Counter steering

Ron Brown /

This post was prompted by Wayne’s mention of moped mortality statistics and reminded me that many riders out there have never had any formal motorcycle instruction.

Let me tell you a story first. In 1974, I think, I bought a 1972 Honda 450 twin with about 1200 miles that looked like brand new. This was the biggest, baddest bike I had ever owned. The more I looked at it, the more I was convinced that I could visit my brother on it. The fact that I was in Ann Arbor, MI and he lived in Vancouver, BC about 2500 miles away did not phase me a bit. Nor did all the "knowledgeable motorcyclists" who told me the 450 vibrated too much and was under powered for the trip.

To shorten the story a little, in June, I found myself rolling west across the great plains at about 75-80 mph, leaning back on my pack with my feet on the highway pegs and watching the rocky mountains get no closer for what seemed like days.

I was riding with just my right hand on the handlebars and had nothing better to do so I pushed on the handlebars with my right hand. To my amazement, the bike moved to the right. Then I pulled on the right handlebar and the bike moved left.

Keep in mind that I had been riding 2 wheeled vehicles for about 24 years and motorized 2 wheelers for about 15 years and had never noticed this phenomenon. To say I was surprised and amazed would be the understatement of the decade. Like most of us who learned how to ride a bicycle, the motorcycles, in my case with a moped in between, I turned by "leaning", or so I thought.

As I played with the handlebars, I realized how much better I could steer the bike when I understood the relationship between turning the handlebars and changes of direction. I then began to wonder why I was still alive. For 15 years I had been riding a motorcycle without understanding how I steered it.

As my mind assimilated this, a couple of past scenarios came to mind that some of you may find familiar. When I was about 15 years old, I was going fishing with my Dad on a pit of land consisting of sand hills with a concrete breakwater on the tip. Access was by a tarmac road about 8 or 10 feet wide with a small drop onto soft sand from the dunes on either side. This day, my Dad decided to teach me how to ride his 125cc Lambretta motor scooter.

I still remember, as if it was yesterday, the scooter moving closer and closer to the left side of the road (this was in England) and not being able to stop it. I had visions of riding that scooter, with its little wheels, off the side of the road into the soft sand and wiping us both out. My Dad, who somehow understood my problem, but not the solution, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "don't worry, it'll turn" and it did. Other than having to change my underwear, I did not give that incident any more thought until this day.

I have had other instances, the short version being, pulling out to pass, seeing oncoming traffic and not being able to pull back in immediately. Effectively being frozen in my position on the road. Realizing, part way through a corner, that I was going too fast for the line I took, and not being able to correct it.

There have been others, maybe some of you will remember some of your own.

For the rest of that trip, I played with my new "skill" and found that negotiating curvy roads was much more fun, now that I understood how I was doing it.

Later that Summer, back in Michigan, I stopped at a convenience store/gas station to hide from a thunderstorm. Thumbing through the Bike mags on the rack, I came across an article on counter-steering. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this in print, but at least I now had a name for what I was doing.

My theory on the "I can't turn the bike" problem, based on my experiences, goes like this.

Normally, when you want to turn a bike, you just lean, such as when you pull out to pass. This is done without any conscious thought. When you get out there in the opposite lane and see oncoming traffic, suddenly you are thinking, "I need to go right". Without understanding, you begin to turn the handlebars to the right, this immediately causes the bike to begin to move left and your reflexes kick in to keep you from turning the handlebars anymore. Now you are going in a straight line, on the wrong side of the road, headed for oncoming traffic. For some reason I don't understand (unless you really do understand counter-steering), you turn the bars left, move back to the right lane, and survive to change your underwear another day.

I leave you to imagine what happens if the oncoming traffic is too close, or someone just pulled out in front of you, or you are taking a corner too fast when this happens.

It is no coincidence that many single vehicle motorcycle accidents take place on a corner, or that in a large number of accidents involving collision with another vehicle, the motorcycle does not try to change direction.

I have lost at least one friend who went straight, at a corner on a country road, for no apparent reason.

This happens a lot less today, mostly because most states either require, or encourage Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses prior to getting a motorcycle endorsement. The MSF teaches counter-steering in their classes although they do not use the term. The idea of turning the handlebars the wrong way to turn a corner is so alien to most people that they teach you to "push" the handlebar on the side you want to turn toward. Obviously, you need a counter-force to push against, which is normally to pull on the other bar.

When I first learned counter-steering, I became quite evangelical about it because I realized how important it was to staying alive on two wheels.

My usual question to fellow motorcyclists was, "If you are riding down the road and you come to a corner to the right, which way do you turn the handlebars to get around the corner?". If they did not immediately give the correct answer, I would launch into my diatribe on counter-steering. Most of them would laugh and tell me that they just leaned, but some would try it and be just as amazed as I was that they did not know.

The attached .doc file is a one page story I scanned from the AMA magazine in 1990 and still sometimes give to people who are unbelievers. I will attach a .TXT version to another post for those who do not have word.

There is still a lot of resistance to from some people, who believe that "body steering" is as important or more important than counter steering. Keith Code, an ex-racer and now racing school owner who has written several book and produced videos on motorcycle racing, was interested enough in the "body steering" theory, put forward by many motorcycle racers, that he built a motorcycle with two sets of handlebars. The first were the normal handlebars and the second were welded directly to the frame but had duplicate controls.

He then invited motorcycle racers to take the bike on the track, use the fixed handlebars and try the "body steering" method. They all came back believing in counter-steering.

For any of you who do not believe, take your two wheeled machine of choice out on the road, with just your right hand on the handlebars, push the bar, then pull it and see what happens.

After you get used to it, try some maneuvers like dodging an imaginary pothole or taking a fast corner and see how much difference a little understanding makes.


Re: Counter steering

Ron Brown /

Here is the .TXT version mentioned in the previous post.

Re: Counter steering

I guess I'm going to have to try this, before I believe it. it's just hard to explain, right?

Actually anything that will improve response time on a motorcycle should work wonders on a moped, and judging from the weight post on an earlier post, there are a lot of us where momentum is our friend.

Re: Counter steering

Ron Brown /

You have the right idea.

Exactly how it works is debateable. Some claim it is the gyroscopic forces of the rotating front wheel. In fact, if you hold a bike or a ped wheel or a gyro top by the spindle and spin it as if it were rolling down the road, then you rotate it right, it will tilt left and the opposite is true.

I have seen mathematical calculations by knowledgeable people which indicate that the amount of force needed at the handlebars to cause a 700# bike with a 300# rider (your average Harley) to lean enough to make a corner, would break both of your arms.

I am more a believer in the "steer the bike out from under you" theory. Essentially, this means that to make a right turn, you apply some left turn to the handlebars, this steers the tire patch to the left while inertia keeps the rest of the bike where it was. The result of this is that the bike leans to the right. You then straighten the handlebars and go around the corner using a balnce of centrifugal force to keep the bike upright and gravity which is trying to pull it down. You balance these forces with small handlebar input and the throttle. To exit the corner, you apply throttle and steer the wheels back under the mass of the bike until it is upright again.

I suspect the truth may lie somewher inbetween. Fortunately, exactly how it works is nowhere near as important as understanding that it does and learning how to use it until it becomes automatic.


Re: Counter steering

In 1983 I went to a seminar at the Lake George, NY Aspencade rally that touched on this subject. Actually, if you have been riding any type of 2 wheel vehicle for any length of time you have been countersteering whether you know it or not. Just try steering left by turning the handlebars left while you are at speed and you will see what I mean. After the seminar we all went out for a cruise on our Gold Wings, and those of us with CBs talked our way through the course. It turned out every single one of us had been countersteering for years and didn't know what to call it...Ken D

Cat outta the bag.

Reeperette /

Yeah, that's one of my "tricks" which I generally keep to myself cause it's too damn impossible to explain to a rookie, since for the most part I just confuse em when I try to tell em this - and they think I am just pullin their leg anyhow.

There's also a trick which requires a lot of leg strength, and I don't think you can do it on a motorcyle, but you can "hop" the rear end of a moped just a tiny bit, and in combination with the above, make extremely rapid changes of direction.

But alla that stuff is damn hard to explain to anyone who doesn't already know how to do it.


Re: Counter steering

Ron Brown /


That was exactly my point. If you don't know how you are doing it, then you are likely to do the wrong thing when you think about it.


damn freaky

OK I believe you- I went out and tried it, Now I have to remember to nudge it before I start to lean into the turn. The thing started to get out from under me, in the "wrong" direction. It just felt unnatural.

A picking up speed trick that I use is to start bouncing/hopping the moped as I'm going forward. It helps.

Re: damn freaky

The way it was explained to me is this way. since all motorcycle tires have a rounded profile, as opposed to car tires that are flat across the tread area, when you push the handlebar left it tilts the bike to the left slightly. The round edge of the tire causes it to try to go in a circle. There may be a more scientific answer but this one satisfies me... Ken D

Re: damn freaky

Ron Brown /

Nudging it is what makes you lean, no nudge, no lean. You have been doing this forever, but now you can do it on purpose.

Welcome to the world of reason. Practice, and you will be out of the darkness forever.


Re: damn freaky

Ron Brown /


You are right, it makes no difference what you believe makes it work, only that you believe it does. That's what keeps you alive.


Re: Counter steering

Here is another explanation of counter steering Ron, but using a bicycle as the example.



That attachment counters.doc has a virus on it if you have it on your computer delete it its got something called a script virus and its obviously in writing i dont know if youve heard of them or have a virus scanner but it seems that im the onyl one that noticed

Re: Counter steering

Ron Brown /


Thanks for the link. I thing that is the first explaination I ever read that does not include gyroscopic action in the steering equation. I have a ninor problem with the "jerk" the handlebars description, smooth being always the way to go. But hey, the guy who wrote the article probably does not ride. : )



Ron Brown /

Thanks Andrew,

I'll email Simon and have him check/delete it.



Simon King /

A scan with the latest that Norton has to offer shows no virus -


Re: Counter steering

Thanks for this intriguing and useful post, Ron. I've been experimenting with counter-steering all day (between bouts of yard work, that is). It really is interesting to see that I've been doing this, but perhaps not as effectively as if done intentionally.

On a general note, I often wish there were more posts of this nature. I always enjoy and find use in the riding/repair/maintenance posts, and certainly prefer them to the many posts that have little to say.

Chris S

Re: Counter steering

I know about this phenomenon because I am also a member of SPORTBIKES.NET, and my other bike is a Ninja 250. Countersteering makes my Tomos' kickstand scape the ground, it actually sparks. Its in any motorcycle riding book - push right handle bar - turn right. Push left handle bar - turn left. Ever wonder how those sportbikers can get their knee on the ground - now you know, countersteering. countersteering and leaning also help you turn VERY fast - but be warned, dont press the brake hard while you're turning like this - it will f--k up your line and may send you flying.


Re: Counter steering

Ron Brown /


If you are of the knee dragging persuation, you are hanging on the hairy edge of tire grip which is all that keeps centrifugal force from sliding you off the outside of the curve. ANY application of the brake will ask the tires to slow you down as well as overcome centrifugal force, resulting in a loss of traction and a slide. The only way to slow down successfully is to stand the bike up and then apply the brakes. Hopefully you slow down before you run off the corner.

There are many nuances to this used by racers, such as applying a little rear brake when accellerating out of a corner to limit the power to the back wheel or the use of a clutch which slips automatically when decellerating into a corner.

The bottom line is, that for us relativily unskilled riders, If you are anywhere near the limits of traction of your tires, you do not touch the brakes.

Just an aside, those sportbike riders get their knee on the ground by climbing off the side of the bike. By changing the center of gravity this way, they can keep the bike more upright, which gives them better tire contact and keeps things like footpegs from dragging.

Racers have been aware of the countersteering phenonenon for ever, they just did not put it into words. If they did not understand how to make a bike go around a corner, they wound up dead, injured or at least in last place.

When I was young, I remember seeing a motorcycle race on the radio where the commentator was describing a racer, whose name I have long ago forgotten, sticking out his inside knee while braking for corners. He was the the first to do this, everyone else was still "one with the machine" and clung to it like a skin. Because of his success, this evolved over several years, into the "get as far off the inside of the bike as you can" method used today.

For those of us who are less ambitious and/or athletic, if you simply shift your weight to the outside pedal when taking a corner, you will increase the speed at which you feel comfortable.


« Go to Topics — end of thread

Want to post in this forum? We'd love to have you join the discussion, but first:

Login or Create Account