March 16 2010 by Jason Fogelson
Spring is just about here. And motorcycle-riding season is not far behind. Now is a good time to think about your riding skills. One of the most important aspects of riding, and one of the least understood, is countersteering.
According to David Hough's great book, Proficient Motorcycling , countersteering is "a method of controlling and balancing a bike as it initiates a turn in which the handlebars are momentarily turned in the opposite direction the rider intends to go."
When I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced RiderCourse (ERC), my instructor introduced the concept of countersteering by describing the action as "pushing" on the handlebars on the side of the bike that you want to turn toward. Push forward on the left grip to initiate a left turn; push forward on the right grip to initiate a right turn. Once the bike has leaned, the rider's job is to manage the throttle, the brakes, the handlebars and his or her own body position to maintain a line through a turn. An addition mid-turn "push" on the inside bar can help to tighten a line. Like many physical actions, breaking down countersteering to its component parts makes it feel strange and awkward at first. But practice, repetition and time have made countersteering second nature for me.
Before I took the ERC, I thought I was a pretty good rider, and steering was second nature. I had never really broken down the process of steering. If I had, I would have thought that I just turned the handlebars in the direction I wanted to go, and the bike followed. But once I became aware of countersteering, I realized that using it consciously made my riding more precise and controlled. I also realized that using countersteering was the best way for me to initiate a quick move, like a swerve to avoid a pothole or other obstacle in the road. When I identify an obstacle that I want to avoid, I think "push left" or "push right," and my body responds.
There are some great articles on the web about contersteering. I found Ian Johnston's 2007 article very clear and well-written. The important thing is not to just understand countersteering, but to make it a conscious part of your riding. Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class. Get your bike out in a safe environment, like an empty parking lot, and experiment and practice at low speeds until you can feel how countersteering works. Talk to yourself while you ride, and break down the component parts of steering your bike until you can put them back together seamlessly and instinctively.
Understanding how you ride is the first step toward being a safer, better motorcyclist.