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Breakdown of the Perfect Corner

by Ryan Koontz, RKMX Training

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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.

photo: Cudby

Looking Ahead
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.

photo: Cudby

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.

photo: Cudby

Braking
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.

photo: Cudby

The Corner:
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)

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    gary bailey June 03, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Gary Bailey, The Professor of Motocross here, I read your post, Breakdown of the Perfect Corner with great interest as I am always looking to learn more about motocross and always interested to learn what others are teaching and why. I have a few differences of opinion as to your theories and I was hoping maybe you could help me understand your theories more. In over forty years of teaching, when my students tell me so and so taught me to do something this way, I always ask my students WHY did they tell you to do it that way? This helps me to learn and adopt those theories that a student can prove to me and to distinguish those that I do not feel are proven. I am a lifelong scholar of the sport and have learned some amazing things in the most remarkable of circumstances so in this spirit I would like to discuss a few points in your article. I will take them point by point for clarity.

    First, LOOKING AHEAD: I am not sure that looking 3 or 4 bike lengths is going to work the same if I am going 5 miles per hour as when I am doing 50 miles per hour. If I am at 5 miles per hour wouldn't it be better to look closer in front of me so that I can deal with what is right in front of me? Then, if I look only 3 or 4 bike lengths ahead at 40 or 50 miles per hour wouldn't things come up too fast to react to? I think the better rule and what I teach is to look 1 1/2 bike lengths per gear so the mind and reaction are about the same. I just don't see how it can always be a good idea to look 3 to 4 bike lengths at any speed.

    APPROACHING THE CORNER: If what you are saying is that sitting down early is never a good thing, then why doesn’t a flat tracker stand up on the straight away and then sit when he gets to the turn? I don't think there is a set rule for when you sit for a turn. Again, track conditions will dictate. If it is smooth going into the turn, then sitting and getting your leg out early can be a good thing. In fact, getting the leg out early will let you lay the bike over sooner and let you start thinking about making your turn. If you are still standing all the way to the turn, you can't lay the bike over until you sit down. Of course if the track is rough you can’t do this. But if the track is smooth, you can which is why flat trackers don't stand.

    As far as the leg out every time you are sitting, in reality you just don’t see this. I don't have my leg out the whole time I am riding my road bike and I don't see flat trackers with their leg out going down the straight- away nor do I see drag racers with their leg out. Just because you are sitting on a motorcycle, doesn’t mean you have to have your leg out.

    BRAKING: You say as we all know locking up the rear wheel will stop the bike quickly. This is not true. As a matter of a fact locking up the rear wheel starts the bike sliding and it takes a long time to get the bike to slow down and you have little to no control.
    As far as the front and rear brake, you are right that everyone needs to learn the importance of how to use them. But, as far as all braking should be done before you get to the turn, this is not correct. If you look closely at all the top riders, you will see that the front brake needs to be used all the way into the turn and sometimes using it a little all the way to the center of the turn will keep the front end down so the bike will corner better.

    As to the rear brake, there is no set rule as every corner is different. Not over-braking so that you keep a good momentum is the key here.

    TIP: This is the tip I think is most important. Don’t release the front brake too soon or too fast, as this will let the front end rebound too fast. Don’t release the front brake until you are set in the rut or berm, and then release it slowly.

    CORNER: The hardest part of handling a rut is keeping your momentum, don’t over- brake and don’t over accelerate do it smoothly. And the most important part of being smooth here is to be smooth on the clutch. As this is critical, I am not that any discussion could be complete without mentioning the clutch and how to use it.

  2. Gravatar
    simo8 June 04, 2011 at 12:47 am

    This is what I love about motocross. Here are 2 slightly different opinions on how to take corners and both are very informative and helpful, but the beauty of motocross is there is no set style. By this I mean imagine both Chad Reed and Ricky Carmichael taking the same corner. Chad being Chad will be smooth and precise with his technique, body position etc, whereas Ricky you can bet will throw the rule book over his left shoulder and just blow through there with little thought to technique other than how far the throttle cable will stretch, but the end result is both will be extremely quick and the beauty is they each have their own way of making it work. I like these articles, keep up the good work.

  3. Gravatar
    Ryan Koontz June 04, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Gary,

    It is great you have extended your experience and personal opinions to my article about cornering. You are a very creditable trainer and I value what you have to say.

    I would like to start out by saying that with my experience both in racing and teaching motocross, I can confidently speak that I believe motocross training is not a “one size fits all” concept. Though, I stand behind my methods of training, I do feel that what may work for rider “A” may not work for rider “B.” With this being said, I am confident there is a right way and a wrong way to ride motocross. Each time I hold a training session, I inform my riders that there are other trainers out there who have different opinions. Though not all of them may be correct or agree with what I teach, I still encourage riders to be open-minded. I too ask for the “WHY” when my riders tell me that, “so and so” told them they should do it this particular way. Usually, there is not much that backs their reasoning for teaching those particular techniques. I, on the other hand, would like to explain in further detail why I feel the teachings in my article are valid.

    LOOKING AHEAD: I understand your statements in regard to varying speeds when looking head. What I have found is that a combination of peripheral vision and depth perception are reasons a rider can look ahead an average of 3-4 bike lengths. This particular statement was more in regard to practicing this technique and becoming familiar with it. In my article I stressed the importance of looking far enough ahead and that the further you can look, the better it is for making smart decisions. As for slower speeds, I don’t necessarily agree that looking right in front, or 1 1/2 bike lengths is appropriate. Some corners on a motocross track, such as an off camber, could be slow enough that it could still require looking further ahead. If you were looking 1 1/2 bikes ahead, how would you be able to see a potential hazard further around the corner? A way that I can explain this point would be similar to driving. When driving in a vehicle, you often are looking, let’s say numerous cars ahead of you. Though I am looking up the road and my focus is on the object in front of me, I can still see things such as potholes, debris or other things and adjust accordingly regardless of speed and without ever taking away focus from the focus point.

    APPROACHING THE CORNER: I do not feel that your point in regard to sitting down too early is relevant. My article is focused on the teaching of this technique for motocross, not flat track or street bike riding. Though, I do believe there are similarities in other motorcycle racing, this would not be one of them. A flat track rider would have no reason to stand other than the possibility of lifting off of the seat to get over an unexpected object, such as a hay bale or part that has fallen of a bike. The aerodynamics is of high importance and the rider needs to remain on the seat to achieve this. Flat track and street bike riding require different techniques because of the design of the sport and cannot be related to my teaching in this article.

    First, your statement about being unable to lean your bike over while standing is incorrect. If you take a look at the picture in my article of Chad Reed, you can see that Chad is in an “attack position” and leaning the bike and his body as he approaches the corner. When taking a sweeping or tight corner, slightly leaning the bike with your body is a benefit to beginning your corner and can be done without sitting. By doing this, the rider is entering the rut or the corner at the same angle while being dominant over the bike and allowing them to be capable of handling anything that may be unexpected. Once the rider enters into the corner they will proceed to sit down while putting their leg out and continue to lay the bike over. Now granted, there is a certain limit to how much the bike can be leaned before it breaks its balancing point and requires the rider to sit and use their leg to help stabilize. Slight sweeping corners are a good example of the capability of leaning your bike without ever sitting down. The main point in my article is the lack of control a rider has when sitting.

    Second, sitting down too early with your leg out is also a disadvantage for the rider when they are entering a right-handed corner. If the rider is approaching a right-handed corner and they sit down too early with their leg out, they no longer have the ability to use the rear brake unless they lift their leg back up–which doesn’t make sense to me. A rider will have more stopping power when they can utilize the combination of both brakes. This is not possible if they sit early with their leg out in right-handed corners.

    By watching other riders and using my personal experiences, when a rider sits down too early, they are over anticipating the next obstacle. Therefore, often times the rider is “shutting down” or slowing too early because their body is telling them that it is time to slow down. If a rider can remain standing longer into the corner they have better control and are more confidence in handling the bike in an unstable situation.


    BRAKING: In my article I state that locking the rear brake would stop the bike quickly. I agree with you that less control will be a factor of locking the rear wheel, which was stated in my article. In certain circumstances I disagree with the fact that locking the rear wheel up will not slow you down sooner. In some instances I agree, such as wet conditions. If you were to use your rear brake only, and performed a stopping test where you compared the distance between locking the brakes up and dragging the rear brake (ensuring the rear wheel never locked up) your distance would be shorter when the wheel was in a complete stop. The friction is much higher in this case. Again, certain track conditions would be an important factor. Keep in mind that locking the rear wheel is never something that I encourage or support and is clear in my article.

    Your disagreeing with my statement in regard to “having your braking completed before you take the corner” would depend on how you are reading it. My point is that the rider should have their speed slowed enough that they no longer need to brake in the corner and can smoothly transition to the throttle. You are correct in stating the brakes are needed all the way into the corner, I am not disagreeing there. Toggling between the brakes and gas throughout the corner is what I am referring to. If the rider has not completely setup for the corner, it will result to loss of momentum and time. I agree that keeping the front end down in the rut is important, but this can be controlled by proper use of the clutch. Clutch techniques such as feathering will help minimize the front end from lifting when the rider is on the power, as well as smooth throttle control.

    This is a great debate and part of what I think motocross is all about. All of these points can blend themselves together and make a great rider.

  4. Gravatar
    Eric June 04, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Ryan;

    If I could interject a comment after reading your and Mr. Bailey's comments regarding braking: a locked wheel does not offer a higher degree of friction and thus a shorter stopping distance than a spinning wheel. A locked (sliding) wheel relies on kinetic friction to slow down, whereas a rolling wheel relies more on static friction....and static coefficients of friction are higher than kinetic. This is why cars have antilock braking systems; to keep the vehicles from turning into sliding sleds, so they stop sooner. You want the wheels to keep slightly turning, not completely stop, so the coefficient of friction stays static instead of turning kinetic.

    I bring all this up to say that your statement of stopping distance being shorter if the rear wheel is in a complete stop because the friction is higher is inaccurate. Now, there are some other physics-related issues occuring in your example since the rear of the bike would be unloading while trying to stop, so if you wanted a better experiment, you should try it with the front brake only. You will be able to stop in a shorter distance by NOT locking up the front brake than by locking it up and skidding it, and the reason is because you will use the static coefficient of friction between the front tire and the ground.

    Nice article otherwise, and good discussion and debate.

  5. Gravatar
    Ryan Koontz June 04, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks for further explanation on this, Eric. When writing this comment I thought about anti-lock brakes. I do understand that anti-lock brakes have been proven to be more effective and designed to prevent sliding and loss of control. I also agree that dragging the brake is more effective when trying to slowing down. It is a discussion that could be debated and numerous factors that could play a roll in certain outcomes. Thanks for chiming in on this.

  6. Gravatar
    Matt Fisher June 06, 2011 at 7:13 am

    When off-road, there are times that a locked up wheel will stop a vehicle faster than a turning one. This is because it can build up a small "berm" in front of the tire.

  7. Gravatar
    cole morse June 07, 2011 at 10:27 am

    ive attended the rkmx training program and it is awesome!!

  8. Gravatar
    Darrin Chapman June 08, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    I to have participated in the RKMX training !!!! I felt that the RKMX training was a great success!! Ryan provided a great class breaking down corners and jumps. I do feel like he has really helped me with my corners. I would highly recommend the RKMX training!!! Why i too agree that what works for one guy doesnt work for the next. That being said i felt that Ryans teaching gave me a better understanding of the fundamentals of corners. Thanks Ryan !!!!!

  9. Gravatar
    Stefan June 09, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Eric,

    ABS brakes are designed to keep the car in a straight line so the car dosn't loose control and run off the road. The reason the car slides out of control is because the locked wheels slow quiker than the ones that arn't causing the car to move in that direction. I think that a locked wheel provides more braking traction because it digs into the ground more. Next your agument of the front wheel sliding is in accurate.
    You are assuming the weight is positioned far enough back on the bike in which a rider would tuck the front end when trying to corner. So if you lent forward over the bars and pulled on the brake hard the bike would stop instantly and throw you over the bars disproving your theory. I do however agree in wet slippery conditions the bike will slide further. Also in some cases locking the back wheel is faster when sliding the rear wheel around in a tight corner such as in supercorss.
    And I agree with Ryan that standing into corners is alot better and less lazy. What was one of the only differences between most europeon riders and Stefan Everts apart from 10 world championships??
    PS MR Koontz don't be discouraged keep up the good work.

  10. Gravatar
    Ryan Koontz June 09, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Thanks for your input Stefan! I am not discouraged at all. As a motocross trainer, I realize that there are trainers who have different training methods, logics, theories and opinions. It is likely that most of these riders are using this site as their personal trainer, both on the bike and off the bike. For this reason, it is my opinion that Racer X VT has been created to not be centralized to one opinion or training method.

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 09, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks again for the contribution Ryan. Great discussion!

  12. Gravatar
    Eric June 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Stefan;

    I think Mr. Koontz wrote a very good article; I've never taken one of his classes, but for him to get an article on the RacerX site, he must be a good MX teacher, so my hat's off to him.

    Don't take this personally, but your ABS analysis is not correct, and neither is your point of the locked wheels providing more braking. ABS is not designed to keep the car in a straight line; direction of motion has nothing to do with ABS. My front-brake-only experiment was to be considered in a straight line, not during a corner; if you didn't grasp it fully, the point of the experiment was to show that a loaded wheel (i.e. the front wheel) would stop sooner if it was not locked up. This is harder to show when you try it by using the back wheel, because it unloads during stopping (your weight and the weight of the bike transfers forward onto the front wheel).

    It's not my personal theories that we're discussing here; it's basic physics that has been figured out since the days of Isaac Newton way back in the 1700s. You could disagree with me all day long but it wouldn't do any good, as I don't set the rules of physics. Everything is subject to them, even dirt bikes. : )

    Take care.

  13. Gravatar
    James February 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    As someone from Gary Bailey's era of motocross, I took a great interest in his comments on this article, as well as his disagreement with Ryan's methodology. By contrast, Ryan's comeback and explanantion of his methods were well written and supported by both his own experiences and the technology of modern motorcycles. That is not to say that Gary bailey's points weren't valid, as his wealth of experience riding and building tracks since the early days of our sport are legendary. The best conclusion would be that riders of today are indeed fortunate to have the input of two worthy professionals such as Gary and Ryan. This sort of discussion is what sustains our passion for the greatest athletic endeavor in the world. Hats off to them both!

  14. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I completely agree, James. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Gravatar
    Sean January 22, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Quite apart from the wealth of experience exhibited here and the great information about MX riding technique that was shared, I'd like to say how refreshing it was to read the gentlemanly and respectful way that two highly regarded trainers handled their disagreements. I wish other sites and forums exhibited half of the manners and consideration shown here.

  16. Gravatar
    mxtompkins44 November 07, 2013 at 8:17 am

    although I usually agree with Gary Bailey, I don't agree with his idea that flat trackers and moto gp styles of riding are parallel to mx. The bikes are different and the terrain is different. How often is a mx track smooth? What happens if your seated on your dirt bike and your hauling the mail into a turn and how do you fight the forces of braking that are pushing you forward if your seated?

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