The Demons in Left Hand Curves

by Carol Meier
December 3rd, 2006


What is it about left hand curves?  The demons were not there in the beginning.  After all, a left hand curve allows you a wider arc than a right hand curve.  You are not pushing with your throttle hand so you do not have the worry of rolling on the throttle while pushing.  So where did the demons come from?  And can they be banished?

The majority of my riding during the past two years has occupied the right track with Cliff leading in the left track.  Occasionally I have drifted a little wide while attempting to stay in the right track through a left curve.  But that was not enough to summon the demons.  Was it that infamous trip on the road from Masonville?

It was a crisp June morning as the group headed out that day.  Just outside of Masonville, Cliff and I pulled over to wait for Polar X.  Hard to believe I know, but so true. We then headed out to catch up with the rest of the group.  Since Chris, Cliff and I all have the same radios, Chris was able to provide feedback on how I was taking the curves while Cliff set a comfortable pace.  So far so good. 

Then the curves started to tighten and appear more frequently – left, right, left – I have had enough of these curves – right – damn, another one – left.  I push left, my boards scrape, I slow down, I push left, boards still scrape, I am drifting out, I cannot push any harder – I am not going to make the curve.  Now what?  Remembering my MSF course, I opt to straighten it out and stop.  Unfortunately, I needed a couple more feet of pavement.  As soon as I hit the edge of the pavement, the bike slammed down on the shoulder. 

This incident left me a little concerned about why I could not push any harder.  Why did I miss the corner?  We were not going fast.  Did I just pick the wrong line?  Two weeks later, Cliff and I find ourselves bringing up the rear of one of the July rides.  We are on High Grade Road almost to Conifer approaching a tight curve.  Cliff keys his microphone to warn me of the gravel in curve and tell me to slow my speed.  I round the curve and all I can see is gravel from one side of the lane to the other.  The next thing I know, I am going faster not slower.  I can’t see the track that is clear of gravel.  There is no shoulder, only guardrails.  I HAVE to make the corner!

I look where I want the bike to go.  I do not touch my brakes. And I pray. My board is scraping.  I am through the curve, but coming up on Cliff too fast.  Have I cleared the gravel?  Can I use my brakes now?  Thankfully Cliff picks up his pace.  And yes, this was a left hand curve.

I realized two valuable lessons that day.  If you tense your throttle hand, it has a tendency to roll the throttle on.  And if the heel of your hand is on your throttle boss, simply loosening your grip will not roll the throttle off.

Since that time, I have made a conscious effort NOT to tighten my grip on the throttle.  The throttle boss was turned out of the way.  I kept riding.  But the “lefts” kept getting worse, not better.  I would switch from the right track to the left track for left hand curves.  Then I found myself switching from left track to right track for “rights”.  What was going on?  Where was my confidence?

A couple of weeks ago, Cliff and I were reviewing online articles.  We came across an article on how to make your bike fit you.  They were not talking about all the customizing that expresses your personality.  They were discussing physically how to make the bike fit the rider.  They discuss modifications to the seat, foot controls, levers, pegs and handlebar.  One of the article’s suggestions is that you sit on your bike, close your eyes, and extend your arms to a comfortable riding position.  Open your eyes to get an idea of what adjustments may be necessary.

So just for grins, I tried this.  Cliff had worked with me to adjust the bike providing me with the knowledge his many years of riding had provided him.  Much to my surprise, the grips (and handlebar) were too low. 

So with a quick turn of a couple screws the handle bar clamp was loosened.  I moved the bar up maybe an inch at most.  I did not think any more about it.  After all, it was a very small adjustment.

Imagine my surprise on our next ride when I push left and bike goes way left.  All of a sudden, a gentle push left and the bike leans into a nice line. No more fighting the bike to go left.  I have heard many VTX riders comment on how you really have to work the Retro in the corners.  It had never occurred to me that I might be pushing harder than I should to control the bike.  Could that small of a change make that much of a difference in my leverage on the bars? Could the demons be banished this easily?  Ask me again after I have a few more miles, but yes I think so.

Two weeks before the Masonville ride, we had installed 4” Rivco risers and lowered the handlebar.  The handlebar had been adjusted to a comfortable arm/wrist position that would eliminate the strain on my shoulders or upper arms.  I had clearance for lock to lock turns so what could be wrong?  As I considered the position that I chose recently while having my eyes closed, I realized that I need at least some tension in my shoulders/upper arms to provide me with leverage when pushing.

As I ride this upcoming winter and spring, I will pay more attention to how my bike fits me.  Do I have the best sitting position?  Do the foot controls fit me?  Should I make other adjustments?  Adjusting your bike to fit you is not only a matter of comfort, but of safety and control.   

Reference article from Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine, "Just adjust: Set up your motorcycle to fit you."