Do motorcycles corner better than cars?

Mercedes and MV Agusta corner

Riders are often held up in corners by drivers, yet on a racetrack a car can corner at a much higher speed than a race bike.

Why is it so?

First, let’s look at the physics.

We recently investigated how a car can brake faster than a motorcycle because it has four tyre contact patches versus two, a lower centre of gravity and higher aerodynamic downforces.

READ ABOUT BRAKING COMPARISONS

Corner speed

These same reasons also provide a car with more lateral grip so they can maintain higher cornering speeds.

So over a course with a series of corners, a car can be faster than a motorcycle.

For example, Jorge Lorenzo scored pole with his Yamaha at Phillip Island in 2013 with a lap time of 1:27.899 yet the outright Island lap record belongs to Simon Wills in a Reynard 94D at a massive 3.7 seconds faster.

Fuel economy tank slapper
Jeromy Moore

Again we contacted Jeromy Moore — former Craig Lowndes race engineer and now with the Porsche world endurance champions — for a scientific explanation.

“A car should have more lateral acceleration potential due to more rubber,” he says.

“This is a big generalisation of course and you can find exceptions where, for example, a superbike can corner better than a family wagon.

“Also on tight roads, a bike is a smaller percentage of the road so it can manoeuvre through the same sequence of bends faster as the bike doesn’t need to do as tight a corner radius so the difference is reduced.”Slow moving vehicle pull over turnout sign traffic follow

Skill and thrill

It will also depend on the skill and commitment of a rider versus a driver.

While we hate to generalise and pigeonhole, we believe the following observations to be largely true.

As a proportion, more riders are likely to seek advanced training and practise their skills than a driver.

Riders are also more likely to ride for the thrill and concentrate on the task than a driver.

A Sunday driver with a carload of passengers has a totally different objective to a Sunday solo rider.Slow moving vehicle pull over turnout sign traffic

Drivers are more likely to be distracted by passengers, music and scenery. They will also drive at a smoother rate over a twisty course so they don’t make their passengers carsick.

So most riders will be faster through a series of bends than most drivers. Riders will brake later and harder going into a corner and accelerate earlier and harder coming out.

But if you plan to overtake a committed and talented driver in a car with all the modern handling, braking and traction control technology, think again.

11 Comments

  1. On the road I think motorcyclists push it harder as a bike is more comfortable cornering, in a car you are being pushed to the side, while a bike leaning is better (and more fun). I tend to agree with the article about limits of grip, it’s more about driver/rider attitude.

  2. Well a recent Ducati ride day i attended at a tight and twisty track saw all road registered bikes slower than my comfortable quick lap in my road car and only a few race bikes quicker. They were quicker than me on the straights and out of the corners but corner entry speeds and mid corner speeds slower. Fear would play a part in this i would think but it would in the real world also. I can enter a corner too hot in my car and still be ok but i would do that on my bike.

  3. Okay, so I have some simple questions. If cars have higher contact patches, doesn’t that equate to more friction? And then, since a motorcycle can lean, to angles of upto 40 degrees for skilled road riders, won’t it just get in and get out of the corner faster than cars? And then again, with forces like understeer and oversteer not present in a motorcycle, doesn’t it make it better equipped for cornering? And then again, while cornering, even in sports cars, doesn’t the car run out wide while entering the corner? Please answer…

    1. I am not sure why you would think a bike does not understeer or oversteer, road bikes certainly do, dirt bikes do it all day every day, a look at MOTOGP will show them doing it for 50-100 meters on a regular basis. Why would they build varying levels of Traction Control if bikes did not oversteer.
      When cornering the higher friction is what you are after its called traction. Cars do generally suffer from a lower power to weight ratio that being a key reason why they cant stop or start as quick as a bike. So a bike and a car traveling at the same speed comes up to a corner, with better braking and tire combination (on a typical bike) the bike can brake much later but the car typically will have higher mid corner speed than the bike, the bike has better power to weight so gets back up to speed quicker.

  4. I’m not very convinced by this article, and have not read the braking article yet.

    I drive a 125 scooter and have ridden two wheels for about 5 years, since I was 16. I may be in the peak of dangerous hormone driven risk taking riding, but in my general experience, I can out corner almost anything I race through the twisty Arkansas roads.

    My scooter peaks about 75 mph top speed (modified final drive and aerodynamics), but in most curves can leave cars or trucks behind.

    I have raced my older brother’s mustang cougar in the tight curves, and our experience was that I could push about 60 mph in curves where his tires began sliding at about 55 mph.

    I have pushed 70 mph through a curve that my cousin peaks a little over 60 mph in his car.

    I have also raced some cruiser bikes and consistently out cornered them.

    But I am not sure how my scooter compares to a sport bike… I do have wet racing inspired soft tires, and have leaned over pretty steep in some curves.

    However, I have now crashed 4 times on the road, in one year… Yikes!
    3 times due to tire sliding around curves, 1 time due to front tire lock during fast breaking.

    I have become more cautious, with a son on the way 😉 , and a few too many crashes in recent history.

    I don’t really know whether cars or bikes handle better, but my limited experience has been that my two wheels slightly outmatch cars in tight curves.

    I believe the explanation is partly superior tire compounds and surface tread, and that you can follow better racing lines with a bike because it is thinner, and can shift more from one side of the road to the other.

    Ultimately race cars can take advantage of aerodynamic downforce, and outmatch bikes… But what I really wonder is how cars and motorcycles compare if neither benefit from aerodynamic downforce?

    My somewhat educated guess is that cars and bikes are very close to equal in cornering speed capability, but bikes have the slight advantage of grippier tires and better ability to cut corners.
    Cars have the advantage of increased driver confidence and are likely to push the limits more comfortably.

    1. A mustang cougar?
      How about a car that can go around corners?
      I have been racing cars for years at club level-Alfa Romeo-Caterham-Mini-BMW and also have a Vespa and Moto Guzzi. No way can a bike corner near the Caterham and me on a bike no where near any of the others either. On my local “morning run” roads the bikes will be way quicker out of the corner but i can drive around the outside of them mid corner without a problem.

  5. Interesting comments.
    Made me think. Get a rider that cannot think about crashing as it’s not an option. In short…crazy bastards that know how to ride. Isle of Man.
    Bike and car go balls out around there, and current records have the bike ahead by about 8kph more on lap records.
    I wonder if it’s that daredevil madness that gets them that extra umph.
    ..and respect.

  6. There are a couple of discrepancies in how a formula one car or similar and a super bike can handle a corner as opposed to a sports car and a street bike.
    On a racetrack cars can go ten tenths or even Evelyn tenths because they aren’t as likely to have a catastrophic accident as a bike if it looses grip often even when a car has an off it can rejoin the race and occasionally still go on to win. When a bike goes off 999999 times out of 100000 it’s game over so even the most committed rider will usually keep it under ten tenths.
    Most skilled riders can still out pace a sports car because the effective grip of the tyres is closer and a bikes mass is lower and it is very rare that you find a car driver with even half the skill and commitment of a rider. But beware of the looneys who become instant race drivers when they get behind the wheel.

  7. We need to remember that motorcyclists are also more susceptible to road surface and hazards as we have less grip than a car, especially when leaned over so we need to leave a margin for error and not ride at 110% of our ability.

  8. I think the only take home message one can get from this article and the braking article is that the old discrepancy between cars and bike is long passed.

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