How To Get Rid of “Chicken Strips”

It’s no secret, riders pay attention to the wear marks on their rear tires.  If you’ve ever been to a bike meet, people will often walk around, sizing each-other up based on what’s come to be referred to as “chicken strips” or more commonly, the amount of unused rubber on the edges of the tire.  We’re often approached by riders who are preoccupied with the presence of said “chicken strips” and as such, will address the correct way to “get rid of them” in this post.

To be honest, we don’t think the question anyone should be asking is “how do I get rid of my chicken strips”, but rather “how do I gain the confidence to increase my lean angle”.  This is the question we will answer and as a result, one will indeed reduce their chicken strips.

Why Lean Angle?

Without doing a complete “Physics of Turning a Motorcycle 1-0-1” (perhaps best saved for another post), let’s simplify turning of a motorcycle down to to 2 things: 1) cornering speed and 2) lean angle. These variables work together so that at constant lean angle, a bike will run a tighter radius at lower speed and the radius will increase proportionately as its speed increases.

Image result for motorcycle lean angle

PSA: When Things Go Wrong

Before getting into the “how”, we would be remisced if we didn’t do a quick PSA about the inherent danger of chasing lean angle, particularly on the street. The first place for things to go wrong for an uninitiated rider is that trying to achieve more lean angle (to remove chicken strips) requires the correct corner speed. In a street riding context, the requisite speed can be unsafe for reasons ranging from law enforcement, through to road surface quality, vehicle traffic and available runoff.  If you subscribe to the philosophy of learning from others’ mistakes, you should find inspiration in this brief montage from “the Snake” (Mulholland highway in California): a road that’s famous for big lean angles (and the resulting crashes). Let’s end our PSA by saying that although higher lean angles aren’t reserved strictly for the racetrack, that you need to be aware of your surroundings when attempting spirited cornering maneuvers on the street.

Image result for motorcycle guardrail
Lowside on the track = $.  Lowside on the street = metal guardrail.

Tips for Increasing Lean Angle

Now that we’ve covered what NOT to do, let’s cover 6 things you can do to increase your cornering confidence:

1. Tune your Bike:  If you’re going to try and push the limits of any bike, you need to make sure the bike is up-to-task.  For cornering, the particular components of interests are tires and suspension (we’re going to assume that you’re on a roadworthy motorcycle to begin with).

Tires: In the case of tires, you’re going to want one of the sportier tires available for your machine of choice and one that is designed for higher lean angles.  Many of these tires feature dual compound technology where the outer edges of the tire are made of a stickier compound and the center line of the tire is harder (and will therefore wear more gradually since most street riding is done in a straight line).  At the time of writing this, our sport tire picks include Pirelli’s range of Diablo tires (from the Rosso II through the track-ready Supercorsa SP) as well as the Dunlop Sportmax Q3/Q3+ among others.  If you’ve already got sport tires on your bike, check the wear pattern as well as the age of the tire to ensure the profile and quality of rubber are up-to-the-task.  For sport-oriented bikes, we always recommend replacing tires after 5 years, regardless of wear, due to the deterioration of the rubber compounds.

Some tire manufacturers (Metzeler in this case) are trying to game-ify chicken strips by putting a lean angle scale directly on the tire.  True story.

Suspension: Having the suspension set up properly is an important consideration as, together with your tires, it will provide the confidence required to achieve better mid-corner stability.  If your bike has adjustable suspension, a tune from a reputable shop is a surefire way to get your baseline settings.  If that’s a stretch, then you can start at your manufacturer’s recommended “sport” settings (as specified in your bike’s user manual).  If your bike’s suspension isn’t adjustable, you’ll want to do some baseline measurements (again, we recommend expert help here) to see how far off it is from your ideal settings (setting static and rider sag to begin with), or proceed with caution as there is a good chance your bike isn’t set up properly for your weight which can lead to issues if you begin pushing its capabilities.

Although you don’t need fancy gold suspension parts to gain cornering confidence, proper setup of the suspension components you already have is a must.

2. Get Off the Seat:  In actual fact, the purpose of getting off the seat (aka. “getting your knee down”, aka “draggin’ a knee”) is actually to decrease lean angle at higher speeds, but we’ve included it here for the purpose of improving cornering technique and confidence.  The science of it (and why you see Moto GP riders hanging WAY off their bikes) is that it shifts the center of gravity towards the inside of the corner, thereby requiring less lean angle at a constant speed. We won’t go into the complete physics of how lean angle helps turn a motorcycle but you can read a layman’s guide here.

Shifting your weight off the bike allows for more lean angle but remember to give yourself plenty of room so you don’t end up in oncoming traffic (like this guy!)

The key technique for weight transfer on a bike when cornering is to do it smoothly.  If you are new to shifting your weight off the seat, don’t try and do it all at once.  Practice gradually and increase how far you get off the bike as your comfort level increases.  Before long, you’ll get a feel for how much is necessary based on your cornering speed and lean angle as all three factors (weight transfer, cornering speed and lean angle) must work together.

3. Take a Course:  Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions in motorcycling is that once a rider has earned their “M” license, that they require no further training and will learn the remaining necessary skills simply by riding.  Although many great riders are largely self-taught, there is no arguing that taking an advanced riding course will greatly increase your confidence, as well as making you a safer rider in any riding condition.  In Canada, organizations like FAST Riding School at Shannonville Motorsports Park or Racer 5’s rider development programs are a fun and effective way to learn and refine the skills required to safely increase cornering speed.  Outside of Canada, most local racetracks will be affiliated with riding schools who offer training programs and we can’t speak about riding schools in North America without mentioning Califonia’s Superbike School (taught by industry veteran and former racer, Keith Code).  There’s also Lee Parks’ Total Control riding clinics which have courses in both Canada and the US.

You’ll learn more about turning a motorcycle in a single track day track riding course than you will in a whole season of street riding.  Truth.

4. Do a Track Day: Although you’ll get a lot more out of a track day if you’ve taken a course (see #3 above), a track day with the right group can still be a learning experience for someone who is looking to learn.  If you choose to go this route, your bike will need to pass tech inspection (see #1 above), so check with the sanctioning body in your area to learn what is required for your bike to pass tech and be sure to read our track day prep guide.

Goodbye chicken strips!

5. Read a Book: If you’re already a dedicated rider, you have likely done some of our recommended steps to refine your technique and scrub your tires to the edges.  If you’re reading this in the off-season however (yes, we don’t all live in California where you can ride all year-round, as the motorcycling press often forgets!), brushing up on your technique with some good’ol written theory can be a great way to pass the winter blues and get ready for the season ahead.  Some handy recommendations can be found in a recent blog post where we compiled a list of books that contain techniques for improving cornering technique.

Image result for A twist of the wrist book

So in summary, the question you should ask yourself is not “how do I get rid of chicken strips”, but rather “how do I improve my cornering technique” which will inevitably achieve the desired result.  Have fun out there and ride safe.

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