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Why Counter-steering
is so hard to understand

By: James R. Davis

One of the most difficult motorcycling concepts to teach is counter-steering. There are riders with 40 years of experience who don't even believe in it, and will argue the point endlessly. People who have never ridden a two-wheeled vehicle frankly simply CAN'T believe it works. And any detailed discussion of HOW it works is usually met with a deaf ear and blind eye - the audience being totally shut off. Educators insist that you must teach students using the simplest ideas first, then moving on to details once/if the student understands those fundamentals. Try that with counter-steering and all you get are students who think you are talking about motorcycle 'magic'.

The fact remains that counter-steering DOES work and is, by far, the most efficient and most effortless way to control the direction your motorcycle travels in.

I believe I have stumbled upon why it is that so many riders and especially non-riders have trouble with the concept of counter-steering. They think in terms of hard coupled mechanical devices.

Nothing wrong with that except that your motorcycle is anything but a hard-coupled mechanical device.

Specifically, when one of these people hears or reads that you initiate a turn to the right by pressing forward on the RIGHT grip of their handlebar, they can easily visualize that such action will result in the front wheel turning to the LEFT. What they apparently cannot then visualize is that the bike, by itself, pushes back against your right hand and TURNS THE FRONT WHEEL TO THE RIGHT as it also leans in that direction.

So, and they would be entirely correct for a hard coupled device, they are left with a mental image of the front wheel pointing to the left while the bike begins moving to the right - well on its way to hitting the ground!

Counter-steering is accomplished using feedback management, not raw strength or leverage or using body 'english' (lean or position).

Disregarding entirely the WHY of how it happens, let's just look at making a right-hand turn.

If you turned the front wheel to the left with some form of mechanical device (an electric motor and gears connected to the steering stem), THAT BIKE WOULD IMMEDIATELY FALL DOWN AS YOU BEGAN TO TURN.

Your body, however, REACTS to the push back delivered to your hand by the bike and ALLOWS the now left pointing handlebar to TURN TO THE RIGHT simply by MAINTAINING THE SAME AMOUNT OF PRESSURE ON IT, NOT BY INSISTING THAT THE AMOUNT OF MECHANICAL TRAVEL IMPARTED BE MAINTAINED. By maintaining the same amount of pressure you have ALLOWED the front wheel to be turned to the RIGHT BY THE BIKE.

No person without some experience riding a bike of some kind could possibly understand, at least not instinctively, how pressing on the right hand grip will result in a greater pressure pushing back (not the same amount) on that hand and, thus, that the motorcycle itself makes the front wheel change the direction it is pointing to toward the direction you actually want to go. Counter-steering becomes 'magic' to them, until they either experience it or have it explained in detail.

So much for the argument of keeping it simple.

Copyright 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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