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Countersteering (wikipedia.org)
105 points by Lio on Sept 14, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 137 comments

There’s a lot about riding a motorbike that feels counterintuitive. The way this article is written it sounds like you can only initiate the steer with a counter steer but even if you’re already in a bend you can provide a counter input to tighten your line and steer harder. It’s taught pretty early on for new riders and it saves lives.

There’s loads of other weird things, because the rear tire is wider than the front, the contact patch is bigger at the rear, so to extract maximum grip you need a rearward weight transfer, so lightly accelerating in a turn is optimal. Even when not pursuing max grip you’d still do this to keep the envelope large around your actual grip requirements.

Although The front wheel has a smaller contact patch, the contact patch at the front is often a different shape- the front wheel is often a larger diameter so it has a longer but narrower contact patch than the rear. That makes for a vehicle that tracks and responds differently over uneven ground at the front vs the back which leads to you needing to let the front move itself, a relaxed grip is needed on the bars over uneven surfaces, otherwise you will transfer so of that motion from the handlebars, through your body to the pegs and the seat. That will lead to a loss of control. Utterly counter intuitive that to retain control over rough ground you want to almost let go of the handlebars.

There’s two great books - for direct machine control, “a twist of the wrist” volume 2 by keith code and for more abstract how to think about machine control - not So much how to steer but why to steer and where to - then roadcraft by the uk police is another great book.

> Utterly counter intuitive that to retain control over rough ground you want to almost let go of the handlebars.

I've hiked through a lot of forests ever since I was a kid and have a method, often criticized, but that has never injured me, of going down difficult terrain. I more or less glide down at a constant speed, putting my feet in places to apply upwards force. It helps a great deal that I have very flexible angles and can bend at near 90 degree angles. I usually get down very quickly and without fuss, whereas the slower more deliberate method tends to produce bigger falls. You tense up more when you're going down like that, and are more likely to produce uncontrolled fall, which is what kills you. If you can control your fall (throw yourself lightly at a patch that will stop you quickly and not injure you) and go a bit limp to disperse energy quickly, you can fall a lot more than most people but get injured less. I learned this technique from skateboarding. The idea is to learn to do a controlled fall whenever you're in danger into a safe area, rather than possibly risk an uncontrolled fall.

I've been called an idiot for doing this but I have never broken a bone nor had significant injury while hiking.

Anyway, my point is, sometimes just letting the movement flow naturally is the correct thing to do, even if it means the speed involved/perceived danger is higher.

Not sure I follow. What I do is let gravity push me downhill and I keep one foot in front of the other and I gallop, hopping down the hill but always keeping a leading foot so that I never have to do the full movement of switching legs like in normal walking.

Because I don't switch my feet I can keep up faster than I can run and I don't slip because I always have 2 feet on the ground at a time and it's kinda like surfing without the board.

Yep, that's what I was talking about. The leading foot does switch for me but only depending on what needs to be stepped on, not a normal walking switch.

Yeah being very loose is ideal. I run/hop like a marionette.

One of these days I want to try the Gloucestershire cheese race.

Living in a hilly area, this is the way to go down hills. If you tense you get tired going down, aswell as up hills.

My technique for running downhill. Not sure why nobody else uses it.

I gallop like a deer and I can go incredibly fast by basically keeping one foot constantly in front and never switching it and hopping down hills. I don't have to take a full step and I always have two feet or no feet on the ground so it's impossible to slip.


That's also how you move down on slippery icy slopes.

Sounds interesting, but I'm unable to picture what you're saying. Are there any videos I can watch about this technique?

No video will show the subtle differences. The principle is that you would let the physical aspects of the ride flow through your bike to minimise shock and allow the bike to more naturally ‘fall’ through the path that will take it the easiest.

An good analogue would be jet skiing. If you just hold on for dear life and hope for the best, you will get a very sore back. A lot about doing it right is letting the waves do what they have to do, and making subtle corrections to ensure your path is optimal but taking into account the obstacles it’s encountering

Are they talking about hiking or biking?

Walking is basically controlled falling. This is basically an extension of that. You just let one leg go in front of the other like you were walking, rather than taking singular steps.

Motorcycle physics are very interesting to say the least. My favorite is this:

What happens to the suspensions when you brake? Front one compresses while the back one extends. That one was easy. Now this:

What happens to the suspensions when you accelerate? Front one extends while the back one... also extends.

Motorcycles are specially designed to have this last behavior.

Let me blow your mind:

"What happens to the suspensions when you brake"

Depends on the suspension!!

Earles front suspensions rise on braking, transferring weight to the rear. Its counter intuitive until you realize that the forward momentum of the bike is on an arm that has to rise to allow forward motion of the body relative to the front tire.

I think BMWs paralever could also rise on braking, but could be adjusted not to and all were.

Something I've only read about... Earlier BMW motorcycles with shaft drive were infamous for their "Gummikuh" ("rubber cow") behavior, rising strongly in the rear when accelerating. The shaft drive was later modified to reduce that.

Twist of the wrist is fantastic, as is the video, which can be found on YouTube. Agree with everything you said, and I'm curious: what do you ride? I've been tracking a mostly-stock R6 for the last 5 years, A the last 3 or 4. One thing I thought I'd add is that with motorcycles, the rider is a significant fraction of the total mass, so your position on the bike can greatly affect the center of gravity. You see guys leaning off the bike (towards the apex of a corner), which allows the bike to stand up taller, thus requiring less lean angle/more contact patch, which allows for higher speed and better grip at corner exit.

Oh and another surprising thing: on track I never use the rear brake when braking hard. Why? Hard braking lifts the rear wheel, and when you use the rear brake it becomes incredibly easy to lose rear traction!

>> what do you ride

I sold my S1000XR (first generation) and was all set for a Tuono V4 but i really didn't get on with it. I'm 6'3 so a 2nd gen S1000XR looks likely next. I'd love a shot on the new Triumph TE-1 when it launches though.

>> I've been tracking a mostly-stock R6

I think that's the most popular bike here too, if i had space for 2 bikes, i'd do the same as you and have an R6 for track.

Nice, I see some rsv4's at the track, still waiting to see a new rs660 so I can bombard the owner with questions. The new R7 is supposed to be "fun" to track, as it's got the more user-friendly mt07 engine, but its nothing compared to the scream of the 6. When mine inevitably blows up I'll probably be looking between the aprilia or maybe a gsxrr.

yea, it's so much easier to lock the rear tire when braking hard. i've owned two different Suzuki GS500s (a 1996 GS500e and a 2006 GS500f) and both of them were notoriously easy to lock up the rear wheel on

It’s even more complex than that - motorcycle tyres have different curvature at the front and the rear, it’s pretty hard to get to the edge at the front even with moderate braking but I have routinely run to or off the edge of various rears on track days.

There’s also fun things like the bikes geometry gets longer or shorter under acceleration or braking to help with turning and grip. The physics is quite beautiful (and a lot of fun)

Using the whole front is there for some pretty extreme trail braking, more than I put into the front that’s for sure. I do have a comfortable 1-2 day use period for a rear on my R6, while I kind of squint at the front and figure I better replace it every couple rears I almost never feel it getting used up.

Do you live in the Bay Area? What org do you ride with? I’m with PTT for track days and AFM for racing.

Sadly I am in Auckland NZ! Our race tracks are getting closed down, it’s quite a sad time.

I think your second point is actually dangerous advice and it's one of the reasons I prefer Nick Ienatsch's book [1] and the Yamaha Champions [2] school to Keith Code/CSBS. You don't want to be adding throttle and lean angle at the same time and accelerating through a turn gives you less options to deal with mid-corner surprises. You can add throttle as you stand the bike up and drive out of the corner.

Even on the road it's safer to trail the front brake into corners and keep weight on the front tire. Keeping the front suspension compressed will also make the bike turn better. None of the fast guys ride the way Code describes [3]. You can see Marc brake all the way to the apex with zero throttle.

[1] https://www.amazon.com.au/Sport-Riding-Techniques-Develop-Co... [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvrgn5akOm4 [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cS3DTWq0QV8

Big second recommendation for twist of the wrist. You can watch a pretty cheesy, but very informative version of it on youtube.

Craig, thanks for the comment and recommendations. I think I'll check out Roadcraft.

"Pretty cheesy" might be a bit of an understatement but it's a good companion to the TOTW2 book.

The acting scenes are incredibly cheesy, and the rest of it is fine, just with a bit of a retro vibe. Dude's facial hair etc.

On the second point (the need to maintain light acceleration) I'd always thought this was more to counteract engine braking - if there is engine braking, that is more demand on the rear tyre, kind of like applying the brake - which takes up a bit of the "available" friction that could be used for cornering.

I can only really explain it intuitively, in that when you pull on the rear brake or engine brake, the angular forces of the rotation of the wheel are transferred into making your bike straighten up vertically. I don't know if that actually happens, but that's how it feels.

Part of it is also similar to the reasons you trail brake into corners, in that you're managing the weight distribution over your tires. You don't want to be erratically changing how much weight is on the front tires, otherwise you'll find you suddenly have a lot less front grip.

I can't speak to motorcycles, but when driving a car at the track there's "maintenance throttle" which is partly to counter the slowing you get from the tires scrubbing, and partly to balance 'weight'; most cars are far heavier up front than in back, so a bit of throttle puts a bit more weight on the back of the car, which helps keep the front outside tire from getting overloaded but also puts some weight on the back tires for more grip. It also offers the option to induce some oversteer via throttle lift, if necessary.

That’s right, in a car as you go into a corner you first steer a little bit, the car then “takes a set” - i have no idea where that terminology comes from but it just means the car moves to a steady state of loading up the outside suspension. Once you feel the car has taken a set, you can crank on a lot more steering. I’m describing it as two phases but the best drivers smooth both of these phases into one flowing motion - slowly steer at first then steer faster. Doing it in this two phase approach allows for far higher lateral g to be built in the turn than if you just smoothly turn at the same rate. You extract more grip because you build weight over the tire before asking it to grip and grip is parlty a function of weight on the tyre.

In most car drivetrain configurations you’d then use a balanced throttle through the turn.

You can use a balanced throttle on a bike too - many people do - but all race bikes and most advanced riders even in non race scenarios will use a slight acceleration not a balanced throttle because where in the car you want to settle the suspension with a heavy loading equally on your two outside wheels (e.g. in an FR layout car) on a bike you want to have around 65% weight on the rear.

There’s a similar effect with the Porsche 911 - it’s an RR layout with 12 inch wide tyres at the rear and a slight acceleration is optimimum for it.

I would say it's more to keep some weight on the rear wheel and prevent a low-side crash. When the bike is slowing down the weight shifts to the front, whether through friction braking or engine braking. If you are already at the correct speed, lightly accelerating helps bring you through the corner with more even weight on the wheels. Incidentally, race car drivers do the same thing, except when drifting, but you almost never see intentional drifting in road racing.

I always thought that it's simply because as you turn left/right, the bike will fall to the left/right, and the acceleration delivers an outward force that levers the bike up against the friction of its tires (and disappears once the bike is vertical) i.e. the same thing that keeps bikes vertical and straight by themselves as long as they're getting power. That being said, I'm a rider not a thinker.

> and the acceleration delivers an outward force that levers the bike up against the friction of its tires

That force is there even if the bike turns at constant speed.

Counteracting engine braking happens already at maintaining speed. Maintaining acceleration is maintaining acceleration, with the obvious effect of moving more weight on the back wheel and shortening the bike.

I think its for overcoming the braking that occurs when you turn because of the normal force. Even if you hold down the clutch the bike will brake more that if you run in a straight line.

A twist of the wrist. Great to see it show up here. The only instruction I took before I bought a bike and rode 6000km to the uyuni salt flats. With near zero experience, that film pretty much saved my life.

Keith Code (author of twist of the wrist) has a bike with fixed handle bars that he lets you ride as part of his superbike track/race school. It is really eye opening on how little control you have without countersteering.

Here's a vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VqXBA-sGHA

His school: https://superbikeschool.com/

+100 for Twist of the Wrist Volume 2

Although I think Roadcraft has been "superseded" by IAM with a simplified version called "How to be a better driver", I would use both.

Twist 2 is available for free on YouTube. Filmed decades ago but motorcycles are still mostly the same.

It's fascinating that the explanation of a countersteer is counterintuitive, but most people pick up on it without being taught. Kids learning to ride a bicycle will naturally add the countersteer before a turn.

This Veritasium video touches upon the same phenomenon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cNmUNHSBac

And also Sheldon Brown:


The writings of Sheldon Brown are somewhat a Wiki for cyclists teaching maintenance and riding a bicycle. I've learned riding a bicycle as child but the theory and maintenance guides are useful to know.

If you are German you may also appreciate Wikipedalia:


> Skilled cyclists use the front brake alone probably 95% of the time

I am skeptical about this claim. Here’s a recent video by a former pro on the subject of braking, for example, and he is squeezing on both brakes at the same time in most of the shots. [1] He does say that the front brake can be squeezed a lot harder, though, and is source of most of your braking power.

Even in the places where Brown says you should use the rear/both brakes comprise much more than 5% of my total brake usage: bumpy roads, slippery roads, long descents, breaking during a turn, etc. But I’ll also use both breaks to come to a stop pretty much any time I’m coming up to a traffic light or other non-emergency stop.

[1] https://youtu.be/wX4tFn4RzrU

Thank you! You're right with the critique. The number is wrong and an exaggeration. To be fair, Brown did focus on emergency breaking and the paragraph lists situations for the rear break.

The video is good and states that the front brakes matters most for emergency breaking. Breaking well planed before a turn, because breaking in turn can lead to loose of traction and result in skidding. Brown mentions this also as situation for gently breaking with front- and back break together to avoid skidding. I think most important is the rule to break gently in regular situations.

As you I'm breaking often with the rear break only, on bumpy roads or when I need little deceleration. And often with both! Sometimes also in change during step descents (allow cool down of front break). I once didn't notice the bumpy surface (asphalt looked well) before a turn on a step decent and used only the front break, it was horrible because lack of deceleration and every bump was a hit into the handlebar.

> I am skeptical about this claim. Here’s a recent video by a former pro on the subject of braking, for example, and he is squeezing on both brakes at the same time in most of the shots. [1] He does say that the front brake can be squeezed a lot harder, though, and is source of most of your braking power.

Note that he's stopping with both brakes and also moves his hips behind the seat, which makes tumble-forwards situation less likely. If you have enough strength you can go so low in that position that you will also slide on the front wheel as well on the back wheel.

Yup, after watching that video, I think I need to go out and practice that technique - hopefully it will become muscle memory in the event of a true emergency stop!

FYI Sheldon Brown passed many, many years ago and the site has gone downhill since. The current "editor" has been replacing and adding content but has little to none of the practical knowledge Brown had from working in a bike shop for decades.

A lot of content is now merely the new editor's opinions, quite a bit of it is bullshit, and sadly people treat it as authoritative because Brown's name is so strongly associated with it.

Who is the new editor? John Allen?

Sadly it's wrong. My gripe with it is that it presents countersteering as necessary, while it's just a technique to more quickly initiate a turn.

Basically by steering right while leaning left, then snapping the handlebars to the left, you can change your centre of gravity relative to the bike's faster than you can just by leaning left. When leaning your body left you also naturally push the handle bars right which produces a countersteer as well even if you didn't mean to.

However, you can easily observe a bicycle steering without first initiating a countersteer. The easiest is if you just push it and let it coast by itself. It will naturally start leaning one way and continue turning that way until it falls on the ground without any countersteering. Another way is, if its geometry permits, to ride it without holding on to the handlebars - you can see you're steering left and right by shifting your weight on only the seat without any countersteering. Or you can consciously avoid doing a countersteer and make turns that way - noticeably less quickly than if you do countersteer, but quite possible.

Another proof would be the fact that monowheels work and can be steered. You cannot countersteer a monowheel, yet it steers just fine. Look also at Destin's backwards bicycle experiment - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0 . I really don't think you can countersteer that thing anyway, yet it steers just fine.

I think if Veritasium had given people more time (days? weeks?) to adjust to the bike, they would learn to make turns without countersteering. I know it took me a while to learn to do it when I first heard about countersteering and thought to experiment.

Finally, I really hate the word "countersteering". It is very misleading and logically impossible. Obviously you can't have to turn left before turning right, because then you have to first turn right in order to turn left in order to turn right, but you have to first turn left in order to turn right in order to turn left in order to turn right... ad nauseam. A much better term would be "counterjerk" - you're jerking the bike to the right so that you can more quickly shift your centre of gravity left and make a sharper left turn.

> Look also at Destin's backwards bicycle experiment - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0 . I really don't think you can countersteer that thing anyway, yet it steers just fine.

Why wouldn't you be able to countersteer it as any other bike (except in this case by using the opposite handlebar motion compared to a regular bike)?

Came here to cite this video. It’s wonderfully done. I think I knew it intrinsically but had never thought about it until this video came out.

Yes totally agree. One of the examples given of leaning a balanced broom is really intuitive.

I'm now imagining some poor child's dumbfounded look as a HackerNews parent explains how to ride a bike by breaking down countersteering. lmaoo

Haha, you something like counter steering just being a monoid in the category of endofunctors? :P

Hopefully after kids "just learn" how to ride, watching a video of someone counter steering in slow motion and then trying to visualise themselves doing it enough to get it.

It is worth thinking about and then deliberately practicing though as nailing it can really help you reduce turning circle needed on both a motorbike and bicycle in general.

I actually really struggled with this when taking a class learning to ride a motorcycle. The instructor kept trying to instill this over complicated explanation and mnemonics like "go left look left push left lean left" and IMHO it required way too much mental processing to just say "turn like a bicycle" Eventually after a few go rounds I realized he was just trying to explain that process and I just discarded all of the explanations and just did what came naturally (aside from the look part- that's actually immensely powerful and useful- just look where you want to go and avoid "target fixation").

Some things, just doing them and getting a natural feel is 100x if not more, useful than tons of theory and explanations.

It's worse than that even... Historically, (before balance bikes) a lot of kids would progress from having training wheels all the way down, to two-wheeled dynamics. The problem is, having training wheels all-the-way-down means you have a tricycle, which doesn't have countersteering dynamics. So as soon as you pull the wheels up, they have to totally forget what they've learned.

Here in the Netherlands kids learn to ride a bike on little two wheeled wooden bikes, that they start to “glide” on. It’s a nice system that gets them right into learning how a real bike behaves.

Those are the "balance bikes" GP are referring to; definitely a much better system than training wheels. (One of my 2-year-old's favorite activities ATM is riding his balance bike at a skate park.)

I've heard people say that even when teaching adults to ride a bike, it's best to have them just push themselves by their feet (as you would on a balance bike) until they learn how the bike moves, then tell them to use the pedals whenever they feel ready.

I did this for my kids, only I took the pedals off the bike so they could get full use of their legs. A balance bike without having to buy a separate bike.

I don't think I've ever heard of training wheels at literal ground level when the bike is upright -- what would even be the point? It's basically a tricycle, like you say.

When I've seen them, they've been at least an inch or two above, which (coupled with telling the child that the game is to prevent them touching the ground) would seem to mitigate this problem while still effectively preventing falls.

"First, let's start with some control theory..."

From the Wikipedia article:

> While this appears to be a complex sequence of motions, it is performed by every child who rides a bicycle. The entire sequence goes largely unnoticed by most riders, which is why some assert that they do not do it.

It helps to think of the bicycle/motorcycle as an inverted pendulum. To sustain an acceleration in a given (lateral) direction, it must lean in that direction.

Countersteering helps to control/initiate the lean angle. To lean to the right, the rider steers to the left and the wheels (at the bottom) move to the left while the centre of mass stays where it was initially, thus the angle begins to lean to the right, initiating a steady rightwards acceleration.

Countersteering as a concept is also use in flying (i.e., not just single-track vehicles on the ground). It's always required to stop a turn, and may be required to maintain a constant (steep) turn, depending on the plane geometry.

But in flying and in riding motorcycles, it's dangerous to fly/ride by thinking, e.g., "counter-steer before the turn". It all depends on you and the machine, and there are other ways to do things.

For example, throwing your weight around also changes the center of gravity. On a dirt bike, sliding friction can enable you to be lower than you would otherwise, and sliding acceleration can help you be higher.

The question is what happens in the inevitable case you get it wrong. In dirt if you're low while accelerating and start to high-side, typically you'll instinctively drop the throttle, which is the right thing. On a road bike you want to have some degrees of freedom left both in how low your body is and how much you're asking of the tires, so if you're too low you can in-steer (taxing the tires more) without losing road grip.

So it's great to plan by thinking, but in a moment of hard riding/flying, it's much more important to feed everything through the cerebellum and not the cerebral cortex, and to have margins for responding to dynamic instability that track instinctive responses. I.e., actually practice racing and aerobatics.

I loathe the term "countersteering" preferring to use the term "push steering" instead. Rather than think "turn left to go right" think "push right to go right" or "push left to go left."

People say it's the same as on a bicycle but not really. On a bicycle you can easily use your body weight to lean. The bicycle is light and your speeds are low. Motorcycles weigh several hundred pounds and go at speeds unthinkable on a bicycle. It's a completely different ballgame and push steering is essential to not getting yourself killed.

To wit, if you're running wide on a right-hand corner you'd better be pushing on that right handlebar to tighten your turn so you don't drift into the lane with oncoming traffic and experience a deadly crash. That's why motorcycle courses stress the importance of push steering. The good news is it's very intuitive once you've done it a few times.

I got a new (to me) motorcycle this year for a long trip I was planning and one of the things that surprised me was how much countersteer it needed to navigate tight mountain turns. I could definitely feel it in my arms at the end of each day.

A few thousand kilometers into the trip I changed the front tyre as it had hit the wear bars and was amazed how completely it changed the handling of the bike. Instantly I stopped needing to consciously countersteer to enter turns and needed to shift my weight in the saddle a lot loss too.

My assumption is that the new tyre has a cross-section that's a lot rounder than the old/worn tyres. I would have taken photos to compare them if I had realised that it would make such a difference. It was also a different brand (I didn't have much choice when I changed it) which also would have brought a different profile with it.

A noticeable reduction in steering effort and weight shifting sounds like the new tire was inflated a few PSI higher than the old. Every motorcycle I've owned takes the corners MUCH easier with 2-3 more PSI in front than the manual states.

Nice, what bike?

A Yamaha XSR900 - probably not what people would think of as a natural bike to go on a 5500 km journey from Northern Europe to the Balkans, but you really can tour on anything. It was great in the alpine roads - especially the few days I did unloaded. It wasn't ideal on the few unpaved roads I found - especially with road tyres - but I coped with it. A few more litres in the tank (only 14L, ~300km) would have been helpful.

Luggage was a bit harder due to limited options but I got a 48L tailpack and a 12L tank bag. With a few straps and bungees I had enough space to fit everything needed for riding and camping.

That’s a nice bike. Enjoy!

There is a surprising lack of pixar Cars references in this thread... it's where I was first exposed to counter-steering


While it's sometimes called countersteering and is superficially similar (you wind up steering in the opposite direction to your intended turn), the mechanics are quite different: it's not a technique you'll use in normal driving and you wind up steering into the bend sharply and then away from it, as opposed to steering away from the bend and then into it.

There's counter-steering, and then there's speedway


Interesting physics indeed!

I have never grokked written or verbal explanations of countersteering. I have been riding bicycles and motorcycles for almost 5 decades now - I do it all the time in practice. But explaining it makes it weird.

A normal stable turn requires a lean in the same direction. If you turn the bars to the left but don't lean to the left, you will topple over to the right.

Countersteering is purposefully turning to the left and NOT leaning to the left, causing you to begin to topple over to the right...but then you quickly save it by turning the bars to the right. Now you are turning and leaning to the right.

At speeds faster than parking lot speeds, that is incorrect. You purposely push the left bar away from you to turn left. That's all you do.


Check it out.

You're totally right. But I believe the explanation still basically holds, at the end instead it's the bike turning itself to save itself due to its inherent stability.

This is actually why this needed to be written, new riders on a race track come with a malformed understanding of how the bike works, and when you need to put more force into the bike to turn at higher speed, they don’t know where to put the force. People think that just leaning does the work, but you can try to turn a motorcycle with your hands off the bar and see how that works… basically you just go straight.

The part I find amazing is you understand how to make this work in a part of your brain that apparently doesn’t communicate with the conscious understanding part. People can ride a motorcycle and not even understand how to make it turn, yet they do it.

> The part I find amazing is you understand how to make this work in a part of your brain that apparently doesn’t communicate with the conscious understanding part. People can ride a motorcycle and not even understand how to make it turn, yet they do it.

Being able to do a thing is vastly different from being able to explain how to do a thing. If you ask me how I turn on a bike, the real answer is I just have the intention to go that way, and then I start going that way. Lots of other things are like that too; ask someone who is fast at word searches how they do it and it'll be something like "I kind of look at the grid and the word(s) pop out; and if it gets really tough I move my head around a bit and then they pop out" Not very helpful if that's not what happens to you, but it's what I do.

This! I think people from south east Asia can relate to this. I’ve been an active rider for over a decade before coming to US. When counter steering was taught in the motorcycle safety program,it felt counter intuitive. One reason I can think of is back in my home country max speeds were under 50mph where you dont have to counter steer that much.

You're countersteering at all speeds. It's just not as obvious.

I think an easy way to at least prove to yourself that it is happening is to ride a bicycle with just one finger of one hand in a straight line, then very slightly push the bar with that finger. Pushing to the right (ie with your left index finger) will initiate a left lean and turn. It’s more obvious that way than with a normal grip.

The simplest way to understand it is to consider that if the bike did not do this, it would be unrideable. The bike tends to return to center. If turning the wheel right initiated a right turn, the bike would just fall over.

Torque clockwise to lean more toward the left. Torque counter-clockwise to lean more toward the right. The bike follows a radius proportional to its lean angle.

The original article is about counter steering in bicycles and motorcycles to initiate a turn, not counter steering (or "opposite lock") in a car (or motorcycle/bicycle) in response to oversteer.

That said, they're quite all quite interesting phenomena in vehicle dynamics.

The flick is not about responding to oversteer. It's about using the physics of weight transfer to more easily negotiate a turn. On a rally car, the counterweight is the car itself, on a bike, it's the human.

I guess they have some superficial similarity but the vehicle dynamics are really different. In a scandi flick, the weight transfer is used to unload weight from the outside tyres to make them slip. In two wheel counter steering it's to initiate a balanced lean to the inside. In both cases, the driver turns the steering to the "wrong" direction.

Here's an example of a beautifully executed Scandinavian flick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CQ-fsoGkd8 — very common in rally driving.

Often it's very well modelled in rally games as well, and crucial for making the best times: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhfW1Vwgek0



When you lose traction in your car from rain or snow, your instinct is probably to countersteer, but you should instead steer into the turn and countersteer when you regain control.

I can't remember if they actually taught that in driving school, but my dad had me deliberately lose traction repeatedly in a parking lot in the snow to get the hang of it. It saved my life a few times because I was a reckless idiot as a teenager.

The proper response depends on the type of traction loss. What you describe is the appropriate response for understeering, but will amplify oversteering. Although to be fair, considering how common front wheel drive is these days, understeering is what us most likely to occur, and the proper response of following the failure is less intuitive than counter steering.

On a "proper" 4x4 sliding, increasing throttle will often straighten the path of the vehicle irrespective of current steering input - a fun quirk of locking differentials.

Even understeering, to recover grip you need to reduce the load (slip angle) on the front tyres- by straightening the wheel a bit. Not turning the wheel even further. So the same general principle applies, but it's less urgent when understeering as it's a kind of 'stable' situation.

Explanations help somewhat, but there needs to be some intuition for these principles to be applied effectively. I highly recommend going to a few auto cross events truly get it. Learning what it's like when "steering gets light" and how "turning into the skid" recovers it is really something you need to learn by feel.

> increasing throttle will often straighten the path of the vehicle irrespective of current steering input

"when in doubt, gas it out"

"Full throttle will either solve the problem or end the suspense."

>On a "proper" 4x4 sliding, increasing throttle will often straighten the path of the vehicle irrespective of current steering input - a fun quirk of locking differentials.

Just remember when you're not driving a four-wheel drive car if you learn to rely on this method.

The article was about bicycles and motorcycles, not opposite lock countersteering in a car.

I don't know what exactly you mean by "losing traction" (understeer or oversteer) but your advise does not sound correct to me.

But when you get into an oversteer situation in a car, the aligning moment acting on the tyre contact patch will automatically counter steer the front wheels to the outside corner (assuming the fronts still have grip).

The correct response to oversteer is opposite lock (counter steer) to the outside (not to the inside!) and rapid recovery (center the steering wheel) when the car starts to correct itself. In a front wheel drive car, some throttle can help to correct the oversteer faster but it can also induce a really bad tank slapper pendulum and you shouldn't do this in public roads. In a rear wheel drive, if the reason for the oversteer is too much throttle (power slide), easing off the throttle will correct it. But getting off the throttle quickly (esp if you're not power sliding) can also induce lift-off oversteer and make the oversteer worse.

In an understeer condition, just easing gently off the steering and the throttle will usually correct the situation but doing it too quickly can induce a tank slapper oversteer (from lift off oversteer), which you need to correct by counter steering. It sounds like this is the scenario you're describing, but you should definitely not apply more steering input in this situation.

In a road car you will almost never get to an oversteer without deliberately inducing by power sliding, hand brake, scandi flick or other rally driving moves (or accidentally in the case of a bad recovery from an understeer). Road cars' vehicle dynamics are set up to be very understeering through mass distribution and suspension set up.

My driver's education had two full days of skidpad training in slippery conditions. Opposite lock was the response that they taught for oversteer (which the instructor induced by pulling the hand brake in a turn). I also used to do a lot of parking lot snow drifting back when cars didn't have nanny electronics to prevent it. On top of that I have done lots and lots of simulator racing, both track and rally.

What you describe is what we were taught in drivers' ed as "steer into the direction of the skid". If your back end is whipping out (oversteer) then turn to the outside (the direction the wheels are skidding). If your front end is lagging into a turn (understeer) turn again toward the outside, which is the direction the wheels are skidding and will straighten them out to regain traction.

Maybe that's what OP meant by "into the turn" (although as you point out, that is actually toward the outside of the turn).

> When you lose traction in your car from rain or snow, your instinct is probably > to countersteer, but you should instead steer into the turn and countersteer > when you regain control.

I'm not entirely sure I understand. Perhaps some context is missing?

One key question is: when was this and in what car?

Most modern cars have various forms of stability control systems that try to execute the driver's intent. So for instance my daily driver is vastly different from my 1980s plaything that doesn't have any driver's aids. On slippery surfaces they require completely different approaches to driving when you are on, or over, the grip limit.

If you are trying to work with the stability control system, yes, you probably need to communicate your intent to the car and let it take care of things. But I'm not sure "don't countersteer" is necessarily good general advice because it really, really depends on why/how you lost traction and how the car will react. The only way you can know that is to take it onto a slippery track (or a large open space) and try it out.

Also, stability control systems can (and do) fail. They can shut down due to sensor errors or, if you buy a sports car, there may be an option for shutting them off partially or completely.

We don't get enough snow here, particularly in the south of England, for me to to be a particular expert in driving in the snow but I don't think turning into the turn makes any more sense. The main aim is to try to get the wheels back in the state where they are experiencing rolling friction rather than sliding friction. Usually by opening the steering.

I believe you're saying the same thing.

Your car understeering or oversteering is not countersteering.

Steering inputs to correct for understeer and oversteer are not countersteering.

Countersteering is specific to two-wheeled vehicles. Please read links before commenting...

Although you're right, and we're talking about different things in the article, it's still called countersteering when you correct an oversteering car.

Did you see where the link says:

>For the technique with a similar name used in automobiles, see Countersteering (Automobile).


The sentence that makes it completely clear that the article isn't about what is often called "countersteering" in automobiles?

The sentence that implies it's not limited to two wheeled vehicles

I didn’t see that in us driving ed but it’s a mandatory (and practical) part of the Swedish one

In mountain biking where you turn more by leaning the bike and rotating the hips, it is very evident that briefly steering by rotating the handlebar to the opposite direction points the head tube of the frame right into the turn, and then it's just a matter of straightening the handlebar and leaning into the corner.

I think the hips is mostly about the ergonomics of getting the right weight distribution for the bike, but the countersteering is the same. lean the bike over with the opposite steering input, and the whole situation leans over (including you!)

Turning the hips does a lot of subtle things, it impresses a rotational force to the rear wheel helping it to pivot on itself, and a rotational force into the pedals to further help the frame to rotate on itself. Further than that, it forces your head to turn into the direction you are heading and your shoulder line to stay parallel with the handlebar.

Man, bike-human mechanics are complicated.

Many people do this when driving a truck when turning 90 degrees to offset the small turn radius, but I have also seen people in cars do it, which is dangerous for the people in the next lane. I had always wondered where that behavior came from, but now I realize that they probably are motorcycle drivers.

Am I missing something on the top diagram of the article labeled "A hypothetical curve on dry asphalt"? It has sections labeled "counterstearing" but I don't see any counterstearing in the movement marked in red. While on the real-life images below it clearly shows it.

In the bottom right of the image is the text "countersteer left", denoting the part of the turn where you might countersteer left in order to get the bike to turn right. You would not go perceptibly left according to the line, when you steer slightly to the left, the bike immediately leans over to the right and the front wheel steers right immediately also. The act of countersteering is entirely about leaning the bike over, the resulting turn to the right is actually a second order effect of that lean.

From my days of racing downhill mtb and cycling this came naturally to me when I first got on a moto. I still have a really hard time describing the how, but can execute it intuitively. It's a really strange concept to wrap my head around.

What happens when you don't understand countersteering: https://youtu.be/VVE79XT8-Mg


This visual demonstration was helpful for me!

The video says "by many bike riders"-- actually all! The only way to steer a motorcycle (or bicycle) at speed is to countersteer, even if you don't realize you're doing it

In the Netherlands, countersteering is part of any motorbike practical exam. This is not standard in a lot of companies, but it is such an essential skill. It literally saves lives.

I'm not sure what you mean by "it literally saves lives". Anyone who rides a single-track vehicle will instinctively do it any time they turn. Do you mean that having a more conscious relationship with how you countersteer when turning can help keep control in particularly difficult turns?

When entering the turn - maybe.

It's different when a novice is already progressing through a long turn and suddenly needs to tighten (obstacle or overshoot). They already feel less safe as soon as the bike is at an angle, and have instinctive tendency to begin straightening it up at even the slightest provocation. This instinct will 99% win with the undeveloped/unconscious countersteering instinct. (What? Point my handlebar at the obstacle?!) So, yes, training it could save their life.

I really feel like when a motorcycle is travelling at greater than 30 40 or 50 kph, countersteering is the only way to steer. But doing it subconsciously and doing it with knowledge on the subject are 2 different feelings.

I have been riding a bicycle all my life, so I suppose that I was counter steering unconsciously. I recently started riding a motorcycle and the experience is quite a bit different because it takes force and conscious effort to turn the bars on a machine weighing several hundred pounds. I think that people try to turn with their bodyweight instead of steering inputs if they don't know any better.

I’m not sure what motorcycle you have, but when steering properly most I have owned have been effortless to turn when “pressing”. (That being said I had a 1981 XS400 that someone had put some pretty silly bars on that felt like a jumping rock to turn)

It's effortless on a motorbike. On a bike it's effortless squared, a near-undetectable planck-scale force on a handle, or just a body action.

>Anyone who rides a single-track vehicle will instinctively do it any time they turn.

I've seen videos that suggest otherwise. Not linking it, since the last time I did, I got downvoted to hell and back for it.

You can't turn a bicycle or motorbike without counter-steering, so these people are just not turning their bikes? It's not possible to not countersteer as the bike would lean to the wrong direction and you'd turn the wrong way (since you'd have been initiating a countersteer, afterall). Are you seeing people just manhandle the bars the wrong way in emergencies? I could believe that.


That's exactly it. Countersteering is a learned behavior that people aren't aware they do. They will describe it as leaning into the turn or whatever. Then, when they are in an emergency and need a tighter turning radius, they instinctively put in the wrong input and the bike straightens up. Explicitly teaching countersteering helps teach them to respond to emergencies with the correct input.

How does this happen? In the U.S. we have the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) which teaches a basic motorcycle riding course, and can give you a certificate for a motorcycle endorsement on your state license. One of their only prerequisites for the course is that you can ride a bicycle, because it guarantees the rider understands countersteering at low speeds before getting anywhere near a motorcycle.

In EU motorbikes fall under a different license then cars, so it involves both practical and theoretical test. What I know from the Swedish licenses is that the motorbike one is considered the more difficult test to pass.

There is a "high speed" slalom course you have to do as part of the test and it's impossible to do it without counter steering through it.

Its impossible to steer a bike without countersteering. The speed is irrelevant.

The MSF isn't mandatory though is it? Also, statistics suggest a lot of the motorcyclists who get killed are doing it without a license anyway (or registered bike, or helmet...).

It is for some states. I know here in Texas it is.

I don't think it is in Illinois, although the state sends people to MSF class "graduations" to do official tests.

In France we learn about it, and the exam has a low speed and high speed test. The high speed test ends with either an emergency stop or an obstacle avoidance (simulates a pedestrian crossing right in front of the motorbike for example, the maneuver requires countersteering.)

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