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Pipeburn Poll: Is Getting Your Knee Down Really All That?

Posted on April 25, 2012 by Andrew in Other. 53 comments

Just look at that shot. John Surtees, one of the world’s greatest GP racers, getting his knee down while riding his father’s Vincent Black Lightning in the early 50s. Except it’s not. See, as realistic and authentic as this shot looks, it’s a fake because Surtees never intentionally put a knee down in anger. Ever. How do I know that? Because the first ever recorded racing “knee down” didn’t occur until the early seventies and one Mister Jarno Saarinen. So Mr Surtees managed to go his whole amazing career without ever putting patella to pavement. Which beggars the question, just how necessary is getting you knee down?

  • Mugget

    Tough vote choice. I went with “maybe”. 

    To answer the question of “is it really all that”? No. It’s not. Everyone knows you can go hella fast on the street without ever putting a knee down.

    But the real answer is shouldn’t be a “yes” or “no”, because the truth is that knee down is a result of good technique, not an end in itself. But it’s a bit of a paradox, because as I’ve found if you have really good technique – you’ll get faster but with more lean angle (safety margin) in reserve – so you end up going faster, yet still no knee down. I’ve never even put a knee down yet. Don’t know when I will, don’t really care. Maybe it will come when I start using sport tyres (rather than street tyres), go faster, and move into the top group at track days. (But by that logic it would seem that guys running slicks and tyre warmers should be getting elbows down. Haha 😛 )

  • sigep_rockstar

    what he really needs to do is reconsider his choice of tire.  i mean, yeah they look cool, but those things are archaic, and i bet they don’t really hold in a corner.

  • tmcsp

    What is your question asking about? Road riding or track riding?

    On a race track however it does have benefits. Moves your center of gravity lower, and into the turn and actually reduces the required lean angle to get around a corner fast. With a reduced lean angle the tire contact patch is larger and so the bike has more traction. Meaning it can get it’s power on the track faster and ultimately be quicker around the track.

    On the road there is no reason to ever drag your knee.

    For those who want to improve their riding, pick up the book “Total Control” by Lee Parks. He goes into great detail about this very subject.

  • GuitarSlinger

    A definite maybe . If you’re on a track day and just have to have the absolute  fastest time possible , its ‘ required ‘ On the other hand if you’re getting your knee down on public  streets and highways  ? 

    Well ………. you’re definitely going Too _____ Fast . 

    For 99% of all riders out there  …… keep the knees up , the rubber side down and just enjoy the ride ! Leave the knee dragging to the Pros . 

    Because ….. the closer to the edge you get … the bigger the disaster once you’ve passed it . And you will . Guaranteed . 

  • hah sigep_rockstar great point.

  • MotoTrooper

    Yes to all of the above.  Never had a knee down m’self but I haven’t gotten out to a track yet either.  Which is where any knee down should intentionally happen IMHO.  I also believe that pushing one’s self toward ever better riding technique will enhance the enjoyment of riding in general.  That and taking our adolescent egos out of the picture.  Vroom vroom!

  • Zekerigg

    my pegs scrape before I get to that point…

    • I reckon if you used the technique in the photo above you’d get yr knee down way before the pegs…

  • knee down? pfft! foot out, flat out!

  • That is a certain Mark Forsyth

  • bikerferlife

    Completely depends on how fast you are and/or how fast you think you are. If you are at the track and repeatedly hitting the same corner the knee on the ground acts as a good reference for angle and body position, but probably more importantly it gives you a third contact point with the ground and takes some load in the event of a front end slide. It allows the rider to actually reduce the front tire load during a slide (by pressing outward with his knee) to give the tire a chance to grab again. VERY useful and actually quite common technique at the track amongst the front runners.
    On the other hand on the street if you touch a knee it’s because you are trying to because you think it looks cool. I’ll still scoot my butt to the inside of the turn if the pace is getting hot which helps with weight transfer if needed, but if you are thinking about putting your knee down you need to hit a track day at least. Then you realize what fast really is and that ‘fast’ on the street is a joke. 
    Street knee dragging is for poseurs. 

  • Dschmalenberg

    As an ex-roadracer, I always used my knee on track.
    Very rarely have I touched a knee down on the street, and then only accidently.

  • Paddy

    Back in the late eighties I saw Giancarlo Falappa regularly get his ELBOW down in turn two at Mosport International Raceway near Toronto. It must have worked for him because if memory serves, he was first and third in those races. That was World Superbike and there were some tough hombres on the track at the time.

  • arnold

    Knee down with out pucks? who you kidding. the Technique serves as a modest air brake.

    • davmo

      Not to mention, a chance to air out your junk. 

  • Brian Leahy

    The “knee-down” is a byproduct of proper body position not the cause of it. 

  • sc

    For pros who want to win a GP it’s undoubtedly a good idea. For street rider it’s not. For posers I’d recommend using a rough file, instead of scraping them while on the bike.   

  • Sam

    in the right environment, knee down is the best feeling….

  • Well, watching the pro riders today, they do throw their knees out, but not in an effort to literally drag them. Seems to me that when one shifts his weight off center going into a turn, the more the leg is out, the more the center of gravity is controlled.

    Kind of a silly question. Pro racers on modern bikes throw out the knees and they might happen to touch. A street rider doing that would be flat out stupid. Besides, I would guess that the pros doing it know what they’re doing.

  • Derby Cycles

    So what’s the story with the faked photo? And have you signed the petition for Surtees Knighthood yet?
    As for the knee down? Moto GP yes!  especially at Brno. On the street? Let’s hope not! Ride safe gents…

  • Limey_Trucker

    Didnt King Kenny Roberts claim to be the “inventor” of the knee down action?? Lol, mind you all Americans claim to be the first to do anything. Apart from the Harrier Jump Jet oh and the jet engine itself. God bless Frank Whittle.
    As for the knee down, a couple of seasons back I saw footage of Colin Edwards’s front wheel lost contact the ground mid corner during practice. Technically his front wheel washed out, but he managed to push the bike back on to both wheels using his knee. He claimed at the time ” Oh that always happens” …..but then he is American !!!! 🙂

    • From what little I know, he has claimed Saarinen as his inspiration for knee-down on numerous occasions. Can anyone find a link to back that up?

    • Car2nst

      Get off the American cracks, bloke-it wasn’t Roberts that said it-If I remember correctly, it was Duhamel that laid claim to the first knee drag, although you may be the first trucker that dresses in drag…..

      • Dan

         I don’t know of any links to back anything up, but I know the quote that Limey Trucker is referring to… In the movie “Faster” there is an interview going on between Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. In the back and forth, Kenny claims to have “invented” putting his knee on the ground as a new, innovative riding style that helped him around the race track. Something that Barry never did and thus was slower than KR.
        Speaking for only myself, when watching that interview with KR, it seemed like he was kinda making it up… maybe stretching the truth a little, or trying to one-up the other guy. Again, just my opinion… I’m too young to have watched KR and BS race back in the day so I don’t really know. But, the interview was kinda funny/weird.

      • Limey_Trucker

         Yeah I borrowed the dress from your momma when I climbed off her !!!

        I dont have a problem with Americans, never have, proudly drive round in a 1947 Chevy truck from Alabama. 

        So if thats all……………

  • TheWretched

    I think the results would be very different if asked on a site dedicated to super sports rather than cafe’s and customs…

    Elbow down seems to be the craze these days, anyway.

  • Im still trying to get my knee down

  • Limey_Trucker

    Dont worry Mark, some people still struggle to put their foot down 🙂 

  • Gthomson67

    Taking a look at the top MotoGP professionals, one man stands out as “he who leans over most” which is Toni Elias – he isn’t, however, the fastest man on the grid by a long way.

    The first man to get his knee down was George Formby in his 1936 film about the IOM TT “No Limit”.  It’s a curios fact that he was also the first man to get his knee up (mother brown).

  • Sportsbike

    That’s Mark Forsyth doing a story for Performance Bikes way back when. Credit pls

  • Andy Copeland

    Knee down gives you a measure of how much lean you can have around a corner.
    Generally speaking a stock bike can lean until it scrapes the footpegs. Any further and technically you bum should kiss the ground.
    As race bikes are "customised" then it is necessary to have the knee down as a gauge if your leaning all the way over.

    So to wrap up my comment when we all are riding our Easyrider Harleys in the twisties remember to get that knee right down. But just remember to hold onto your cowboy hat or football helmet, if you have a topless girl on the back then get her to put a knee down also all in good spirit.

  • Asdf

     I think if you get your butt on the ground before your knee you’re doing something right.

  • For those of you looking to actually try it…

    • I watched the video and it sounds like it’s more about getting the shoulder and head down and basically taking an aggressive stance into the turn while keeping the bike more upright. The knee is then used secondarily as kind of a feeler as one goes round.

  • Armando Aj Marini

    On the street? Completely unnecessary. The speed you need to be travelling to need your knee down is unwise on open public roads. Take it to the track and it’s a different story.

  • Dan

    The knee on the ground does more than look cool. It offers feeling for the rider (racer) to gauge lean angle, and most pro racers will tell you that by using their knee as a “tripod” they’ve been able to save a front wheel washout (lowside crash). On the street you’re just a poser dragging your knee, but it’s a tool that racers use… most of whom are usually on the ragged edge of traction on both front and rear wheels anyway. Now here’s a new question…
    What’s with MotoGP, WSK, etc. racers pulling their inside foot off the peg as they’re braking into the corner (almost like dirt tracking) then putting it back on the peg to apex and drive out?
    It’s the new “dragging your knee”. I don’t know if it helps them settle the bike going in, or lets it move around more, or what? I would think going from 210mph down to 75 for a corner within a hundred yards would require both feet on the pegs… That’s just me anyway!

    • You have to put more effort  to keep your feet on the peg than just let it loose.All the riders admit that they don’t loose time, the bike maintains its stability and the most important, you don’t straggle on the bike and preserve your physical energy, which is very importand in a race.
      Remember the race in Qatar two weeks ago, Stoner would be first, but his right hand lost its strength a few laps before the checkered flag..

  • Idomyovvnstunts

    Tracks are smothered in rubber from thousands of passes made with hot & sticky qualifier tires. This makes for velcro-like traction which is compounded by the bank angle of the turn. Road race pros are regularly pushing past 50-55 degree lean angles under these conditions, but those tires are made for 28 laps only. Streets have bumps, sand, gravel, tar, divets, CARS, curbs, yellow/red lights, deer, pedestrians, and those tires last for 3k-5k miles. Love them both, but remember where you are.

    • Hey, don’t forget the streets also have cops. I think they may frown on this type of riding.

  • Bigmattie

    Anyone else ever attempt the squashed beer can/gaff tape kneeslider in their early days? Come on, I know Darwinian theory hasn’t claimed all us village idiots yet !

  • Mustang Wolf


  • Jdnick2

    He’s a strong young man, holding up the bike the way he is, being its not moving, nor is he………..   

  • Hanging off the bike makes for less lean angle, and less “risk”. The more upright a bike is the faster you can drive the tire. 

    Putting the knee to the ground helps the rider feel where they are and can possibly save a low-side in rare cases.

  • Rupert Paul

    The Vincent in the pic is indeed moving. I watched Mark riding it, in sleepy Lincolnshire (England). The bike belonged to one Roland Ogley and had old Avon Speedmasters. They ended up balled and blistered as if they’d been on a racetrack. Roland watched too, and murmured something to the effect of, “By heck, I wish I could ride it like that.” It was quite something. The pic was taken for an article by John Robinson in October 1988 Performance Bikes magazine on the history of knee sliding.

    • Gusty

       Well, that showed us.

  • Mgeddington

    It really depends on the type of bike your riding. For sport bikes it does make a differance. The road race guys don’t do it for looks! Cruser,bobber,touring, naaaa.

  • Ben

    The Isle of Man TT racers don’t seem to do it, so if they don’t need to at speeds approaching 200mph on roads then I don’t think anyone needs to on the road.

  • Rough Times

    haha nice one. Check out for a fun & also usefull guide on how to kneedown