Above: Getting your knee down is a waste of time on the road - you don’t need to do it to increase ground clearance, and it just distracts you. On track is a different matter…
Simply put, lean angle is a by-product of riding well and therefore confidence is key but take small steps first. On any ride you should already know that your tyres are in good condition and the pressures are ok. Then take the basics of cornering: you can tell on the approach to a corner how much grip there is likely to be given the condition of the surface and weather. Practice on a familiar corner, not one that has a junction immediately before or after, or that is blind. Use all the road and make the corner as long as possible giving yourself plenty of time and space to increase your lean. Don’t make any sudden movements which may unbalance bike, then set your sight as far around the corner as possible and make the lean gradual to work with the speed you’re carrying.
How far you can lean a motorcycle is the product of good cornering, not an ambition in itself. If you corner well, you’ll lean the bike over without thinking, but if you go out with the ambition of leaning the bike over it’s the wrong way round - the cart is in front of the horse - and you’ll probably make matters worse. It’s like speed. If you go out with the sole intention of riding fast, you’ll have a scrappy and possibly dangerous ride. If go out and try and ride well, it’s much more likely to be fast. Speed and lean angle are by-products of riding well, so that’s what you need to concentrate on.
Going out to specifically try and get your knee down is in the same category as going out to ride fast – it’s potentially dangerous. Getting your knee down is a badge of honour and a bit of a party stunt on the road - it isn’t really necessary and can be counter-productive. I see it on courses from time to time when I’m following a rider who starts building up to a knee-down attempt by clambering over the bike. The bike usually looks unsettled and they generally ends up going through the corner slower than they would have done had they not bothered and just concentrated on their vision, road position and so on.
Above: That speck up ahead is an instructor, telling the student via a headset where they're looking and what they are doing. It’s the fastest way to learn
Ultimately, the key is confidence, and the route to that is little steps. Riders who just go out one day and decide to wang the bike over as far as they can usually end up scaring themselves, or worse. You can tell if someone’s thinking about lean angles rather than riding well because their body is rigid and the ride doesn’t flow. Because they’re concentrating on the wrong thing, they’re tense, so they’re even less likely to achieve their aim of more lean angle.
You need to start by going back to basics and concentrating on the principles of cornering. Make sure you’re in the right position, maximising the line through the corner. Quite often people do the opposite when they want to increase lean angle, by making the corner as sharp and difficult as possible so they have to lean the bike further. But if you get your approach right and the bike is in the right place at the right speed, you won’t need to mess about like this. The lean angle will come. Marc Marquez doesn’t go out trying to get big lean angle, he just wants to ride his best and get the most from the bike.
Above: This is the important part from a confidence point of view – if you get the entry right, everything else should flow smoothly
I find many confidence problems are routed in the start of the corner. As soon as people lose confidence they start thinking about just getting round a corner, and the exit tends to dominate their thoughts because that’s the point at which you ‘get round’ it (or not). Consequently they’re not in the right place when they go into the corner and that’s what causes problems - they’re then trying to fix it when they’re in the middle. So if your confidence is low, concentrate on the approach, looking for the exit, making sure you’re in the right gear and getting in a position that maximises your view. Once you’re doing that, corners will seems a little easier, and your confidence levels will build as you get it right time after time. And before you know it, your lean angles will have increased without it ever being a conscious priority.
The quickest way to cure confidence problems is to follow an advanced instructor with an earpiece in your helmet. Hearing and seeing exactly what they are doing, and receiving direct feedback will fast-track you back to confident riding.