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Dirt Bike Cornering Tips & Techniques: Master the Turn

Dirt bike cornering differs significantly from handling a vehicle. Riders face elevated risks, underscoring the need for precise motorcycle control. Mastery involves adeptly assessing terrain, traffic, and bend severity — a skill equally essential on racetracks as on open paved roads.

Given its importance, here are some top tips and techniques on cornering a dirt bike that will help you navigate turns with confidence — whether you’re an in-training racer or a recreational dirt bike enthusiast:

  1. Emphasize Hand Positioning in Turns.
  2. Time Your Turns Strategically.
  3. Utilize the Limit Point.
  4. Spot Hazards from a Good Distance.
  5. Choose Your Line Wisely.
  6. Engage the Correct Gear.
  7. Be Smooth With the Throttle.
  8. Utilize Trail Braking when Necessary.
  9. Assess the Terrain.
  10. Drop Down and Lean Your Bike.
  11. Practice Consistently.

As outlined by Bennetts, there are four phases to dirt bike cornering: approach, assess, steer, and exit. Another resource details at least seven factors affecting dirt bike cornering. We’ll cover these salient points in this guide — but more extensively.

Dirt Bike Cornering Tips & Techniques

Dirt Bike Rider Cornering Turn

1. Emphasize Hand Positioning in Turns.

When leaning a dirt bike into a turn, the importance of hand positioning cannot be overstated. While your body and feet play a role, your hands make the most difference.

Employing proper hand technique ensures effective leaning and control during turns. This nuanced approach to body positioning also contributes to mastering dirt bike cornering.

The significance of the hands in making turns and in body positioning when riding a dirt bike has been extensively explained in an article on countersteering by Big Bike Reviews.

In that post, it’s explained how utilizing the hands to execute a countersteer initiates a lean — a maneuver more frequently observed in racetracks than in normal day-to-day cornering. The same highlights how correct hand positioning enables riders to hold their line better and exit corners seamlessly.

2. Time Your Turns Strategically.

A key aspect of proficient dirt bike cornering is strategically timing turns. Turning a corner on a two-wheeler entails finding that “Goldilocks zone” — a precise timing that can neither be too late nor too soon, lest you fail to successfully negotiate the corner. Or worse, you meet oncoming traffic head-on.

When approaching a turn, moving to the part of the road that provides the most visibility is crucial. For left-hand bends, positioning for maximum visibility means shifting towards the right side of the lane, allowing for an earlier view around the corner.

Conversely, for right-hand turns, positioning on the left side of the road about a foot from the curb provides the same level of visibility.

This strategic positioning allows riders to gauge the opening of the corner by observing the convergence and subsequent separation of the two curbs, known as the ‘limit point.’ Turning at the right moment offers a dual advantage: anticipating approaching traffic and reducing the likelihood of cutting the corner.

3. Utilize the Limit Point.

When mastering dirt bike cornering, using the limit point is a crucial technique. The limit point (ideally scanned at least 25 meters or 80 feet ahead) represents the furthest point where an uninterrupted view of the road surface is available. Understanding this point is vital, as it determines the speed at which you can safely navigate a turn.

A receding limit point (one that appears to move away from you) signifies that you can accelerate confidently with ample space to stop if needed. Conversely, an approaching limit point (one that appears to stand still or come closer to you) warrants a slower speed with less stopping space (and room for error).

Matching your speed to the limit point’s movement, whether receding or approaching, allows precise control of your dirt bike — even in bends with varying curvature. This technique and a keen sense of acceleration create a smoother and safer riding experience.

4. Spot Hazards from a Good Distance.

Spotting hazards from a considerable distance is another indispensable skill for effective cornering on a dirt bike. Some riders have honed this skill by maintaining awareness of their surroundings through a running commentary, which has helped them anticipate and react to potential dangers.

Early hazard recognition, in particular, enables a rider to shift their focus to a safe path around obstacles. This skill is paramount on a dirt bike, where the risk of falling or tipping over is inherent.

Personally, I consider a good distance for spotting hazards to be at least 90 meters or 300 feet away. Identifying potential dangers from this distance allows for a clearer and more proactive view of likely obstacles. It affords you the time and space to make necessary adjustments to navigate a turn safely. This distance also provides riders a reasonable margin for reaction and enhances overall safety during the cornering process.

5. Choose Your Line Wisely.

When riding through a corner, a general rule of thumb is to approach wide, lean inside to the apex, and finish wide (a.k.a choosing an outside-inside-outside line). This technique provides a smoother arc and seamlessly forms a straight line through a curve. It’s also the most efficient and quickest approach when cornering on a dirt bike.

However, there are some factors to consider when choosing your line, as follows:

  • Oncoming Traffic: When faced with approaching traffic, refrain from crossing the center line to prevent head-on collisions.
  • Group Riding: Maintain your line and respect the space of fellow riders when navigating in a group.
  • Slick or Slippery Roads: Adapt your speed and line choice in wet conditions to account for the potential impact of moisture on your dirt bike’s handling.
  • Obstacles: Anticipation is key when dealing with obstacles in tight switchbacks. Scanning the road ahead and adjusting your line to avoid on-road hazards is part of how to do this effectively.
  • Apex Location: Since the apex position varies depending on a curvature’s tightness and a road’s slope, determining its location requires reading the road. This intuitive ability can only be enhanced through experience and practice.

6. Engage the Correct Gear.

Motocross Dirt Bike Rider Turning Corner

Now that you’ve got positioning and timing down, it’s time to make that turn — and you need to be in the right gear when doing so. Engaging the correct gear while cornering depends on various factors, including curve sharpness, type of terrain, and the velocity at which you are driving. Don’t forget to account for traffic if the turn is at an intersection.

Downshifting is essential for maintaining control and stability. For instance, if traveling at speeds greater than 35 mph, downshifting from 5th to 3rd gear permits your bike’s engine to lose some energy without stalling.

Applying both brakes with constant pressure while cornering helps steady the frame during the turn. Releasing the clutch and brakes (view on Amazon) after passing the corner’s apogee sets the stage for a smooth acceleration.

Note, however, that going from 5th to 3rd isn’t a hard-fast rule. Some corners are impossible to navigate at more than 10-20 mph and are categorized as 1st or 2nd gear bends (right-angle turns fall under this group). Similarly, other in-country lanes typically have 3rd or 4th gear corners.

Your gear choice is influenced by the specific characteristics of each turn, allowing for a customized dirt bike cornering technique in every instance. This adaptability ensures that bikers can confidently navigate turns, whether they take a flat-out or more cautious approach.

As a precaution, apply brakes before the apex of a turn to fine-tune your cornering speed. Never shift mid-corner, as doing so can disrupt the balance of your dirt bike (not to mention that it can introduce unnecessary variables for your bike’s chassis and suspension to manage).

Lastly, always exit the turn in the same gear you initially entered, smoothly upshifting as you stand the bike upright while leaving the corner and accelerating away.

7. Be Smooth With the Throttle.

Rather than abruptly applying and releasing the throttle when cornering on a dirt bike, experienced revheads advise gradually rolling or’ coasting’ on the throttle while negotiating a corner. This smooth and controlled throttle application helps maintain traction and stability throughout the turn.

Additionally, using the clutch becomes integral in modulating power and controlling traction. By feathering the clutch, you can finely adjust the amount of power delivered to the rear wheel. This technique is particularly useful when navigating varying terrain or encountering slippery surfaces.

8. Utilize Trail Braking when Necessary.

Trail braking is a technique used in dirt bike cornering to fine-tune control over speed and weight distribution as you approach a turn. It’s particularly useful when adjusting your speed or line mid-corner, adding flexibility and control to your dirt bike cornering skills.

Unlike conventional braking (where you complete the action before entering the corner), it involves lightly applying the brakes as you enter a corner. This allows you to modulate your speed and manage the weight distribution between the front and rear wheels more precisely.

The key is to start with gentle brake application, gradually releasing as you progress through the turn. This keeps your dirt bike’s suspension loaded, promoting better traction and stability.

Considered an advanced skill, trail braking requires a nuanced feel for the bike’s dynamics, terrain, and the rider’s comfort level. But while trail braking is effective, it can be challenging for beginners.

Riders are usually encouraged to focus on fundamental skills before attempting this advanced maneuver, as excessive or abrupt braking (although inadvertently done) can lead to loss of traction and control.

9. Assess the Terrain.

Awareness of the terrain you’re riding significantly influences how you approach turns and adjust your techniques. The terrain’s slope, roughness, and composition (to name a few) play a crucial role in determining the appropriate line and cornering strategy in a given situation.

For instance, loose gravel may require a more cautious entry into the corner, while a hard-packed surface allows for more aggressive riding. Meanwhile, standing up on the footpegs (view on Amazon) during a turn may be necessary if the terrain is rough.

Relative to this, dirt bike cornering in the sand is an entirely different beast compared to navigating flat and rutted corners. It can’t be conquered by simply having the perfect riding posture and going hard on the throttle.

Negotiating sandy corners warrants slower speeds, a gradual approach, intuition, and a delicate balance to prevent a dirt bike from sinking or losing control.

Being attuned to the terrain enables riders to anticipate potential obstacles, choose optimal lines, and adjust their speed and body positioning accordingly. And given factors like changing surface conditions and reduced traction, all these elements prove more critical in certain terrain types than others.

10. Drop Down and Lean Your Bike.

If you already have the basics of dirt bike cornering nailed and want to learn how to navigate turns faster, you’d have to master ‘leaning into a corner.’ This riding skill entails using more body and less of the hands (“counterweighting the bike with pressure on the outside foot and inside hand”) to create a lower center of gravity that’ll help you make a turn faster.

This doesn’t mean the hands no longer play a part — they still do. If you closely observe MotoGP races, you’ll likely notice that pro racers commonly position their hands in the drops and tuck their elbows under their body when maneuvering through tight turns. However, how the body weight is controlled brings a rider closer to the ground and increases their speed through corners.

11. Practice Consistently.

Dirt Bike Rider Cornering on Dirt Track

Consistent practice is the bedrock of mastering dirt bike cornering techniques. Repeatedly navigating corners hones muscle memory and refines tactics, fostering an intuitive understanding of the bike’s dynamics.

Regular practice allows riders to gauge their limits, experiment with different approaches, and progressively push boundaries while enhancing their technical skills and building the confidence needed for varied terrains.

Regardless of the difficulty level, each practice session becomes a lesson that helps refine your ability to read terrain, adjust lines, and execute precise maneuvers. As with everything else, proficiency is born from the dedication to continuous, deliberate practice — the same goes when cornering on a dirt bike.

Conclusion — Dirt Bike Cornering Tips

Although this guide aims to provide tested-and-proven dirt bike cornering tips and techniques, a riding course remains the best way to learn cornering.

Examples of institutions offering beginner and advanced programs are the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and the Canada Safety Council in North America. Off-road riding schools, motocross tracks, and local clubs in other countries may also include dirt bike cornering in their training courses.