How to turn a motorcycle – what is counter steering?

Counter steering it something you may do naturally when you ‘lean’ your bike, but being able to countersteer intentionally could save your life. Ask your fellow riders, what is countersteering, and see what they say.

In my motorbike training, when I was learning to ride, counter-steering wasn’t formally taught or even really mentioned. It is clear why : because counter steering can be a difficult concept for a new rider. The riding school instructors did not want to confuse students – because when you try to lean your motorcycle to turn, you naturally make the steering inputs needed to counter steer. Did you know this?

The next sentence, is one to commit to memory. It is all you need to know about counter steering. Practice it on the road, every single time you ride. This is my simple definition of what counter steering is:

Push the handlebar grip away from you on the leftthe bike will lean left and turn left, push the right grip away – the bike will lean right – and turn right. It is really as simple as pushing away from you on the side you want the motorcycle to lean towards.


So how do many riders naturally counter steer without knowing that they are doing it? It’s simple to explain this; when you shift your body weight to the left and try “make your weight lean your motorbike”, you end up pushing the left grip of your handlebar very slightly away from you! You ARE counter steering, your “body weight” is NOT leaning your motorbike. Getting a bike leaned over requires overcoming the powerful forces keeping the bike upright at speed—including inertia and the gyroscopic forces of spinning wheels. It is counter steering that leans your bike over.

The more power you put into counter steering (pushing that grip away from you) the harder the front tire pushes to lean the bike, and the quicker it will lean. The longer you hold pressure on the grip, the further over the bike will lean during the counter steering input.

You can stop reading here – you do not need to know any more. Thinking about how this all works is why some riding schools do not ‘teach’ counter steering to new riders, because it is “counter intuitive”! If you think about the words in definition above – you are actually turning your front wheel to point away from the direction you want your motorbike to turn and lean towards. This is why is it called ‘counter’ steering, which is why it can be confusing!

It is worth noting that counter steering really only comes into affect when there enough centrifugal forces at work. When you’re riding really really slowly in a car park, then you might just steer normally. While you do not need know the physics, appreciating forces at work when you ride, might help some people.

On my very first ride on the road, I knew something wasn’t right. I was trying to “shift my weight” to “lean” the bike over so that it would turn. It just didn’t feel as if it was an accurate input. On that first ride, on a tight corner, I ran wide towards the outside of the turn. I “leaned”…and while the bike did slowly react (and I made it around the bend) I did not feel in control.

I would urge you , do not just ‘read’ the definition above, go out to your bike and test it, practice it, develop your skills and become a better rider. Without understanding counter steering, you might never be as good a rider, or as safe a rider, as you could be. Speak to any track rider, or any professional motorcyclist – they USE counter steering, as a very intentional steering input – they will push the left grip away – lean the bike left, turn left.

You want to learn about the physics?

I don’t think you need to know the detail, but do check the this Wikipedia Article if you really want to!

In simple terms when you’re turning your motorbike steering, think about how your wheels make contact with the ground, the rotational motion allows them to roll forward , but they don’t rotate side to side across the road too – in fact they are kind of stuck to ground when it comes to lateral side-to-side motion ( unless you’re driving on oil or ice!).

Now remembering that if your tyres are stuck the the ground (laterally), and say you move your steering input to point your front wheel to the right (so pressing on the left grip away from you), the forces in the gripping contact patch are at ground level, and effectively pull the wheels “out from under” the bike to the right

This “out tracking” of the front contact patch un-balances the bike so that it falls into a lean. Imagine kicking the feet out from under someone; their feet go right, but their body falls to the left.

Your whole bike is the same as that body, it is above that contact point with the road, so as the wheels go out from under you in one direction, (say to the right) your bike imbalances and causes it to lean to the left. As the bike leans, the physics connected with of the shape of your tyres and the rotational contact with he road comes into play. (Among other centrifugal forces, friction coefficients & many other complex things)

Leaning and turning go together in part because of the profile of a motorbike tyre. The outer edges of the tyres are smaller in diameter than the center. When you are riding straight up the tires act like a cylinder and so roll straight ahead, like a can rolling straight across a table. When you lean the bike over, the tyre becomes more like a cone and so it starts rolling in a circle, kind of like a funnel rolling across a table top.

Think about when you are driving a car; say you have a tissue box in the middle of back seat. You make a hard right turn. Which direction will the tissue box slide? To the left : these are the same forces that cause your bike to lean to the left when you ‘turn’ your wheels to the right.

In summary – my advice is to forget the physics and remember this:

  1. Look where you want to go. Your head position is the most important guide to a successful corner.
  2. Counter steer. “Push the handlebar grip away from you on the left – the bike will lean and turn left, push the right grip away – the bike will lean right – and turn right. It is really as simple as pushing on the grip on the side you want the motorcycle to lean towards.

Coach yourself daily: “look, push, look, push…”

If you are interested in improving your riding even more: please read our post on trail braking here.

Another key to being safe on roads is learning to ride defensively – don’t forget our post about to be seen on the roads by clicking here.

Ride safe, ride smart. Smart Motorcycling Guide.

What is Defensive Riding on a motorcycle?

Learning how to ride defensively, is the single most important skill that you will learn as a new rider. Appreciating and thinking about defence riding throughout your riding career is the essence of riding a motorbike safely, on the public roads. If you are interested in learning to ride a motorbike safely, please do read on!

Long before James Bond’s Aston Martin, V-12 Vanquish was blessed with its most notorious feature ( a cloaking device, which allowed it to become practically invisible ) all motorcycles have had this feature installed as standard. But when you Even police motorcyclists, with blue lights, flashing and sirens screaming, report that car drivers simply look right through them.

Motorcycles fall into that category of things that drivers don’t always perceive even if they are right in their field of vision. A motorcycle approaching head-on from a distance occupies a very small part of a driver’s vision. If it’s going quickly, it’s possible that the eye simply won’t get around to looking at it enough to make it “stick” in the brain before it arrives in the driver’s immediate vicinity. “Invisibility”

As a first step, you can try to have SOME kind of high visibility gear integrated into your set-up. It doesn’t have to be a bright yellow bib, but consider instead some white florescent helmet markings strips (or a white helmet). Having an element of high visibility gear can be done ‘fashionably’ .. but if fashion is your main concern you’re missing the point a little.

When is the last time you made sure all your lights (brake lights and indicators) are working?

There’s also a ‘school of thought’ that “Loud Pipes Save lives” – while there’s little research to support that loud exhausts are really effective, it must surely make a difference sometimes, like when you can help wake-up the car driver in front of you! (Aside from the ‘safety’ boon of having loud pipes..I admit I do LOVE a loud exhaust just for the sheer thrill of it!)

But even wearing high visibility gear, or having thunder erupt from your exhaust may not help … simply because of this ‘motorcycle blindness’ noted in bold above.

THE BEST way to keep safe while you are invisible, is to practice defense riding.

What is defensive riding?

You need to expect that every road user will kill you unless you take preventative action = DEFENSIVE RIDING. Learning this skill begins by believing that everything on the road posses specific risks (and associated danger) – you need to deliberately train yourself to be a mentally prepared, defensive rider, prepared for the unexpected.

  • Learn to have your eyes constantly searching for possible danger
  • Learn to ANTICIPATE (your life literally depends on predicting and riding your bike in a defensive way : you MUST LEARN to ‘defend’ against as many possible risks that you can possibly perceive
  • Read the road condition, adjust your riding style appropriately (type of tarmac, road markings, gravel, pot holes)
  • Read the corner type, think about your line and remember you’re not on a closed race circuit (open, closed, line of sight, camber?)
  • Anticipate all other road users : RIDE “AS IF” THEY DO NOT SEE YOU (The tractor driver towing a trailer into his home lane will have his evening meal on his mind not checking his rear view mirror before he pulls across you.)
  • Consider all the things that are at the road-side and they might affect your riding (you see that distracted Mum, turning round to calm an angry child. She won’t know you’re there until she hits you. It is your responsibility to see the pressure she is under and avoid the accident.)
  • The weather conditions – flex your style, be gentle (and have you checked the weather forecast so are you prepared?!)
  • Always ride well within your ‘limits’ (and within the speed limits) and do not try to keep up with more experienced friends.
  • The list is literally endless – keep aware, keep alert and mitigate.

All the time you must have your eyes up, looking ahead the next corner, keep a check in both mirrors, make yourself sit in the epicenter of a safe bubble of distance, protect yourself by using the information you are taking in, to ride defensively.

Riding defensively does not imply that you should ride everywhere at 25mph but rather, that before every ride you should fully engage your defensive riding brain. And I mean it. Say to yourself EVERY TIME you put your leg over that bike, “this is serious”.

Do not ever ride under the influence of alcohol, drugs or if you are very tired.

Finally, gain experience, and enjoy (as safely as is possible) absolutely every second of the best fun on earth.


If you are interested in becoming an even better rider , check our post on trail braking here.

Another basic that is often overlooked is counter steering – read more about it here.

What is Trail Braking? Trail braking explained.

Photo by Dan Garri – is that brake light on?

What is trail braking on a motorcycle?

Trail braking is a motorcycle an advanced motorbike riding technique where the brakes are used beyond the entrance to a turn, the rider gradually releases brake pressure between turn-in and the apex of the turn.

Why is it called trail braking?

The term trail braking refers to the practice of “trailing off” front-brake pressure gradually as you progress into the corner.

Trail Braking Diagram

Many riders feel trail braking is an advanced technique & that new riders, and roads riders should not worry about. I absolutely do not agree.

As you see in the image above – trail braking could be described as part of a cornering transition.

As a new rider, without being taught trail braking, my ability to control my machine was impaired. I starting trail-braking myself naturally and I would go so far as to say that it improved my riding so much that it has probably saved my life.

Trail braking is an ESSENTIAL part of having full control over your motorcycle. I feel that fact that the CBT course (UK – Compulsory Basic Training) and the MFS course (USA – Motorcycle Safety Foundation) do not even discuss this is a shocking oversight.

[Another shocking omission from the UK CBT course is that I was given no real explanation of counter steering. I had no instruction on how to deliberately counter steer around a tight corner, I can testify that learning how to purposefully counter steer has almost certainly saved my life through a number of turns – I’ll discuss that in my next article]

Is it any wonder that it the new, low-mileage riders that are crashing the most, when they are not even aware of techniques to control their machine at the corner entrance; the brakes are a control, and riders that crash rush into the corner without full knowledge and competence of this control.

Whatever experience you have a street rider (most track riders at least have had some guidance around trail braking), please do read the rest of this article.

Is trail braking dangerous?

Riding well is difficult, riding poorly is easy and painful because mistakes can be catastrophic.

Abrupt braking mid-corner WILL collapse the geometry of the forks and make the bike ‘stand up’ potentially ending in a high-side crash OR it will cause a lock up and your front tyre, which will tuck under possibly leaving you in a low-side crash.

Remember, trail braking requires a light touch, a gentle release of the brakes, NOT another grab of the brakes mid corner. Think of trail braking as fine-tuning your entrance speed. The majority of your entry speed is STILL knocked off while straight-line braking in same you are told in training courses.

The trail braking force must used even more judiciously when traction is limited (in the rain).

Why should I be using this trail braking technique?

Trail braking will help you survive on the street and fully enjoy the sport of motorcycling on the track.

Trailbraking puts more load onto the front tire for increased traction to handle steering inputs. Trail braking can actually improve your bike’s steering geometry, helping it turn better. A slightly compressed front fork tightens the bike’s rake and trail numbers and allows it to turn in less time and distance.

Trail braking is enhances stability and control. Trail braking helps minimize forward and rearward chassis pitch (the rocking back forward motion) that occurs when applying and then releasing the brakes. When you trail brake (instead of just releasing the brake entirely) your suspension stays compressed as the bike leans and then rebounds gradually as the brakes are released slowly.

Trail braking with both brakes helps slow, but also increases stability even more. The rear brake also increases stability by “pulling” the rear contact patch in line with the front contact patch, controlling any side-to-side fishtailing effect.

How can I practice trail braking, it trail braking too dangerous to try on the road?

Hop on your motorcycle, with it switched off and begin to slowly squeeze the front brake. After just a little bit of squeeze you should hear a click sound. That is the sound of the switch that activates the tail light. Now with the brake lever squeezed to that position see if you can roll the motorcycle forward and backwards. What you want to do is ‘feel’ the pressure that needs applied to allow you to roll the motorcycle back and forth but still feel the slight resistance of the brake pads. That is an indication how much (how little) pressure is needed to trail the brakes into the corner. Too much pressure and you may cause the tire to tuck or lose traction in the corner causing an accident.

So how do I practice trail braking on the street?

Again, as I’ve said above, you must understand that the majority of your braking should be done before you tip your bike into the corner. Don’t get confused and believe that you are going to add brake pressure as you add lean angle. Just the opposite: you want to give away (release) brake pressure as you add lean angle because your front tire can only handle so much combined braking and lean angle.

Brake feel is a learned skill that includes understanding the dynamics of load transfer on traction as well as developing a feel for how your motorcycle’s brakes respond to subtle inputs.

Trail braking is the art of learning the importance of how to release the brakes progressively to prevent abrupt rebound of the suspension, which can cause the tires to lose traction.

By mastering trail braking, and gaining experience, it is possible to slow the bike down even when leaned, in some instances this skill might give you the tools to salvage a corner. If you think this skill will magically appear when you need it, you are wrong!

Start in a dry car parking lot, progress from there to slow speed corners on streets where there are no surface hazards. Then refine and solidify the technique, even consider to a novice track day and asking an instructor to help you work on this technique.

Mastery of your brakes, is equally (if not more) important as your mastery of throttle control , both go hand in hand. Regularly practice emergency braking and refine your corner trail braking technique to remain sharp.

Ride safe, Ride Smart

Smart Motorcycling Guide


If you are interested in becoming an even better rider , check out our post on how to counter steer here.

Can you answer the question – What is defensive riding? It could safe your life. Read more here.

Wet weather motorcycling?! Gentle Love making?!

This  article was written to ENCOURAGE motorcyclists to get out there in the rain! 

Like any experienced lover motorcycle rider, you should know that being too aggressive is often a quick way to getting a black eye or a broken arm, instead the best results are usually achieved from being smooth and gentle. The best lovers riders, will take their time. Always ensure that things are are warmed up properly (your tyres), especially in ‘wet’ and slippery conditions.

Yes, there is definitely a time and place to be a fast passionate lover rider, where you can be really vigorous (with the throttle) and aggressive (on the brakes). This is often when you take a special trip away from home. (What I’m obviously saying is that Track Day performances, belong on the track – where you have the proper protection, no traffic coming the other direction, gravel traps for when you don’t judge that corner just right and you’ll have a full race suit on.)

‘Feathering’ the Throttle. 

Be gentle on the throttle: rain reduces the friction coefficient you have to work with between your tyres and the road. Your aim is to apply your acceleration force GENTLY, keep the force you apply as you accelerate, progressively even, consistent and smooth (a higher ‘shock’ force is generated if you ‘snap’ the throttle quickly open – the tyre can break loose by exceeding the available grip and your wheel will spin).  If you spin the rear tyre, just try not to panic, remember you are a smooth and gentle rider. If you are lucky enough to be still upright, try to ‘ride it out’ , let your machine come back to a straight line, then GENTLY come back off the gas,  no sharp corrective turning, no sharp braking.  

The only real way to prepare for the feeling of the rear ‘letting go’ or ‘stepping out/spinning up’ is to get some experience of it actually happening! Book yourself into an advanced rider course, or take a blast on a dirt bike and purposefully get that tail slipping around.  Consider enrolling in a stunt program and get some rolling burnout hooliganism under your belt, in the name of safety! Remember you want to be as familiar with this drifting ‘feeling’ so that when it happens unexpectedly, you will be better placed with some muscle memory to know naturally what to do.  

If you have traction control settings or rider modes, please use them! You are not going to impress anyone in the hospital emergency room by letting them know that you have balls SO large, that you NEVER use rain mode. 

A Gentleman never ‘grabs’ (the brakes)! 

Even those of you with ABS please do apply the following techniques. You have ABS as a final protective measure, it is designed to help prevent lock-up in those situations where at the last minute you have had to hit the brakes hard, unexpectedly. (Yes track riders will be pushing up against the limits of ABS, but we’re talking reasonable (wet) road riding here.) The way you should be braking in guessed it.. ‘gentle and smooth’. Plan your braking even further ahead verus when riding on dry roads, consider the extra time you need to gently bring your machine to a stop. Imagine you have a glass of water balanced on your handle bars…you should be braking so smoothly and gently that you’re not going to spill a drop.

Respect Road markings. 

A massive white arrow painted on the road – or a line in the middle of the road will both present you an area that is more slippery than that the rest of the asphalt. Your best option is to plan your line to avoid these markings (defensive riding) otherwise, imagine those markings are like an oil slick, or ice. This means basically no braking while on top of them, only mildest steering input, and the application of a flat/even throttle (or even rolling off the throttle).    

Corner gently BUT deliberately. 

Your bike’s geometry behaves essentially in the same way in the wet as it does it in the dry. Drive through corners in the same even and deliberate way as you would in the dry; but aim to maximise your gentleness & smoothness as turn and transition. Plan your corner knowing it is best to have a decreased overall cornering speed versus what you would plan in dry conditions.  As you are coming into the corner with gentle/smooth braking applied, plan a smooth gentle line through. As you reach the point where you are beginning to ‘roll on’ again, do so, but gently, this is loading your rear tyre evenly and still working weight onto the rear suspension which helps keep your bike settled and stable as you drive deliberately but gently out of the turn.  No ‘coasting’ guys, you are asking for trouble. 

What about Tire’s 

The key is having a tire with a tread pattern made to slice through and disperse water, this helps avoid aquaplaning and will keep your rubber planted on the road! There are a number of fantastic all round touring tires than are not just good wet , but are fantastic for everyday use , touring, and a back road blast on the twists. We recommend The Michelin Pilot Road series, a fantastic wet tire and a great all rounder. 

Tire pressure is a contentious issue, some riders will recommend a slight increase in PSI, others a slight decrease..we recommend that you keep your pressures in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines for the bike and the weight you riding with.  On the streets, it’s not worth changing the tire pressures outside the manufacturer’s guidelines just to suit riding conditions. 

Helmet considerations for the riding in the rain?

Firstly, if you can, get a pin-lock system onto your visor to prevent fogging, really does a fantastic job. We also found this fantastic device that attached to a finger on your glove – a mini wind-shield wiper blade! 

Motorcycle Clothing for wet weather riding?

Firstly, protecting your body from rain and cold will make you feel much more comfortable on the bike, and as I’ve mentioned in my post about Cold Hands – being distraction is super important. 

If it’s raining, you are even less visible – rain decreases visibility (not just for you but for all other road users) Swallow your pride guys, seek out rain gear that has reflective elements. Some of the best examples of wet we have found include:  please follow the links to have a more detailed look, get yourself properly kitted out now. 

Get a Full Rain suit 

Wear a Waterproof Jacket Covers 

Excellent Waterproof Pants

Warm Waterproof Winter Gloves 

Sidi – Gortex Waterproof Winter Boots

Ride Smart, ride safe.