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Do cruisers really turn corners?

Harley-Davidson greenies safety recall
Project Rushmore

This video is proof that a competent and committed rider can make a cruiser turn sharp corners, even with a lack of clearance and “slow” steering geometry.

It features a rider on a Harley-Davidson Dyna carving the canyons on Mulholland Highway in LA through an infamous section called the Snake where videographers often line up to film riders coming to grief.

He is videoed by a sportsbike rider and in short time the Sportster rider overtakes another sportsbike before carving into the blind corners and keeping the videographer in his wake.

He runs out of clearance on one of the corners which lifts the rear wheel slightly causing it to drift sideways. He keeps the power on and reclaims control.

We certainly don’t recommend hanging out of the seat of a big cruiser and testing its clearance limits. The result can be as depicted in the video below from prolific Mulholland videographer “R nickeymouse”.

I get fairly tired of defending cruisers for their lack of cornering.

Yes, tight corners can be a bit of a chore and sudden surprises like the one above can be unnerving and lead to disaster.

However, just because you ride a cruiser doesn’t mean you have to roll around the corners like Miss Daisy.

I’ve chased several experienced cruiser riders and been amazed at how quickly they can turn corners without any dramas. Not as fast as a sportsbike, but the effort can be rewarding and fun!
Indian Chief corners

Obviously the low clearance is the major problem. What makes this worse is the long wheelbase, forward foot controls, plush suspension, long and low pipes, raked-out forks and even low panniers.

It seems everything is against rapid cornering. But you’ve got to work with what you’ve got and make the best of it.

You can make things a little easier on yourself by adjusting the rear shock and spring for greater stiffness and damping, and keeping luggage weight off the rear end. There is not much you can do about the clearance issues.

For a while I tried using my foot to pull up the inside peg just before going around a corner, but it’s pointless. Scraping pegs is not the problem as they usually pivot upwards, anyway.

It’s the hard furniture – sidestands, exhausts and various brackets – underneath the bike that cause the main issues.

The problem isn’t so much static lean angle as dynamic lean angle. Static lean angle is the angle at which the bike can tilt when standing still before something touches the ground. Dynamic lean angle is the angle where things start to touch when moving.Yamaha Bolt corners

Plush suspension, bumps in the road surface, luggage weight and riding style can substantially affect the dynamic lean angle, usually making it worse.

This became evident to me on the launch of Harley-Davidson’s new Touring machines in Colorado in 2013. They talked about how the dynamic lean angle had been improved by a stiffer chassis and front forks, despite the static lean angle remaining the same.

I pondered this for a while, spoke to several cruiser riders about their riding style and have since put my theories to the test on several cruisers and cruiser-style tourers.

Indian Chief Vintage cornersFIVE TIPS

  1. The first idea is to have the bike as high on its suspension as possible when cornering for the best clearance. Any braking makes the bike sit down on its suspension. Front braking compresses the forks, but raises the rear and vice versa. So the first point to make is that you need to get all your braking over with before entering the corner. No trail braking, either, as Mick Doohan says in his “Sixth Sense series of safe-riding videos.
  2. On the reverse side, acceleration makes the bike lift a little on its front suspension and very minimally squat on the rear. So the second point is that you need to hold slightly throttle through the corner. That means selecting and engaging the right gear before you initiate the turn-in.
  3. The sound of foot pegs scraping across the road are usually an indication that you are nearing the maximum lean angle, so use that as a gauge. You do not want to be scraping the foot pegs on the entry to the apex. If the corner tightens and you need to tighten your arc, the only way to do that is with more lean angle and you have almost run out of that. Hitting the brakes will also make matters worse as it will compress suspension and reduce clearance. Having selected a low gear means that you can tighten your line by simply rolling off a little throttle. One of the joys of low clearance cruisers is constant radius corners. They can be a heap of fun as you can hold the foot peg on the ground all the way around the bend, knowing you are very close to the lean limit.
  4. The next point is that you need to make the corner arc as big as possible without running wide on the exit. The bigger the corner arc, the less lean angle you need. That means a late turn-in with an early apex. That way, you will also see further around the corner and have an earlier indication of whether you need to tighten your arc or open up your line. But beware of the sudden flick into the corner as this will load the front forks. Turn smoothly into the corner so the suspension is not compressed.
  5. Finally, to make a bike turn more than its lean angle, you need to shift your weight to the inside of the bike but not necessarily as dramatically as the guy in the top video. Getting your knee down on a cruiser is pretty much out of the question because of the riding position and height of the bars. However, you can help a little by moving your body position forward and inside by sitting up straight, then leaning the top of your body toward the inside mirror as you turn into the corner. Leaning your body doesn’t have a huge impact on steering or cornering, but it will give you those few precious millimetres of clearance to complete the turn without drama.

These same techniques apply for just about any bike, but with a few subtle differences. Practise them at slow speeds first and see if they suit your style and improve your clearance issues.

If you’ve got any further suggestions on cornering on a cruiser, please leave your comments in the box below.Project Rushmore - MY14 Rushmore Press Event - Denver CO RUSHMORE Presentation Stage corners

  1. Why do they keep building bikes that don’t go around bends? It’s not as if they haven’t had time to come up with a cruiser design that can lean a lot further.
    One of my pet hates is when form takes a higher priority that function! Take the ssangyong Actyon 2008 wagon for an example they made it look like a small hatch back and utterly destroyed the function I’ve driven one of these and they are a pretty good car to drive but try to get anything in the back other than a small bag of groceries and you can forget it and at nearly two metres tall and as wide as a truck it is not small so why give it such a tiny boot?
    To be stylish of course!
    This is why I’d never buy a Harley or keep one if given to me or any bike that is all style or heritage but no actual substance. If I wanted a stylish cruiser I’d get a motoguzzi.

  2. I’m also at a total loss as to why cruisers are built with such minimal ground clearance – apart from seat height, are there any advantages / reasons why they are built the way they are? Ducati’s Diavel proves you can have your feet forward and be able to lean into corners.

  3. Out of the harley range really the only bad
    handling model is the so called softail frame models
    The tourers and dyna’s actually handle pretty well
    and a fair few of the jap cruisers handle just as badly
    as the softails. There’s plenty of choices , if you
    don’t like it don’t buy it

  4. I saw a race for 883 “Sportsters” during a WSB meeting at Phillip Island one year. That was the most comical bike racing I’ve ever seen! Watching those Harley Davidsons getting all out of shape trying to get around the bends was the highlight of the meeting.

  5. Good work that bloke! Obviously he can ride a bike and this is not his first rodeo. Pity more cruiser riders don’t work on their skills to a similar, but perhaps more sane, level.

    Al, next time someone gives you a Harley, i’ll gladly accept it on your behalf. You stick with your Ssangyong station wagon, whatever that is.

    It’s all horses for courses. Try your Yamaguchi on a dirt oval track against a Harley XR750 and see who’s got function.

  6. Sure, the guy on the Dyna can ride it pretty hard. But as you see at 1:11, he loses rear traction big-time, and only catches by sheer luck. It’s clear that he’s pushing at the absolute limit of the bike’s capability in every corner. Why? Just to “prove” he can keep up with the sportsbikes (which are at minimum effort, with plenty of margin for error). The sportsbikes are still capable of handling surprises, tightening corners, animals on the road, etc.
    All this proves is:
    1. If you’re good and try hard, you can use an inappropriate bike, but it will be faster, easier, and safer, with a better bike.
    2. The fastest guy is always the most suicidal one.

  7. I must admit I have often criticized cruisers for their lack of cornering ability & in the case of Japanese copies (my wife had a VN900) their inability to rev, I couldn’t see why the retro thing had to go so far that a 900cc V twin should perform like a 1970’s XT500? But once I got my head around the word cruiser it all fell into place – cruisers allow us to take a slice of life in the slow lane and whilst I hope to always own & do justice to high performing sports & sport touring bikes, I occasionally take a slow ride on the missuses Sportster, revel in the torque & sound and cruse.

  8. The biggest problem cruisers have is the centre of gravity is so low that significantly more lean angle is required for a given corner at a given speed. Even with raised footpegs and other hard parts relocated, they can’t maintain the corner speed of a modern sports tourer, let alone a proper sportsbike. Consider that the fun of having the bike on the edge occurs at a much lower speed, cruisers become hooligan toys without vastly exceeding speed limits. My old XV535 was remarkably capable and a barrel of laughs but utterly eclipsed as competent transport by a modern naked or half faired bike of modest performance.

  9. Yeah… You idiots stick to your sport bikes and I’ll be staying on my Indian. We can meet up in twenty years to see who is still breathing and who died trying to prove their machine was the “greatest”. I know which one I’ll be.

  10. Interesting idea trying to get a cruiser to go as fast around corners as a sports bike….
    Won’t happen.
    Mass, CG, lean angles, rake/trail all conspire against the cruiser., and any rider trying to push the limits is compromising safety (their own and others). Look at the lines in the video where the cam is following the cruiser – breaking traction and power sliding around the right hander is one example, the rider having his head over the centre-line on the left hander is another. The rider is attempting to take a racing line on a public road in order to maintain a pace. Not smart riding.
    If you want to ride curves – get a bike that can.
    If you are on a cruiser and find you’re in curves, ride them within the parameters of the design of the bike.
    The points above about riding corners apply to all bikes, but for a cruiser, the intended speeds are SLOWER.

  11. I ride a Vulcan Nomad 1600, somewhat modified and stripped down and she is an absolute joy to ride.

    I also ride a Tiger 1200 and prefer the Vulcan for just cruising and guess what that’s what they are designed to do and it does it very well

    The Tiger is my long distance touring machine and guess what it does that really well.

    Ride each bike for what it is and stop bagging the shit out of bikes you’ve never ridden. Let’s be a collective group of riders and love bikes no matter what they are.

  12. Ok both riders in those videos are complete idiots. But still don’t bag a bike until you’ve ridden its style.

    You may just like a cruiser if you ride one and cruise riders may just like other style.of bikes too.

    I love riding them all…

  13. You can have fun in some cruiser. I have a Kawasaki Mean Streak 2006. With performance tires, shocks and fork custom build and set up. But the Word is fun. I been involve in motorcycle races all My live. I still do exercise, practice corner, braking and acceleration etc. at least once a week. I run motorcycle every day. I know My limits and the motorcycle limits. I Will go 90% of the limit no more and know exactly we’re are they. I do not take risk at all. I really know what I am doin and can have some fun.

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