I saw a YouTube video of a rider low-siding in a corner on Southern California’s Mulholland Highway. The question was posed: Why did the rider crash?
Over 100 responses crowded the comments section, and a large percentage blamed the crash on the rider’s body position. To a trained rider, the real reason was clear to see — the rider leaned the bike in, started applying the throttle, and then continued to lean more, concurrent with more throttle. It’s an easy way to crash. We simply call it “adding throttle and lean.” The rider’s position was more or less neutral, not hanging off but also not counter leaning.
Editor's note: Dylan Code is a rider coach and the COO (stands for child of owner) of the California Superbike School, with 23 years of full-time experience in the area of rider training. He works closely with his father, Keith Code, on curriculum development and figuring out how to provide the best possible motorcycle riding experience for their students.
There seems to be an obsession with body position that dominates the attention of many novice riders. It’s not too hard to imagine why. It’s the most obvious thing one can see, and quite fascinating if it’s a top-level MotoGP rider. For a novice in the sport bike arena, most riders conflate “good body position” with “hanging off a lot.” Why? Because Marc Márquez does and he’s really fast, duh!
Really, though, where does body position stack up in the hierarchy of essential rider skills? Before we can evaluate that, we need a clear statement on the goal of body positioning. A clear statement on body position should be applicable to any bike, rider and style of riding.
The starting point: The goal of body position
Keith Code says, “The goal of body positioning is: harmony with the bike, freedom of movement on it, precision control over it, with the minimum necessary effort.”
There are numerous variables that affect what good body positioning is. Often overlooked is how one’s riding gear fits. Some gear is comfortable in a neutral position but restricts a rider from hanging off. A rider’s body size in relation to the bike is another thing, not to mention the type of bike. Injuries, aches, and the resulting restricted movement are another hurdle for some. With these and other variables, it always helps to strip things back to basics: Is your body position putting you in harmony with the bike, with freedom of movement, precision control, and minimum necessary effort?
Today’s riders are looking for a silver bullet: one pill, one tip, that one video, that one quote from Rossi, that will make them better. At our school we compiled a list of 58 different elements to body positioning. When all 58 are properly executed it’s apparently as good as it can get. The problem is most riders are doing over half of the list correctly, but which ones is an entirely unique and individual thing. This is where a good mentor, coach, or trained pair of eyes can cut through a lot of fog. Just emulating a top-level rider may not always be the ticket as an early step towards rider improvement.
Back to the question I posed earlier: Where does body positioning fall on the hierarchy of essential rider skills? A tough question to answer because of the variables. However, if we are starting with a rider in a neutral position, I’d say the following elements would need to be good before we try to mold a rider into a MotoGP position: when to go off/on the throttle in a corner, how to apply/release the brakes, how to efficiently/accurately steer, how to choose a line through a corner, where and when to look while cornering, and when to relax the arms.
So what’s my point? There are key basics many overlook that, until resolved, permanently hinder any real or lasting improvement. Don’t get me wrong, hanging off can pay huge dividends, especially on a sport bike on the track, and we devote a considerable percentage of our time and efforts to body position at our school. For some, hanging off can be a complete game changer. But it’s a “first things first” thing. For example, can the rider consistently hit an apex? If not, get that sorted before going further.
This is where the Dunning-Kruger Effect comes into play: It’s a cognitive bias where people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. Telling a rider they need to sharpen up on basics like line, brakes or throttle may be met with irritation or even resentment. Usually it takes a gray-bearded old timer, on a sport-touring bike, sitting bolt upright, zipping past a fully kitted-out newbie on the latest exotic machinery before they pause to consider that something might be missing in the basics department.
In any case, when considering your own body position, bear in mind the key elements that really matter: harmony, freedom of movement, precision control, and minimum necessary effort.