Getting your Knee Down

Getting your knee down – sliding a knee scraper on a racetrack through a corner – is one of the most exhilarating experiences a motorcyclist can enjoy.

It’s a rush only a small percentage or riders ever experience, and that’s a shame, because in many ways you haven’t lived until you’ve been airborne on a motocross bike, pulled a great wheelie on a big road burner, gone flat-out down a dragstrip and scraped your knee through a corner on a sportsbike.

There’s an old story about four-time World 500 Champion (that was what they were called in the days before the phrase ‘MotoGP’ was coined) Eddie Lawson, before he went to Europe to dominate GP racing, was helping a rider trainer by demonstrating track laps.
The trainer was talking about hanging off and getting the knee down, which was all very cool, back then.
“And, if you’re really good, and maybe a bit lucky, you might even be able to push down hard with your knee to prevent a crash if the front-end starts to slide,” the expert said.

Now keep in mind we’re talking 200+ kilogram 1980s Superbikes here, not svelte lightweight machines we have today, and don’t get me started on tyre technology.
“Bullshit”, someone commented, attempting to call out the trainer. “Eddie, how often do you do that?” said the heckler, attempting to get support from the expert.
“About once a lap,” Lawson replied drily.

Back in 1988 I went road racing, campaigning a 1983 Yamaha RZ350 in the West Australian Formula Two Championship. Even back in those days, lots of us – especially the cash-strapped wannabes wearing secondhand leathers – didn’t have knee scrapers.
But a few years later I was working for REVS Motorcycle News and sent off to write a story about racer training being run by Stay Upright and overseen my Motorcycling Australia.

Castrol Six-Hour winner Wayne Clarke was the coach, and I was soon getting my knee down.
What I didn’t know – and what I’ll likely never do – is get my elbow down, at least without crashing.
But there are lots of riders scraping their elbows these days, and it turns out 7-time World Champ Marc Marquez not only scrapes his elbow, but holds the bike up on it to prevent the bike crashing.

Those sorts of skills separate the elite from the fast.

– Nigel Paterson

Note: I think the rider training in the story above was Keith Code, and the quotes are paraphrased.