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Do motorcycles corner better than cars?

Mercedes and MV Agusta corner reckless
Mercedes and MV Agusta

Riders are often held up in corners by drivers, yet on a racetrack a car can corner at a much higher speed than a race bike.

Why is it so?

First, let’s look at the physics.

We also investigated how a car can brake faster than a motorcycle because it has four tyre contact patches versus two, a lower centre of gravity and higher aerodynamic downforces.


Corner speed

These same reasons also provide a car with more lateral grip so they can maintain higher cornering speeds.

So over a course with a series of corners, a car can be faster than a motorcycle.

For example, Jorge Lorenzo scored pole with his Yamaha at Phillip Island in 2013 with a lap time of 1:27.899 yet the outright Island lap record belongs to Simon Wills in a Reynard 94D at a massive 3.7 seconds faster.

Fuel economy tank slapper
Jeromy Moore

Again we contacted Jeromy Moore — a former Craig Lowndes race engineer, Porsche world endurance champion engineer and now chief engineer at Triple Eight Race Engineering — for a scientific explanation.

“A car should have more lateral acceleration potential due to more rubber,” he says. sells car care products and ceramic coatings.

“This is a big generalisation of course and you can find exceptions where, for example, a superbike can corner better than a family wagon.

“Also on tight roads, a bike is a smaller percentage of the road so it can manoeuvre through the same sequence of bends faster as the bike doesn’t need to do as tight a corner radius so the difference is reduced.”Slow moving vehicle pull over turnout sign traffic follow

Skill and thrill

It will also depend on the skill and commitment of a rider versus a driver.

While we hate to generalise and pigeonhole, we believe the following observations to be largely true.

As a proportion, more riders are likely to seek advanced training and practise their skills than a driver.

Riders are also more likely to ride for the thrill and concentrate on the task than a driver.

A Sunday driver with a carload of passengers has a totally different objective to a Sunday solo rider.Slow moving vehicle pull over turnout sign traffic

Drivers are more likely to be distracted by passengers, music and scenery. They will also drive at a smoother rate over a twisty course so they don’t make their passengers carsick.

So most riders will be faster through a series of bends than most drivers. Riders will brake later and harder going into a corner and accelerate earlier and harder coming out.

But if you plan to overtake a committed and talented driver in a car with all the modern handling, braking and traction control technology, think again.

  1. I think the only take home message one can get from this article and the braking article is that the old discrepancy between cars and bike is long passed.

  2. We need to remember that motorcyclists are also more susceptible to road surface and hazards as we have less grip than a car, especially when leaned over so we need to leave a margin for error and not ride at 110% of our ability.

  3. There are a couple of discrepancies in how a formula one car or similar and a super bike can handle a corner as opposed to a sports car and a street bike.
    On a racetrack cars can go ten tenths or even Evelyn tenths because they aren’t as likely to have a catastrophic accident as a bike if it looses grip often even when a car has an off it can rejoin the race and occasionally still go on to win. When a bike goes off 999999 times out of 100000 it’s game over so even the most committed rider will usually keep it under ten tenths.
    Most skilled riders can still out pace a sports car because the effective grip of the tyres is closer and a bikes mass is lower and it is very rare that you find a car driver with even half the skill and commitment of a rider. But beware of the looneys who become instant race drivers when they get behind the wheel.

  4. Interesting comments.
    Made me think. Get a rider that cannot think about crashing as it’s not an option. In short…crazy bastards that know how to ride. Isle of Man.
    Bike and car go balls out around there, and current records have the bike ahead by about 8kph more on lap records.
    I wonder if it’s that daredevil madness that gets them that extra umph.
    ..and respect.

  5. I’m not very convinced by this article, and have not read the braking article yet.

    I drive a 125 scooter and have ridden two wheels for about 5 years, since I was 16. I may be in the peak of dangerous hormone driven risk taking riding, but in my general experience, I can out corner almost anything I race through the twisty Arkansas roads.

    My scooter peaks about 75 mph top speed (modified final drive and aerodynamics), but in most curves can leave cars or trucks behind.

    I have raced my older brother’s mustang cougar in the tight curves, and our experience was that I could push about 60 mph in curves where his tires began sliding at about 55 mph.

    I have pushed 70 mph through a curve that my cousin peaks a little over 60 mph in his car.

    I have also raced some cruiser bikes and consistently out cornered them.

    But I am not sure how my scooter compares to a sport bike… I do have wet racing inspired soft tires, and have leaned over pretty steep in some curves.

    However, I have now crashed 4 times on the road, in one year… Yikes!
    3 times due to tire sliding around curves, 1 time due to front tire lock during fast breaking.

    I have become more cautious, with a son on the way 😉 , and a few too many crashes in recent history.

    I don’t really know whether cars or bikes handle better, but my limited experience has been that my two wheels slightly outmatch cars in tight curves.

    I believe the explanation is partly superior tire compounds and surface tread, and that you can follow better racing lines with a bike because it is thinner, and can shift more from one side of the road to the other.

    Ultimately race cars can take advantage of aerodynamic downforce, and outmatch bikes… But what I really wonder is how cars and motorcycles compare if neither benefit from aerodynamic downforce?

    My somewhat educated guess is that cars and bikes are very close to equal in cornering speed capability, but bikes have the slight advantage of grippier tires and better ability to cut corners.
    Cars have the advantage of increased driver confidence and are likely to push the limits more comfortably.

    1. A mustang cougar?
      How about a car that can go around corners?
      I have been racing cars for years at club level-Alfa Romeo-Caterham-Mini-BMW and also have a Vespa and Moto Guzzi. No way can a bike corner near the Caterham and me on a bike no where near any of the others either. On my local “morning run” roads the bikes will be way quicker out of the corner but i can drive around the outside of them mid corner without a problem.

  6. Okay, so I have some simple questions. If cars have higher contact patches, doesn’t that equate to more friction? And then, since a motorcycle can lean, to angles of upto 40 degrees for skilled road riders, won’t it just get in and get out of the corner faster than cars? And then again, with forces like understeer and oversteer not present in a motorcycle, doesn’t it make it better equipped for cornering? And then again, while cornering, even in sports cars, doesn’t the car run out wide while entering the corner? Please answer…

    1. I am not sure why you would think a bike does not understeer or oversteer, road bikes certainly do, dirt bikes do it all day every day, a look at MOTOGP will show them doing it for 50-100 meters on a regular basis. Why would they build varying levels of Traction Control if bikes did not oversteer.
      When cornering the higher friction is what you are after its called traction. Cars do generally suffer from a lower power to weight ratio that being a key reason why they cant stop or start as quick as a bike. So a bike and a car traveling at the same speed comes up to a corner, with better braking and tire combination (on a typical bike) the bike can brake much later but the car typically will have higher mid corner speed than the bike, the bike has better power to weight so gets back up to speed quicker.

  7. Well a recent Ducati ride day i attended at a tight and twisty track saw all road registered bikes slower than my comfortable quick lap in my road car and only a few race bikes quicker. They were quicker than me on the straights and out of the corners but corner entry speeds and mid corner speeds slower. Fear would play a part in this i would think but it would in the real world also. I can enter a corner too hot in my car and still be ok but i would do that on my bike.

  8. On the road I think motorcyclists push it harder as a bike is more comfortable cornering, in a car you are being pushed to the side, while a bike leaning is better (and more fun). I tend to agree with the article about limits of grip, it’s more about driver/rider attitude.

  9. Speaking as a “former hoon” ( now retired re old age :o) ) ….. having owned almost 50 motorbikes and having had a few “fairly wild custom V8’s” in the car categories as well – a-n-d having been “a naughty boy” from time to time ( in the past ) …. 😮 …. I’d have to say that “the AVERAGE bike / bike rider” can go faster / corner better than “the AVERAGE car / car driver” can ….. BUT ( and there’s ALWAYS “a butt” ) ….. there are a few in either category at the upper echelon’s of ability / performance ( BIG bikes & GOOD riders and performance cars with drivers capable of USING that “performance” … ) … but a far larger percentage of “less than capable” car drivers ( and similarly, less than adequate bike riders ) at the lower end of “the ability graph / curve” – as well
    It has been my observation that BIG ( powerful ) bikes tend to HAVE “better riders” on them “on average” ….. Why ?!? – because the ones who AREN’T “better riders” – tend to kill themselves off ( or stuff themselves up – BADLY ) fairly early in the piece … This is an area where Darwin’s observation and correct assertion of “Survival of the fittest / smartest / most capable” comes home to roost, rather obviously ….. But with respect to car drivers, this correlation of power & ability is less apparent,… as, whilst there seems to be no shortage of those who can AFFORD to buy that FAST car / performance vehicle,… a lower percentage seem capable of driving & controlling that “high performance vehicle” than the corresponding bike / bike rider scenario do.
    The “But I’m RICH – I MUST be a good / better than average driver !” comment leaps to mind for many of these types ….
    Alas,… arrogance, hubris, narcissism and sociopathy are not worthy substitutes for “ability” – as many soon discover…..
    “A fool and his ( or her ) money – are soon driving MORE car / plane / bike than they can handle” is an O-L-D and proven saying ! …. As I keep reminding a few famous / wealthy people I talk to – The laws of aerodynamics & physics do NOT “know” how famous and or wealthy you are – and they don’t give a rats arse about “HOW clever / capable / determined you are” – either …. you break their laws – and they WILL teach you a lesson … and a few have “found that out the HARD way” …
    ( at some point “The Dunning-Kruger Effect” HAS to be noted here as well ….. as : “Some people are just too stupid – to ever realise that they ARE, in fact – STUPID !” …. and THAT goes for bike and / or car users, the rich AND the poor alike ……. you CAN’T fix – “stupid” )
    BUT – if they aren’t b-a-d-l-y injured – they just go out and buy another rocket – and have another go at it …

    ( I passed on a job opportunity to work for Sam Chisolm many years back ( Sam ran Channel 9 for Kerry ( Packer ), at that time ) … and he worshiped the ground that Kerry walked on …..
    Sam told me a story where Kerry had paid $108,000 ( that was 2 year’s wages for me back then ) for a brand new “Godzilla” as they were known as – a twin turbo Nissan GT-R …. because he wanted “a fast toy” ….
    Sam said that Kerry got TWO streets from the dealership from where he bought the GTR – and lost control of it – and wrapped it around a telegraph post.
    Uninjured, Kerry walked BACK to the dealership – and said : “I need another one !” …. NEXT !!!

    I’ve got nothing against Kerry / Sam ( both gone now, anyway ) ….. just pointing out “the attitude – of some” – re FAST cars and their ability to control them …..

    Or, as Alan Moffat commented when interviewed about the two Asian dentists who came to Oz to take part in the Cannonball Run 26 years ago – in their brand new F40 Ferrari ( a brain damagingly expensive car at that time – $750,000 THEN, from memory ) – and who lost control of it – killing themselves and several race marshals in the process as well …. Whilst being interviewed about his thoughts re the crash and death toll – Alan succinctly and very “matter o’ factly” said : “A Ferrari owner is NOT necessarily, a Ferrari driver”

    When I ride ( which is often ) – I ride “BOTH defensively AND aggressively – at the same time …….. where needed”
    I tell others / new riders : “Always ride like you are INVISIBLE and to assume that you have NOT been seen by “that car / truck / other bike” and take appropriate measure to avoid becoming a statistic – you HAVE to THINK FOR THEM” ….. BUT – I also say that : “Sometimes you CAN’T “back out of a bad situation” ( which you shouldn’t have allowed yourself to get IN TO in the first place ! ) – so you, then, MUST take aggressive steps to get OUT of the now “bad situation” – accordingly” ….
    I’ve seen timid riders get themselves in to BAD situations – because of their fear / inability to take appropriate and aggressive steps to save themselves … :o(

    Yes – I’ve learned these lessons “mostly, the hard way” – and yes, I’m bolted together here ‘n there …… lost entire licenses – for doing nothing but wheelstands – sometimes for 6 or 7 minutes at a time – and in crazy places ( L-O-N-G story ) – and wrecked a few engines in the process ! ….. Done my share ( in my youth / stupidity ) of “departing” – when an officer of the law has wanted to pull me over for speeding / some transgression of the traffic code – and outrun highway pursuit vehicles down winding country roads – and all the idiocy that goes hand in hand with that behaviour …. and I’m amazed that I’m alive and / or that I’ve never had a high speed crash or injured anybody – to be honest !
    ( but I HAVE fallen off / slid down the road / and, been caught & booked – waaaaaay too many times :o(

    I’m an “old fart” now ….. still alive – and with new “bits” being replaced all too regularly these days …. but, I’m “still here” – and VERY aware that today’s car drivers’ skills AND manners for other road users are obviously and sadly in decline … :o(

    Stay SAFE and AWARE – everyone !!!
    ( and do what I say …………………………. NOT what I DID ! ………………………….. that hurts too much !!! )

  10. I ride bikes and i can tell you from my experience,is, if you have a talented driver in a sports car on a twisty stretch of road, he’s going to kick your arse. With all the electronic aids on these new cars,they steer like formula 1 cars and have heaps of grunt. While we are at the limit of our traction ,i.e. leaned over to the Max these things are still accelerating and holding there line like slot cars. Have some homicidal maniac in a car like this behind you,and see how much your arse hole is pukering. Just saying.

  11. I ride a Victory Cross Country. It was never meant to compete in WSBK, But it gets there soon enough. A sports car with a well- skilled driver might get past me on The Great Alpine Road…..but later be somewhat annoyed when I filter past him in a traffic jam in the next big town.

  12. It’s an old topic now but I’d like participate in the comments. There is one thing that everyone forgets to mention and it is the suspension. A car suspension can deal with road imperfections like it does on a straight however as the bike is leaning, it looses its ability to absorb any little bump loosing traction and control.

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