Mountain Bike Skills – Cornering

Skills

One of my favorite things on a mountain bike is going into a corner at speed and flying out the other side even faster. It’s a fantastic adrenaline rush that sets me up perfectly for what’s coming next. Like any other mountain bike skill, it comes at a price but, it’s not expensive. Learning Mountain Bike Cornering Technique safely and effectively just takes a little study and some practice.Rewind to early days on my bike. I will never forget the corner that made me realize I needed to get my cornering technique sorted out.

It was a bitterly cold winters’ day with a dusting of snow on the trail and a lot of patchy ice. Approaching a “T-junction” in a forest, I needed to go right, and I was not moving slowly. Everything felt great, I was in the zone. I got around the corner, but my bike went straight on, albeit on its side.

Bike and I parted company near the apex of the corner, I landed on my right side and traveled about 20 feet on the ice. Hip and thigh picked up some beautiful ice and grit tattoos that were a painful reminder for several weeks afterwards.

Some months later, I exploded into a difficult 180° 30-foot bend with bushes on the inner part of the corner and brambles on the outer; my left. I was so busy avoiding face slaps from the bushes that I crashed into the brambles and came out with red road maps all over my arms and legs.

In retrospect these crashes were funny but something I needed to stop repeating. The last thing I wanted was to break me or the bike. As I said, I needed to get my cornering technique right. I thought I was doing quite well until I became an ingredient in that bramble pie.

How To?

Factors to consider when going into a corner:

  • Can you read the trail into and out of the corner?
  • Are you covering your brakes?
  • Do you need to adjust your speed?
  • Is your body in the correct position?

Trail Reading

If you’re riding in the correct position you should always be able to see the trail ahead of you. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this such as trees blocking your line of sight, even debris on the trail hiding wheel sized holes hidden beneath leaves waiting to offer a rib bruising endo.

Covering The Brakes

I ride with the first finger of each hand resting on the brake levers. You might need to adjust where your levers are located on the bars to manage this, it’s a simple adjustment away from the ends of the bars and well worthwhile. Look at the guy with the blue gloves in the image to see what I mean. And, because of his smart setup, he’s not going to crush any fingers if he pulls hard on the brakes.Exiting A Corner

Speed

Speed is cool, right? Well, I think so, as do many MTBers. There are times though when you need to check your speed on the way into a corner.

Body Position

Stiff and rigid won’t help but, there’s a bit more to it than that.

The Detail

Let’s look at how to tackle turns and stay in control, even when you’re cornering at speed.

You may have seen or been advised to drop your outside foot when cornering. This isn’t bad advice and it is great as a confidence booster for beginners. My personal goal is never to take my feet off the pedals through corners because doing so takes away the influence I might have had over the weight I’m putting onto the tire contact patches and I’m giving up a lot of control to the whims of the trail. I want traction and the best way to achieve that is to control my speed.

Too slow is simply that but, too fast and you slide off the corner and end up in the brambles or worse.

What Does Dropping The Outer Foot Do?

It lowers your center of gravity, offers stability and, you are less lightly to plant your pedals on the ground. It also enables you to lean the bike at a more acute angle and helps you face the right way for the exit.

I never prefer to drop a foot because of the problems that can arise. Foot down means the leg is straight, and your body will be rigid through the turn. Not usually a problem at low speeds and smooth terrain but at faster speeds, on bumpy trails, loss of control is common because adapting to changing grip levels becomes challenging.

Foot Position

Your feet should be leveled with the surface you’re cornering. On a well-supported turn like a berm (a corner that is banked up with earth or wood as shown in the image)Vallnord Berm, Andorra, your bike should be perpendicular to the trail and your feet level on the cranks.

On a flat turn, your bike leans to the inner side of the turn and you should drop your outside foot, so your pedals are parallel with the ground. The greater the lean, or the more off-camber the turn, then the more you drop the outer foot.

Allow Flexibility

Keeping your body flexible, knees and elbows bent, enables you to go with the flow of the trail. Don’t lock out those body parts. Try going into a simple corner with a rigid body and see how difficult it can be to keep traction and control.

A flexible body also means you will be able to play with the amount of grip you have by backing off if grip fades.

In Line with The Front of Your Bike

As your bars turn in the direction of the corner, keep your elbows out and your head and shoulders lined up with the front of your bike. Your head should be above the stem.

If you drop your foot expecting a loss of traction, your outside knee (still slightly bent) should be brushing your top tube, getting this right, lines your hips up with the direction you need. If you don’t wear knee protection, you might pick up a few knee bruises here but at least you will know that you’re getting it right.

Control = Speed

If you stay in control through the turn, you should be able to exit at speed but if you’re riding at your limit, you may need to ease up to look after traction rather than explode out of the corner.

Hips

Line up your hips with the exit of the corner. Your outside knee starts tapping on the top tube. If you lose traction, you’ll be facing the direction you need and, control recovers easily. Look at the guy with the blue gloves again in the first image.

Practice

Watch a few videos, the guys at GMBN have produced some excellent work that helps but most of all, get out there and practice. There’s nothing so sweet as nailing a difficult corner and flying out the other side.Extreme Cornering

If you like to read, there are plenty of good books out there. The one at the bottom of this post, I highly recommend.

Please note that I may receive a small commission if you decide to buy.

Comments and Questions

Please don’t hesitate to leave them below. You will always get a response.

Remember

Just Ride Hard,

Ride Fair,

Nobody Hurt

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18 thoughts on “Mountain Bike Skills – Cornering

  1. I just popped back here to let you know that I have got myself a bike, I now go on regular bike rides and I am feeling the benefit already, though I have to say I am feeling slightly stiff, I bought an off road bike because I don’t feel safe on the busy roads, however even though my bike is off road I don’t think I’ll be doing the kind of moves shown in this post yet a while, but I do have friends who would most certainly be interested and I will be forwarding this website to them, keep up the good work and thank you for sharing.

    1. Hey Russ, Thanks for popping back and I’m pleased to know that you took the step and bought a bike. Feeling stiff will wear off and you will soon notice a positive fitness leap. Frequent riding will get your skills up and you might be surprised at how quickly you start to develop the skills. Always ask if you need help or ideas. Thanks too for forwarding to your friends, that’s very kind. Steve

  2. Learning from personal mistakes would always remain the best way. However, since it ks avoidable, it is better to avoid it. And that is what you have shared here. Thanks so much for this and I really learnt well with your post concerning how to corner well while mountain biking. Thanks so much for sharing this with us all. The tips are helpful especially the dropping of a foot.

    1. Thank you Rodarrick, I’m glad you found the tips helpful. Remember that dropping a foot can help but it can slow you down too. As soon as you feel the confidence grow, try to keep your feet on the pedals for greater control. Happy Friday, Steve

  3. Hello Steve, thanks for sharing this very nice information. Biking have been a really nice activity I get involved in at the end of every month with my friends as a means of relaxation and they are all very familiar with the track so skill move is so easy for them. I love how you have explained how to execute such skill, although I get scared, but I’ll love to practice it. Nice being here.

    1. Hey Dane, Thanks for your comments. Get your friends to help you practice too. Theory and practice together can bring cool results. Hope you have a great day. Steve

  4. This article is a lovely one, full of contents that’ll help teach people about the skills of cornering in mountain biking. Sometimes it’s always difficult to get these skills right but with the help of articles like this and a little more efforts, it becomes easy. I always have difficult with my body positioning while doing corners but I’ll try to get it right and I’ll follow other tips in this article. Thanks for sharing this article, its really useful. I’ll share it to my cousin, he ride bike, it’ll be of great help to him.

    1. Hi Jones, thanks for your comments and I’m pleased you enjoyed this post. Practice will bring results and it’s entirely worthwhile. I hope your cousin enjoys this post too. Have a great day, Steve

  5. Hello Steve, the corner is probably one of those tightest places to be in when mountain biking. I have to confess that I used to love watching people on the TV when they do it and I felt is will be a stroll in the park for me. It nice though that you have given good details on how to do it here and what one needs to look out for. Hopefully, I won’t lose a tooth. Lol.

    1. Hey Henderson, Nooo, try not to lose a tooth or bruise a rib, it does hurt! I’m glad that you found “good details” and I hope they will help. If you have any questions, always ask, I’m pleased to help. Thanks & take care of those teeth, Steve

  6. Hello, it’s very nice to meet you. I have been watching some videos on YouTube about cornering and it seems like something a bit technical to me. Judging from the steps you have given here. It’s safe to say that it really is somewhat technical but you have simplified it here. Do you think that I need some sought of tuning to do on my bike or I’m good to go?

    1. Hi John, nice to meet you too. Yes, there are some great videos out there with great instruction. Practice is the way to get over the technical and if you have a mountain bike already, start with what you have. If you tell me a little about your bike, I can advise you about tips & tweaks. Best wishes, Steve

  7. Nice article about mountain biking skills and cornering. My friends have been mountain bikers for long long time and I have sometimes tried it and I thought it can’t be hard. But it was enormous hard, much harder than I thought. Real sports! Cornering in mountain biking reminds me of snowmobile competitions I took part in when I was younger, the techniques are somehow similar. But you don’t have horsepowers behind you, you are the source of power yourself. Thanks for sharing this, I will share this for my friends, they will like this

    1. Thanks Jesse, I’m pleased you enjoyed this post. MTB can be hard but if you develop a regular routine, you might be surprised at how quickly you progress. Interesting about snowmobile techniques. I wonder if one of the people at my local ski area will let me try? hmmmm. I can only ask. Yes, no horsepower on MTB, just rider power 🙂 I hope your friends enjoy this post too. Have a great day, Steve

  8. Excellent article on Mountain Bike Braking,I believe if training is involved I can ride the bicycle,I bought bicycle for my 3 years old boy,he rides it almost everyday and speeding has been what he loves to do with the bike,Let me ask this question if its been long someone has ridden bike,taking it afresh now,what is the effect in the body?Anything sport I love to involve because its strengthens the body and wellness,thank you for sharing this helpful website.

    1. Hi Abayomi, Thanks for your kind words. Great to know that your son has started young. Possible champion in the making I hope. If you’ve not been on a bike for a while, like any other physical activity, start gently and try to build on each ride with a bit more push and distance. Mountain bike is excellent cardio training as well as overall fitness. If you are generally healthy, you might find a few aches but they will soon go. Good luck, Steve

  9. Wow great post about riding a bike well. Only if I was able I got this information 10 years ago when I had an injury trying to speed around a corner. Little did I know that having a flexible body is key to being a great biker.

    Sorry to hear that you had so many injuries when you got started. Well this is what happens when anyone starts a skill and you mentioned it too on your post. Great job, Thanx.

    1. Hi Thabo, I guess like many sports, injuries go with the territory and often serve to help us learn. Thanks for your comment. Steve

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