Why better motorcycle body position makes you faster and safer and how to achieve it.
Is body position the new knee down? Not only does it look better in photos, but it actually makes you faster and, believe it or not, safer. Here’s 10 things you need to know about motorcycle body position.
1. There’s a reason all GP riders look the same right now.
Compare a picture of Marc Marquez on his RC213V to Jorge Lorenzo to Dani Pedrosa, to Nicky Hayden, to Valentino Rossi to anyone else on the grid right now. With the exception of the colors on their gear and bikes, they look identical. That’s because an accepted form has developed; think of it as a best practices for the sport of motorcycle riding. And, the thing is, you, me and everyone else can benefit from looking like this, too.
2. It’s not about elbow down.
It’s actually about safety. The reason GP riders hang off like this isn’t to show off; it’s to remove as much lean angle from the bike, at a given speed, as possible. Less lean angle means a larger tire contact patch, a greater margin for error and the ability to brake later and accelerate sooner. While you and I aren’t achieving the same level of performance or lean on the street or track, we can benefit from that, too.
3. Mick Doohan had it wrong.
Well, maybe not for his time. But, with modern tires, it’s no longer ideal to drop your butt way off the seat, crossing your torso across the tank to keep your head high. In fact, the opposite is true. To achieve correct, contemporary BP, you actually only want to drop half your butt off, then drop your torso and helmet down to a position parallel with the road.
4. Why it works.
From a front-on view, draw an imaginary line straight up through the center of the front tire. In order for your body weight to have the greatest possible influence on the bike’s lean angle, you want as much of your body as possible to be between that line and the ground, on the inside of a corner. The further in that direction you go, the less the bike will need to lean at a given speed. Say, at 45 mph, you have to lean the bike at 45 degrees to take a certain corner while sitting bolt upright on top of it. Using body position, you can decrease that lean at 45 mph to (again, hypothetically) to 35 degrees. That’s safer; you’ll have more tire in contact with the road and more grip. If you suddenly have to alter your line, you can add that 10 degrees back in, no problem. Or, for the purposes of going fast, your 45 degrees suddenly becomes more miles per hour.
5. How you can get there.
Honestly, your best bet is simply studying photos of racers, journalists and other fast riders, then trying to emulate their BP. There’s a basic formula that seems to work though. We’re going to assume you’re already riding with the balls of your feet on the pegs and without putting weight through the handlebars. First, scoot one butt cheek off the seat, on the inside. The corner of the seat should be up your crack. Then, open your shoulder and chest towards the corner and try and “kiss” the inside mirror. This should drop your torso down parallel with the road, but a good reference point is to touch the top of the tank with your fully extended outside arm. Remember to look where you want to go, and voila, good BP.
6. What to do with your weight.
Lock your outside thigh and knee into the groove in the tank designed to hold them; it’s called “hanging off” for a reason. The rest of your weight can go through the balls of your feet, into the footpegs, but keep the inside foot free enough that you can pivot your leg. That way, as your knee touches down, your leg can fold up and not impede your ability to lean further. Never put weight through your knee as it’s dragging, that’ll remove weight from the tires and could cause a lowside. Also keep your weight off the bars. Doing so leaves steering unobstructed and allows the bike to move around a little and correct itself and also makes it easier for you to make steering inputs.
As you begin to accelerate out of a corner, deliberately hold your body down while pushing the bike up. Less lean angle means you can use more throttle, accelerating harder. Then, as you prepare for the next corner, put your weight through your legs and slide your butt across to the opposite side without bouncing on the seat or bars; it should simply be a smooth transition.
7. Ergonomics help.
Our buddy Garret is, by anyone’s standards, huge. But, he rides an 848 Evo with a fairly compact rider triangle. For the longest time, he’s struggled with BP, getting a little better with practice, but has been frustrated with his progress. I suggested he call up SpeedyMoto and get a custom set of clip-ons made that would be higher, further forward and wider, creating more room for his upper body. Look at the result; this could be Marquez, just 10 years into a Paella binge. As a tall guy riding stock bikes, this is something I struggle with, too. Give me something spacious and I have no problem. You should consider stock ergonomics a starting point, swap rearsets and handlebars until your bike actually fits you.
8. Your bike doesn’t matter.
Just your body position. The same basic principles apply whether you’re riding a tourer, standard or even an ADV bike. Heck, hanging off can even keep a dual sports’ knobbies happy. Less lean angle at a given speed makes any type of bike safer and faster.
9. It helps in bad weather, too.
Hanging off with correct body position doesn’t just help GP riders go faster around a track. It works in the city, on highway exit ramps, in the rain and pretty much anywhere that you want to be safer. By taking lean angle away from a given speed, it keeps the bike more upright and more of the tire on the road. It helped me on Tuesday, while I was riding the 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale at a soaked Imola. By hanging way off, I was able to keep more of the tires’ grooves on the pavement.
10. But it’s not everything.
The basic principles and advantages always apply, of course, but just because you can’t get your torso parallel with the ground doesn’t mean you’re a bad or slow rider. Think of the ideal BP as a direction to work in, then try to do so while focusing primarily on smooth control inputs, good lines and safe riding. Proficient motorcycling is the whole package; it’s not just about looking good in photos.
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