Today’s long travel mountain bikes do a great job of eating up bumps on the trail, enabling even the novice mountain biker to ride faster than on bikes from a decade ago. But if you go on a group ride, you’ll find that suspension doesn’t have much to do with who the fastest riders are. Singletrack is full of twists and turns, and it’s the riders who have mastered the art of corning that are the fastest.
When we first learned to ride bikes, we were taught to lean with the bike when turning. But leaning is only part of the cornering equation. Simply leaning with the bike when going through a turn unweights the portion of the tire that is in contact with the ground, pushing the tire in the opposite direction that you’re leaning. Here are some cornering skills that will make you a faster rider.
Proper Body Positioning and Balance – For maximum traction in a turn, the rider must lean the bike over, while at the same time keep their upper body more upright. Most mountain bike tires have very aggressive side knobbies, and keeping the upper body more upright will drive the knobbies down into the dirt for maximum traction. The faster or flatter the turn, the more you have to emphasize your body positioning. Sliding your butt over to the outside edge of the seat through a turn helps get your body in the proper position to weight the tires. Use your arms to get the bike leaned over while keeping your weight over the front tire. Keeping your weight properly balanced between the front and back tires is also important.
Stay Off the Brakes – Another key to turning is to stay off the brakes as much as possible. Braking in a corner can slide the tires, but it also changes your weight distribution on the bike. This effect is amplified on a suspension bike; upon braking, your body weight is thrust forward, the front suspension is compressed, and the geometry of the bike changes. To keep from braking in a turn, get your braking done before you enter the turn. And as a bonus, if you’re not on the brakes through a turn, your perfect balance and control will allow you to start pedaling after the apex of the turn and accelerate out of the corner. The more you ride, the easier it’ll be to gauge how much speed you can carry through a turn.
Look Through the Turn – As you’ve discovered while riding, sometimes not under the best of circumstances, your front tire will go in the direction you are looking. Look off the trail or at a rock, and that’s where your bike goes! The same is true for corning. Look towards the exit of the turn, and that’s where you’ll go. Use your peripheral vision to keep an eye on the obstacles in front of you. This can really help on singletrack in overgrown grass. If you wanted to see the trail in this situation, you’d have to look almost directly down in front of you, and this makes it hard to turn. It takes a little faith, but you can look through the turn and see where the trail is going by the break in the grass.
Ride Smooth – One way I like to practice my corning technique is to find a stretch of singletrack with a gentle descent and try to go as fast as I can without using the brakes. This forces me to balance to the best of my abilities through the corner, and ride smooth without constantly changing between acceleration and braking. While powerful braking and hard acceleration looks really fast, riding smooth is faster. You’ll have more traction, you’ll be less fatigued, and the trail will be in better shape from not skidding.
While this article primarily focuses on mountain biking, it also applies to biking on the road. Getting your body weight over those skinny road tires is equally important. Take advantage of your bicycle commute or road ride to practice body positioning around the corners.
I hope you enjoyed this skills tip. Let me know how it works for you. Did I leave anything out? What other riding skills would you like to learn more about?