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