One of the greatest tools a motorbike rider possesses is the operational technique of “push steering” a motorcycle. Also called counter-steering, positive steering, or gyroscopic steering. For simplicity sake, we’ll use the term push steering.
There are several key uses for push steering a motorcycle. It’s a lifesaver as an emergency procedure called “swerving”. It’s also a technique you will use everyday for making turns and cornering. Also when proficient in its operation, push steering can help you in controlling rear wheel slippage in a corner.
Bottom line, leaning the motorcycle is the way to make it turn and push steering ensures this happens.
Though some coaches express that you’ve been doing this since you learned to ride a bicycle, I’ve not in over 25 years of motorcycle instruction, seen this as evidence to be true. This is a key skill that needs to be learned, mastered and performed like second nature.
More common than not, motorcycle accidents and mishaps occur due to the rider steering into the object they’re trying to avoid. This is a result of the lack of comprehending push steering and the ability to implement it.
In the few decades I’ve been instructing riders on this technique of push steering, I’ve employed many ways to get individuals over the mental roadblocks to performing it. As when first introduced to push-steering it is common to not believe the technique works. So the first step is to understand the instruction and then just do it. Once the manoeuvres has been felt it will then be easier to finesse it.
What is Push Steering a Motorcycle?
Push steering is a push forward (or forward pressure) applied to your handlebars. This applies to all handlebars.
NOTE: This technique does not apply to conventional multiple-tracked vehicles such as trikes or side-car motorcycles.
►Push forward on your LEFT handlebar to go LEFT.
►Push forward on your RIGHT handlebar to go RIGHT.
This is the brain drill:
►Push LEFT go LEFT, push RIGHT go RIGHT.
Repeat this mantra over and over again in your mind. This is Brain Training (Read more on that here!)
It’s the type of push you’d use to push open a door i.e. a revolving door. And while pushing forward, nothing changes in speed, gear or removing your grip on the handlebars.
We know as we gain speed on a motorcycle something called ‘gyroscopic inertia’ kicks in. This is characteristic of a single track vehicle and is why you have difficulty riding slow; the motorcycle’s weight is more evident. While the motorcycle speeds up its inertia causes the motorcycle to “stand up” so to speak. This can be challenging in a cornering or turning as you might imagine. You want the bike to lean yet, it wants to stand up. To make this work we need to interrupt this forward moving power to create a lean.
What Really Happens When you Push?
Push steering interrupts inertia (forward moving power). This gyroscopic inertia is the result created by riding a “single track” vehicle which is basically any two-wheeler. (tandem vehicle). This is of course unlike any double track, four-wheeled vehicle such as a car.
You and the motorcycle must first be leaned in the direction of the turn, and steering briefly in the opposite direction to cause the lean.
Push-steering works by combining the motorcycle and rider’s centre of mass (or centre of gravity) be leaned in the direction of the turn. Push steering briefly in the opposite direction causes that interruption resulting in a lean.
On that point we need to acknowledge the push power or “steering torque” and steering angle necessary to establish the lean. Then we need to sustain the push and the steering angle to maintain a constant radius and lean angle until it is time to exit the turn. The initial “steer torque” or push and steer angle are both opposite the desired turn direction. The sustained steer angle is usually in the same direction as the turn, but may remain opposite to the direction of the turn, especially at high speeds. The sustained steer torque (push) required to maintain that steer angle is usually opposite the turn direction. The actual magnitude and orientation of both the sustained steer angle and sustained steer torque of a particular bike in a particular turn depend on forward speed, bike geometry, tyre properties, and combined bike and rider mass distribution.
Step By Step and Some Physics
Let’s go through the steps of wanting to go left; a left push steer.
- The effect of the ‘push force’ interrupts the motorcycles turning motion (inertia) and causes the front wheel in its rotation, to turn right. This occurs quickly and is rather unseen or undetected.
- The front tire will generate forces to the right.
- The motorcycle “machine” as a whole steers to the right briefly.
- The rear tyre also generates forces to the right.
- Because this force is applied at ‘ground zero’, this pulls the wheels “out from under” the mass. Gravitational force steers the motorcycle to its right
- The resulting roll angle to the left causes the tyres to generate “camber thrust”. (Camber force are terms used to describe the force generated perpendicular to the direction of travel of a rolling tyre due to its camber angle and finite contact patch). The left providing the centripetal “force that makes a body follow a curved path”- forces required to turn left
- The geometry of our motorcycle’s steering system provides the forces needed for our front wheel to adopt an angle turned into the turn in a predictable manner.
- The motorcycle goes left!
What’s All This Mass Stuff?
The centre of mass of a body in our case is the motorcycle. The big engine mounted mid section is where the entire mass, your motorcycle’s body, is concentrated. It’s common to refer to this also as the motorcycle’s centre of gravity. This is because the weight of a body (the motorcycle) acts as if it were concentrated there in a uniform gravitational field. It’s rather rigid body, the centre of mass is fixed in relation to the body.
Generally speaking, the mass centre obeys simple equations of motion. That’s physics again and applications such as – “push steering”.
It works because the handlebar section is not the inert mass. That’s the engine area; the area you’re usually sitting on or over. And for any system with no external forces, the centre of mass moves with constant velocity.
Have you Frightened Yourself While Cornering?
It’s important to distinguish between push steering as a physical occurrence and push-steering as a conscious rider technique to your initiation of a lean.
The physical occurrence happens because there is no other way to cause the bike and rider to lean. Yet admittedly in corners, where everyone seems to complain of fear and anxiety, you’ll need to make the conscious effort of pushing. At super slow speeds such as a walking pace – you’ll get by.
You’ve probably been able to get around by shifting body weight in something called a counter-lean. However, documented physical experimentation shows that on heavy bikes shifting body weight is of little effect and has no guarantee at initiating leans. This is further evident in higher speeds i.e. motorcycle racing.
More Push Steering FAQs
- That’s how we roll. Motorcycles steer by controlling “roll” angle. However roll[ing] angle is not directly manipulated by the handlebars in the same way as steer angle in an automobile by the steering wheel. It is influenced indirectly by applying “roll moments” to the machine. These roll moments in turn come from side forces at the wheels, which are closely related to steering torques (pushes). Thus the bike is a “force-controlled” system in which the actual position of the handlebars is free. Camber thrust is how we lean. The lean of a bike’s wheels causes a turning force in the direction of the lean, called camber thrust which enables the bike to negotiate turns with substantially less steering angle of the front wheel than an automobile for the same turn radius.
- Will I fall over? A single-track vehicle such as a bicycle or a motorcycle is an inverted pendulum. It will fall over unless balanced.
- Can shifting weight off the bike make the bike turn? It is often claimed that two-wheeled vehicles can be steered using only weight shifts. While this is true for small inputs to direction (i.e. when trail riding, weighting the pegs to turn), complex manoeuvres are not possible using weight shifting alone because even for a light machine there is insufficient control authority. Although on a sufficiently light bike (especially a bicycle), the rider can initiate a lean and turn by shifting body weight, there is no evidence that complex manoeuvres can be performed by body weight alone.
- Can I do this in the rain; on a slippery surface? Push steering a motorcycle has best result when on a clean dry surface with ample grip. Push steering, depending on the strength of your push and the lean required makes demand of grip. You can push steer on a wet surface it’s just that the push or forward pressure needs to be administered more steadily rather than harshly. Again, grip is required so doing this on a loose surface such as gravel requires inputs adjustments or an alternative manoeuvre choice.
- Couldn’t I just turn the handlebars? A bike can negotiate a curve only when the combined centre of mass of bike and rider leans towards the inside of the turn. This at an angle appropriate for the velocity and the radius of the turn. Higher speeds and tighter turns require greater lean angles. If the mass is not first leaned into the turn, the inertia of the rider and bike will cause them to continue in a straight line as the tyres track out from under them along the curve. The transition of riding in a straight line to negotiating a turn is a process of leaning the bike into the turn, and the only way to cause that lean (of the combined centre of mass of bike and rider) is to move the support points in the opposite direction first. You can shift your weight of course, but any force used to move one way laterally pushes the bike laterally the opposite direction with equal force. That makes the bike lean (and can affect the steering), but it does not change the combined centre of mass of bike and rider.
- Do I Need to Do More for Exiting a Corner? Once in a turn, push steering is again required to make changes to its shape. The only way to decrease the radius at the same speed is to increase the lean angle, and the only way to increase the lean angle, is again to momentarily steer opposite to the direction of the curve. To an untrained rider, this can be extremely counter-intuitive. To exit a turn, push steer by momentarily steering further in the direction of the turn. This tilts the bike back upright.
- Does push steering work when I’m riding at low speeds? At low speeds even then your single track vehicle has gained gyroscopic inertia. But push steering is so subtle that it is hidden by the ongoing corrections made in balancing the bike. Push steering at low speed may be further concealed by the ensuing much larger steering angle possible in the direction of the turn.
- Does this work in my four-wheeled vehicle? No, it’s a method used for a single track vehicle. However, the term is referred to when explaining the 4 wheel automobile driving technique of drifting.
- Would I use push steering on my Piaggio MP3? Yes it’s two front parallel wheels, linked mechanical are push steered in the same manner as a two-wheeled motorcycle.
- Can I push steer the three-wheeled BRP CAN-AM SPYDER or my trike? No, this is steered. there is no leaning required on its wheels so you turn it as an auto or four tracked vehicle.
- Is this like “positive steering”? This is the same phrase for push steering. It is often used as a psychological term to prevent the rider from becoming fearful in learning to do push steering.
LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT LEARNING THIS SKILL! If you are reading this and have not felt the effects of push steering on your motorcycle you have not learned the technique.
This Simple Exercise to Obtain the Moment of Truth
You just have to feel push steering just one to be enlightened. It is best discovered under supervision of an expert motorcycle instructor. However, if you don’t have the ability to find a coach. Try the following but put your safety first and foremost.
Go to a parking lot or a private road where you have ample uninterrupted space. Try this on a dry good road surface (for your initial push). A space which has enough room to ride in a straight line at higher speed.
Get your motorcycle up to average traffic speed this could be 2nd gear mid to high range (depending on your motorcycle type, this may vary). If you are travelling at a too slow speed, such as walking pace, push steering will not be as effective or occur at all.
With hands on handlebar grips, at constant speed, push forward on either your left OR right bar. Not both. Decide which one you will push forward on before you accelerate from a stop – and focus on that. You will notice as a result your motorcycle will move to the direction you pushed.
Push steering a motorcycle is indispensable for bike steering. Mastering the skill of consciously push-steering is essential for safe motorcycle riding. The art of motorcycle cornering is learning how to effectively “push” the grips into corners and how to keep up proper lean angles through the turn. When the need for a quick swerve suddenly arises in an emergency it’s essential to know the handlebars must be purposely pushed away on that side instead of being pulled.