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Body Position & Lean Angle – Part 1 Understanding the Keys

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Mega lean angle, great body position, knee down and these days elbow down and that leg dangle thing. These are things a lot of us crave. Especially if there is a photographer keen to snap up some action images.

So what’s the deal, how important is it and what it the right way to learn it?

##88 Luke Sanders has a riding style most of us crave - image Russell Colvin #783 Media

The goal dictates the method

In order to answer these questions, the first thing you need to decide is what is your ultimate goal?

Is it to be as fast as you can, using body position as a tool to become faster? And if one day that leads to a great riding style bonus!

Or just to have better photos than your mates and look as cool as you can without being too worried about your lap time?

Whatever the answer cool, you do you. However, if you are only interested in appearances and not speed, then this is not the article for you. We always put speed and lap time 1st, appearances 2nd. It’s just how we roll.

Drew Sells #93 & Tim Large #74, very different style yet both are mega fast - Image Russell Colvin #783 Media

Warning – There is Big Trap

Before we go any further, we need to discuss the biggest trap you will face, hanging off too much for your level and speed. Yep, there is such a thing as hanging off too much and it’s a very common trap many riders fall into.

Surely the more you hang off the better right? No, that’s not the case at all. In fact, how much you should hang off its directly related to your speed.

Instead of worrying about how much you are hanging off you should:

· Focus on learning the key principles, they are easy and fun.

· Work on them until they are set in stone

· Then move onto learning how to ride faster. This is easier than you think and fun.

· As you become faster you will naturally hang off more without the need to even think about it

· Let your natural flare stand out and evolve, embrace it. Riding style is not a one size fits all deal.

Natural Flare

Why is natural flare so important? In short, feel.

Riding a motorcycle has an innate or feel component. The better you understand your motorcycle and what it needs from you, the better and faster you will ride. This is what true rider feel is. (Innate just means natural for those thinking wtf is this innate rubbish)

Let us take an extreme example. A Ducati MotoGP bike cannot be ridden the same way as the Yamaha M1. The rider needs to adapt right? The better ‘feel’ a rider has the quicker they will adapt. This is why riders so set in their existing ways can take a long time to adapt to change.

One of the reasons riders who learn to ride from an early age normally end up being so fast is they develop natural feel without the barrier of adult conscious thought. Adults can still learn but they must embrace their natural feel and control their conscious thought.

Feel comes from the sub conscious not the conscious mind.

Take a look at the elite level of any sport on the planet. Be it football, tennis and of course our own MotoGP. The very best have their own style or twist on it. Compare Marc Marquez and Alex Rins, they have such different styles, yet they are both mega fast. Compare Roger Federer and Raffa Nadal, same deal.

Some coaching techniques go a bit too far and stifle your feel. Just be aware of that.

#93 Drew Sells / #44 Will Sharrock - pic Russell Colvin #783 Media

Basic Physics

It’s a bit more complex than what we will cover here but this is riding lesson not a physics lesson 😊

First, the more you hang off the easier and faster a bike will turn. While these may seem like great reasons to hang off as much as you can, there are a couple of negative side effects.

The more you hang off, the more unstable the bike becomes, making it easier to fall over. From our years of research falling over isn’t very desirable. Secondly there is such a thing as turning too fast.

This is where our best buddy speed comes in to help. The faster you are travelling the more stable the bike becomes and the slower it will turn. Speed counteracts the negative side effects of hanging off. Thus, used together they equal awesomeness.

Centrifugal Force

The main reason a bike will turn easier and faster if you hang off is the impact it has on centrifugal force. Centrifugal force acts on any object moving in a circular motion. In this case you and your motorbike in a corner. The force tries to send the object further away from the centre point or to the ‘outside’.

The greater the distance from the centre point to the objects centre of gravity (COG), the greater the centrifugal force.

As you hang off, you shift the centre of gravity inwards which lessens the affect of the centrifugal force.

We can take this a step further by looking at vertical. We can see the distance between the centre point and COG if further reduced. Plus it puts the overall weight of you and your motorcycle in a much better area to counteract the centrifugal force.

Side note: Speed also massively effects centrifugal force, the faster you a travelling the greater the force.

Vertical Stability

While the physics behind centrifugal force make it seem there are only positives to hanging off, here comes the vertical stability component.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out if you sit upright on a stool you’ll be perfectly ok. Yet if you hang off massively to one side, you’ll tip over and look like a massive dickhead.

In motion there are just a couple of things stopping your motorbike from falling over. A force called the gyroscopic effect and our own balance. The gyroscopic effect is created by the wheels rotating and this force will always try to make the bike stand upright. The faster they rotate, the bigger the effect and more stable the bike becomes.

You can search the interweb thingy if you want to learn more about the gyroscopic effect.

So, the slower you are travelling, the easier for the bike to fall into a corner due to the lack of gyroscopic effect. While you may think the more a bike wants to fall into a turn or lean over the better, think back to the stool example. You will feel the same sort of instability and nervousness.

Some riders have better balance than others. The better your balance the easier you can deal with this instability, but you will still be slow. Learning better balance is a positive however your primary focus should be giving the bike what it really needs.

The more stable the platform, the more we can hang off even if your balance isn’t the best. Speed is our friend for this, speed is also our best friend when it comes to lap time.

Lean Angle

Lean angle serves only one purpose, to allow us to turn. The best example you can use to demonstrate this is a flat top cone, something like a cup. Place a cup on its side and rotate it, it will turn toward the direction of the smaller end, always. This is the same thing that happens to your bike when leant over. The tyres act the same way the cup does.

The more you lean it over, the faster the bike will turn.

Turning Too Fast

Now I hope you are sitting down and ready for this. This may be a little bit of a brain bender for people who have been taught or studied ‘quick steering’ or have been told the faster you steer a bike the better.

As long are you are riding on planet earth the laws of physics will always apply. As we have briefly touched on so far, the faster you’re travelling the slower a bike will steer. Thus, in order for you to steer ‘faster’ you’ll need to slow down!

Now as sure as Batman and Robin’s costumes are too tight, slowing to ‘steer fast’ will hurt your lap time every day of the week.

There a few exceptions mid turn when we are talking more advance riding but not in terms of entry speed with the sole purpose of trying to steer fast. The only thing quick steering will help with is letting faster riders pass you easier.

Another drawback of turning too fast is it can mess up your race line.

A Quick Summary

More speed creates a more stable platform.

Hanging off a stable platform is much easier than an unstable platform

Hanging off an unstable platform feels awkward and nervous

More speed = slower turning

Turning too fast is a problem

Greater lean angle = faster turning

Hanging off = Faster tuning

If you hang off too much without enough speed you will be putting more effort into supporting yourself due to the lack of stability. You will also need to put effort in so the bike doesn’t apex too early.

Thus the amount you need to lean the bike over and hang off is dictated by your speed.

It’s no coincidence that MotoGP riders are stupid fast while making dragging their elbow look so easy. Speed, required lean angle and how much you should hang off are all connected.

MotoGP riders couldn't hang off like this without speed - Jack Miller - Image Russell Colvin #783 Media

Still not sure?

Best example I ever had of this principle was coaching a fella John Kranz at Baskerville in Tasmania. Baskerville is mostly left handers, his only goal for the coaching day was to finally get his right knee down. He had been getting his left knee down for years but could never get his right one down. He thought it had something to do with not practicing right handers enough or his ‘style’ in right handers.

When I followed him my first thought was “shit this dude is pretty quick! I better put my skates on to keep up with him”. We got back around to turn 1 & 2, the only right handers on the circuit, I nearly t-boned him. He was that slow in them compared to the rest of the circuit.

I sat him down, gave him some vision things to work on and put a rocket up him about his lack of speed into turn 1. I didn’t even address anything to do with his body position or riding ‘style’ or any of that crap. Just his entry speed and mind set.

Next session, he went back out…. And got his right knee down for the first time after years and years of trying. The missing ingredient was speed.

Speed makes it a lot easier to get your knee down - #88 Luke Sanders / #44 Will Sharrock - Image: Russell Colvin #783 Media

The Technique Doesn’t Change

Now the good thing about learning to hang off is the basic principles don’t change from a beginner to a pro. Think about it like bench pressing, you wouldn’t try to bench press 120kg in your first week ever at the gym would you? Nor should you hang off heaps when you are a novice or intermediate rider.

The amount changes over time and experience, however the basic technique remains the same.

Which style works best?

While there are many different specific riding styles out there, they can be categorised into 3 main styles.

1. Leaning in with the upper part of your body

2. Leaning in with your bum

3. Leaning in equally with your upper and lower body

Each has its pros and cons, selecting which to use is as simple as what feels more natural for you. Favouring your natural tendency will far outweigh any negatives that come with the style you choose.

Plus as you develop you will end up with the bit of a hybrid anyway but you will always favour one of these.

Some examples of style 1

· Marc Marquez

· Maverick Vinales

· Casey Stoner

· Scott Redding

Some Examples of Style 2

· Mick Doohan

· Troy Bayliss

· Alex Rins

· Jack Miller (although he is a bit more 2 & 3)

Some Example of Style 3

· Valentino Rossi

· Jonny Rea

· Jorge Lorenzo

All of these guys are mega in their own right and there are 14 billion world titles between them all. So what feel more natural is most important than which you choose.

The reason they all work comes down to the basic physics of it. In the horizontal plane moving the centre of gravity to roughly 45deg from the head stem is ideal.

While in the vertical plane again about 45deg from head stem downward is ideal

Style 1 is the best in the horizontal plane, while the worst in the vertical. Style 2 is the best in the vertical but the worst in the horizontal.

Style 3 is not ideal in either nor is it the worst in either so it also works.

Marquez has developed a really low-down version of style 1, the physics of it definitely help him with his ridiculous 14km front end saves.

Stoner had a really extenuated version of style 1 using his upper body to get the centre of gravity in a really good spot to be able to slide the rear, definitely a contributing factor to why he really came alive once he got onto the bigger higher powered bikes.

The Leg Dangle

There are a fair few different interpretations of why the leg dangle works and is used.

There are a few factors in favour of it.

· Where it places the Centre of Gravity

· At really high braking g-force it can be hard to keep your inside leg on the peg with anything to support it if you are properly locked in. Over time can cause a bit of cramp in the groin.

· Can look cool

There are also some draw backs.

· You have to get your foot back on before you turn in (any extra work you need to do takes time)

· You can’t use the rear brake (unless you have thumb brake) or gear lever while doing it

· You will look like a flog doing it when you are slow, sorry but you will.

The leg dangle is best left until you are going so fast that it feels hard to keep your inside leg on the peg and it feel natural to let it go.

'Look at me Luke Sander' dangling his leg - image Russell Colvin #783 Media

We hope this theory has help clarify of few things for you.

If you would like some practical exercises and specific methods to get your body position down pat, we have put together part 2 & part 3 in video format for our Race School subscribers. Not only with these tips help with you body position, they will also make you faster!

Race School is just $99 for a 12 month subscription

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