Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rider, we can all get better at the basics.
No matter where you are in your riding career, two things are universally true—there’s always room for improvement and if you don’t use a skill, you lose it. Beginners, for the most part, know this—but more experienced riders can sometimes forget that this is a thing. That’s why practice and continuing rider education is important.
I say all this because we’re going to talk about doing tight turns on your bike today. It’s something we all regularly have to do, and it can seem incredibly daunting when you’re first starting out. Even if you’ve been riding for years, maybe you’re not as good at it as you’d like to be. Now, you can read articles like this and watch helpful video after helpful video until you have to put your bike away for the winter. However, the only way you’re going to get better is by practicing until you get good, and not giving up even if you get frustrated.
Say you’re at a stop sign or light, and you want to make a turn. You’ll need to take a few different steps, and you’ll probably start out doing them separately but then blend them together more smoothly as your skills improve.
- Turn your head and look where you want to go. That’s a general rule, but it’s especially true in a turn. Don’t look at the guardrail, parked cars, or oncoming traffic rolling in the opposite lanes. See all that stuff as you scan, so you’re aware of it—but don’t fixate on it. Always turn your head to look so you get the most complete mental picture you can.
- Turn the handlebars. If you’re coming up to a stop and you know you’ll be turning in a certain direction before you get there, you can even angle your bike so it’s pointed into the turn instead of completely perpendicular to the stop line. Trust me, it’ll make your life easier. In any case, you’ll need to turn the handlebars in the direction you want to go.
- Use your clutch friction zone and throttle in concert to modulate power. You don’t want too little and you don’t want too much. You just want enough to make your bike roll smoothly through the turn.
- Counterbalance your bike to maneuver it through the turn. Body weight and body positioning help you make your bike do what you want it to do, no matter what bike or riding situation you’re in (or on). Use your foot pegs to shift yourself around in your saddle, and don’t be afraid to shift off the saddle to tighten up your turning radius.
- Push your handlebar down into the turn while counterbalancing. This will help you dial in how tight you want to get that turn. If you’re turning right, push the right handlebar down. If you’re turning left, push the left handlebar down. All your motions should be smooth and steady, not jerky. Your body weight should always be going in the opposite direction of both the bar your pushing and the turn, itself.
These skills translate to all kinds of tight turn situations you may find yourself in, whether they’re in parking lots or those dreaded U-turns or figure eights. If you haven’t thought about figure eights since your MSF or other basic training course, all that drilling your instructors put you through can absolutely come in handy to get you out of sticky situations. However, it only works if you keep using it. If you’re rusty, you can help yourself and anyone you share the road with out by drilling your turn skills in an empty parking lot.
Do you find turns more difficult to execute on one side than the other? If so, you’re not alone—but if it’s hard and frustrating on a particular side, that probably means you should work harder on getting it right. While it’s true that we’re all essentially practicing our riding skills every single time we go out to ride, fundamentals like turning are things we could all probably stand to enhance, at every level. For example, I know I should probably drill some U-turns. What about you?
If you’re a visual learner, MSF RiderCoach and YouTuber DanDanTheFireman has some very helpful YouTube videos on this subject, with some suggestions on using cones and/or halved tennis balls to help you run those parking lot drills more effectively.