Drifting: rear-wheel vs. two-wheel

This reader is rear-wheel drifting all over the place, and he wants to know what his front wheel is doing. He’s also wondering about two-wheel drifts.


I ride at a level where I’m comfortable in a whole-of-corner sustained rear-wheel drift and am working on two-wheel drifts, but my questions are about rear-wheel drifts in particular and it is more of a “why” than a “how.”

When driving a car that is oversteering, I have to use a little opposite lock to sustain the drift around the corner. While I’m sustaining a rear-wheel drift on my bike, does my front wheel also have a little ‘opposite lock’ to it too? I’ve never looked, of course. If this is true then I must be using ‘opposite lock’ unconsciously, but can I use it at a conscious level in order to artificially create or sustain a rear-wheel drift? Or, is there no ‘opposite-lock’ at all, my front wheel is merely pointing in the direction I am going and it is only ‘opposite’ in relation to the rest of the bike (like the front wheels of my rear-wheel drifting car)? Is there a difference in where the front wheel points between a rear- and a two-wheel-drift?

I suspect the two-wheel drift has a straighter front wheel. Please note that I don’t want to stop the rear-wheel drift, I just want to play around with it ’cause it’s fun.

Cheers, Chris

Hey Chris,

This question made my day. Thanks.

Rear wheel drift

Definition: Your rear wheel has broken loose, but your front wheel is tracking. Brakes are not involved. Skidding the rear tire is a different animal.

Application: This is a good way to change direction, especially at high speed on loose ground. Very useful in downhill and trail riding.

Technique: Load the front end to keep the front tire glued. Let the rear end do what it wants. There is some “opposite lock” — while your bike swings outward, your front wheel is points where you want to go. It feels like you’re steering opposite the turn, but you’re steering into the turn; the rest of your bike is following a tangent. As Steve Peat told me, “As long as your front wheel is tracking, you’re golden.” He probably said Mate in there somewhere too.

The rear-wheel drift is actually secondary to keeping your front tire planted. You only have so much weight to press into your tires. The more you load your front tire, the lighter your rear tire, and the more likely it’ll break loose.

Notes: A cutty is an aggressive rear wheel drift. If you watch fast riders, you’ll see a lot of cutties, aka intentional rear-wheel drifts. If you want to see even more of this action, watch moto.

Rear wheel drifting, front wheel tracking. Check out the steering angle. He’s steering outside the bike, but into the turn.

Two wheel drift

Definition: Your speed/setup/technique have outstripped the available traction, and both wheels have broken loose. Brakes are not involved.

Application: I can’t think of a reason to do this on purpose, other than for fun. But being comfortable in a drift lets you corner faster, and it keeps you calm when you’re super pinned and things get tangential.

Technique: Once you enter the turn, stay balanced in the middle of your bike. If you’re properly positioned, both wheels will release together, and the drift will feel very mellow and controllable. (You don’t want your front end letting go first!) Your front and rear wheels should keep pointing in their “normal” directions. If all goes well, you’ll drift until you regain traction, then you’ll be on your way — pinned!

Notes: While you won’t see top riders breaking both tires loose on purpose, they all two-wheel drift as a function of speed. As long as you’re balanced, two-wheel drifts are all good — and they let you carry more speed than traction allows.

The last off camber turn at Big Bear. Steve Peat Squares off the turn with a rear-wheel drift. Note how he’s loading the front end, which is tracking perfectly.

Later in the turn, Peaty has set his edge, and he’s in the middle of his bike. Both tires are drifting a bit — because he’s HAULING MAIL — but it’s all under control.

So cool!

— Lee

Me in October 2003, back when I was first learning about these things. This turned out to be perfect rear-wheel drift. You can tell I was shocked!

9 replies
  1. Chris says:


    Thanks for the answer. I suspected my front wheel was always pointing in the right direction.

    I saw that photo [the closeup of the Schwinn] on page 71 of MMBS but I can’t see the intended line versus the front tire direction. The photo from MMBS that really caught my eye was on page 56. Cameron and his bike are heading in the direction that he is looking, but check out the angle of the bike compared to that direction. Very cool …but probably two-wheel drift.

  2. WD says:

    Maybe you should emphasize the “NO BRAKES ARE INVOLVED” piece. Because I suspect most of the riders out there who think they are “drifting” are actually locking up the brakes and “skidding” around the turn (and tearing up the trail ’cause it looks cool). If you’re going fast enuf to actually drift turns–ride on! Otherwise, lay off the brake, ride in control, and don’t hose up the trails.

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    Chris: Yeah, in that photo Cameron is in the process of saving a major slide-out, aka two-wheel drift. Note that he’s moving forward on the bike to make the front wheel stick.

  4. Pee-Who says:

    psstt..! whatever Lee.. ever hear of the “Polish” drift..? That’s right son.. the rear wheel tracks while the front wheel drifts ALL over the place… 🙂


  5. dylan says:

    Just going to add try it in the snow to get the felling of being loose.May-be like being in sand? but snow gives you the feel of good round drifts.

  6. jose says:

    could you explain me– i was doing drifts putting all my weight at the rear end as much as posible — i dont understand how this could be posible -because is supoused that when you add more weight to the rear wheel you have more tracktion but im adding weight to the back and there is no weight in the front so it should understeer but it oversteers –

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