The Evolution of Motorcycle Body Position

Proper motorcycle body position, when used appropriately makes you a faster, and safer rider.  By shifting your weight to the side of the bike, a rider reduces the bikes lean angle for a given speed, ensuring a greater contact patch between the road and tire.

But it hasn’t always been like and in fact, the way some riders went into corners looks not only archaic, but somewhat dangerous.  As this article will show, motorcycle body position has evolved along with motorcycle technology.

And in the Beginning

Tracing the origin of something can sometimes be like looking into a stadium full of people and trying to locate a familiar face among thousands.  Usually, certain styles, approaches and techniques happen all of a sudden among many people.

With what we’ll call ‘modern’ motorcycle body position, the first rider to really show how it was done was Kenny Roberts, the Godfather of American road racing.  Not only was Roberts the first American to win a Motorcycle GP Championship, he ushered in an era of American dominance, where riders from the United States won 12 of the next 15 championships.

The Great Giocomo Agostini had no need to lean.

The Great Giocomo Agostini had no need to lean.

When Roberts joined the championship, all other racers effectively sat upright on their bikes into corners, legs clenched to the side of the tanks with bits of bike scraping the ground as they took turns.  Due to Robert’s background in dirt bike riding, he changed this completely.  He forced the motorcycle’s rear wheel to break traction to steer around a corner, breaking early and accelerating out of the turn as soon as possible, whereas other riders would brake late and accelerate late.

His style worked and proved to be a legacy.  From 1983 to 1999, every 500cc world champion had a dirt bike background.  Roberts riding style required him to use duct tape on his knees so as not to wear a hole in his leathers – knee sliders hadn’t been invented yet!

After Roberts, more American greats followed – Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.

Yes, that's duct tape on his knee

Yes, that’s duct tape on his knee

Spencer, Lawson, Rainey and all other riders carried on with this new body position.  There were slight refinements, but nothing really changed for the next few years.  And then Mick Doohan came along.



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  • BobtheDob

    Nice article. There’s a picture floating around of a rider with his entire upper arm sliding along the ground – already Marquez has been surpassed!

    • Angel Garay Jr.

      You mean crashing? I watched a video of someone drag his helmet on the road (purposely). With enough bad BP anything is possible

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  • Pat Heuvel

    Ever heard of Jarno Saarinen?

    • I have Pat. I think Jarno was perhaps the first to get the knee out a bit more, but I’m not sure if I’d call what he did ‘hanging off’, though I know there’s a lot of controversy about whether he’s the first to really begin what we call modern motorcycle body position.

      Happy for others to disagree, though!

  • Pat Heuvel

    A while ago I read a biographical article on and interview with Kenny Roberts (fair disclosure: he’s my motorcycling hero!). It was said his style was inspired by the styles of Jarno Saarinen and Paul Smart. Jarno, in fact, did hang off, as you will see if you look at his images on a Google search. Kenny was one of the people who pioneered rear-wheel steering, and the narrower front tyres.
    As for the “modern body position”, I think that’s a fair dinkum furphy (all ’round bulltish). Again, Kenny influenced the style, but it has evolved with the equipment and the riders.

    I would hazard that Marquez’s style is largely influenced by his experience on the Moto2 bike, where the rider is far more contributory to a fast lap than in MotoGP. Because of the lower power level, it is “easier” for a rider to look for better ground clearance and to push his CG further into the turn (by hanging off more).

    You’ll see similarities in the styles of all the ex-Moto2 riders, and the good MotoGP riders (such as Stoner and Lorenzo since a couple of years ago and Rossi this year) have also adopted the style to keep in front. This is the elbow-dragging style.
    That is why, in my opinion, there is no such thing as a “modern motorcycle body position”. The photo you provide certainly doesn’t show Marquez deep into a turn. The attached photo is a bit better, but this is during free practice at Phillip Island so he doesn’t have everything on the deck.

    • Pat, was that article on Roberts online? I’d love to read it if you have a link.

      When I say ‘modern body position’, I guess I more mean the type of riding style we saw since Roberts (or in your argument, Saarinen) of hanging off the bike, which has as evolved as tyres and other technology has gotten better and better. Prior to that, it was really a case of hugging the bike as hard as possible into corners and not reducing the lean angle in any real way.

      • Pat Heuvel

        Sadly, no. I read it in Cycle World or Cycle sometime around 1980 (I did say a while ago 🙂 )

  • Pat Heuvel

    Oops, my bad – I had missed the photos of Marquez at the end of the article! Sorry!

  • Stephen

    As a 20 year veteran of riding, I’m still using the ‘crossed up’ style, as I feel it give me better vision on the my rides in the hills, even on the track I’m still doing it. I have completed a CSS course and the ‘new’ way of riding just feels ‘wrong’ to me.

    • And you know what, that’s fine. If you’re more confident with it to me that’s much more important (and safe) then trying the ‘correct’ way and not feeling good about it or comfortable with it.

      • Stephen

        I didn’t think it really mattered. Besides, I’m old and set in my ways. HAHA

  • Shantifucous

    Tying Mick Doohan’s sucess to his body position is somewhat misleading. He dominated by the sheer fact that his HRC Honda 500 was light years beyond everything else he was racing at the time. If anything, he succeeded despite his body position.

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