TOTW: Fine-tune your steering, with your throttle

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the concept?

Sometimes you need to make small-scale steering adjustments at the same time as executing a large-scale steering manoeuvre.

For example, you might be in a curve and, while steering around the curve, want to change your lane position slightly to avoid a suspicious patch on the road ahead. Going around the curve is the “large-scale steering manoeuvre” and moving in your lane is the “small-scale manoeuvre.”

Of course you can use the handlebars to make the small steering adjustment. But you have another option, and it can be very effective.

Throttle steering

Think about this:

Imagine you’re driving in a large, perfect circle, on a flat parking lot. You’re at a constant speed and lean, and you’re not moving the handle bars. You could go around like this all day.

Now, what if you accelerate slightly, but change nothing else? Can you see that the circle you’re tracing will get slightly larger? Tie a weight to an elastic and whirl it about your head. Increase speed and the circle gets larger.

Conversely, if you decrease your speed, but change nothing else, the circle you are tracing will get slightly smaller.

A curve is just part of a circle (or some other shape). So if you change speed while in a curve, you will “change the size of the circle you are tracing.”

That’s why you have to correct your steering if you find yourself braking or accelerating in a curve — to ensure you don’t change lane position by changing the size of the circle.

But in our example above, we wanted to change lane position. So, in addition to moving the bars, we could change lane position by keeping the steering constant and changing speed. That’s “throttle steering.”

If you accelerate while turning, you make the circle bigger, and the bike will smoothly drift toward the outside of the curve. If you decelerate, the circle will shrink, and the bike will smoothly drift toward the inside of the curve.

Try it

Find a quite, constant-radius curve with good pavement, no debris, and a clear view of possible dangers. No cows nearby. A paved, quiet country road is great. A curve marked out in an empty parking lot, with the owner’s permission, is even better.

Practice driving the centre of the lane around your curve at a constant speed and with one smooth steering input, until you can trace the curve smoothly.

Now try it again, but roll on the throttle, slightly and smoothly, halfway through the curve, without changing your handlebar position. You’ll find the bike moves to the outside of the lane.

Try it again, but smoothly back off the throttle. The bike will move toward the inside.

Although we are using an obstacle to illustrate this technique, real obstacles (especially large ones encountered by surprise) may call for more direct control, such as a steering-induced swerve. Throttle steering, on the other hand, is ideal for adjusting your lane position when combined with changing speed, such as you might do when moving from the inside to the outside of your lane while accelerating out of a curve.

With practice, you’ll find yourself doing combined lane position — speed adjustments with a single control input, your throttle, rather than having to adjust the two independently.


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