How can motorcycles lean so far over?

Are you amazed at how far a motorcycle can lean over without losing grip? MotoGP riders are touching the track with their knees. How is this possible?

Motorcycles can lean because of the tyres and gyroscopic forces. As you lean into a corner at a steep angle, say 60 degrees, your motorcycle tyres are gripping the road at their very edges, and it stays upward due to gyroscopic forces.

How far can a motorcycle lean?

It depends on the motorcycle, so let’s look at a cruiser. The cruiser can lean in at least 32 degrees. The factor relies on G force. If you exceed 1.1 g, you are in danger of the motorcycle slipping from under you.

A 23-degree lean angle is nowhere near 1.1g, so you are safe.

If you are riding a full-on sports bike, 45 degrees of lean is the maximum before losing traction.

Now, let’s talk some common sense. If the ground is wet, you will lose traction at these lean angles. The same goes for a slippery surface or gravel on the road.

Many motorcycle riders are a little scared to lean in the rain, and you shouldn’t be. You can still lean the bike in a corner even at a slower speed that is safe for the rain and wet road surfaces.

Why can Motorcycles lean so much?

The gyroscopic effect takes a little time to get your head around as it is counterintuitive to what you would imagine is going on when you lean your motorcycle into a corner.

Your spinning motorcycle tyres tend always to stay upright. This is the natural condition of a spinning wheel. 

When you lean into a corner, you are steering in the opposite direction of the lean! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Your motorcycle wants to bring itself upright when in forwarding motion.

To prove the point, how many videos have you seen when a rider has fallen off his motorcycle and the motorcycle continues upright in a straight line until it collides with an obstacle or loses speed?

This is the gyroscopic effect that you fight in the corner, which forces you to lean.

Now you can lean further and lower depending on the group pattern of your rear tyre. The further the grip surface, the lower you can get.

Slick track tyres are slightly under-inflated to allow for more grip on the tyre’s edges.

How do you lean further on a motorcycle?

With practice and confidence. The point of no return for traction in a corner is when you exceed 1.1 g, g as in gravity.

Taking a corner at speed enough not to exceed this 1.1 g is crucial, and if you know the roads and your motorcycle, you can get down just below 45 degrees safely and be nowhere near 1.1g.

Be careful not to lever a tyre off the road with a lowered footpeg or crash bars.