If you’re a fan of motorcycle road racing, you’ve no doubt seen that each racer touches a knee down on every corner generally. While it looks great, it has a practical value in that it’s a gauge of distance to the ground. You might ask if that has a practical application away from the closed track, and honestly, it doesn’t really. Usually to be able to touch a knee down you need a good rate of speed, a high lean angle, and a good surface providing great traction for your tires to grip to.
We always mention ATGATT religiously, and with touching a knee down, it definitely applies. The main point with touching a knee down is having something between your knee and the ground surface. Most one-piece riding suits have the option of a knee puck coming on them, and a majority of the two-piece suits have the hook-and-loop section ready to attach one. A one-piece suit isn’t a requirement, so just keep in mind that you want the puck regardless of the type of suit you’re wearing.
Beyond the suit, the type of motorcycle you’re riding can have a significant impact on what you can easily accomplish. For instance, a sports type motorcycle typically has higher footpegs and a sporty seating position to allow you to adjust your position to extend a knee out. Something like a cruiser, with low foot pegs and a more relaxed riding position, may drag the footpegs before you really lean the motorcycle over enough to drag a knee. You can learn to overcome the challenges to drag a knee on a cruiser, but it will be a tough one to get there. The middle ground may be a sport touring motorcycle. You can probably drag a knee easier than on a cruiser, but it may be more difficult than a true sportbike.
The motorcycle type is also just a component to dragging a knee with confidence. The suspension, ground clearance, and tires on a motorcycle can help or make it a challenge to drag a knee. The motorcycle suspension needs to provide a balance when leaning over at speed. Cruisers and touring motorcycles typically have a softer suspension that may not provide great rider feedback when leaning over. Obviously, ground clearance needs to be a concern because you don’t want to drag a footpeg, kickstand, or exhaust on the ground when leaning over. Anything touching the ground may relieve some of the traction the tires are providing and cause them to lose grip. And mentioning the tires, a hard-touring tire may not hold well at speed while a grippy sports tire will provide a lot of traction when leaned over with a smaller contact patch touching the ground.
I would hope the obvious answer to the question of where is easily on a closed course and not on public roads. A race track or closed course should have the benefits of reduced or no traffic, and that does include other motorcyclists coming toward you or traveling in the same direction. There won’t be any other cars or big trucks to worry about. The best reason is safety. A true closed track won’t have barriers, poles, and other obstacles that you can easily come into contact with. An ambulance with trained medical staff should be on standby at all times too if they are needed for any reason. If you don’t feel those reasons are enough, think of the legal implications if you ride above your limit. Property damage (whether that’s yours or someone else’s property) and tickets from police can become quite costly.
If you do choose an open public road for a little practice, be sure to opt for one with little to no traffic and bring a friend so they can be on the lookout for oncoming traffic. They can also be on standby in the case that something were to happen and you need someone to call for help. Be aware of your surroundings, so a winding mountain road with a large drop off may seem tempting but provides a risk if something happens. It may also not have cell phone service and be far away from a responding medical unit.
On an enclosed racetrack, dragging a knee or a knee puck on the ground seems reasonable. A great track surface will hold traction and allow for higher speeds and high lean angles. There isn’t gravel on the surface. There isn’t a guard rail to worry about. There won’t be oncoming traffic to worry about if you run wide through the corner. On a public road, all of those conditions are very common and you don’t have the luxury of experienced medical staff on standby at a moment’s notice if something happens.
If you’ve often thought that you wanted to get a knee down, but didn’t really understand the physics of it, here are some basics to think about.
You may wonder how it’s possible that you can lean so low without falling over. The first thing you need to understand is that dragging a knee is really about balance. Yes, it’s a gauge to determine how low you are, but doing it efficiently is finding a balance between speed and lean. The lean of the motorcycle needs to correspond to the speed you travel. High lean needs more speed instead of less.
To help understand the concept, pretend that you are looking down at a motorcycle going in a circle. The circle made by the tires will be larger than the circle made by your helmet, because you are leaning to turn. In other words, if the motorcycle is leaning, your head is also leaning to the inside of the turn. Now, imagine that you are riding with your arms straight out like wings on an airplane, instead of having your hands on the bars. In this theoretical position, your inside hand is going to be a lot lower than the hand on the outside of the turn. Combine this with the appropriate speed, you will be able to successfully drag a knee.
As you approach the corner, you want to adjust your body position on the motorcycle. You will also be braking most likely, so it is going to take practice to stay braking and be able to adjust your body position at the same time. You want to be settled in position for the lean on the motorcycle before you enter the corner.
You should have half of your body shifted to the side of the motorcycle that will be on the inside of the turn. Your butt crack should be on the edge of the seat, and you need to adjust your position slightly rearward away from the gas tank. The outside leg will ride against the gas tank using it as an anchor point to hold onto for balancing your body. Your inside thigh will be pointed fairly straight down toward the ground. You can determine how far to stick your knee out. Your foot position will probably be most comfortable with the balls of your feet at the edge of the foot pegs.
Just like any other turn, you are going to be looking through the corner at your exit. As you exit the corner, you’ll be looking far down the road at the horizon. You never want to look directly down. It’s always head up, eyes out, and where you want to ride to.
Your arms will be slightly bent to where they are relaxed and comfortable. Your elbows will be slightly tucked, not tightly hugging your side, but not sticking out in the air like bird wings. As you progress through the turn, you are going to keep a constant speed which will keep the motorcycle suspension steady and planted to the track surface. As you approach the exit of the turn, you can begin to accelerate and straighten the motorcycle upright accordingly as you add speed.
From this position, you don’t have to lean the motorcycle much, if any, more than you probably do now. Always keep your torso in line with your hips and core and lean your whole body through the turn.
Just remember that more lean requires more speed. You need both and can’t lean without the speed. That’s called falling over. And it’s not very much fun.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: DO NOT ride outside of your ability anywhere, anytime or speed when you’re around other drivers, pedestrians, or homes.
If you decide that learning to drag a knee is something you want to accomplish, I do not recommend getting a knee down on a public road. The reward of getting a little badge of honor isn’t worth the risk that it requires to achieve it. Remember to always wear safety gear, for if you don’t have leathers with a knee puck, you stand a good chance of getting seriously injured, which can result in a trip to the doctor, or worse, the hospital. If you do decide that dragging a knee is something you want to accomplish, do it safely with the proper equipment and safety gear in an enclosed space. Have fun and safe riding!