Why Do You Need To Countersteer on a Motorcycle?

Safely riding your motorcycle isn’t just about having the right gear. Yes, you need to have a good helmet and the proper armor. But just like with cars, riding requires learning the necessary skills. And knowing how to countersteer on your motorcycle is one of them.

How do you countersteer on a motorcycle?

MotoGP riders Bradley Smith on a black-and-white bike and Johann Zarco on a white-and-blue bike countersteer their motorcycles around a corner
MotoGP riders Bradley Smith (front) and Johann Zarco countersteer their motorcycles around a corner | Sadiq Asyraf/Getty Images

Countersteering goes by several other names. Some call it ‘positive steering,’ while others call it ‘active steering,’ MCN reports. Plus, it doesn’t help that the terminology used to explain it is sometimes confusing or even contradictory. Neither does the fact that, while drifting a car requires countersteering, it’s not quite the same thing. However, if you ride bicycles, you’re already countersteering without realizing it, RevZilla reports.

Simply put, countersteering is turning a motorcycle’s handlebars in the opposite direction of the way you want to go, Motorcycle.com explains. The common adage is “push left, go left,” Cycle World reports. Some sources call it ‘pressing’ on the bars, Motorcyclist reports. But the point is that, if you want to make a left-hand turn, you push the left-hand bar/grip forward and pull the right-hand grip/bar back, RideApart explains. It’s the opposite for right-hand turns.

The reason why it’s called ‘countersteering’ is that it’s ‘counter’ to how you steer a car. To make a left-hand turn in a car, you pull the left-hand side of the wheel down and push the right-hand side up.

Why is countersteering necessary?

RELATED: Michelin’s Patent Could Give Any Motorcycle a Reverse Gear

Not every corner or turn you encounter while riding your motorcycle requires you to countersteer, Cycle World reports. Much like on a bicycle, at very low speeds you just turn the handlebars in the direction you want to go. It’s only above about 10 mph where countersteering becomes necessary.

Basically, motorcycle riders countersteer because going around corners requires leaning, Bennetts explains. That’s due to a combination of Newton’s laws of motion and the frictional forces between the tire and the road, Wired and Physics Central explains. Going into a full explanation is beyond the scope of this post. But essentially, leaning shifts the bike’s mass and lets it turn safely without falling over. And doing so requires countersteering, Cycle World explains.

RELATED: There’s a Very Good Reason You Don’t See 3-Wheeled ATVs Anymore

It’s worth pointing out that some riders think they can turn their bikes just by leaning on the footpegs, RidingInTheZone reports. This is called ‘body-steering,’ and it has its place in riding, Cycle World reports. However, while it does affect your lean angle, it’s not meant to initiate a turn, LifeAtLean explains. That’s what countersteering is for.

Other tips and accessories to improve your steering

MotoGP rider Marc Marquez starts to countersteer his orange-and-red Repsol Honda motorcycle into a corner
MotoGP rider Marc Marquez starts to countersteer his motorcycle into a corner | Zahim Mohd/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RELATED: Is Changing Your Motorcycle Handlebars Worth It?

Firstly, as with any driving or riding skill, practice makes perfect. You can practice countersteering in a vacant parking lot, or a quiet, empty stretch of road, MotorbikeWriter reports. Start slow, and slowly increase the pace as you get more comfortable with pushing and pulling the handlebars. Once you do, you’ll find you can feel how much grip the front tire has left, Cycle World reports.

Knowing how to countersteer a motorcycle properly is a necessity. But so is knowing how to take a corner/turn safely, Bennetts explains. That means looking up and far ahead for the corner exit. This helps avoid target fixation and makes countersteering more natural, Bennetts reports. Also, get your braking done in a straight line before getting to the corner, The Drive reports, and roll on the throttle smoothly. Use as much of the road as you can, and go slow first so you’re confident in your skills.

RELATED: Does Your Motorcycle Need a Quickshifter?

If you feel comfortable with it, spending a day at a racetrack with a trained instructor is very helpful, Cycle World reports. Several books that further explain countersteering and other handling techniques, Cycle World reports. And fitting a steering damper, aka a steering stabilizer, also makes a bike more stable and resistant to mid-corner bumps, RevZilla and Motorcyclist report.

Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.