Most motorcyclists have heard of countersteering. If you have been riding for any length of time, you have probably hashed it over in benchracing sessions. The subject is usually covered in rider-training courses, too. Not always, though. I attended a California Highway Patrol training session for motorcycle officers back in the early 1980s and noticed that the subject was not mentioned. When I asked about it, the instructor told me, "It just confuses them."
I can understand that. The concept of turning the front wheel one way to go the opposite way certainly is counterintuitive. Those of us who started riding before there was rider training probably had to grasp the concept by ourselves, and perhaps we did it subconsciously. And some people never quite realize that you steer left to go right and vice versa. In fact, I have heard some longtime riders insist that that's not the case, that motorcycles steer the way the front wheel is initially turned. I have also heard bicyclists deny that a bicycle steers this way. The issue is also confused by the fact that you can steer a motorcycle by leaning, as anyone who has ridden any distance with their hands off the bars (a practice that can lead to disaster if you hit something in the road or have a flat tire, I need to point out) can testify. Some motorcyclists will tell you that shifting your body weight is the primary way to steer a motorcycle.
However, the depth of some motorcycle riders' confusion about motorcycle steering really shows up in accident investigations, which reveal the tendency of some riders to fail to turn or to actually turn the wrong way when confronted by a hazard that suddenly appears. This doesn't happen in the majority of crashes, but it does happen often enough for the Hurt Report to note it. Typically, the hazard is a vehicle that has pulled into the motorcycle's path.
So why does a rider fail to swerve or actually turn into the intruding vehicle? It is hard to know exactly. After all, this rider has been successfully turning his motorcycle in the direction he wanted to go since he started riding. When it really counted, why did he do the wrong thing?
One factor is probably target fixation. We tend to go where we look, and it's hard not to look at the SUV that's wandering into your path. But I believe you can teach yourself to focus on your escape path, and those who have taken even basic rider training have likely heard an instructor tell them to "get your eyes up" or "turn your head and look where you are going." Practicing that will not only make your normal turns smoother, it will also help you learn to look at your exit from a dicey situation.
In a recent poll on our Web site, www.motorcyclecruiser.com, almost two out of five respondents (38 percent) said they had never taken any sort of rider training, and two-thirds of that group said they started riding before rider training was available. The fact that you have gotten away with it doesn't mean there aren't rider-training lessons that can save your bacon (and your Hog's) when you ride into a traffic crisis. I have been riding pretty intensely for more than 40 years and still benefit from my back-to-school days, in part because it at least makes me reconsider some of my riding habits through the eyes of a detached professional. One thing I readjusted when I went through a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) program many years ago was what I did with my eyes. I started training myself to look at the paths around obstacles rather than the obstacles themselves. This conditioning has been priceless when someone lurches in front of me unexpectedly, leaving me with little distance to react.