Ask MO Anything: Why Do I Like to Turn My Motorcycle Right Better Than Left?

Dear MOby,

I spent a couple of hours Sunday morning riding around the Ft. Lauderdale airport. The place is deserted, and the airport roads have lots of curves and elevation changes compared to the rest of South Florida. With no traffic and no cops, it’s a great time to be a motorcyclist.

As I rode, I noticed that I consistently lean over further on right-hand turns. Leaning to the right feels completely different to me than left-hand turns. I’ve even noticed my right side chicken-strips are thinner. I am right-handed.

One possible explanation is that aside from occasional road trips, I’ve been riding in South Florida for 30 years. The only sweeping turns around here are entrance and exit ramps, which are almost always right-hand turns. Maybe it’s about practice?

My questions are:

Is this right / left turn bias true for most riders?

Does it have anything to do with being right-handed?

Aside from riding on roads with curves more often (difficult to do here), is there anything I can do to “balance” my turning skills?

Thanks,

Meaty

Sunshine State


Dear Mr. Midrange,

I think you answered your own question when you said you mostly only ever turn right, freeway ramps being your only real opportunity to lean in to the subject matter. This is doubly sad, because you’re probably missing out on the great joy of turning left, which is what most riders seem to prefer.

Lateral dominance or lateralism, is a thing scientists have studied at great length. You can get a synopsis at Wikipedia, one sentence of which states,  “it is not uncommon that people preferring to use the right hand (88.2% of us) prefer to use the left leg, e.g. when using a shovel, kicking a ball, or operating control pedals.” 

A couple of days ago, we were off on some new KTM Adventures on fire roads, and I completely noticed, again, that I liked it both ways. But turning left with the rear kicked out a bit to the right, always felt more natural, in control, and therefore more fun for right-handed me. In a left (especially at the exit), you’re weighting the outside footpeg (the right one), with the left leg ready to put down –to lead – if needed.

Off-road legend and former Cycle World shop steward Jimmy Lewis agrees: “Left is generally easier and from our teaching (Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School) we see that having the right foot (counterweight) on the peg near the brake pedal is the reason. Makes the rider feel safer or more in control. If they begin to fall to the right, riders put the right foot out and lose the slowing control of the brake. When turning left, you can generally do whatever you want with the left foot and not be missing the brake.”

Kick the can is one of JL’s drills that shows how to effectively use the rear brake to control the bike.

Right-handed surfers and skateboarders ride with their left foot forward. Right-handed boxers lead with their left. I can’t remember if I always stepped off first with my left foot before I was in the army, but I always do now. Is that true of all right-handed people? 

Robert Buchsbaum says we naturally protect the side we favor, and have a built-in fear of placing that side in harm’s way, which is exactly why most right handed riders are more comfortable turning left and more left handed riders are more comfortable turning right. Wait, is part B true? 

In all civilized countries, where we drive on the right side of the road, going around a left-hand curve always offers greater sight lines because of the  bigger radius of the outside of the bend – and being given more time to see the objective always gives greater confidence, whatever the sport. Going around right-hand bends in the  mountains, you’re riding a tighter radius, and you’re always more worried about obstacles because they’ll appear more suddenly, and also because rocks and dirt are more likely to be in the lane closer to the crumbling mountainside. When riding swiftly on curvy roads, turning left is less stressful.

On the race track, former Willow Springs champ, Sport Rider action hero and chief instructor at Kevin Schwantz’s Motorcycle School for years, Lance Holst, has a theory: Hanging off to the right, in a right turn, has your right wrist at a more awkward angle that makes it more difficult to operate the throttle and brake. Turning left, with your right hand on top and your arm comfortably resting atop the gas tank, makes fine control inputs easier. 

Note how Golden Boy Troy is so relaxed here, lounging with throttle hand on the tank, he could easily fall asleep. You can also use the rear brake in left-handers – usually impossible at full lean right.

Speaking of Willow Springs champs, Curtis Adams was it nine times – and that is a track with but three lefts and predominantly really fast rights.

Does Curtis prefer rights?

“It never really mattered to me. I guess I’m lucky in the fact that I’m comfortable crashing going left or right!!😜

Curtis Adams turning right, at Daytona in

Hmmm, now that he brings it up, I crashed hard twice at the turn 2 exit at Willow, and once in turn 8 (luckily on an SRX-6, so not all that fast)… all rights. So, I think I’m going to say I prefer turning left. (Disclaimer: There may be more crashes I have blanked from memory.)

Then again, I crashed a ZX-6R in the rain, in a left at Circuit Catalunya (T7), but only because I felt more confident there than in the other corners. The same was true a few years later when I crashed an R1 in T2 at the same track, another left, because I also came over suddenly all over-confident: The Yamaha factory test rider was ahead of me, and Rich Oliver was behind me; surely this is a safe speed for all three of us, on the same bike and tires? Ahhhh, no. (Those were the pre-TC days, and my internal software was less finely calibrated than the other two riders’.)

Bob Gregor, veteran LA-based bike mechanic and fellow Ruskin High alum, says “left has always been much easier for me,” and we’re going to have to let Bob have the final word, which is: “After many years of looking at all the crashed bikes that come into shops from a spill, two-thirds of the time it’s on the right side.”

Turning left is better for most of us, most of the time.

Nine lefts and four rights should straighten you out, like those patches we used to wear to cure “lazy eye.”

How to get better at lefts? Florida Trackdays looks like it runs at Homestead Raceway, 63.5 miles south of Ft. Lauderdale.

They also do Palm Beach Raceway, 65 miles north, and Jennings GP track, 11 miles northwest. Or, there’s always flat track. There must be a good reason why those guys only go left. Good luck!


Direct your motorcycle-related questions to AskMoAnything@motorcycle.com.  If you can’t tell the difference between Fake News and real, you’ll be amazed at our depth of  knowledge on all matters moto and otherwise.

 

 

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