Ask five different racers to describe the ideal body position at the track and odds are you’ll get five dramatically different answers. Each rider’s skill level and suspension setup preferences will invariably affect the way they position themselves on the bike, thus none of the racers are lying to you. That being said, what works for them may not work for you. Back on the street, in contrast, there’s a more acknowledged norm for body position, one that leaves the rider more upright and relaxed. Understanding how to maintain this less aggressive position through all parts of a canyon ride will reduce the strain on your body and make you a safer rider.
First and foremost, street riding (no matter the complexity of the road) will never require you to hang off your bike the way you would at the racetrack. Nor will it ever be necessary to leverage your knee out on the asphalt, hence street gear being devoid of sliders. Steering inputs are made in a similar fashion no matter the environment, however, and your legs must work with your arms to initiate a turn and hold a line.
On the street, keep your body...
On the street, keep your body in line with the bike as you turn and your head perpendicular to the ground for a better sense of balance. Steering inputs can be made at the footrests and clip-ons without moving around aggressively in the saddle.
As is the case at the track, a good riding position on the street starts with your lower body. The balls of your feet (the area just before your toes) should plant firmly to the footrests in a way that allows you to hold your lower body in position with little weight on the clip-ons. There are numerous advantages to using the leading portion of your foot versus your arch as the contact point, the primary benefit being the ability to keep your foot up and out of the way while cornering — your boots will thank you later for not sending them to their ultimate demise on the asphalt. Using the balls of your feet as a pivot on the pegs will also allow you to use your calf muscles — rather than just your quadriceps — to make inputs, thus distributing the load on your legs and potentially saving you some muscle soreness in the days following your ride. Working upward, your thighs should press firmly to the tank, and your abdominal muscles strengthened to support your upper end.
The idea behind maintaining a firm position against the tank and footrests is that you’re better able to relax your upper body. To accomplish this, keep a generous bend in your arms and match that relaxed position with a laid-back grip at the clip-ons. If your arms begin to straighten and your grip tightens, you’ll likely catch yourself making unwanted steering inputs into the bar or getting arm pump (arm fatigue that quickly sucks the fun out of a ride). Relaxing your body, in contrast, allows you to work almost as a part of the bike’s suspension and enables you to absorb bumps without feeding that input into the chassis.
Where you sit on the seat will play a direct role in the handling of your motorcycle. Unlike at the track, however, where moving around the saddle allows you to alter grip levels and feedback, street riding requires a more stationary position. Focus on sitting close to the fuel tank, as that position provides a better front-end weight bias, quicker steering and better front-end feedback. Avoid climbing from side to side on the saddle as you transition the bike through a canyon road as that requires more physical effort and is simply unnecessary at a legal pace. Now focus your energy on weighting the inside peg and pushing the inside bar to initiate turns, all the while staying centered on the seat.
The proper body position for...
The proper body position for street riding sees your feet planted firmly to the footrests and lower body supporting your upper half. Maintain a relaxed bend in your arms, a soft — but controlled — grip at the bars and keep your weight toward the tank.
Although your head will move just past the front fairing’s centerline as you bank into a turn, your upper body should remain in line with the bike (i.e., there’s no need to take the upper half of your body off while your lower body stays planted firmly to the bike). While your head does move toward the exit of the corner, however, try to keep it perpendicular to the ground so as to keep your sense of balance.
There are certain circumstance where moving around in the saddle and getting off the seat proves beneficial. During this year’s tire test, for instance, Kent and Bradley found that some of the tires required more steering effort than others. To adapt to these characteristics without torturing their legs and wrists, Kent and Bradley would hang slightly off the test bikes at the entrance and exit of corners to aid steering. It’s important to mention, of course, that in most cases you shouldn’t alter your riding style to circumvent a problem with the bike; always adjust your controls to match your riding style and body position. You’ll find it helpful to get off the side of the bike on wet or slick pavement as well, since doing so will allow you to stand the bike up as you accelerate, providing a larger contact patch for improved grip.
Maintaining a proper body position while riding along your favorite canyon road isn’t so much about practice as it is about being conscious of how you should be sitting on the bike, so it’s not particularly necessary to head to your local parking lot and practice. Remain mindful, however, that a good riding position starts at your feet and works its way up. Keep your feet planted against the footrests with your legs tight against the tank so that your upper body can remain relaxed. In addition, keep a generous bend in your arms and a light — but controlled — grip on the handlebars. From there it’s all about maintaining your position and comfort level without getting aggressive through a transition and climbing across the bike like a monkey on a sidecar. It seems simple enough, but it’s easy to get excited and become overly aggressive, so don’t be quick to rule this “tip” out.