Body position is a topic very close to my heart. It can make the difference between a fun and confident ride at a rapid pace that just keeps getting faster, and a nervous, twitchy tiptoe around a track that feels too fast, too nervous, too dangerous.
But before we get into specifics, we need to remember that body position is like the rider. They are all different. What works for one person wont always work for another rider. What is generally accepted as 'correct' body position for one rider might be completely inappropriate for someone else. All we have to do is look at some professional riders and see their body position to realise there is no "one size fits all" solution.
Having said that, lets keep a few key issues in mind:
Its good to know the basics. Focus on what works for the majority of riders.
The laws of physics apply to everyone - unless you have 5 world titles to your name.
Being comfortable is vital, but we need to learn to be comfortable and safe at the same time.
We all think we look like a riding expert right up until we see the photos...
Lets take a top-down look at a riders body position while cornering:
This is the most important part of a riders body position. Why? Because if a rider has perfect body position from the neck down but they are looking in the wrong direction, they're more likely to run off the track than make the next turn.
What is the best position for the head to be in?
First, think about where you want to be. Your body and bike are just like a baseball. Where do you look when you want to throw a ball? You dont look right in front of you - you look where you want the ball to go. The same applies on the track. Dont look where you ARE going - look where you WANT to go.
The biggest obstacle preventing people looking where they want to go is their fear of the curb/candy stripe at the apex of the corner, and where it is relative to their knee or tire.
Solution to this problem is easy.
Point your head in the direction you want to go. Like the amazing Mr. Spies above, where is he looking?
Look at the next tip-in point/brake marker, then use your peripheral vision to check where the curb is. Whatever you do -
DONT LOOK AT THE CURB!
As we learned in MSF - we go wherever we look. If you look down at the candy stripe you are likely to hit it. And once you do, will you be heading in the right direction to make the next corner? No - because you were looking down instead of where you need to go.
One more thing; A lot of people ask if they should tilt their head to keep their eyes horizontal. To answer this, bring up a motorcycle race on your DVR/DVD/VCR. Scan the race until you find a view from the motorcycle. As the view leans over, do you tilt your head to keep your eyes lined up with the horizon on the screen?
Some people don't mind the tilted view and can still process information just fine. Personally, I always tilt my head to keep my perspective consistent. I find it much easier to identify key targets this way. If I don't tilt my head I have problems finding braking markers and turn-in points. As always, everyone's different. Give it a try, see what you think.
Look at this rider. His shoulder is leading into the turn. His shoulders are perfectly placed to allow him to look where he's going and weight the inside of the bike.
Now that we're looking in the right direction, lets remember why it is that we lean off a motorcycle in the first place. By doing so we put weight on the inside of the turn. This weight counteracts the force trying to push us up and to the outside of the turn. To help picture this in your head, imagine a brick tied to a rope as you swing it in a circle. Your hand has counteract the force pulling the brick out. The faster the brick moves, the more force it takes to hold the rope in one place.
The more weight we put off the bike and to the inside of the turn, the less our motorcycle has to lean. And as we all know, a motorcyle tire loses grip the further it leans over.
So, we know our upper body weighs a lot. The further down and inside the turn we can get it the less our motorcycle has to lean. The less we lean the safer we are.
For me, if I finish a session on the track and feel soreness in my back I know I havent been leaning forward enough. If this happens it usually means I'm on a new track, focused on learning where my braking and turn-in markers are. I'll sit more upright as a result, trying to look as far forward as possible so I'll get as much warning as possible for when to initiate my braking and turning.
In this picture you can see the ride has his back straight, his head up, chest way off the tank. Classic style from the '80s.
A more modern style is here - the rider is leaning forward to lower his center of gravity:
When I know the circuit though, I'll start leaning forward, touching my chest to the tank and keeping my head down by the rear-view mirror.
When I see pictures of my first day at a new track the first session always has me looking like a meerkat - head up, looking as far forward as possible. Then, later in the day I can see I'm leaning forward, looking more aggressive and keeping my head and shoulders down, chest on the tank.
This is where new riders tend to overemphasize their body position. (Just look at the picture up top for the perfect example of what not to do...)
Sliding the butt off the seat in an attempt to touch a knee down is not good body position. Riders who do this inevitably dont have enough lean to touch a knee so compensate by moving their butt further off the seat. All this achieves is acrossed up riding position. Remember, your body will automatically compensate for bad balance. Your body will always compensate for too much weight off the seat by moving the upper body in the other direction. As a result the bike leans further, to the point where hard parts start dragging on the track.
Some people dont like to drag a knee but I find it very reassuring. As you can see below, Rossi is not waving his knee, trying to touch it down. The track has come up to meet it.
When my knee touches I get an added sense of security - I just get a better feeling of lean and track camber.
The secret though is not to try too hard to get the knee down. Don't wave your knee in the air searching for the track. When you have the right body position and enough speed the bike will lean enough so that your knee slider touches down flat on its face. If you notice that you do touch a knee down, but that only the corner of the slider is showing any wear - stop trying so hard and focus on your body position instead of slider damage!
With correct body position from the head down, its very easy to forget the feet.
But having the wrong part of your feet in the wrong places on the pegs can cause serious problems.
Remember that on the street our foot position on the pegs is usually dictated by access to shifter and brake pedal. And if we don't know any better we continue this habit on the track. This is a big mistake.
With big lean angles, leaving your feet where they can access the shifter/brake pedal means they can easily drag on the asphalt.
Every time a part of your boot drags on the asphalt it causes you to pick the bike up, which seriously reduces your lean angle, slowing your corner speed.
To avoid this the best place for your feet is to put the ball of your foot on the very tip of the peg.
If you check the boot soles of a serous track rider they will have a major wear spot on their sole right where the ball of their foot is. This shows that they finish shifting/braking then reposition their foot every time. This allows them to lean as far as they can and never drag a toe slider.
Heres a great graphic from Sport Rider magazine. Look at what happens to the bikes lean angle when the rider hangs off:
Lets recap. Next time you're on the track think about what you're doing. Think of your body in the following steps: -
Head - looking where we want to go
Shoulders - down, inside the turn
Back - relaxed, not stiff, leaning forward, chest on the tank
Butt - partially off the seat
Knees - relaxed, not stretching trying to reach down to the track
Feet - ball of the foot on the tip of the peg
Body position like this works for most people. But there are exceptions to every rule. Here are some interesting examples. Not good, not bad, just interesting...
If you can, practice, practice, practice.