RoadCraft: The Lines

Road craft is about going beyond those basic handling skills. Here we talk about the lines through corners and especially about the turn point system

Road Craft

Basic handling skills are an essential ingredient to all riding.  But there is a lot more you need to know to ride.  The environment you are riding in plays so much in how you should be riding, both to be safe and also to be fast.

The road is one of the most challenging.  For two very obvious reasons, firstly there are lots of others out there also trying to be safe and fast and there is so much of it you never know what’s around the next corner or where the damn thing goes really.

Hopefully this next section will help out a lot with the decisions and skills you need to be a confident and safe road rider.

The Lines

“I can keep up with him for the first couple of corners but that’s about all” is a line I hear very very often.  Usually the reason for this is T-Boning.   Not a delicious chunk of a herbaceous grass muncher, this actually refers to when  a rider enters a corner at what amounts to a right angle to the direction of the corner and has to break or slow down to get around (or simply create a new road and park themselves in the weeds).

Obviously riders don’t intend to do this, instead they start by entering the first corner in the wrong place and at too high a speed, and then they exit wrong and enter the next one even worse until….. T-Bone for dinner anyone?

The answer to this is lines!!! Where you enter a corner, exit a corner and place your bike during the corner.  It is very very important because not only will you be smoother and faster with the right line, you’ll avoid that nasty and inevitable high speed parking incident.  I say inevitable because you will inevitably T-Bone a corner at some stage that you can’t slow down for enough to make it around or find a car on the opposite side of the road that makes your erroneous line impossible (or painful) to continue.

Which highlights a wonderful facet of the T-Boner… ever reached onto the wrong side of the road coming out of a corner?  If you have, then you’re guilty of the T-Bone!

The problem here is turning circumference. At any given speed and skill level (and bike of course) there will be a minimum size of your turning circumference.  An arc that is as tight as it is going to get for you at that time on that bike.  This doesn’t even take into consideration road surface or such like that might contribute its just talking about how tight you can turn at a given speed.

The traditional approach to this is to flatten out the turn as much as possible, what we euphemistically call the “Racing Line”. 

This means a wide entry into the corner and a wide exit making the corner seem as straight as possible.  It also means that if you get it wrong you’ve no where to go and you have to commit to the corner before you know where it goes, great on a race track when its your 50th time around that corner, not so much going into the decreasing radius, changing chamber downhill right hander for the first time on the road.

But let’s not get all dramatic here, let’s presume you managed to enter the corner successfully and exit it successfully, you’ve still probably messed it all up and you don’t even know it, let me take you through an exercise to demonstrate.

Ok, think of a series of corners, starting with a left hander, then a right and then a left.  We enter the first left as wide as possible right up against the white line, apex the corner somewhere (remember this is the road we really don’t know the apex because we can’t see), exit the corner beautifully wide and fast on the outside of the corner  or as it is a left hander up against white line again.

Perfectly executed then we have to throw the bike into the right hander…. wait a minute to enter nice and wide as we would want to we are on the wrong side of the road.  Dab the brake or maybe we can even get a way with just backing off, we quickly throw the bike wide and back into the right hander.

Now we have entered later than we wanted to and probably not wide enough, most likely no more than middle of the road.  But we are going as fast as if we had and so we exit the right hander too wide and too fast.

We back off, possibly grabbing some brake or if we are all skilled up we trail the back to tighten up the corner whilst we wash off some speed.  Desperately trying to stay on the road, our eyes are drawn to the gutter that we just might end up in, but again we are skilled, we focus on where we want to go, rely on that back brake, keep a little throttle on hold a really really tight line for the speed and we make it around.

Now we are we are right out on the edge of the road and we are deeper into the next left hander than we want to be.  No time to brake and change line this time, we are T-Boning.

The smart ones amongst stay on the brakes after the right hander and just accept that the rider behind us, doing the correct line, just sails past on our right as we wash off even more speed to get a pace that we can actually get around the corner safely from this angle.

The less smart try for it and as their “Racing Line” takes them wide they sail across the white line onto the other side of the road, praying that nothing solid is coming the other way.

Later they will say “I got that corner wrong”, completely missing the fact they got ALL of those corners wrong!!!! Even the very first one!!!

Sound familiar?  We’ve all done it at some stage and most of us have done it repeatedly until someone teaches us decent lines and that wonderful thing we will discuss later on … .Rhythm.

So what line will get us through a series of corners we don’t know perfectly every time, what system could possibly set me up to be as fast as possible while still being as safe as possible and maximising our vision ahead.

The Turn Point System

Right; lets get a whole lot of things out of the way up front , because you probably have been carrying a whole lot of thoughts about corners that are incorrect for a long time.

  • The APEX of a corner is nonsense, something only useful for describing a line through a corner you already know and hasn’t changed that day!!!! Talking apexes is nonsensical, repeat that to yourself!!!
  • The racing line is the fastest way through A corner, singular only, if you have more than one corner in a row IT IS NOT and that includes when you are racing!!!!!
  • Your line through a corner has limits; you CAN NOT tighten it beyond a given circumference without slowing down.  So; go in wide come out wide, go in narrow come out even wider for the same speed.  Try it, draw an arc on a piece of tracing paper and place it over a couple of arcs drawn like the sides of a corner on the road.  Move the entry point, observe the exit point, unless you can tighten the curve the narrower you go in the wider you’ll come out!!!
  • 90% of corners are followed by a corner of the opposite direction (A right will follow a left; a left will follow a right 90% of the time).  Want to be 90% right? always set up the exit for a corner of the opposite direction.
  • If you exit a corner prepared for a corner of the opposite direction AND ITS NOT, correcting will be a matter of widening your line not tightening it.  Remembering that, without slowing down, you can’t tighten your line, but widening is easy.  you’ve pretty much just taken care of the other 10%!!!!
  • The biggest mistake you are making and will make is turning in too early to a corner.  Repeat after me…” The biggest mistake I am and will make is turning in too early to a corner” Even after you have learnt the Turn Point System, you will keep making this mistake for quite a while… so repeat it to yourself a few times!!! (BTW; turn in early is the same as entering narrow, you come out wider).
  • Setting up the exit for a corner of the opposite direction means exiting the corner narrow.  This means the opposite of the “Racing Line” exit.  Exit Narrow… repeat to yourself until you’ve got  it, exit narrow, exit narrow, exit narrow.
  • Enter a corner as wide as possible; if you want to see around something you need to approach it as far to the side as possible.  Enter corners as wide as possible.

Ok so if we know we have to enter the corner wide, exit narrow and ignore the whimsical concept of an apex what else is there to know?  The Turn Point of course!!!

So a definition of a turn point is really easy;

Your Turn Point is when you can see the exit of the corner.  BTW this usually means you can also see the entry to the next corner.

Now I know you will be complaining that you know tonnes of corners where you can’t see the exit as you enter the corner.   So to put you mind at rest lets dispel a myth about corners;

Your TURN POINT for a corner and you CORNER ENTRY POINT are very different

You will enter the corner as the road starts to curve, but you will stay wide and follow the edge of the road around the curve, changing your speed to match the curve, until you can see the exit and THEN you will turn toward the exit point which will mean you will turn mid corner.

You will turn mid corner; before then you will be following the edge of the corner waiting

and because, at your turn point you will be heading for the insideof the corner (Narrow) the whimsical apex will occur on your way there shortly after your TURN POINT.

Now you will probably get why your biggest mistake will be turning in too early… you will be trying to anticipate the turn in point and getting it wrong because some how in our brains a ridiculous thing happens.

WE THINK ITS SAFER TO TURN IN EARLIER when actually its a lot more dangerous because we are going to come out wider.

Ok… I know that is a lot to take in and it won’t really make sense until you start to work it out in your head.

So a quick exercise you can do right here and now.  Take two pens and holding them apart draw a wiggle road on a piece of paper.  Then using one pen and following the simple rules above do the following.

  • Mark the entry point for each corner (remember ENTRY POINT NOT TURN POINT and it should be WIDE).
  • Mark the Exit point for each corner (remember exit Narrow)
  • Using  a straight line from the exit mark , find the tangent on the inside of the corner and mark where this line crosses the outside of the corner (just where your path would take you on the bike).

You will now have three crosses on your corners, Entry, Turn Point and Exit.  If you draw a line that smoothly connects all these  you will have the fastest, safest line through the corners you drew and you did it without having to know anything you didn’t know going into the corners one at a time. 

You don’t need to plan out the corners.. just ride each corner according to the TURN POINT SYSTEM



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