by Keith Code © Motorcycle Consumer News 1997

There are technical points concerning a rider’s fear of making either right or left-hand turns. Many riders have this fear and it’s frustrating. Scores of riders have complained to me about this with a sheepish sort of approach and “admitted” they were perplexed by it.

Rightfully so, as roughly 50% of their turns were being hampered by an unknown, un-categorized, seemingly unapproachable fear having no apparent source or reasoning behind it. Out of desperation for an answer, riders have blamed it on being right or left handed, mysterious brain malfunctions and a host of other equally dead-end “nonsense solutions.”

Nonsense, because none of the solutions answered their questions or addressed their hesitance, uncertainty and fear.

Having a fear of right turns would be the worst if you lived in Kansas or Nebraska where practically the only fun turns are freeway on- and off-ramps. If you went “ramping” with your friends, you’d be at the back of the pack.

Anxiety on lefts would exclude you from the dirt track racing business for sure. But mainly we are talking about day-to-day riding and any such apprehension as this (and there are others) spoils a rider’s confidence, making him somewhat gun shy.

There are actually three reasons why you could have this unidirectional phobia, and all three contain an inordinate amount of some emotional response that runs from suspicion and distrust to mild panic, and a dose of plain old anxiety for good measure. By the way, if you consider yourself in this category of rider, count your blessings, many riders have bi-directional phobia and it’s only by their force of will and love of freedom that they persist in their riding at all.

First Reason

Reason number one for this fear is that you crashed on the right or left at some time and the relatively indelible mental scar is still on the mend but remains a more or less hidden and nagging source of irritation. The part of the mind that is concerned with survival does not easily forget, and the proof is that our species still exists.

There have no doubt been other more pressing problems along the way that have tried and tested man in his effort to put order into his environment.

The fact that the incident of a crash drops down to an obscured level of awareness is not a help in this, or perhaps any other case, as it adds that unpredictable element to our riding. And the oddest part of it is that if you haven’t ridden for awhile, this apprehension of turning right or left can return in force provided it springs from this particular source.

In the technology of the mind and according to the discipline of Dianetics, these incidents are stored in what is called the Reactive Mind, for the obvious reason that one finds himself reacting to, rather than acting toward, some circumstance. In this case, right or left turns.

Second Reason

In the discipline of riding technology we have the act and activity of counter-steering to contend with. Here a rider may have panicked and become confused, and gone back to another variety of “survival response” that pressed him into turning the bike’s bars in the direction he wanted to go rather than doing the correct action of counter-steering.

That instant of confusion has stopped riders’ cold, never to twist their wrist again and pleasure themselves with motorcycle riding. Turn left to go right or push the right bar to go right, it’s the thing that eludes us in that panic situation (statistically) more commonly than anything save only the overuse and locking of the rear brake.

When you dissect this confusion regarding the counter-steering process, you see that it is possibly more devastating than the rear end lock-up, even though both have the same result: the bike goes straight often into that which we were trying to avoid.

Remember, you can only do two things on a motorcycle: change its speed and change its direction. Confusion on counter-steering locks up the individual’s senses tighter than a transmission run without oil, and reduces the two necessary control factors down to one.

A bad deal in anyone’s book.

Third Reason

The third possible reason for being irrational about rights and lefts is the one that has solved it more times than not practice (or the lack of it).

Applying the drill sergeant’s viewpoint of repeatedly training the rider to practice and eventually master the maneuver is a very practical solution. I suppose this one falls under the heading of the discipline of rider dynamics.

Ninety-five percent of all riders push the bike down and away from their bodies to initiate a turn or steering action, especially when attempting to do it rapidly. Rapidly here means something on the order of how fast you would have to turn your bike if someone stopped quickly in front of you and you wanted to simply ride around him or her; or avoid a pothole or a rock or any obstacle.

For example, when a muffler falls off the car in front of you on the freeway at 60 mph (96 Kph), that’s 88′ (27 meters) per second of headway you are making down the road. Despite the fact you’ve left a generous 40′ (12 meters) between you and the car that translates into one half-second to get the bike’s direction diverted, including your reaction time to begin the steering process. We’re talking about a couple of tenths of a second here. “Muy Rapido!”

This process of pushing the bike away from you to steer it seems like an automatic response and is most probably an attempt to keep oneself in the normally correct relationship to the planet and its gravity namely straight up or perpendicular to it. This is a good idea for walking, sitting and standing but not for riding.

When you stay “on top” of the bike, pushing it under and away, you actually commit a number of riding dynamics sins. The first of which is the “bad passenger syndrome.”

Bad Passenger syndrome

Bad passengers lean the wrong way on the bike. They position themselves in perfect discord counter to your intended lean, steering and cornering sensibilities.

So do you when you push the bike away from yourself, or hold your body rigidly upright on the bike. The most common solution to a bad passenger’s efforts to go against the bike’s cornering lean angle is to browbeat them and threaten “no more rides.” But how do you fix this tendency in yourself?

A bad passenger makes you correct your steering and eventually become wary of their actions and the bike’s response to them. This ultimately leads to becoming tense on the bike while in turns. Pushing the bike away from you or sitting rigidly upright while riding solo has the same effect.

Hung Off Upright

Hang-off-style riders don’t think this applies to them, but it does. Many riders are still pushing the bike under themselves while hung off. Look through some race photos, especially on the club level, and you will easily see that some racers are still trying to be bad passengers on their own bikes, and countering the benefits of the hung position by trying to remain upright through the corners.

A rider’s hung-off style may have more to do with his ability to be comfortable with the lean of the bike, and go with it, than anything else may. This is not to say that there is only one way to sit on a bike in any style of riding. But it does mean that each rider must find his own way of agreeing with his bike’s dynamics. And this doesn’t mean that you always have to have your eyes parallel with the horizon as some riders claim.

But it does mean that you may have to push yourself to get out of the “man is an upright beast” mode of thinking and ride with the bike, not against it. It may feel awkward at first, but it’s the only way to be truly “in unit” with the bike. Most top riders can do this, John Kocinski is an example of someone in perfect harmony with his machine.

Show and Tell

Having a rider do a quick flick, side-to-side steering maneuver in a parking lot allows you to easily observe him jerking and stuffing the bike underneath himself in an effort to overwhelm it with good intentions and brute force rather than using correct, effective and efficient steering technique.

There are other steering quirks you may observe while having someone do one of these show-and-tell drills. For example, some riders have a sudden hitch that comes at the end of the steering when they have leaned it over as far as they dare. It’s a kind of jerking motion initiated from a rigid upper body. You may see an exaggerated movement at the hips another attempt to keep the back erect. Also look for no movement of the head or extreme movement of it to keep it erect. A general tenseness of the whole body is common, as is lots of motion of the bike, but very little actual steering is being done in these examples.

So what’s the right thing to do here?

Good Passenger

What does a good passenger do? Nothing! She just sits there and enjoys the ride, practically limp on the saddle. The bike leans over and so does she.

Which scenario works with the motorcycle design: weight on top that is moving or weight that is stable and tracking with it? Motorcycles respond best to a positive and sure hand that does the least amount of changing. Holding your body upright is not doing nothing, it is doing something. It is an action you initiate, tenseness you provide, and it is in opposition to the bike’s intended design (what it likes). The answer to the question, “what’s wrong with my bike’s handling?” more often than not, is “the seat/handlebar interface.”

More Lean

The more you stay erect and try to push the bike down and away (moto-cross-style riding), the more leaned over you must be to get through the turn. That’s a fact. Crotch rocket jockeys hang off their bikes for show, but the pros do it to lean their bikes over less.

You can counter this adverse affect of having to lean more by simply going with the bike while you turn it, in concert with and congruous to its motion. There is even an outside chance that you may find it feels better and improves your control over the bike, and reduces the number of mini-actions needed to corner.

There is also a good possibility that this will open the door to conquering your directional fear, whichever form it may take.

Diagnosis

Look for one or more of these indications of your bad side:

1. Your body is stiff or tense while making turns on the side you don’t like.

2. You don’t allow your body to go with the bike’s lean on one side: To a degree, you are fighting it, and it is fighting you.

3. The effort to remain perfectly vertical is greater on your bad side.

4. You turn with less aggressiveness on your bad side.

5. You become shortsighted, looking too close to the bike on that shy side.

6. You find yourself making more steering corrections by trying to “dip” the bike into turns or pressing and releasing the bars several times in each turn.

7. You notice a tendency to stiff-arm the steering.

8. You notice you are steering the bike with your shoulders rather than your arms.

You might find more symptoms, but one or more of the above will be present on your bad side.

Coaching

The very best and simplest way I’ve found to cure this tendency to push the bike under is to have someone watch you while you do a quick flick, back-and-forth-steering drill in a parking lot.

You have your friend stand at one point and you ride directly away from him or her as though you were weaving cones, and then turn around and ride directly back at them, weaving as quickly as you feel comfortable and at a speed you like, usually in second gear.

In that way your coach is able to see you either going with the bike at each steering change or they will see you and the bike criss-crossing back and forth from each other. As the coach, that’s what you are looking for, the bike and the rider doing the same action, the rider’s body is leaned over the same as the bike at each and every point from the beginning of the steering action to the end. There is no trick to seeing this…it is obvious.

For example, when they ride away from you, if you see the mirrors moving closer and further away from the rider’s body, they are obviously not moving together. That’s pushing the bike under rather than good steering. This is also the time to notice which side is the rider’s bad side. The back-and-forth flicks will be hesitant on one side or the other.

Remedies

The entire purpose of this exercise is to have the rider get in better communication with his machine go with it and not against it and not treating it as though it were a foreign object that he is wrestling to stay on top of or muscle down like a rodeo rider.

Often, it simply takes a reminder to loosen up the upper body. Sometimes the rider needs to lean forward and imagine the tank and he are one and the same. On sport bikes a full crouch over the tank can sometimes be the answer to link the rider with his bike, giving him a ready reference to its physical attitude in relation to the road.

Making sure the rider has some bend in his elbows while leaning forward slightly seems to help. Using palm pressure to steer the bike seems to resolve the tendency to muscle the bike over from side to side.

 Dropping the elbows so the forearm is more level with the tank makes the steering easier and promotes the rider going with the bike, and takes away from the stiff-armed approach to steering. Reminders to relax the shoulders and let the arms do the work of steering also helps.

End Result

You stop doing the drill when the rider has the feeling he is in better control of the bike, when he has the idea of how easy and how much less effort it takes to steer; or when he feels comfortable with both rights and lefts.

There could be other contributing factors like overly worn tires or a bent frame that would bring a genuine and justified anxiety to a right or left turn, but I believe the above three reasons cover everything else, and if you are anything like the hundreds of riders I’ve had do the above drill, you could use a little work in this area even if you don’t have a bad side. I hope it helps.

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