What The Heck Is Rake and Trail?

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By Troy Siahaan

Read enough motorcycle reviews and you’ll inevitably hear people like the MO staff talk about two things: Rake and Trail. It’s mentioned so much because rake and trail have a major role to play in the way your motorcycle handles, and the people who design these motorcycles are well aware of this when going from CAD drawing to real-life machine.

So, let’s take a closer look at what rake and trail is and why it’s important. While some of you may already understand rake and trail, newer riders may not. And besides, what harm is there in a refresher course, anyway? We’ll start with the basics of rake and trail, then go a little deeper into each topic later.

What is Rake?

This drawing of the Honda CBR1000RR-R explains rake angle concisely (ignore the other measurements, for now), as the arc created from the head stock to an imaginary line perpendicular to the ground, passing through the front axle. In this case, it’s 24º.

The definition of rake (also known as caster angle) is the angle of the steering axis in relation to the vertical axis. In other words, rake is a measurement – in degrees – from the headstock of your motorcycle to a vertical line drawn through the front axle of your motorcycle. If you want your motorcycle to steer quickly and with little effort, like a sportbike or a dirtbike, you go for a smaller number (to a point). Sportbikes generally have rake numbers in the low- to mid-20s. Buells were notorious for having some extreme rake angles bordering close to the teens. The tradeoff with a small rake number is stability, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

While sportbikes tend to have small rake angles for quick handling, cruisers tend to go the other direction for …read more

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