The Early Days of Hanging Off with Your Knee Out

Almost, but not quite, the beginning of the transition to modern turning technique

Almost, but not quite, the beginning of the transition to modern turning technique. Paul Smart in third place has shifted just a bit more off his seat, he's lower and farther inside the turn than the other two riders.

For a website with the name "The Kneeslider," you might think this little bit of info would be pretty well settled around here, but have you ever wondered, when, exactly, motorcycle racers began hanging off of their bikes with their knees out when rounding a turn? It wasn't that long ago, riders remained firmly seated with knees in place, but now riders drag their knees and sometimes even their elbows. Who was the guy in that past road race who wondered if there might be a better way and began the experiment?

Far be it from me to even dream of having the last word on this subject, but while doing a little research in The Kneeslider reference library, I came across some photos in Cycle World of road racers at Brands Hatch and their technique appears to be one of those evolutionary "missing link" positions between the old and new, a little off their seats with inside knees out, but still a long way from touching the asphalt. It was unusual enough that the writer of the article, a certain B.R. Nicholls, made comments about it.

Phil Read (Yamaha) took the 250 race despite a challenge from similarly mounted Paul Smart, who leans so far off the bike when cornering it seems he must fall off. But he doesn't, and he is fast becoming a top favorite with the crowd.

Paul Smart in his "ridiculous" knee out position

Notice the photo caption commenting on Paul Smart in his "ridiculous" leaning knee out position

Even the photo caption calls his position "ridiculous." I wonder what he would have said if he had looked into the future and saw what passes for normal today? The photo at the top shows all three riders in pretty much the same position, but Paul Smart is just a bit lower and farther inside the turn, I guess that goofy idea worked pretty well, but was Paul Smart the instigator or did someone else precede him?

The article appeared in the September 1970 issue of Cycle World. How far we've come.

Does anyone have any earlier photos or articles mentioning this new and ridiculous technique? Has anyone made some definitive claim elsewhere about the beginnings of modern racing turns? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. Oldyeller says

    Though many claim it was Kenny Roberts in the late seventies that started it, I read an article many years ago in a race mag that showed Jarno Saarinen hanging off hie Yami back in the early seventies. But this article clearly shows that even before that there were innovative racers. Who knew!

    My question is: Who was the first rider to drag his elbow?

    • F0ul says

      The first to drag their elbow for practical reasons was Colin Edwards in 2003 or so although there will always be an earlier example – there is nothing new under the sun! 😉

  2. Tom says

    Looks even more ridiculous when I’m doing it on my cruiser bike, but hey, some turns you’ve gotta do it on.

  3. OMMAG says

    When they banned the “dustbin” fairings the riders of the day began sticking their knees out and sitting up into turns to add wind resistance. This knees and elbows out lasted through the sixties.

    I recall Hailwood, Ago and KR using their toes as corner “feelers” early on but I believe it was Yvon Duhamel who began using tape to hold hockey pads to his knees.

    Goo question …. needs some research !

  4. GenWaylaid says

    I remember reading years ago that the knee-out position came from downhill skiing. It was attributed to some professional skier turned professional racer in the late 50s. Does this story ring any bells for anybody?

  5. Mean Monkey says

    While I can’t claim ownership of the kneeslider technique, it’s saved my tookus more than a couple of times. Once in the late-1970’s some knucklechuck ran a red light as I was going thru the intersection, I executed a beautiful kneeslide left turn to keep from t-bone-ing the jerk. Spent the next several moments “speaking in tongues” at the guy but I was unhurt and my XS650 undamaged.

    PS: Today is the 70th. anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, my thanks to all involved.
    I have a t-shirt that says “My dad was a D-Day Dogface”.

  6. Meehawl says

    Somewhere amongst my deceased uncles possessions are multiple photos of a New Zealand racer named Leo Simpson, that my Grandfather constructed race bikes for, with the knee hanging out and the arse off one side of the seat. This was back in the 50’s and apparently people regarded his style with a large measure of amusement and as he died young not long into his career there was no trend setting to be claimed but he was a knees out and arse off riding style.

    • Paul Crowe says

      Absolute statements about someone being first are impossible to make. Evidently, he was a very early practitioner of the style. There may be no record available that will ever prove this one way or the other. Does someone else have an earlier example? We’ll have to wait and see.

  7. says

    I always thought that American Kenny Roberts was the first to touch his knees to the track surface during high speed turns. Before going to Europe, Roberts had to ride several types of races in the USA, one of which was “Flat Track” where every rider placed a metal boot on the inside foot to stabilize the slide through the turns. Kenny reported that placing the knee on the ground during “Road Racing” gave him some of the same stability.

  8. J.C. says

    I saw Paul Smart “educate” everyone on his Suzuki 750 at an early 1970’s Daytona 200.

    Yvon Duhamel HAD been riding his RD-350 Hailwood style, in practice…until coming upon Smart.

    From then on, he was hanging off on the infield 180, lap after lap

    Hailwood WAS there, on a Honda 750. Dick Mann, Cal Rayborn, and most of the leading FIM – AMA


    That being said, I started hanging off my ’67 Aermacchi 250 H-D Sprint as soon as I got it, in 1970.

    The BEST $400 I ever spent.

    It had all the H-D optional racer bits, but a box stock engine..

    The RACE engine had been scattered at a previous Daytona meeting…

    I never saw it….

    My inspiration came from a certain Kiwi rider, as seen in Cycle World….

    The bike was only geared for about 85 mph… with it’s 25HP

    But NOTHING beat it flicking side to side through S bends…

    That low top hamper, compared to vertical engines.

    Hanging off on other bends let me maintain a higher average speed.

    I loved going down to the exchange at US 92 – US 301 – I-4 out east of Tampa..

    A mile from where I lived..

    MY playground… an asymmetric selection of bends…

    Mid-night saw zero traffic… a nearby truck stop allowed me to play with tire pressures.

    We also had a skid pad out on the runways near USF…

    My cousins Ducati Diana 250 responded well to chassis tuning… air, shock oil and springing.

    HE rode it classic style, at local AMA Sportsman road races.. Dade City and PBIR..

    Was 40 pounds lighter than me.. HE tuned the engine to turn 10,500 from Cycle magazine specs.

    I loved hanging off, while going around in circles..

    One really got good at it….

    But I was too heavy…

    My experiences..

  9. J.C. says

    EJ Potter was a favorite at our Tampa DragWay.

    A mile east of me on US 92… NOT the Oldsmar dragstrip west of Tampa!!

    I’ve see EJ cross the finish line BACKWARDS, at 150 mph!

    After doing 3 360s on the way there!

    As crazy as the Rocket Go Kart Guy..

    Or Art Arfons / Green Monster…

    Art one day ended up in the 75 year old Tangerine Trees across SR-579..

    His chute had failed.. there was a sort of banking at the very end of the strip//

    I was the first one there, on my Gilera 124 dirt bike.

    Switched off the electrics before he could…

    Art was covered in tangerine juice and pulp..

    Laughing his ass off!

    Those were the days.


    65 years young.