Friday, August 19, 2011

Cornering Fast on a Mountainbike

Being able to corner well at high-speed is a skill that can really make your riding faster, smoother and of course more fun. If you can't take corners fast enough you will end up losing your momentum, coming to a crawl around bends, and just looking goofy around your faster friends. (Don't worry, we all have faster friends.)

Here are a few tips I recommend trying:

Brake In
A general rule is to enter slow, exit fast. So coming into the corner, apply the brakes evenly and smoothly, but not too much. You'll be leaning the bike so you can take the corner faster than if you were not leaning the bike - more about that below.

Weight the Bike Properly
Keep your weight on your outside pedal, which should be at a down or 6 o'clock position, with your other foot just resting on the other (inside) pedal at the up position for balance. Your outside knee should be close to the frame. Grip the bar so that your arms are more weighted on the inside of the handlebars.

This combination of applying weight to both the inside and outside of the bike gives you leverage and 'huckability'. It allows you to have total control to lean the bike as much or as little as possible. Which leads me to the next tip...

Lean the Bike
I'm sure you rub your knee around the corners on your Ducati or Yamaha but now you're on your Bianchi or Fuji - bicycles are different than motorcycles.

Yes, you still lean the bike, but now that you have your inner handlebar and outside pedal weighted, you are in a good position to keep your body fairly upright. The bike can be down as low as 50 or 60 degrees, but in tight technical corners, your body's momentum can't afford to drop with the bike if you want to pull out of the corner quickly.

So keep your inside arm straight, only bending the elbow slightly, and drop the bike.  You'll be able to quickly pull it up without losing momentum, as you exit the corner.

Point your Body
Your bike will go where you look. Look to the exit of the corner, not to any roots, rocks, puddles or other obstacles in the corner. If you look at them you will likely hit them.

Point your hips and shoulders square with where you intend to go. This rotation will help guide the bike. As you bring your knee towards the frame in the first tip above, you should also twist your hips and body.

In short, face where you want to go.

Weight Your Tires
Just as you have to be careful how you balance left-right, you need to also be aware of your front-back weight distribution. You may have to bring some weight forward to your front tire in order to make it grip the ground better.

Otherwise, it may wash out, making you fall. Doing this right takes a lot of practice, knowledge of the ground conditions and how slippery they are, and an understanding of your tires and their grip characteristics.

Understand the Apex
Just like on the racetrack with your motorcycle or car, you should be able to identify and take the racing line. This is the straightest line between the entrance of the corner and the exit of the corner. The apex is the inside of the curve or corner you are taking.

So what you need to do is:

  1. Approach the corner as wide as possible - so if you are taking a right corner, enter from the left side of the trail.
  2. Turn right and aim for the apex. Taking it this wide will increase your radius.
  3. Cut right across the apex.
  4. Exit wide, as fast as possible, using all the width of the trail. You should end up on the left side of the trail.
  5. Power out as to gain back any speed you may have lost.
Exit Fast
This is point 5 in the previous tip. Once you've successfully negotiated the curve and are back on track, you need to pedal out. If you know the trail or know what to expect, you would have already shifted into the right gear to anticipate the upcoming terrain, so that your pedaling will be efficient.

All of these variables depend on your tires, your bike geometry (especially headtube angle), the state of the surface you're on (sandy, wet leaves, water, etc) and especially your knowledge of the trail.

Practice again and again in a corner you're comfortable with and soon you'll find you are taking corners faster, smoother, and like I said before, having more fun.


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