Counter Steering Saves Lives
If self-driving cars take over, and the safety police give motorcycles the axe, the last two riders on Earth will still be arguing about how to steer a motorcycle. The debate has raged for so long that it is a wonder anyone remembers what the argument was about. Is counter steering as effective as some people make it out to be? Does body steering do anything? Well, yes and yes.
Simply put, counter steering is the act of pressing on the handlebar in the opposite direction of the turn to make the bike lean. If you press on the left bar, the bike will lean and turn left. The opposite is true, of course, for turning right. Some riders argue that they achieve the same thing through body inputs alone, pressuring the peg on the side to which they want to turn to while pressing the opposite thigh against the fuel tank. They hang onto the bars while hanging off the bike, though, counter steering whether they know it or not.
Some people almost exclusively use counter steering to guide a motorcycle around a curve, and others like to hang off the bike. Some riders steer unconsciously, using a phenomenon called target fixation to their advantage. They look through a curve, and the bike just naturally goes where they are looking, or so they say. The safest way is to use a mix of all three, keeping your weight inside the curve, counter steering to initiate and adjust the lean angle while fixating on the exit. The varying degrees to which a rider uses each steering input becomes an individual riding style.
Some riders say it doesn't matter much how it's done, as long as the bike successfully negotiates the curve. Then, a video makes the rounds showing a rider, who clearly has no sense of how to steer a motorcycle, ride directly into the path of an oncoming truck - a fire truck.
There are innumerable things this rider did wrong, starting with riding beyond his skill set and continuing with entering a blind curve hot. He then grabs a handful of brake mid curve. It's the star dish in a recipe-for-disaster cookbook. He could have eased off the throttle and counter steered to tighten his line, but he tried to steer into a curve at speed instead.
New riders need a technique that works every time, with minimal muscle memory required. Counter steering fits that bill. Some people, especially some sport riders, say that counter steering doesn't work and that body steering is the only way to turn. Some even go to extreme lengths to prove this can be done, like this guy on YouTube.
The counter argument is that he is still counter steering. Yes, you can counter steer with no hands; it's just not smart. The wheels on a motorcycle act as gyroscopes, which is why they are stable at speed. As they spin, the gyroscopic effect causes the wheels to tend toward standing upright, like a spinning top on its side. But there is a key difference between the two gyros: The rear wheel is fixed, and the front wheel pivots.
When a rider puts pressure on the peg to one side, the fixed rear wheel will tilt only so much, and the faster the bike is moving the more it will resist. With no force acting on the front wheel (hands on bars), it will tend toward staying in a straight line. The difference between the sideward force and the front wheel's tendency to go straight causes the front wheel to pivot. The bars are then pointing in the opposite direction of the lean, also known as counter steering.
The fact is all motorcyclists are counter steering. It may be intuitive or it may be learned, but they all do it.