What exactly is going on when a bike turns? It’s kind of confusing. A couple of days ago when I first started trying to ride, I thought it was simple - turn the handlebars right to turn right (hey I’ve been driving a car for twenty years, that felt right). However it doesn’t seem to be as simple as that, and I’m having trouble explaining exactly what happens.

The most difficult bit to understand is actually starting the turn. The best description I can come up with is this. It seems that I need to want the bike to turn in a specific direction. When I want it to, the bike starts to lean in the direction, and then I let the handlebars turn into the direction that it’s turning. At the very start, the bars stay pointing straight ahead - indeed if anything, they sort of jerk very slightly in the opposite direction first (the first time I felt that happen it freaked me out and I really pushed the bars to the right and hit the brakes - which nearly lead to a crash). It doesn’t really make any sense.

I’m “fine with it” now, because it actually feels quite natural when turning, but I don’t “get” how it actually happens. So - let’s assume I wanted to explain motorbike turning to my eight year old son - can someone give me a description of how I would teach him to do it? What exactly is going on here?


Counter steering i believe it’s called. You turn the bars left to make the bike turn right…???

I’m not sure you’d want to explain it to an 8 year old :pinch:

Try watching this though

counter-steering is what makes a bike turn.

I’m sure someone will go into the physics of it, but to turn right you have to push on the right bar (pointing the front wheel “left”) in order to be able to lean right. If you imagine the physics of it, a bike wont really lean right if the wheel is facing that way. it’s just not that possible.


this might help.

hope it helps.

Good video!

Wow, thanks guys. Both of those videos were superb. I guess my “want it to go right” which makes the bike lean is actually counter-steering, although I wasn’t doing it consciously. The counter-steering 101 video is a great explanation, and “Push right go right” from the second video makes sense.

Now watch me screw it up badly when I try to do it consciously :slight_smile:


think of the front wheel as gyroscope - you try to turn the wheel left/right and the gyroscope turns that force by 90 degrees into a vertical tilt (which is how the bike corners)


I still find it difficult to master in practice though, I’ve only quite recently got to grips with ‘active’ countersteering (where I actually think about pushing the bar) before I just did it naturally as that’s where my weight went when leaning over.

Ok, just been out and tried it. I must have some kind of lucky charm, the moment I went out it stopped raining ;-). And…yup, what I’m doing is just nudging the bars forward slightly on the side that I want to turn to, which initiates the lean, at which point the bars follow the turn. Now that I understand it, it actually feels much more controlled!

Thanks folks.

If you watch Twist of the Wrist 2 they have a really nice explanation of counter steering :slight_smile:

Gah! This is the kind of stuff that I had to stop reading about and watching. The rational, logical part of my brain understands it completely, but if I think about it when I’m on the bike I end up farking up. I think it’s too much for my little brain.

Doesn’t it just happen naturally, like when you don’t think about it? That’s what I’ve found at least, or are you meant to think about it?

It does happen naturally. You’re absolutely right.

I’m afraid I’ve an analytic mind - I want to understand things, often to a level far lower than necessary. If I don’t understand the low level workings, I don’t trust the finished product - that’s just how I am. I work with large scale distributed computer systems for a living, and when I design a new system I start off with two transistors and a soldering iron, and work up. I’m the same way with everything - so riding seems very natural to me, but I need to understand why.

Having said that, I think it’s useful to understand how it works. Try doing what is shown in the 2nd video above - ride along in a straight line, and just lightly push the handlebars forward on one side or the other. You’ll find you start to lean towards that side. I’ve been doing that all along, but I didn’t think about how I did it, so I couldn’t choose to do it. Sometimes I’d start to turn too early or too late - because I wasn’t really doing it “on purpose”. I feel much more in control now that I am deliberately starting to lean. (Bear in mind I’m a new rider - I have just over 150 miles on the bike so far, although I expect to be going for my 600 mile service within the next couple of weeks ;-)).

Net: ignore how it works if it works for you!


P.S. No-one seems to reply in the “newbie night” thread, is tomorrow on at the Ace Cafe? There seem to be three of us newbies asking, maybe no-one looks at that part of the forum any more?

Oh, no I wasn’t having a go. I’m the same sort of way - very analytical, but I think for me learning to ride a bike (and I’m new too!) has been a welcome relief away from analysing the how and why of things. Though sometimes understanding helps me figure out where I’ve gone wrong. For instance, I found right hand turns are tricky because you naturally pull the throttle closed as the handlebar comes towards you - the minute I figured that out, it was something to counteract, and now…I don’t think about it.

It took me a few weeks to realise that I don’t have to think at all about what I’m doing with my body when on the bike. Have to think a lot about who is going to hit me and where the hell I am, but not about the rest of it, and now it seems like the bike just seems to do most of it on its own.

Um…Newbie Night at Ace? Where is the thread? I will try to find it. I think someone else I know is popping along to that.

Quoting on this forum is weird sometimes. I see you found the newbie night thread, and someone even posted in it, so all is good. I’ll be down there if I can handle the turns on the way :wink: