The Truth Behind The Rossi Leg Wave

At every press conference, in every interview, in fact just about any time Valentino Rossi answers questions in public, the same question comes up again and again: "Why do you stick your leg out when you're braking for a corner?" And every time, Rossi shrugs and explains that he doesn't really know; "it just feels natural to do" is the answer he usually gives.

The move - taking his foot of the footpeg, dangling it as if almost preparing to slide it on the ground dirt-track style, before finally picking it up and putting it back on the footpeg, ready to help tip the bike into the corner - has become Rossi's trademark, but he is no longer alone in his leg waving. One by one, the rest of the grid have taken on the move, and it has spread to riders in every class, from MotoGP to 125s to World Supersport. First Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi followed Rossi's example, then Max Biaggi, then the current generation of Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. Now, just about everyone is doing it, all the way down to club racers.

With no explanation forthcoming from the originator of that distinctive dangle - usually dubbed "the Rossi Leg Wave" - observers have turned to a mixture of speculation and the other riders for an answer to the puzzle. Other proponents of the leg wave such as Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa claim that it helps them balance the bike as they approach the corner on the brakes, and armchair pundits follow a similar line, offering a range of theories grounded only very vaguely in physics concerning balance, leverage and weight transfer. It is clear that the debate over the subject has entered that most dangerous phase, the point where speculation based on science ends and darker, more occult attribution begins.

As entertaining as the speculation is, it still leaves us none the wiser as to why riders waste valuable fractions of seconds and costly energy to take their inside foot off the peg, poise it carefully over the ground, before jamming it back onto the footpeg. Surely they must do it because they gain some advantage from it?

Here's the surprise: When asked - as usual - at the pre-race press conference at the Sachsenring why he takes his foot off the peg - Rossi gave his standard answer, that he didn't know, but that it felt a natural thing to do, and it felt like it helped him brake. But he also revealed a fascinating detail: When he and Jeremy Burgess look at the data, and compare the corners where he does his signature leg wave with the same corner when he leaves his foot on the peg, there is no difference at all. The data shows exactly the same braking time and force, the same weight distribution, no difference whatsoever.

So why do it? There must be some reason for such unusual behavior, something which would explain why riders perform an almost ritualized act so deliberately? Somewhere, there must be an underlying cause to explain why so many riders all go through the same motions?

As so often, there are lessons from history, and a student of American racing history drew a fascinating parallel with dirt track, which illustrates how these things come into being. With his permission, I have reproduced his story in his own words below:

For several decades, American dirt trackers all looked behind the same way: They would leave their left hand on the bar and tuck their head under their left armpit to check on who was back there. Over time, all sorts of theories were produced, most of them having to do with improved aerodynamics from keeping your head down. But people kept asking why they did it, and eventually a pattern developed:

Chris Carr: "I saw Scotty Parker ride that way"...

...Scott Parker: "I learned it from Springer"...

...then Springer [Jay Springsteen] admitted: "Mert Lawill showed me that"... which point Mert admitted "I got that from Bart Markel"

..eventually Black Bart said he learned it from Carroll Resweber, who said he learned it from another Texas Racer, who -when they finally tracked him down - revealed The Secret:

"Hell, boy, I was blind in my left eye... that was the only way I could see behind me!"

To answer the question of how the leg wave started, and find out the underlying reason, we need to go back in history to find its first appearance. A quick survey of paddock opinion says that the first time that anyone - including long-time veterans - remembers seeing that now legendary leg wave was at Jerez in 2005, in the last-gasp, last-corner move in which Rossi jammed his Yamaha M1 up the inside of Sete Gibernau's Gresini Honda, barely in control, and Gibernau tried to close the door too late. That move ended up defining the 2005 World Championship, and put Rossi at a psychological advantage over title rival Gibernau which saw him clinch the title with relative ease by the end of the season.

The move at that time was born out of a combination of desperation, determination and a feeling that he had nothing left to lose. It worked - both the pass and the leg wave - and Rossi associated that waving of the leg with the success of that pass. Like all things that Rossi associates with success - the color yellow, the ritual of supplication he performs before getting on the bike, the frankly unsightly picking at his leathers as he rides out of pit lane - he has elaborated on the leg wave and further incorporated it into his routine, seeing it as another weapon in his arsenal of luck, helping to sway the odds in his favor.

Over the years, the leg waving has become more prominent, almost theatrical, Rossi's leg describing circles before he places it back on the footpeg. And that increase in theatricality betrays the way that Rossi views the leg wave: It is becoming less and less a physical act and more and more something entirely psychological, almost religious. It has become a totem, a symbol of his intentions and a petition to the gods of overtaking to help him get past the upstart who has been foolish enough to get ahead of him. It has become part of Rossi's mojo.

This is not to dismiss the leg wave as a meaningless ritual and a complete waste of time. The data shows that Rossi neither gains nor loses ground by the move, so it certainly does no harm. The leg wave works because Rossi believes it works, and like a lucky T-shirt, a holy medallion or putting one boot on before the other, as long as he keeps winning there will be no arguing about its success.

Perhaps even more important than the success that Rossi believes he has with the leg wave is the effect it has had on others. At first, it was just Rossi taking his foot of the peg, but one by one, the rest of the field have adopted the practice, and now just about everyone can be seen doing the leg wave at some point in the race. By the most subtle of means, Rossi has insinuated himself into the psyche of every rider on the grid, and the leg wave is now regarded as a necessary part of riding a MotoGP bike. Everyone is doing the Rossi Leg Wave, but everyone is still calling it the Rossi Leg Wave.

That insidious mental domination of the paddock - a domination Rossi is most surely aware of - offers an opportunity to the young upstarts challenging the veteran Champion for his title. If the riders were to look at their data and see that the leg wave offered no advantage while racing, then choosing demonstrably NOT to dangle a leg while braking might help turn the tables on The Doctor. If they could beat Rossi in a straight fight while keeping their feet firmly on the pegs, then maybe the spell would be broken, and cracks might appear in Rossi's dominance of the mind game. If the data shows no difference, then what do they have to lose?

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It is actually a natural phenomenon. I can shed some light on the subject because it is something that happens to me also when I race, and I feel it's just a natural action, as Rossi says it is, however it is a natural action that most riders fight against.

Under heavy braking, either for a left or right hand corner, the rider must shift their foot from having the heel rest on the footpeg to the ball of the foot resting on the foot peg, this involves lifting the leg up, moving it back, and replacing it on the peg so you are on your toes in the corner. In left handed corners it is more pronounced with riders like Casey Stoner, Pedrosa and especially Kenny Roberts Junior as they move the ball of their foot from the shifter to the peg, it dangles out for a while.

The reason it dangles is because under heavy braking, the rest of the bike is moving backward relative to the inertia of your unsupported leg, it requires quite a lot of muscular effort to move ones leg toward the rear of the bike under heavy braking, thus it is quite natural that it would dangle out for a little while as you try to bring it back to the peg.

Rossi never used to do this, and he is certainly not the first I have seen doing it, but he has now exaggerated it immensely, and that is more to do with his character as you correctly put it, than any natural tendency.

Certainly a number of times when I was racing in Australia, the braking force was so great (as I searched for precious tenths) that I would only just get the ball of my foot onto the peg before I was at steep lean angles, many times whilst I was attempting to bring my foot back to the peg, it would scrape along the ground as I progressively tipped the bike into the corner, not because I intentionally wanted to scrape my foot (hence my point that most riders try not fight against this leg waveyness) but simply because as the bike leaned in, it, my foot and the peg all got closer to the ground.

There, simple!

I've ben wondering why the leg out.
Funny thing is the other guys are diong it too.
no harm or advantage to it.

I find it hard to believe that the first time anyone can recall seeing the leg wave was 2005. Check out the footage from the 1991 Laguna Seca GP race. More than once you can plainly see Kevin Schwantz dangling that inside foot while coming into a turn. Perhaps someone should ask Kevin where it started.

I have the race in .avi format. I don't have any decent editing software, but I'll try to cut out a few examples, stitch them together and get a video uploaded. I'll give it a shot tonight.

Poking your leg out for me is born from dirt riding basics and when I started street riding there were many times I scared myself with corner speed and threw the leg out there. If for no reason other than aerodynamic drag I made every turn I've used that on over the course of over thirty years. Dirt riders always know the last resort is laying the bike down to slide when you overcook a turn and i'll never forget the first (only) time I rode a bike with right side shift/left brake my brain went into panic mode when I couldn't slow down for a traffic light and i began the ditch process, then luckily I figured it out before sparks flew-I was young!!

I agree that I think I've seen it before Jerez 2005. The clash with Gibernau was such a memorable display. But besides the final turn at Jerez, the second turn at Motegi, the final turn at Sepang and the final turn at Donnington are all memorable lefts that you can spot The Dangle. So now that has all the old races available maybe some people can look at those points to see examples (or just watch closely at the upcoming race in England). Another question would be if it's a dominant foot issue. Do 'goofy foot' board riders do it with their right foot too?

Rossi may have started doing that when he felt like he was not going to make a corner and did like anyone that has ridden off road, stuck the foot out. After awhile it may have become something he just felt comfortable doing. BUT....what it does seem like he is using it now for is to get a reaction. He blocked someone, I think Stoner from passing him in Turn 1 with his leg.

Rossi rarely describes anything with non analytical terms like I do not know. It is natural. Everytime he answers a question it seems very well thought out and analyzed. It just seems to me this man is a Master of all Ceremonies when it comes to racing. Since this gets so much attention he is using it as well. Lorenzo, who is going to be a mega champion one day, tries to get the same rises out of fans but falls short. Rossi gets people to chant his name in Lorenzo's own country. Just pointing out that Rossi, will probably never tell the true reason for this until he is long retired. Right now he is enjoying the extra attention of it. IMHO

Dani Pedrosa started this trend, at least in MotoGP, please look at MotoGP races in prior years. Not surprising though that people believe it is Rossi that started the trend.

... (in addition to all the information in the article) I think it's a combination of the Super Motard and dirt-track riding these guys do for training away from the GP tracks, and - as I think has been pointed out several places already - it's a cheap way to make the bike "wider". 

The first time someone gets their leg caught in another bike, or that someone doesn't show the proper "respect" of that extra 2 feet of width that comes with a dangling leg attempting to block a pass on the inside, we're going to see some changes.

Quite true, in fact at my old club, it was made very clear to super motard racers wishing to compete in road race events that if they stuck their leg out in a corner only to have some-one run over it while attempting a pass on the inside that they would receive no sympathy from race direction if they lodged a protest, the reason given was simply, "this is a road race, not flat track."

rossi leg wave at least a year prior to 2005- possible to 2003. as others have stated, most claim that it was 2005 in the jerez incident with sete, because that particular moment was watched over and over repeatedly and the leg waving was more noticable.

my friend claimed that rossi was at fault in the incident because "his leg was sticking out like he was out of control". my claim, and i still maintain this, was that sete initiated the contact as he turned into rossi, fully aware that rossi was alongside (if sete had just tried to do an up and under, he would have won that race). anyway, i digress- after that moment, i proceeded to show my friend old tivo'd moto gp races showing rossi dangling his leg out.

if i reviewed all of the old races again (i can but i won't), we could probably pinpoint the moment (t least in a race) where rossi first used this technique.

who's got the time to do this?

In my memories, I noticed the leg waving first time during Rossis last corner attack at Giberneau. In that cause it seemed to me like a MotoX-move, kind of preparing for troubles...
The usual way the leg waving is used in the last races, it seems to me quite simple a way to block passing on the inside, as Rusty Bucket and Sean are writing.

Just my 2 cents...