Why you should practise counter steering

Kawasaki Z900RS practise counter steering

If you’ve ridden a bicycle, counter steering will come naturally to you, so why would it be necessary to practise counter steering?

The problem is that, in an emergency situation, your instinct is to turn the handlebars toward the direction you want to go.

Here is a graphic video example of what can happen.

Notice the rider makes a couple of steering corrections.

There are a number of mistakes this rider makes.

First, the rider enters the corner too shallow which makes the bike run wide. The rider should take a wider approach so the bike is leaning and turning away from oncoming traffic.

Read more about apexes here.

Second, the rider sees the truck and develops target fixation. That is, the rider looks at what they could hit and naturally steers toward it.

Read about target fixation and how to make it work to your advantage.

The third problem is that the rider has not practised counter steering, so they swap back and forth between steering and counter-steering, weaving into the truck.

You need to practise counter steering to ensure that it becomes your reflex action in an emergency.

Read what counter steering is.

How to practise counter steering

You should start at slow speeds and gradually build up speed.

However, don’t try counter steering at a really slow walking pace as it doesn’t work.

Find a vacant carpark (you may need to get permission) or a quiet stretch of road and start practising at about 20km/h. (Keep your eyes peeled for any approaching vehicle in front or behind.)

In you are in a vacant carpark you can use cones or other safe objects to weave around.

Learner rider Mitch Hamrey tackles the HART slalom course austroads competent rewards practise counter steering

Otherwise weave around white line markings or parking bays.

Make sure your forearms are parallel with the grips. Depending on your handlebars, this may require you to crouch and drop your shoulders and elbows.

In this position, you are more likely to push and pull the bars, rather than just lean on them. This has more effect on the steering.

Keep your torso upright as you push and pull the bars, noting that when you push the right bar, the bike drops to the right and turns right and vice versa.

Gradually build up speed, noting how little handlebar input you need to effect a turn.

This exercise is not designed for cornering, but for swerving to avoid an obstacle in an emergency.

You most likely already use counter steering techniques when you corner.

You will find that you can adjust your bike’s angle quicker and swerve faster if you allow the bike to lean while keeping your body upright.

Trying to lean your body as well increases the weight you are trying to lean, so the response is slower.

However, at highway speeds, you will need to lean with the bike or it could unsettle the machine and cause a high side.

Like any skill, practice will make it become a natural reaction.

5 Comments

  1. Let me preface my comments by saying I am not here to take sides. However, looking back on over 60 years of riding, I am in full agreement with Al about the dive method being, to me, more intuitive/instinctive than counter steering. After all, I have, I believe, learned to look in the direction that I want my ride to go. The so-called dive method is just a reinforcement of that. Also, per Al’s comment, the professional, highly skilled riders who utilise counter steering as part of their training can find that method very effective. However, generally, the non-professional riders without the necessary practice may well be in trouble trying to implement that in an emergency.

  2. There is more to this counter steering than is first apparent , you have also got to get the weight on the same side ar la the “dive” and keep pressure on that side handle bar then there are the foot pegs which if weighted can be also very effective .Jack Miller was interviewed on one moto gp session some months ago and gave a good demonstration of the steering effect of “weighting “foot pegs

  3. I am worried about the way people are educated about driving and riding.
    99.99%of driver education is about getting a license and obeying the rules and leaves them utterly clueless in an emergency situation. Advanced driving and riding courses are often taught by ex racers or wannabe racers and although much of what they teach is very valuable there is often a dangerous disconnect between the real world and how advanced techniques can be applied by someone with little experience. And trying to get that experience is often called hooning.
    Counter steering is an example of a lifesaving technique that can easily kill you if you get it wrong which is very easy to do , even if you don’t mix up which way to push the bar you can still get it horribly wrong.
    New riders should be taught the dive method before counter steering.
    With the dive method you look in the direction you need to go and dive towards it like you’re reaching out to catch a ball, basically you are throwing your weight in the direction you need to go and when you do this the bike follows you and you naturally counter steer. In a panic situation the dive is many times safer than counter steering as it is no as easy to get wrong and probably much faster as there is an instinctual level of action backing up the reflexes as opposed to the intellectual requirements of the counter steer method. With counter steering you not only have the possibility of steering the wrong way but because you may be acting in a panic you could easily push too far and drop the bike, highside yourself or leave yourself behind by not leaning in time to follow the bike.
    With the dive none of this is possible with the exception of leaning over too far or loosing traction and dropping the bike but in both cases it puts the bike between you and what you are about to hit and that has often saved the riders life.

      1. Both articles vaguely relate to the dive method but that’s the problem it’s too vague. My intention was to clearly spell out the benefits of the dive over the counter steer.
        Some well intentioned imbeciles may start in about how great the counter steer is and how racers use it all the time and that is the main problem it’s a good method for the highly skilled and experienced. I’m no racer not even a boy racer anymore but I also use counter steering when appropriate but in emergencies I use the dive as it’s something I don’t even have to think about to get right.
        As for target fixation. I learnt about how bad that can be on my push bike as a kid I have a chunk missing from a knee left behind on a rock that was jutting out of an embankment I was mountain biking down. Lesson to self don’t look at the big rock look at the path you need to take was something like what I said to my self as I limped the several kilometres home carrying a bent bike.

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