Techniques: Avoiding a lowside crash


Lowsiding is one of the more common causes of motorcycle accidents. But what exactly is a lowside crash and how can you avoid having one? Misti Hurst explains all

One of the best ways to avoid crashing your motorcycle is to arm yourself with knowledge about what causes or increases the likelihood of a particular type of accident. With this in mind, I was asked recently about what causes motorcyclists to lowside.

First of all, what is a lowside crash? It typically happens on the lower side of a bike, where it essentially leans over too far or slides out underneath you, and you fall on the side that is lower to the ground.

In a left turn, if the bike slides out and you fall onto the left side, that would be considered a lowside accident. The opposite of a lowside, and typically much more violent, is a highside, where the rider is thrown over the higher side of the bike. In the case of a left-hand turn, you’d typically be tossed over the right side of the bike. Not fun.

So, what causes a lowside crash? Typically, they are caused by running out of traction, either from poor or slippery road conditions, too much weight on the front tyre, or leaning the bike over too far and carrying too much lean angle. In some cases, it can stem from using too much throttle too soon or while the bike is leaned over too far.

Losing traction

First of all, any time you’re riding in wet, slippery, cold, or slick conditions, or you have a new tyre freshly mounted, you run the risk of losing traction in the tyres. This is especially true for the front tyre which is only designed to carry a portion of the cornering load (typically 30 to 40%). Care should be taken to be smooth with all control actions like braking, throttle control, steering and body position, to ensure you are maximising available traction.

In poor conditions, or with new, cold, or excessively worn tyres, you need to slowly and carefully execute your steering actions.

Be progressive and smooth with your braking and ensure that you do most, if not all, of your braking upright. In slick conditions, trying to turn a bike with any front brake still applied will put extra weight on the front tyre and can cause a lowside to occur.

Loading the front tyre

This leads into my second point. Having too much weight on the front tyre, even in perfect riding conditions, is one of the most common causes of this type of crash. Turning your bike with some front brake still applied is called trail braking, and while it’s an amazing skill to have, it can also be tricky to get just right and easily causes crashes if not managed correctly.

If you do want to do it, ensure you decrease your front brake pressure as you add lean angle to mitigate this risk. Rolling on the gas as soon as possible once the bike is turned transfers extra weight off the front tyre back to the rear and can help lower your risk of lowsiding.

Lean angle

Finally, too much lean angle can cause a bike to lowside. All motorcycles have a maximum amount of lean angle they can handle.

For example, a large fully loaded cruiser with floorboards won’t be able to lean over as far, and therefore carry as much speed, as a nimble sports bike. It is the rider’s job to minimize the amount of lean angle they carry in a corner with proper body position and taking good lines.

Proper body position means leaning with the bike. By keeping your centre of gravity over the side of the bike as you turn (leaning left in a left turn) allows you to lean the bike over less than if you were to lean away from the bike and push it down and underneath you. Too much lean angle runs the risk of lowsiding as your tyres simply run out of grip at extreme lean.

As for proper riding lines? If you turn your bike into a corner too early, it can run you wide on the exit, often leaving you little choice other than trying to lean the bike over more to navigate the corner, and potentially slide out.

There are of course other mistakes riders can make that can contribute to a lowside crash, but these are the most common.

By ensuring you take care in poor riding conditions, being smooth with your throttle control and braking, and by using good body position and lines, you’re much more likely to stay upright.