words - Rob Smith
photos - Lou Martin
We've got some valid explanations

Dear Auntie Flo,

I'm new to riding and so I know I have a lot to learn about riding technique and staying safe. However, I have a question relating to the direction of bends. I've noticed that whenever I'm going around left-hand bends I feel like I'm in more control, and this makes me feel like left-handers are more fun.

On the other hand, whenever I go around right-handers I feel less confident. I first noticed this when I was doing my beginner's training, and my instructor said it was because I was more left brain orientated than right. I've spoken to my mates and they feel the same way. Why do we all feel happier with left-handers rather than right-handers?

Dear Barry,
Lovely to hear from you, isn't motorcycling fun? This is a question that I get asked all the time, and although a lot of people have different theories about the reasons why left-handers appear easier than rights, I'll try and explain the theories and reasons I believe apply in this situation.

You may recall that your instructor will have explained the theory of counter-steering, which is that when you're riding in a straight line and you want to go to the left you have to make the machine lean to the left. Obviously when you go right you have to lean the machine to the right. Changing direction and leaning are achieved best by pushing forwards on the handlebars with the corresponding end of the bar by using your hands. Therefore, if you want to go left, then you push forward on the left and to go right you push forward on the right. With me so far?

Good, what this does is turns the front wheel away from the direction you want to go for a split second. That's why it's called counter-steering; sounds weird doesn't it? Because the front steering assembly, which is comprised of the wheel, forks and steering head rotate at the front of the chassis in bearings, the chassis then starts to fall, or "leans" as we like to call it, to the left until we reach a point where you can balance the machine against its centrifugal force. Once that happens, the weight, tyre shape and gravity all work together with you steering to make the wheel come back and point around the bend to the left. Clever isn't it?

Getting back to your question. To push on the bar your brain has to send a signal to your hand via your arm, and it says "Okay hand, push forward", which of course your hand does. A nice and simple command. When you were learning and getting to grips with whole throttle, speed thing, your right hand was busy working the throttle backwards and forwards to go faster or slow down.

You probably even held it quite tightly to make sure it didn't run away with you. When the time came to go right, your brain then said to your right hand: "Okay right hand push on the bar - and work the throttle." Suddenly you're asking your hand to do two things -- something that is more complex and therefore more difficult than simply going left.

In actual fact, once you get used to it by setting your speed early and therefore performing the counter-steer as a separate function, it's no different to going left.

However, it doesn't end there. As human beings, we are generally risk averse, or to put it another way: we don't like things that will hurt us. As a general rule though, young men such as yourself are more willing to take risks than us old codgers.

Now then, consider this. When you sit on your motorcycle, depending on the type of machine, the top of your head might be approximately 1.7m from the ground, or vertically from the point between where the tyres touch the ground.

If you were to fall over to a horizontal position, you could only fall 90 degrees from vertical and your head in theory would still be 1.7m from the bottom of the tyres. Therefore, if you were to lean to maybe 30 degrees, then your head would be lower to the ground, but about 800-850mm along the horizontal axis, which is half your height. In simple terms this means if you were to run your tyres close to the centre line of a road on a constant radius bend with a lean angle of somewhere around 30 degrees, then your head would be about 800mm into the oncoming carriageway, give or take a bit of suspension compression.

So what does this mean relative to your question? Well, assuming we use the time-honoured method of starting wide and then moving across the carriageway to an apex point, and assuming we'd like to keep our heads out of trouble, not only do we move towards potential threats from oncoming traffic, but the width of road available for cornering on right-hand bends is significantly less than for left-handers. How is this so?

Let's assume that you have a country road where your carriageway is 4m wide with maybe 3.8m between the edge line and the centre line. You are approaching a right-hand bend so you position yourself in preparation on the left-hand side of the carriageway. This is usually the left-hand wheel track and may be 300mm from the actual edge of the bitumen. This means you now have 3.5m of carriageway to operate in. As there's oncoming traffic, you cannot put your head over the centre line, so you must allow at least 1m from the centre line to accommodate your lean, and you now have 2.5m to operate in. Then factor in another 500mm of separation at least and the path of operation for the right-hand bend is actually reduced to about 2m.

Compare this with a left-hander where you still have 4m overall and a usable 3.8. On the approach to the left-hander you position your tyres 500mm from the centre line and then proceed to turn in, running your tyres right to the edge line because there is room on the left to let your body and head lean beyond the limits of the actual road. This means the left-hander affords a 3.3m path of operation and it moves you away from oncoming hazards, which of course is much nicer and much more comfortable than right-handers.

Barry I hope this helps. As I said at the start, the above is my theory and others may have equally valid explanations. My final piece of advice is that when offered advice, apply the commonsense test -- ask lots of questions and, above all else, remember that 90 percent of riding takes place in the head.

Stay safe,

Auntie Flo

To comment on this article click here Published : Monday, 5 April 2010
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