How To Get Your Knee Down

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How To Get Your Knee Down

If you’re into riding fast, like we are, then there’s no greater sensation than getting your knee down. Like sex, you’ll always remember your first time. Also like sex, it’s probably going to be a lot easier than you think it will be, you just need to get your body position right. Here’s how to get your knee down.

The thing with knee down is that it’s kinda pointless. It won’t make you faster, it won’t make you safer and ignore what you read about in forums — you’ll never catch a lowside on your knee. But, it looks awesome, it feels awesome and your friends will think you’re awesome when they see your scuffed knee pucks. The things you need to do to drag knee can help with speed and safety though. Look at knee down as a sign of proper riding form rather than an end unto itself.

It should also be stated that there’s a lot more to safe, competent, fast riding than dragging a knee. We’ll address other skills another time. For now, let’s just concentrate on this, assuming that you already know how to do things like look through a corner, use your brakes and not run into obstacles.

Step One: Get the right equipment. You’ll need a sport, standard or supermoto type motorcycle with good tires, good suspension and reasonable ground clearance. You’re also going to need, at the very minimum, a two-piece leather suit with knee pucks. Not only are you going to be pushing the limits of your own performance capability — meaning you need to wear safety gear — but the articulation offered by a real riding suit makes all the difference in attaining the proper body position.

Step Two: Find some good corners. If you’ve got the funds and a track close to you, book yourself into a track day. Tracks have ambulances, corner workers to pick you up when you fall and instructors who can help translate this advice into reality. Tracks also don’t have cops.

This is the part where we tell you that riding fast and dragging a knee is illegal, dangerous and just a terrible idea. It’s not big and it’s not clever to ride outside of your ability anywhere, anytime or speed when you’re around other drivers, pedestrians or homes. It can also be a bad idea to do it in the middle of nowhere. Out on some mountain road you might find yourself injured and unable to move to safety or find help in an area without cell phone service. So if you’re going to do this on the road bring a buddy, a tool kit, a tire repair kit, a first aid kit and some water. Know how to use all of the above. Having passenger pegs on your bikes is also a good idea as it can save some serious walking.

An ideal road corner on which to get your knee down for the first time is likely going to be taken in second gear, be smoothly paved, have good vision, plenty of runoff and choose uphill rather than downhill. A nice place to turn around on either side of a series of corners is also a good idea. Watch the yellow lines, car drivers won’t.

Step Three: Work up to pace. Start at a nice easy speed, trying to string corners together smoothly without much in the way of heavy braking or acceleration. Gradually up your speeds, limiting how fast you go on the straights to not much faster than you’re going in corners. The goal here is to work up to a good corner speed and lean angle, not to test your brakes. Your tires and your brain need time to get up to temperature and adapt to reacting at speed. Take it easy, don’t push, just do what feels comfortable. Develop a flow.

Now is a good time to learn from your faster friends too. In racing, this is called getting a tow. Ask them to lead you through the corners at a reasonable pace. Watch what they do, where they are on the road, where they’re braking and where they’re accelerating. You can learn a lot doing this in very little time. Don’t feel pressure to keep up though. If they’re riding too fast for you to comfortably follow, just hang back and ask them to slow down next time. Experienced riders, it’s your responsibility to help your friends.

Step Four: body position. This is where it starts getting technical. Way back in 1983, Keith Code put a chapter about body position in “A Twist of the Wrist.” It, along with motorcycle technology, has evolved in the ensuing three decades. The current style — which is designed to work with modern tires, modern suspension and modern motorcycles — is to move once butt cheek off the seat, move your head low and to the inside, stretch your outside arm across the tank and point your inside elbow towards the ground. The main goal is to move your center of gravity as far to the inside of the corner and as low as possible. This means the bike will lean less at a given speed, which in turns means more grip and more safety. Hanging off also allows you to stand the bike up quicker on a corner exit, allowing you to get on the gas earlier. Hanging off means more outright corner speed is possible.

Modern sportbikes are built with this in mind and riding them with the correct form is necessary to fully access their performance potential.

Most guys you see riding on the street sit as far forward as possible with their heels hooked on the pegs and their feet sticking out like a duck. That effectively makes you a dead weight on the bike, harming performance. If you’re talking about getting your knee down, you’re talking about riding a motorcycle as a sport. Start treating it like one by riding your bike athletically.

First, pick your feet up. You want to have the balls of your feet on the tips of the pegs. This will keep your boots off the ground and allow you to put your weight onto the pegs when moving side to side.

Next, scoot back in the seat. Where, exactly, you’ll sit depends on you, your bike and how your suspension is set up. I tend to sit pretty far back because I’m tall.

This is what I look like under braking:

Continue Reading: How To Get Your Knee Down >>

  • Ted

    Need to get to a track this year… Great article, this is something I’d like to see more of in the future.

    • Ivan

      Can’t agree more. Keep them coming guys!

  • http://twitter.com/hagus Luke

    Good article! +1 on the emphasis to not try to learn this on the road.

    Newbies with poor position will crank the bike over further than is necessary, looking for the feeling of their knee touching down. This is *not* what you want to try on a public road. You will be surprised how little lean angle is necessary once your body position is correct. Most of the major riding schools will watch and correct your form and technique while trying. Pony up the cash, it’s cheaper than buying a new motorcycle or a hospital bill.

    Importantly, why are we trying to put our knee down at all, apart from looking cool? The majority of your body mass isn’t in your knee, so why not just hang off without extending the knee?

    Remember: it’s just a tool. Its purpose is to act as a reference point. It forms part of the sensory input you’re relying on when navigating a corner at high speed. What part of the corner did your knee touch down? Where was your knee relative to the ripple strip? When did it lift up again? Did you have to fold your knee in for increased angle? If so, by how much?

    And yes there are exotic uses like propping your bike up if the front end tucks, and maybe distributing the center of mass slightly outwards and lower, but its usefulness as a reference point trumps them.

  • Alex

    Not sure why this line is in there “The thing with knee down is that it’s kinda pointless….. and ignore what you read about in forums — you’ll never catch a lowside on your knee.”

    That’s not true. At least according to the countless riders (AMA, WSBK, MotoGP) who’ve told me otherwise. Shoot even I’ve saved a few front-end tucks with the knee as a lowly club guy.

    • Sean Smith

      I’ve felt like I saved a lowside once or twice until I thought about it. I think what it’s not something you can really control, it’s more luck. Sometimes you get lucky, prop yourself up for a second with your knee and the front end comes back, and sometimes it’s just gone. The amount of weight you can hold up like that isn’t really enough to have a significant effect on what the motorcycle is going to do.

      At least that’s my opinion. Someone like Rossi might know some stuff I don’t.

      • http://twitter.com/hagus Luke

        I’ve searched high and low for the video of Mick Doohan attempting to save a lowside at Phillip Island in ’97. Can anyone find it?

        Turn 1 at PI, so a bazillion km/h and he loses the front end. You can see him *very* clearly pushing the bike up with his knee multiple times, but in the end it goes.

        I thought Wayne Rainey was famously asked “how often do you save the front end with your knee?” and he answered “about once per lap”, but I can’t find the true attribution for that quote either. Google is failing me.

        • James

          Did you see this incredible save by Kallio in the Moto2 race this weekend just gone?

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-fpqyYIhwg

          Awesome.

        • T Diver

          Look for the AMA race last year with (forgot the dudes name-short dude with southern accent), green Kawasaki, he low sides, slides right before the pits, and stands the bike back up to continue. Craziest save I have ever seen.

          • T Diver

            Sorry, it was Jamie Hacking and it was in 2009.

        • Rosario
  • Dan

    Excellent stuff. Well done Sean.

  • MG

    Good, simple, important advice, backed up by good, simple photos – thank you.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

    Great write up SS. You should pull some pics off Shera’s flickr account to illustrate right and wrong body position mid turn. I know a perfect example of “crossed-up”, and a perfect example of “good”…that being me.LOL

  • Turf

    Also like the first time I had sex, the sensation was over all to quickly.

    This is the best article I’ve seen on the subject. Theres a lot of complete crap on forums, always one guy who has something completely wrong to throw in.

  • Richard

    Hell, I’ve all but forgotten the first time i got laid, never forgotten the first time the knee got down though. And yes, you can save a lowside on your knee. It’s much better to not have to though…

  • hooligan317

    Great article, thanks!

  • soban881

    Great article, thank you. I’m a tall guy but I sit forward, against the tank. I do set my suspension for that riding position. Out of curiosity, is there something wrong with that approach?

    • Sean Smith

      It just depends. My GSXR has stock springs and valving, and basically what that means is that the front end has the wrong springs. Set your sag to decent numbers, and you’ll bottom out everywhere under braking. It tends to ride pretty low in the front mid corner too. I added preload until it didn’t bottom out so much and I sit as far back as is comfortable to try and keep from overloading it.

      If you sit forward, against the tank, there’s really no way you’ll be able to move around on the bike and ride with any real speed. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with not hauling ass; just that you won’t be able to if that’s how you’re sitting. A lot of people recommend scooting back 2-3 inches from the tank. I’ve ridden other bikes like that, and it works great. You really just need some room to slide from side to side, and your knees need to be high enough that you can jam them into the sides of the tank.

      • soban881

        Thanks for this, I’ll give it a try. I just finished A Twist of the Wrist II as well, so all this good advice has to sink in! If only the good weather would show up…

  • newt

    After my first track school/day, I went out to a huge parking lot and rode circles with cones trying out the things they taught me. The good thing about a constant circle is that you can make adjustments to body position and really see at a slow safe speed, the impact of the changes. And you can slowly speed up the pace until you get it. Then turn around and go the other way.

  • Kevin

    Can anyone recommend a track riding school in the NYC area for a weekend course. I’ve only found West Coast schools.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Sportbike Track Time ran a great, affordable school, but just closed shop.

      Talk to these guys, tell them you want to learn and they’ll take care of you:

      http://rydersalley.com

      • Kevin

        Gracias

        • Michael

          Hey Kevin, check out Kevin Schwantz school too. I’ve been a few times and every time I leave 10X the rider I was when I arrived. He’s down in Barber these days, but it’s worth the trip for sure.

  • http://www.desmoworks.com desmoworks

    I remember the first time I screwed, but I don’t remember the first time I put my knee down… I guess it wasn’t as good for me.

  • Deep6Dive

    ” Congratulations, you now deserve the bike you’re riding.”

    best way you could have finished this article

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Agreed, awesome little write up! Informative, entertaining, and a pinch of snark. Wonderful.

  • Braden

    Informative, well thought out article :) Can we expect any future articles about riding technique?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Sure, once Sean learns them :)

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Great stuff. I actually just received a penguin roadracing school email on the same subject.

    Penguin runs at NH Speedway. Not a bad weekend trip from NYC.

  • Dan

    NYC area HFL track day.

  • marshallhaas

    I love the last line

  • Miles Prower

    “When you’re hanging off, you should be supporting a lot of your weight through your outside leg, where it’s hooked around the tank.”

    For me, the other important point to make here is that my arms and hands are supporting zero weight. By relying on the holding power of my outside leg, I use a “light touch” as much as possible to maximize road and steering feedback through my hands, arms, and shoulders.

    This is one of the first things I learned in hang-gliding school. The instructor held out two pipes and asked me to grab one in each hand, gripping tightly, with my arms outstretched. And then he had me relax my grip, and to my surprise, one of my arms dropped immediately because the pipe in that hand was full of sand. With a tight grip, both pipes felt the same weight. With a loose grip, it was immediately apparent that the pipes were unequal. The lesson learned was that a tight grip masks feedback.

    When you are riding at the edge of your (or your bike’s) performance envelope, every bit of feedback is crucial in helping you (and your muscle memory) control your bike.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, that’s worth restating. No weight on the bars people.

      • Sean Smith

        +1 take a look at how relaxed the really fast guys look. They’re using their hands/wrists/arms only for control inputs. The only time there’s any weight on the bars is when you’re hard on the brakes.

  • Tony

    Photo 2 is how I check my mirror on my bike :P

  • Alex

    i get the basic concept, but i am curious. how would this form be modified to suit a supermoto riding style?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You can still hang off a motard sportbike style. Your position will obviously change a bit due to the wide bars, but you should be trying to achieve what Sean’s demonstrating.

    • Sean Smith

      Supermoto seats are skinny, the bikes are tall, and the bars tall and wide. BP on a supermoto is really up to you, but the idea is still the same–move your weight low and to the inside so you don’t have to lean so much.

      • Alex

        thanks for the input guys! i gave this a shot and my speeds through turns improved quite a bit (one particularly tight and slow turn on my route is now 10mph faster). The bike feels much more stable now than just trying to lean it in.

  • Michael

    “Experienced riders, it’s your responsibility to help your friends.” – Good line Wes.

    • Richard

      Couldn’t agree with that more. A lot of times it’s the only way new riders get any kind of education. Not ideal but its the truth.

  • slowtire

    Can’t thank you enough for this article. Most of my riding life has been on standards, dirt and cruisers – but a sportbike is in my future and get’n a knee down is on the bucket list. With proper instruction of course!

  • Jeromy

    It’s articles like this that make me willing to pay for my subscription to HFL. This is extremely informative, you stress what is important (riding safe, smart, and with proper technique).

    PLEASE keep writing stuff like this!

  • Rachael

    Great article and the best instruction I’ve read (and heard) on putting a knee down through a turn – much appreciated, thank you!

  • Tony

    When I practice cornering, I also find it helpful having the inside shoulder low, pointing 90 degrees into the corner… is that correct technique?

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    Great article, but I’m really not comfortable with the suggestion that this should be done on the street, ever. If you can’t afford the track, big empty parking lots are the hot ticket. There’s just too much to go wrong on the street, with much higher consequences than a measly ticket.

  • Jason

    Great article but must agree about knee down on the road… there is rarely a good time and place. One thing to consider… how many riders do you see get there knee down at the TT, arguably the best biking road in the world? Answer…not many. So it’s not about speed but more of a rites of passage. Take it to the track boys!

  • Brendan

    I GOT MY KNEE DOWN!!!!!!

    It really was a lot like having sex for the first time, except that I didn’t do it with a fat chick so I can actually brag about it to all my friends (even the ones who don’t know what “getting a knee down” is or why anyone would want to do that.)

    Thanks, this article! I’ve never liked my Ninjette more.

  • CorrectionsGuy

    “First, pick your feet up. You want to have the balls of your feet on
    the tips of the pegs. This will keep your boots off the ground and allow
    you to put your weight onto the pegs when moving side to side.”

    I’m confused. Wouldn’t having the balls of your feet over the middle of the pegs give you both better support, and better clearance? That looks like what you’re doing in the “Good” photos, too, so I wonder if this is just a mistake in the description.