By Bryan Rastok

We all know the saying "the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line." If you are driving somewhere this is absolutely true, but what about when life throws you a curve? If you have ever driven or ridden on a public or private road, chances are you have created apexes to navigate turns in the road. The most common explanation of an apex is: Often but not always, the geometric center of a turn. Hitting the apex allows the rider to take the straightest line and maintain the highest speed through that specific corner. It is also the tightest part of a corner and the point at which you are closest to the inside of the corner.

Geometric center of a basic 90 degree turn. (Image Courtesy of Motorcycle.com)

"Hitting The Apex" This is another term thrown around a lot in the riding community. Hitting the apex simply implies that you are running through the apex in line with your wheels. Depending on the curve type, your apex may change as the road demands. Road conditions are not perfect when compared to a professionally maintained racetrack, but when applied to the street, the philosophy of "hitting the apex" is the same: get through the turn as quickly as possible.

In our article Riding Tips From the Performance Coach: Trail Braking- Street vs Track, we discussed how trail braking to and through a turn can change the outcome of your speed and exit of the turn. Choosing an apex of the upcoming curve is just as relatable, as it dictates how much speed you can carry and where your bike placement will be upon exiting. This trail braking article also offers a good explanation of the traction circle and how braking, traction and throttle all affect each other.

The traction circle shows how braking, lean angle and throttle all affect traction.

The apex of the turn is when all braking and turn-in of the motorcycle should be complete, and the rider starts to open throttle, causing the motorcycle to stand up and exit straight through the turn. Since we know how lean angle and throttle draw upon and affect traction, we want to get the bike upright and pointed in the right way as soon as possible. The more throttle introduced, the more the bike wants to stand straight up. Creating the straightest line by hitting the desired apex permits this.

Reference Points Like a sixth sense riders use reference points all the time. These are small, visual indicators to determine location, speed, and distance. You don't magically know when to apply the brakes when approaching a stop sign. You are using reference points to judge how far away the stop sign is and comparing it to your current speed while deciding when to start braking. On a track, these reference points can be in the form of numerical brake markers or painted hash marks. On the road, a reference point can be made from any known distance: a paint mark, pothole or crack, signage or maybe a tree. Reference points most often are stationary objects as they are not changing to affect your judgement of speed or location.

Head Position I like to include this into the topic as it is a very important part of riding in general. Wherever your head goes, your body and motorcycle will follow. The apex of the turn is when the rider needs to be looking through the turn and focusing on where he/she would like to exit. It is another simple practice, but an important one. When you are approaching a turn you are looking for your brake marker, then your eyes go to your turn-in reference point, then the apex. Once you approach and as you reach the apex of a turn, your head and eyes should be looking through to the exit. Doing this will allow you to see any challenges ahead, slow the perception of speed down, and get your body in the ride position to complete the turn with the motorcycle.

Different corners require different needs When riding on the road, you are confined to the limits of physics and the law. For example, there are lanes to follow and levels of traction to respect. When designing roads, engineers are not concerned with track-like designs or your personal speed records, they are using the least resistant pathway to create the desired routes. This means that as a rider, you will face numerous types of turns and you must be prepared to safely and smoothly navigate them. Here are some examples of different curves you may face outside of a traditional 90 degree turn.

Double apex - This is a 180 degree turn that requires two apex's. When starting, it is okay to treat these as two turns. At the exit of your "first" turn, you will then aim for the second apex, completing the "second" turn.

Increasing Radius - Think of this as a small "kink" in the road. This is still a curve, but the demand of it is much less than most other curve types. The apex of these can be shallow (late turn-in) as you will quickly be able to straighten the bike back up and continue forward.

Decreasing Radius - One of the most uncomfortable corner types, the decreasing radius turn keeps getting tighter as you progress. The turn-in point is much later, but the speed at the apex is typically very low. Decreasing radius turns are most often handled through the "point and shoot" method: get the bike stopped, turn and "shoot" out of the corner.

"S-Curves" - Connecting or "S" curves are treated no different than a classic 90 degree turn, they are just in succession of each other. Having a good exit line and reference point is crucial to setting yourself up in the correct spot, with the correct speed, for the next turn.

"Backing it in" Okay, I get asked this, and hear about this a lot and I always have to giggle, "What is backing in a motorcycle?" Backing in a motorcycle can be defined as a technique reserved for gods among men and if you have to ask, you are not worthy. In reality, it is a way to straighten the corner as much as possible by allowing the bike to "drift" through the apex as upright as possible. This allows the rider to brake deep, square off the turn and apply throttle much sooner. This insanely difficult maneuver is caused by the rider aggressively trail braking, applying early throttle and good body position. Is it effective? Sometimes, depends on the rider and the track and some riders use it to ride around bike handling deficiencies. One thing is for sure, it looks cool as hell. Oh yeah, closed course only and for us mere mortals, let's stick to our ungodly riding realm.

With a better understanding of some of the references and a visual representation of what kind of curves you can face, you now need to become a student every time you ride. Start analyzing your ride and what kind of corners you come across. Draw a road map on a piece of paper and create a dotted line of the paths you would take through those turns. A better understanding of what input each type of turn demands will allow you to be a smoother, quicker, and most importantly, a safer rider.