Cornering can be the most fun part of your trail, feeling your tyre shraalp will always warrant a cheer! Let’s take this back to basics and learn the body and bike movements that will have you cornering with speed and confidence.
Fundamentally, corners can be broken into three steps, Low - Lean - Look:
A low centre of mass is more stable, think monster truck Vs rally car
Low body positions allow for a great range of movement over the bike
Tyre side knobs provide grip in corners; get them onto the ground, FAST!
Move your bike underneath your body
We go where we look. Eyes up and look through the exit of the turn
Rotate everything! Point your body to where you want to go
But why am I doing these things?
The forces on a rider change as we corner which can make balancing tough. Getting low increases stability and your range of movement which makes balancing easier. When getting low think about keeping the handlebar beneath your chest, this is a central position on the bike so any body movements will result in a quick change of balance on the bike.
The best way to get low on the bike is to use your legs for the heavy lifting while your arms stay relaxed for the more finessed bike movements. Bend your knees and bring your hips down low on the bike so they can rotate while driving your feet towards the ground, maximising traction and pumping through corners.
Hinge at the hips and engage your core muscles which helps your limbs work freely and independently. This way, your legs can pump while your hands stay relaxed and control the handlebars.
When a rider becomes comfortable and efficient in their movement of getting low, they begin doing it with power and precise timing, learning to pump turns and drive the bike using strong leg muscles.
Tyre construction has central knobs tasked with acceleration and deceleration while the knobs on the side are in charge of cornering. If you want to corner with control, it’s best to get these onto the ground.
This is easiest when leaning, rather than steering, your bike. Keeping your chest over your bars, bend your elbows and push your arms out to the sides to lean the bike beneath your body. This is the quickest way to lean your bike. As your inside arm pushes the bike away and into a lean the tyre side knobs will be on the ground, biting for traction.
Try playing with the lean angle of your bike for extra control in longer turns. Keep your body stable and adjust your bike beneath you. Push your inside hand downwards and away to lean the bike further and find additional grip.
Learn to ride with a relaxed handlebar grip so you can feel tyres contacting the ground; a tense grip reduces the feeling in your hands and therefore knowing when to adjust your bike will be challenging.
Look where you want to go. The further ahead you can look the more time you will have to prepare for your corner. Consider things like braking in straight lines, staying low and taking wide lines on entry to open up the turns!
Sweet, my eyes are looking, what can my body do to help?
Everything in the body is connected, where your eyes look your body naturally follows. Rotate your body to face the trail ahead, imagine swinging your hips as they travel along a banana shaped rail suspended from the back of your seat; this will ensure everything points to where you would like to go.
This rotational movement is unnatural for many riders. If you’re struggling with it, think about having a laser in your bellybutton, stick your hips out wide and rotate as you point that laser to shoot the trail ahead. Allow your knees and shoulders to rotate with your hips and keep everything facing the next section.
Understanding how to corner is the easy part, applying it to your riding takes plenty of practice. Finding the correct combination of bike and body movements to maximise your grip and speed from the trail can feel like an endless quest. Riding styles are unique so the ideal way to corner can vary between riders, the best way to find out what is best for you is with practice and maybe some input from a good coach.
When grip is scarce, dropping your outside foot weights the outside of the bike, helping maintain balance and maximising traction. As your weight moves on top of the bike, all your downward force is directed on top of the tyre side knobs. This technique can be particularly helpful on flat, loose or off camber turns.
When turns have plenty of grip you can pump to gain speed. Keep your pedals level and drive both heels towards the exit to help your bike accelerate out of the turn. Because you have practised your low, look and lean, your rotation is now awesome and you will find your outside foot is weighted slightly as your hips swing wide. This will cause your outside pedal to drop slightly below horizontal but don’t stress about this when thinking “pedals level”.
Try spending a month nailing every turn with your outside pedal down before swapping to a month of turns with the pedals level; this will help you nail both cornering techniques. As a rule of thumb, outside pedal down is best for flat turns and pedals level is best for berms. Every rider feels the trail differently so have a play with both techniques and see which you prefer when.
Begin slowly and make sure you are riding with great technique, allowing your speed to increase as your muscle memory develops. Try watching a video of yourself riding to learn what you are doing well and where your opportunities for progression are. Look out for great body position and seamless transitions as your body follows the Low - Lean - Look process.