For the past 30 or 40 years, there hasn’t been many things that are as cool as getting your knee down on a motorbike. That’s what the racers do, so if you do it, you must be fast, right? Whilst that’s not necessarily the case, still to this day, motorcyclists all over the world are striving to drag their knees on the tarmac. But what’s it all about? Why are we all so desperate to do it? Why do all the racers do it? And how can it possibly help you go faster?
Getting your knee down for the first time is a bit of a rite of passage as far as motorcycling is concerned. And let’s not kid ourselves, anyone that has got their knee down, can probably remember the first time it happened. And the elation that ensued. I can definitely remember the first time I got my knee down. The first thing you do when you get off the bike is check your knee slider. The second thing you do is show anyone that’ll take a passing interest. The fact of the matter is that you’ll probably struggle to find anyone that will take a passing interest. But it’ll make your day.
Because as previously stated, that’s what the racers do. When they go round a corner, they drag their knees on the floor, so if you’re dragging yours, you might just look that little bit more like a MotoGP superstar. Because riding fast is one thing, but in a world with digital photography and social media, a good proportion of people are a lot more bothered about how they look than how fast they are. We all know one!
Feel the road
When you finally do manage to get your knee down, you’ll (most likely) instantly feel more comfortable leaning the bike over. Being able to feel exactly where the tarmac is in relation to the rest of your bike will give you a much better idea of how far over you can lean before things start scraping on the floor; things that you don’t want to scrape on the floor, that is, footpegs, toes, that kind of thing. And everything is more stable with three points of contacts, that just physics…
Centre of gravity
And speaking of physics, the main reason you see racers (and fast riders) leaning off their bikes and dragging a knee, is because that’s the best way to lower your centre of gravity, and the lower your centre of gravity, the more stable you’ll be.
To corner quickly, you need to lean the bike over. If you don’t lean into the turn, the centrifugal force will cause you and your bike to topple over. If you sit upright and lean the bike though, you’ll quickly ride off the edge of your tyre and crash. That’s to say you’ll lean the bike over further than your tyres can cope with. Either that, or you dig the footpegs into the ground which in turn will lift your tyres off the tarmac. Both scenarios end up with you laying on the floor.
The idea is to lean yourself over as far as you can, by hanging off your bike like a chimp, whilst keeping your bike as upright as possible. The more upright you can keep your bike, the harder you can open the throttle and the faster you can go.
Sometimes though, it doesn’t matter how far off the bike you’re leaning, you can still end up going for a laydown in the gravel. But, if you’ve got lightening fast reactions you can sometimes save what could be a costly and/or painful crash. The trick, made popular by Marc Marquez, is to jam your knee into the tarmac as soon as you feel the front tuck. Quite often you’ll see MM93 pull this one off, and occasionally you’ll see a few other GP riders manage it too.
Sometimes, trackday punters will tell you “I almost had a crash but managed to save it on my knee.” But take that with a pinch of salt. It’s probably bollocks.
The latest dance craze to hit the race tracks is riding with your elbow down. The idea behind dragging an elbow is the same as dragging a knee really. Some people do it because it looks cool, but really it’s a way of getting your weight as low as possible, allowing you to corner faster and faster.
In the last few years, more and more off-the-peg leather race suits have been appearing with replaceable elbow sliders (they’ve had replaceable knee sliders on for decades), partly for show, but also because more and more people are starting to emulate the riding styles of their grand prix heros, and scrape their elbows, as well as their knees, at any given opportunity.
Because if you can’t go fast, look fast.
I absolutely remember the first time I got my knee down – I wanted new leathers as my current ones didn’t have knee sliders fitted but vowed not to buy them until I could justify the need!
I found a quiet roundabout and went round and round till I made myself dizzy.
No knee contact.
Tyres were right to the edges.
I need to hang off more obviously.
Many many circuits of the roundabout followed but still no success.
I went home.
The next day I was just finishing a ride out and came across the same roundabout and went for it.
I was so bloody happy.
A few things I remember so clearly are – how much extra grip and stability I seemed to have fully leant over with my knee dragging tarmac.
Another was the sound – it’s noisy!
The final thing I learnt was don’t slam your knee down on a fast moving road surface without knee sliders on – nice big hole in my leathers.
At least I could now justify my need for new ones.
Immediately after this I found I could literally get my knee down on any roundabout at will and most corners too.
That was 15 years ago.
These days I actually find getting my knee down on the road gets in the way to be honest and simply don’t do it.
I can show boat if required or on track where it is useful but normal road riding it can actually be quite distracting.
Still bloody cool though 😎
This was an ace read!!!!
All true , including stupidity!
I haven’t got my knee down yet. I was riding only a few years in a city on a naked bike, then I bought my first sports bike late last year and I came a little obsessed with it. it started too ruin my ride outs because I couldn’t do it. even though the bike had a lean angle sensor and I was getting 54 degrees of lean but no knee!. this year I’m going to forget about it and just ride, maybe it will come. I work on body position and braking phase as its so much harder than a car. and just enjoying being on a sports bike, which are amazing things.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never had my knee down. I know it’s a stupid thing to want but I can’t help it. I see riders doing it without even thinking about it and I’m sick with envy – pathetic I know, but there you go!