Motorcycle Physics

Most people, even those who ride motorcycles, don’t realize this bit of physics.

Have you ever wondered why it is easy to balance a motorcycle while going down the road, but hard to balance one while sitting still (with your feet up)? It has to do with how motorcycles are steered.

At speeds above parking-lot speeds, you actually steer a motorcycle left to turn to the right, and vice versa. Don’t believe me?

It’s easy to check out. Get on your motorcycle, on a long straight stretch of road with no traffic, of course. While proceeding in a straight line, gently push forward on, say, the left handlebar, thus turning the handlebars to the right. You will find yourself banking left.

What is going on is this. A motorcycle is extremely stable going in a straight line. All forces are being applied in the plane of the wheels. Balancing is easy while doing this because you are constantly making micro-corrections in handlebar position to keep your center of gravity in that plane; you do this instinctively and unconsciously.

When you go around a curve, you do this by driving out from under your center of gravity. If you want to go around a left hand curve, you steer to the right slightly, driving the wheels out from under your center of gravity, which is now left-of-center of the motorcycle; and you bank to the left.

Having established this situation, once again, you instinctively maintain this balance until it is no longer needed, at which point you bring yourself back to a straight-line balanced position by using the same principle.

And that is how motorcycles work.


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