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ADV PreppingQuick Tips: Mastering Turns on an Adventure Motorcycle

Quick Tips: Mastering Turns on an Adventure Motorcycle

The Adventure Brothers share their top Adventure Motorcycle turning tips.

Published on 05.20.2016

Easily the hardest element of off-road Adventure riding we’ve had to learn — save for going more than 10 feet off-road without falling — was mastering the turn. Sure, there are more difficult elements to the sport (riding through mud comes to mind). But turning is simply too fundamental, too essential a skill to be ignored. Simply put: if you’re going to ride an Adventure Motorcycle off-road, you need to conquer turning.

What makes it so difficult? Unfortunately, the explanation is nearly as complex as the execution. Throughout our career as Adventure Riding Instructors, we have come to find that people learning how to turn a motorcycle are trying to concentrate on too many elements at once: Lean the bike, weight to the outside, toes turned, eyes up, light touch, feather the controls, AAAAH!

The coaching techniques are just as tricky. A rider can only be expected to concentrate on one or two corrective instructions at a time, and oftentimes the wrong mistakes are highlighted. It’s easy to yell “EYES UP” to a rider that’s looking down, and get a result. But sometimes it’s more important that they shift their weight off the handlebars, or loosen up, or bend an elbow, etc.. Good Coaching sometimes means triaging student mistakes, reorganizing them to achieve success.


To that end, we have broken down our adventure motorcycle turning tips into three stages, each building on the other to create the ideal turning technique. This is easy to practice and requires only a flat, well packed off-road surface to execute. The rider will enter into a continuous turn, creating an unbroken circle, riding at approximately 5 mph. As each technique is employed, the rider will note that the radius of the circle tightens.

Stage 1: The Novice Turn

Motorcycle Turning tips

This is a typical entry-level student turning technique. The bike is steered into a turning position, but the rider remains completely neutral; usually out of fear that any shift of weight will lead to slipping on whatever godforsaken Teflon they find themselves traversing. This technique limits the rider to a very large turning radius, which can be tightened a bit by feathering the clutch and throttle. Careful though: Too slow, and the bike cannot be leaned at all. Remember to grip the bike with your legs, so that your hands are left only to steer and actuate the controls. (Bar risers, aftermarket footpegs and Rotating the Handlebars can help to relax your grip).

Stage 2: Getting your weight in to (out of) it

Motorcycle Turning tips

While continuing the circle, the rider shifts their hip and shoulder weight toward the outside of the turn, leaning away from the motorcycle. The inside foot becomes light on the peg, while the outside foot bares nearly all the weight of the rider. This offers 2 benefits:

1. The riders body mass acts as a counterweight against that of the bike. This partially ’neutralizes’ the collective weight of rider and machine, giving the motorcycle a lighter, more manageable feel.

2. The shift in weight helps apply traction, as it places essential mass directly above the grip patch of the tire.

This is one of the most counter-intuitive elements of Adventure Riding, since for most people the idea of ‘leaning out’ of a turn is completely foreign. We simply don’t employ this technique anywhere else, at least not that we’re aware of. But when done properly the machine will become more stable, and the turn radius will tighten.

Stage 3: The Toe Turn.

Motorcycle Turning tips

Now the rider rotates their outside foot, lifting it from the peg and reapplying at a 45 degree (ish) angle. This allows the rider to press a knee into the tank and rotate their body mass even further from the machine. The additional counter-weighting allows the bike to be leaned more heavily into the turn, tightening the steering and narrowing the radius even further. The legs are ‘squeezed together’ in order to hold on to the bike, and lessen the grip on the handlebars.

Bonus: Lift your inside Leg. Once the rider becomes comfortable turning their toes and leaning away from the machine, the inside foot will become completely unhindered by rider weight. In this instance, the foot can be completely removed from the inside peg. The rider then hooks the inside of their leg against the seat edge, squeezing for grip and leaning further still from the machine. Fair Warning: This technique requires a leap of faith, as the motorcycle has the potential to lean further than most have ever dared go (without falling over, that is), and the turning radius so tight that the handlebars will begin to bump off their steering limit. This should only be employed after the rider is comfortable with the other turning drills.

Once these techniques are mastered, riders will find use for all stages in a real world setting. Stage 1 works best for mild turns on high-traction off-road riding. Stages 2 and 3 become essential when the turns become tight or technical, or both! Just remember; like all things, turning technique is a perishable skill, especially when in the learning process. So keep at it and don’t get discouraged, even the most accomplished riders have to start somewhere!

Author: Adventure Brothers

Adventure Brothers Shawn and Lance Thomas share a passion for Adventure Riding. For years they have traveled the world offering training, tours, and clinics on the nuances of managing “big” bikes in the dirt. In 2011, The Adventure Brothers helped launch a campaign to help “New” Adventure Riders understand the fundamentals of the sport. On behalf of BMW Motorrad USA they traveled the country, offering free training to thousands of riders. This passion remains today; you will find they continue to engage in all things Adventure.

Author: Adventure Brothers

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10 thoughts on “Quick Tips: Mastering Turns on an Adventure Motorcycle

  1. “Coaching sometimes means triaging student mistakes, reorganizing them to achieve success.”

    Correction. *Always* Whether teaching skiing or riding, correcting a single incorrect action can itself correct 2-3 more.

    Good article.

  2. Very helpful explanation. Thank you! Do you think somebody new to the sport can pick this up in a few days or is it a slow learning curve?

    • Hi Mark,

      That is an excellent question. In our experience, most people can come to understand and apply these fundamentals in a matter of hours. But the other essential element–building confidence in the maneuvers through repetition–often takes time. When we learned to do this, it took only a few lessons to learn, and months to feel ‘comfortable’ turning. But everyone is different. Some people get the whole shebang in a day!

    • We agree. It is so easy to ride fast, but so much more difficult to maneuver, ride slow, stop, etc. Regardless, we admit to starting with the fast part first (grin).

  3. This tutorial would be a lot better with a video demonstrating all the techniques. Some people can actually learn the techniques better if they can see it done properly before they attempt them. Just saying…..

    • Hi Ernie,

      I completely agree. It has been on my mind to supplement this article with a video. To do it right I need access to a drone (I have a vision for making the video super-mega cool, and a drone is key to said coolness). This is why I have not done it; lack of time, and the need for cool flying media toys. Perhaps someone out there in this social media sphere has a drone, knows how to fly it, and lives in Central California?


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