Breakdown of the Perfect Corner
by Ryan Koontz, RKMX Training
As we have all heard several times in our careers of racing, corners are where the race is either won or lost. This is a very true statement. Often times, there are more corners than there are jumps. So in theory, if there were 20 corners on a track and you were to make a mistake that cost you a half a second on each corner, you would have lost 10 seconds on that lap. Your corner speed is important at any level of competition. So what does it take to nail a corner each lap? I will start from the beginning, when you enter the corner to the final exit of the turn.
Ryan Sipes can be considered one of the best riders when it comes to cornering. This shot shows exactly why.
As with any sport, looking ahead is important. With any ball sport, if you were looking five feet in front of you, it would make it difficult to throw the ball to make the play. As a rider, you are the quarterback, the one who is “making the play.” It is crucial that you can see your next move and even adjust your next move at the last second to provide a better outcome. Looking into the beginning of the corner/rut and following it through with your eyes as you approach will be the biggest challenge of dialing in each corner. This is tough because it takes hand-eye coordination, something that is an acquired skill by practicing. Along with hand-eye coordination, there is distance and depth perception. These are all important in motocross, where everything is at high speed and takes split second decisions. It is very easy to come up on a downed rider, a blown out rut, or an object in your line at the last minute because you were not looking ahead. These surprises will cause your mind to panic and can prevent you from making the smartest decision. Try raising your visor a little if you find that keeping your head up is a problem. This will at least allow more room for your eyes to look up. When you are practicing on looking ahead, begin looking 3-4 bike lengths in front of you. As you are approaching the corner or rut, always follow the corner at this distance all the way around and as you exit. Remember, your bike will go where your eyes are looking.
Chad Reed approaches a corner in the attack position. This position allows the rider to set themselves up for a corner.
Approaching the Corner
The way you approach a corner contributes to how you get through the corner fast. The most common mistake that I see when working with riders is that they sit down too early – This is a very bad habit to get into. When a rider sits down, their body is telling their mind they are ready for the corner. A great amount of errors are made when a rider is over-anticipating the next obstacle. Sitting often times gives you less control over your motorcycle when approaching the corner. Try sitting on your bike while it is on the stand, or while sitting in a chair and act as if you are going through a rough section and you begin to get head shake. You will notice that when the bars begin to swap back and forth your elbows will hit your side, limiting your control over the bike. Now try standing in the attack position and repeat this head shake/rough section experiment. Notice that you are more dominant during this circumstance. My theory is if your butt is on the seat, your leg should be out. With this theory, if you are sitting down a straightaway, you should have your foot out, right? Obviously, this wouldn’t be correct, so keep this theory in mind.
The Attack Position
As you are approaching the corner you want to make sure that you are in the attack position. The attack position is that your head is up and over your bars, your back is slightly angled forward, your elbows are up and out, you’re gripping with your knees and you’re on the balls of your feet. This attack position is not only the proper body positioning and technique, but will also allow you to be more dominant over the bike and less likely for another rider to come in and bang bars with you. Carry your speed into the corner, as your entry speed provides a lot of your momentum through the corner
Malcolm Stewart is another example of showing good corner technique. Notice how he is looking ahead with his eyes while not lifting his head.
Now that you are in the attack position and approaching the corner, braking is the next step in making a perfect corner. Becoming familiar with your brakes takes practice. You may think to yourself, I know how to use my brakes, but do you truly understand them? Locking your brakes up is usually a bad thing. When you lock your brake, you stop the momentum of the rear wheel. When doing this, you are putting the rear end of your motorcycle in a slide, which can reduce your ability to control the bike. As we all know, locking the back wheel will stop the bike quickly. In most cases, you are not wanting to stop, you are just needing to reduce your speed. As you come into the turn apply your back brake gradually as you approach the corner or rut. To make braking more efficient, try getting used to the front brake. Find the point where pulling in the front brake lever loads the front end but does not lock the front wheel. As you apply the front brake when entering the corner, notice the feel of the front end lowering; this is a good thing because it is applying weight to the front end, which increases stopping power and traction.
The front brake supply’s over 80% of braking power. If properly used, it allows you to approach a corner faster while requiring less rear brake, which helps prevent locking the rear wheel. When using the front brake, skill is required to apply just the right amount. Using too much will cause the front wheel to lock, thus making the front end tuck (or turn) and slide out. Using too little defeats the purpose of slowing down faster and you will either overshoot the turn or revert to applying too much rear brake, causing it to lock and lose control. Once you have entered the corner or rut, all braking should be complete and should not be needed again until the next corner or obstacle. It is important that all braking be complete before entering the corner or rut so that the next step can be to roll on the throttle and accelerate through the corner.
TIP: Find that amount of front brake that will allow you to feel the front end begin to sink down without sliding out. Once you are familiar with the appropriate amount of braking needed at certain speeds and distances, you will be able to judge your approach speeds better and know when to begin braking.
This shot of Nico Izzi shows perfect execution of properly handling a corner. As you can see, he is at the exact same angle as his bike.
Once you have entered the corner or rut, the next step is to sit and get your inside leg out towards the front wheel. Keeping your leg towards the front wheel will allow you to lean your bike into the corner while also providing balance. Sitting down and having your leg out should be one solid motion. As soon as your butt hits the seat, your leg should be out. The hardest part to conquering a rut is placing your bike at the same angle as the rut. Think of a slot car on a track, it has a slot that it stays in at all times, this concept is the same as getting your bike in the appropriate angle in the corner. If you can match that angle, your bike will follow the rut all the way through. As you begin to lean into the rut, be sure that your body is centered and that you are leaning slightly forward. At this point you should be weighting the outside peg. Weighting the outside peg is similar to what I mentioned earlier about loading the front end or compressing the suspension–this is the same concept. By applying weight on the outside peg, you are loading the rear suspension which is applying weight and further providing traction to the rear wheel. Being consistent with your throttle will allow you to keep momentum and most importantly keep from tipping over. If you fall over it is most likely because you let of the gas and lost your momentum. Keeping your leg up is important. If your leg touches the ground you have lifted your weight off the bike, which will cause the bike to unsettle. This is why you see a rider bobble throughout the corner once they have touched the ground with their inside foot. Remember, before the throttle is ever turned you should have completed each one of these steps so that once you are ready for the gas, nothing else is needed.
The main point to getting through a corner well is to set yourself up before you get to the turn. Look ahead and choose your line, get all braking done before the corner, not in the middle, and be smooth and consistent with the throttle all the way through the corner. If you chop the throttle, you are loosing momentum–if you are loosing momentum, you are loosing time.
About the Author:
Ryan Koontz Motocross Training (RKMX) is based out of the Mid-West and provides motocross riders with opportunities to enhance their riding abilities through both on the bike and off the bike training. Ryan Koontz is a former privateer professional motocross rider with over 15 years of motocross experience along with over 5 years of training motocross techniques. Using his experience and knowledge within motocross, RKMX Training offers several types of training for athletes who want to advance in the sport. Off-the-bike training is very important to having a well rounded training program, this is why RKMX has an off-the-bike training program that is led by a certified personal trainer who has a background in motocross and holds certifications in many aspects of athlete training. While a website is currently under construction for RKMX, you can find more information on their Facebook page or by contacting Ryan Koontz at RKMXtraining@aol.com. (www.facebook.com/RKMXtraining)
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