This blog post might be the first time you have come across the term “counter steering”, or maybe you’ve heard of it but think “pfffft I don’t need to do that in order to steer MY motorcycle! I just lean it over!” – but here is the honest and total truth: in order for the motorcycle to turn at higher speeds, you must counter steer, whether you realize you are doing it or not. Consciously counter-steering, and practicing it will open up a whole new world to you as a rider because it enables incredibly precise, quick and effective turning – far more than using your body to lean the motorcycle over will ever achieve.
To briefly explain, once the motorcycle is going of a sufficient speed for the gyroscopic effect of the wheels to take over from gravity (around 15 – 20mph), to steer the motorcycle quickly, accurately and effectively requires you to counter-steer it. For everybody, this action is something we intrinsically learn when riding a bicycle, and it happens naturally to a small degree as you lean the motorcycle over, but not many folks actually make the conscious effort to do it. In a car, the concept of CS does not apply at any speed. Cars steer left to turn left, and right to turn right, but counter-steering is opposite to this. You steer left to turn right and right to turn left. There is no better illustration of counter-steering than the image atop this blog post of a speedway rider. He is well into a sharp left-hand bend, but which may are the bars turned? Hard over to the RIGHT!
Making a conscious effort to counter-steer is actually incredibly easy and all riders could and should try it. To start off and feel the maximum effect from your steering input, keep your body as neutral as possible when turning. To counter-steer the motorcycle – simply push up / forwards on the side of the bar you want the bike to turn, i.e. push the bar away from you. So if you are coming up to a right-hand bend, push the right side of the bar away from you. For a left-hand bend, push the left-hand side of the bar away from you. Simply put: to go left, push left, to go right, push right. These movements are small – do not do a great lunging push or you will literally counter-steer off the road! Not only are these movements small, but they take absolutely no effort or muscle-power to achieve. Check out this excellent counter-steering explanation and demonstration video where counter-steering is initiated by using just one finger! What you will notice, is even the tiniest push on the bar will initiate a lean. The more you press, the quicker and sharper the bike will lean and turn, and it is for this reason that counter-steering is such an effective steering method. As you become more accomplished at CS, you can also use your body weight as the weight distribution of your body, plus the effect of counter-steering will maximize steering.
If there is any doubt left about the effect of counter-steering on a motorcycle, look no further than the California Superbike School. They built a special “no body steer” bike where a second set of fixed handlebars were welded onto the chassis. The bars are fixed / immobile and as such, were not connected to the steering column so the rider cannot steer or counter-steer the bike at all when using them. Instead, they can only steer the bike by using their body to lean the motorcycle over, and the video below shows how difficult and ineffective steering via leaning
Most folks steer the bike by leaning, which induces a small amount of counter steer naturally and this is usually enough to get them round whatever corner they need. The problem is in situations when more counter-steering is needed, there is no input from the rider to correct this, and that’s when accidents happen – often needlessly. For example, coming into a turn too hot, or in a turn that tightens up unexpectedly. The solution? Look at your exit, push up a bit more on the bar whichever way the bike needs to turn, and counter-steer your way out. The bike will go. The reality? Panic, grab a handful of brake, look where you’re about to crash and stand the bike up in the middle of the turn. The bike will crash.
As you practice counter-steering more and become more accustomed to steering the bike using this method, you will find your motorcycle will effortlessly turn and corner at speeds you previously thought were unreachable. It is also a hugely effective tool for hazard perception and avoidance as it allows you to steer the bike away and out of trouble far more quickly and accurately than leaning it ever could.