over on steady throttle it is going to maintain that turn until you do something else.  If you want to tighten the corner, just get more lean and it will tighten, or less to open it out.  Each time you will use the bars to do that and then leave the damn things alone.  It will stabilise and go in the circle your speed and lean angle dictate.  Change speed or lean angle and your corner will change. 

So your handlebars are motorcycle lean angle controls!!!!  Think of them as dial a lean!!!  The rest is taken care of through a contract between your frame designer and Newtons’ good old third along with this little calculation :-)

(if you want to know more about how a bikes turns read this pretty good article on Bike Dynamics)

But what is all this counter steering stuff I hear about then??

So if you are asking that question then you are still thinking that a bike leans because you courageously throw your body off the side of it.  Man have I got news for you, strap down that ego!!

Your 200Kg bike travelling at speed down the road really doesn’t care too much about you throwing your weight off to one side.  Well at least it doesn’t care as much about that as it does about its stability and weight over the centre of gravity.

No this is where counter steering comes into the scene.  As you throw yourself off the bike you use those handle bar things to stop you from falling off and a strange thing happens ... you counter steer. The front wheel steps to the outside and creates a torque reaction that “drops” the bike down into a lean. 

Then Newtons third notices that the centre of gravity has moved off to one side and rustles up the troops to try and catch it  and bobs some relation, your bike is turning, chasing that CG just like that coin you rolled across the desk.

You want to tighten up you lean some more and counter steer some more, you want less you pull yourself up and steer into the turn.  Both result in more or less lean angle and so more or less turn.

The Power of Control!!!!

There is real power here in this knowledge.  If you have been reading intently you have probably realised that the bike is most of the work and you are just asking it to do it.  This is pretty powerful stuff because as we have already discussed the worse handling part of the whole package is the rider.  So if we can get the bike to do more of this stuff for us then all is good.

So lets look at a transition to cornering.  So we are riding along, either in an acceleration  “set” or a breaking “set”, the bike is stable and happy doing its thing and we are holding on as best we can without upsetting anything.

Then we need to transition from that previous “set” to a cornering set, we get our body setup and locked into a stable position and then use the handlebars to “dial a lean” i.e. we counter steer to get the bike leant over and as soon as it is at the lean we need for the corner we ..... try not to move the handle bars and keep the throttle constant or slowly increasing.

It’s that simple and that hard!!!  

One of the biggest things to learn here is the power of that counter steer .  Obviously the faster you can get a bike transitioned from one set into the corner set the later you can turn into the corner and later you can break and the ... well you get the idea.  So turning a bike fast is good.  It is also good because transitions are full of wobbly bits and we want to get that over and done with fast!!!

Counter steering will allow you to turn a bike faster than you thought possible, Trust me.