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Five riding tips: How to corner on a cruiser

You’ve committed to a corner, your big V-twin cruiser is leaned over and all of a sudden you hit a bit of a dip in the road surface.

The next few moments leave you with sweaty palms and a racing heart at the least … in hospital at the worst!

The foot pegs dig into the tarmac, then the exhaust scrapes across the surface, then the side stand hits the ground.

That lifts the rear wheel off the ground and the back tyre skips sideways which stands the bike up and sends you wide in the corner …

I love riding a cruiser, but cornering can be a bit of a chore and sudden surprises like the one I just describe 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.
Hinch009 copyI’ve chased several experienced cruiser riders and been amazed at how quickly they can corner without any dramas.

After many years of trying to perfect the technique, I think I’ve discovered a few clues to safer and faster cruiser cornering.

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 corner

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 this year. 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 then put my theories to the test on the Street Glide I am currently testing. Read my review here.

Hinch014 copy cornerFIVE 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.
  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 be slightly accelerating 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 but 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 a sooner 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. Now, 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 corner

  1. Tip 6: get a bike that goes around corners without scraping so you can find the edge grip limit of the tyres. You can also ‘cruise’ on such a bike.

  2. I find the best way to corner a raked out cruiser is like your riding a speedway bike.
    1. Push ur inside peg towards the crn
    2. Shift your body weight to the opposite side of the seat.
    3. Once ur in the corner turn your handlebars like ur opposite locking them.
    4. On exit from the corner just shift ur body weight back to the centre if the seat and the bike will stand itself up.

  3. The main issue with lean angles is you need to know the angle into the lean then you can use the bikes weight and momentum to slingshot around.
    Shifting weight will help but it is time cruisers were designed for the average road and not some Harley Davison straight test road.
    Warning…..If you have been riding a standard bike all your life in the seat you WILL NOT take to cruisers in a few weeks, it will take months if not years and if you do not fall of..good but your nerves will get you sooner or later and you will switch back to a standard bike

    1. It may not take years, but your are right about riders having to adjust to get used to the bikes. Without training it could take a long time. That is why we are giving away a free cruiser rider training course. Click on the competition banner at the top of the screen and enter the competition and you could win the course.

  4. Cruiser riders generally are not concerned about lean angles and speedway techniques through corners. They are more interested in how their bikes looks and sounds while enjoying the ride.

    1. Actually Peter, cruiser riders like myself are just tired of leaning forward, humping the gas tank, staring at the pavement. I prefer sitting angled back slightly, giving me a more scenic view of where I’m riding. I still enjoy cornering as steeply as I can take it.
      To each his own.

      1. Exactly! I must admit to being more of a cruiser lover these days, especially when the scenery is good. But I’m in the privileged position of being able to ride a number of different types of bike (trike and scooter) and I love ’em all, but for different reasons.

  5. I’m continually amazed at just how fast I can corner my Indian Chief Classic. Being my first cruiser, I’m able to adapt my sport bike and ADV bike riding techniques to the cruiser. When I really want to push it, I lean my shoulders off the inside of the Chief decreasing the amount of bike lean necessary to make the corner, and she rails corners a lot quicker than if you lean with the bike, or, ‘counter balance’ the bike a-la MX style. As with all bike riding, its all about body positioning and bike control.

  6. I have never ridden a sport bike. I have only ever ridden cruisers. My first was a Yamaha VStar and it rode like a dream. Cornered very well and hugged the road like mad. It would definitely scrape if leaned too far and that can be an unsettling feeling the first time it happens. My HD Dyna on the other hand is no where near as low so I’ve pushed it to the point where I have cut my lower pipe very sharply thrashing curves. I just bought an electraglide and look forward to seeing what I can do with it. The most important advice I can offer from my experience is to not jerk up instinctly when something touches the ground. Know your limits!

  7. I agree with what was written and a couple of the things were not mentioned…shifting your weight, pressing on the pegs, braking are all components of leaning the bike into a corner. What’s more important is to apply counter-steering. It’s what makes the bike lean like it’s on rails. The bike leans more as more counter-steering is applied. Apply it aggressively and the bike respond quickly and you can click it side to side.

  8. I agree with everything in the article with 3 caveats…
    1. You can pick-up quite a lot of dynamic lean angle by shifting your butt to the inside to the point it is actually off the seat and as much of your weight on the inside foot as you can manage and keep the outside knee off the seat or as lightly touching as possible. (This is hard to do with feet forward controls) To do this you must practice hooking the outside foot on the inside of the foot pegs/boards and tightly to the fram/engine. This puts all your weight as low and inside the bikes lean. Basically your transferring all your weight to your feet. The more of your weight you can transfer to the inside of the corner and as low down as possible the more lean angle you will have available. In my prime I would move my outside foot to the inside passenger foot peg, transferring my weight as low and inside as possible. I would also put more weight on the rear peg to move the center of gravity rearward taking some of the weight off the front end, allowing greater clearance. (This is not a technique for a novice rider and if you intend to use it, practice it at low speed with FULL and good riding gear) If you lean it over too far you can cause the bike to slide out from under you. If it starts to slide out you will feel your weight on your feet start to lighten up and you need to add a little throttle or widen your turn and let the bike stand up more.
    2. Make the bike do most of the work while corning by counter steering. i.e. push on the inside handle bar, the bike will naturally lean over and turn in that direction. Example: going in a straight line, and you want to turn right, gently push the ride side hand grip forward. The more you push it forward the more the bike will lean and move the bike in the direction you want to go.
    3. This is the absolute MUST do while corning! Not doing this is the single greatest cause of motorcycle accidents where the cyclist is at fault… LOOK!!!! WERE YOU WANT THE BIKE TO GO!!!. (i.e. look as far down the road and around the curve as possible). Most Motorcycle accidents, due to rider error, are caused by “TARGET FIXATION”! The rider takes their eyes off the road and where he wants to go, to look at something he wants to avoid, resulting in the bike running into the thing they were trying to avoid.
    Be safe and ride within your limits.

    1. This is very true…although hanging out your inside knee and elbow in every turn is a sure sign you started out riding on a “superbike” from the 80’s. I have to stop that old instinct every time I’m riding my cruiser in a nice canyon! Its still a great skill to acquire. By hanging off the bike roadrace-style,(sort of) you need to lean the bike that much less and will make it through an unexpectantly sharp turn which may otherwise have ruined your riding season.

  9. #4 in the article above seems incorrect, as written. Making the turn arc as large as possible requires earlier entry and later exit, not the opposite as is written. As written, the advice seems to suggest the best angle approaches a 90 degree turn, when just the opposite seems true to me.

    1. I like to approach the twisties with a straight-as-I-can-be line. This is easier when you use all three lines. For example, on a right hand curve, enter in lane position 1, round the apex in lane position 3, and throttle up while positioning back to lane position 1. On a serpentine, slow down, and use lane position 2 > 3 > 2. This allows you to setup for the next curve left or right.

      If you use the whole lane, your lean angle is less allowing for more speed.

  10. I would love to design a pin or some way to move my foot pegs up more for the major curvies. I ride a Harley Low Rider S hard and love to surprise the sport bikers out there. I hate the pegs scraping and I know the bike can lean more. I’ll figure out a way to make em higher. So I can have em flat for the slow days and move em up in the fly for the fast days. Anyway. Any thoughts from anyone? Does anyone else want this too?

    1. The pegs already have a hinge, and you don´t want them higher, otherwise you´ll scrape something else (exhaust etc) and that´ll be dangerous. Get taller shocks, that´s the only proper remedy. And put some titanium ends on the pegs and it´ll look pretty cool when you scrape them!

  11. I always seem to bend or lose my right foot peg and my exhaust seems to have butt cancer on the bottom side….but I cant stop making that funny grating noise on the street corners in town I love the way the pedestrians run to the other side of the sidewalks!

  12. I may be mixing three riding styles and I’m talking about a cruiser, so it’s just slightly wonky in curves.

    I started on dirt bikes, went to a sport bike, now I’m on cruisers. I think I might be using a little of a dirt bike technique, but I find even with the odd, kind of sensitive steering, if I hang off the bike and stand it up a little, I feel more comfortable.

    Feels like my center of gravity is low and inside the turn, pulling the bike, and with my weight pushing on the peg and me keeping more of the tire on the road, I can lever the bike and dramatically change the speed of the turn, the rotation around the y axis, if you get me. I gotta work the handlebars so I’m not turning the wheel much, and I just push the bars away or towards me, and I’m good. Or I stay on the seat and turn the tire a little this way or that, while I’m leaning, and the bike gets a little scary and crazy.

  13. Great heads-ups on here. I found the only way of cornering in London where the street corners have humps,bollards all sorts,and are sometimes very tight is to 1]be in the right gear 3 seconds before you arrive at it,enter with trail brake /clutch feather 2] keep the revs very steady as you let the bike pull you in n even arc around the corner, always keeping your eye on the exit line smoothly,ease throttling out of the corner. As a veteran rider,i personally have found that all of the five medium wieght cruisers i have ridden are basically the same in handling. Fairly tricky in the city where road and traffic conditions /events happen suddenly. The longer design makes for difficult handling in situations where you need fast and neat manouverablity. Perfect for the open road where comfort is important for long trips. This in no way i claim to be in any way a correct system but i find it works for me and gives me the best control possible for any corner situation. Having dropped a cruiser on a couple of tight corners in the old days,due to a sudden stop,i had to find the best way to get much better control in cornering. Cruisers have the engine weight in front of you ,thats where my change of mindset started. Once you realise you are kind of being pulled arounf the corner[in a way] then you’ll get it. With standard or race machines it feels more like you are part of the bike whereas on a cruiser you are on a machine. adjust your head an enjoy whatever you ride. standard racebikes thrust forward as in push wheras cruisers have a “pull” feel. IMO

  14. I appreciate the tips that you have listed here on how to turn better on a motorcycle. Just like you have mentioned, you can make things a little bit easier for yourself by adjusting the rear shock and spring for greater stiffness and damping, which would allow you to turn more effectively. I have always wanted a motorcycle, and I think that this piece of information would definitely help me to ride to my full potential. Thanks again for the post!

  15. Look where your going. NOT where your at!
    Work on the technique Eric Smith talked about earlier. For example: your going into a right hand turn, lean with the bike, if you need to get lower.. then VERY slightly PUSH the right grip away from you smoothly and the bike will lean more. As you start to exit the turn, you can PULL the right grip towards you..Smoothly!
    Go to an open parking lot or somewhere you can slowly practice this technique. I use it every time I get into a tight turn.

    1. I may need to practice this on my bike as I can’t get my head around it in front of my computer. You say if you are going into a RIGHT HAND TURN, to get lower push the RIGHT GRIP away . . as you exit pull the RIGHT GRIP towards you. For some reason I can’t relate pushing the right grip away from me to lean more in a right hand turn or pulling it towards me as I exit.

      1. Counter steering. Drive straight on the bike and turn the bars to the right easily. The bike will naturally lean opposite. So to increase your lean one way or the other put opposite pressure in the bars. Think of the bike as your body in a car. If You turn right at high speeds it forces your body to the left.

  16. Hi. I’ve recently changed from a ‘86 XT600 to a 2010 Road King which I use on my local road here in Portugal that has 360 curves in a 30 mile run.
    It may sound odd but the most effective, stable and therefore enjoyable way for me to take any bend is with a gentle mix of throttle and trailing rear brake (only). There seems to be a tremendous amount of control and in a little known curve up to a hairpin I can adjust the speed and angle mid curve if necessary.
    I’ve put a few hundred miles like this and no slip so far. The power never goes completely from the rear wheel so no transition from power off to power on and the resulting jerk.
    For sure I’m not going fast but then you never know when there’s a camper van, tractor or car over the solid white line.
    Curves are where it’s all at and this has taken away all my fears and made riding hugely enjoyable.

  17. Acceleration will actually make the rear lift up, it’s true for chain, belt and shaft drives. Pretty much most riders are out ridden by their own bikes, no matter whether its a super sport or a cruiser.

  18. Using the back brake causes the bike to squat? People who know even less than you deserve better. Your epitaph will be a long skid mark.i

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