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Cutting corners

Apologies to my regular readers — I was away for a while, so couldn’t turn in a column last week.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 11:30 IST
Grease Monkey

Apologies to my regular readers — I was away for a while, so couldn’t turn in a column last week. Last time, we scratched the surface of steering systems. We looked at a motorcycle’s front forks, and a car’s steering system.

Today, we’ll look at how one should drive around a corner.

Handling Indian roads
Our roads offer no second chances, especially if you’re on a motorcycle. Cars offer protection and a greater ability to get out of sticky situations, but motorcycles can be tricky to handle when you’re already committed to the curve. The first thing you should remember is, go around corners slowly. The primary reason for this is to give you more time to react to a sticky situation, but even racers, who drive at high speeds, follow the ‘slow in, fast out’ mantra.

If you enter a corner too slow, you can compensate for it by accelerating out quicker. However, if you enter a corner too fast, slowing down and steering can be tricky. Your tyres can do one thing efficiently at a time with the grip they offer; accelerate, brake or steer. If you ask your tyres to do more than one thing at a time, they have to divide their attention between the two.

Taking things one at time
You may have experienced this yourself — most of our cars are front-wheel-drive, so if you turn the front wheels over as far as they will go and accelerate smartly, the tyres will protest. If you stomp on the throttle, then the wheels will spin and the car won’t turn much. This is why, if you find yourself running wide in a corner in a front-wheel-drive car, you should get off the throttle. It helps the front tyres get their mind off accelerating and concentrate on turning.

This is also why you shouldn’t brake hard while the wheels are turned over — they won’t be able to steer, because you’re forcing them to brake. In fact, if you brake hard enough to lock the wheels, the car will plough straight on in the direction it was last going in when the wheels locked. This is why anti-lock braking systems are useful.

They help you stop quickly, but if you do brake hard in any situation, they keep the wheels rolling, so you can steer your car around an obstacle while braking hard.

Left-foot braking
Getting off the throttle might not always be the best solution if you run wide in a rear-wheel-drive car. Racers use a technique called ‘left-foot braking’. They dab the brakes very slightly with their left foot while keeping their throttle application constant. What this does is transfer weight to the front wheels, giving them more grip. Skilled drivers might want to show off by getting a car’s tail out and ‘powersliding’ the car, which is commonly known as a drift today.

Please do not practice the racing techniques I have described in any of my columns. Never forget that what you see on TV isn’t real life. Besides, they don’t show too many shots of the ambulances standing by at the races, do they?