Rid­ing ..............................................

Counter steer­ing vs body steer­ing; which tech­nique works best?

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS -

Most barstool de­bates tend to de­volve into gen­er­al­i­ties, opin­ions, and hearsay, in the ab­sence of de­fined terms. De­bat­ing gen­er­al­i­ties just gives me a headache. The age-old counter steer­ing ver­sus body-steer­ing ar­gu­ment – one of the old­est mo­tor­cy­cle-related barstool de­bates – is one that could es­pe­cially ben­e­fit from some solid def­i­ni­tion. Let’s for­get the ‘body’ and ‘counter’ qual­i­fiers for a mo­ment and just fo­cus on the sim­ple ques­tion of how to steer a mo­tor­cy­cle.

Steer­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle is the act of ac­cu­rately and pre­dictably guid­ing and di­rect­ing an ob­ject to­ward or away from a known lo­ca­tion in space. With that def­i­ni­tion of steer­ing in mind, let’s in­ves­ti­gate the com­mon claim that bikes will ‘steer’ with foot­peg pres­sure alone, which is the ba­sis of the body-steer­ing claim.

Sir Isaac New­ton’s third law of mo­tion, of­ten short­ened to ‘for ev­ery ac­tion there is an equal and op­po­site re­ac­tion,’ can be used to shed some light on the body-steer­ing de­bate. This law is of­ten mis­un­der­stood. It sounds like an ob­ject be­ing pushed upon, like your foot­peg or fuel tank, re­sponds to the pres­sure by mov­ing an equal amount. That isn’t what the third law means at all, how­ever. What it ac­tu­ally means is that force al­ways comes paired: there’s the force that is ini­ti­ated; then there’s the re­sis­tance to that force.

Press on your desk with a force of 10lb; if the desk pushes back at you with a force of 10 pounds, noth­ing moves. The desk pushes back? Yes. You can say it re­sists your press­ing, but in the end it is re­ally just press­ing back at you with an equal and op­po­site force. Are you get­ting a headache yet?

More examples might help: pic­ture sit­ting in a rock­ing chair. If you press your foot on one of the rocker tips, what hap­pens? Not much. Sit in your car and press on the dash­board. Will the car move for­ward? Press­ing on the foot­pegs or the tank of your bike has the same ef­fect. These parts will re­sist, in an equal and op­pos­ing di­rec­tion, any force you ap­ply to them. The tank might cave in or the pegs might bend, but the bike will not steer. On the other hand, if you shift or throw your body mass for­ward and back­ward in a rock­ing chair, the chair will be­gin to rock.

You cre­ate an im­bal­ance of forces, and the chair moves. Rid­ing a bike no-handed is a sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non. Press­ing one peg or the other cre­ates a slight im­bal­ance, and the bike com­pen­sates by tilt­ing a lit­tle. The tyre rolls over onto a smaller di­am­e­ter, and the bike will be­gin to arc slightly.

Peg weight­ing can ac­count for, gen­er­ously, per­haps one or two per­cent of steer­ing. Do it if you wish, but un­der­stand that with­out the counter steer­ing in­puts at the han­dle­bars, a bike will not weave through cones at 15mph, carve pre­cise lines at speed, avoid a pot­hole, or en­ter your drive­way. It isn’t steer­ing. Counter steer­ing isn’t rocket sci­ence. Press the right bar and the bike leans and turns right; the more you press, the more it leans and turns. Con­versely, stop press­ing and the bike stops lean­ing any far­ther.

It’s quick and easy to teach, it works 100 per­cent of the time, and it per­forms bril­liantly by our pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished def­i­ni­tion of steer­ing. Most of us, un­aware at the time, learn counter steer­ing by rid­ing a bi­cy­cle. Once an ac­tion is com­mit­ted to so-called mus­cle mem­ory, it re­mains there. We do it with­out even think­ing about it.

If weight­ing pegs makes you feel more con­nected to the bike, that’s fine, but un­der­stand that the mi­nor, two per­cent influence peg weight­ing con­trib­utes to steer­ing can­not cor­rect a bad line or save your ba­con in the event of an emer­gency swerve.

It’s in di­rect con­flict with New­ton’s laws of mo­tion, which is pretty fun­da­men­tal in the whole ‘how to get a bike round the a cor­ner’ con­cept. With­out ac­knowl­edg­ing and em­brac­ing these laws, mo­tor­cy­cles would never have been ca­pa­ble of steer­ing their way around a race track.

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