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.
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.
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.