5 Tips for Cornering Mastery
Still trying to figure out how to carve the best line going into your turns? These tricks should help you up your game. – By Selene Yeager
The fastest way from point A to point B may be a straight line, but rarely is it the most fun. The best trips by bike are filled with twists and turns and glorious sweeping curves. So it’s best to know how to steer, which on a bike is a little different from turning the wheel on a car.
You actually steer your bike more with your body than you do with your handlebars, because turning and cornering are mostly about leaning the bike in the direction you want to go. You can see this at work without even getting on your bike. Simply walk your bike along a straight line, then, holding onto just the saddle, tip the bike in one direction and see what happens – it turns. Flat, easy turns require little more than a slight turn of the bars and a lean with both body and bike. As the turns become steeper (such as going down a hill), however, good cornering takes a bit more finesse.
To take sharp corners like a pro, you use a cool little maneuver called counter-steering, which is to say you steer a little bit in the direction you don’t want to go before launching the bike in the desired direction. Sounds complicated, but once you try it you’ll see how easy it really is. To get the picture, imagine you’re making a quick, sharp, right-hand turn. As you approach the corner, you turn ever-so-slightly to the left. Almost instantaneously, you’ll lean right to maintain balance. As you lean right, you then turn to the right and sweep around the bend.
Here are a few more tips that will help smooth you out through turns and corners:
You’ll feel more secure steering through sharp turns if you keep your centre of gravity low. That means using the drops (the lowest part of your curvy bars on a traditional road bike) or simply bending your elbows and dipping your torso a bit on a flat-barred bike.
Since you’re cornering with your whole body, you need your hips, feet, hands, and torso free to move. That means keeping loose! If you tense up, your arms will straighten, and you’ll end up fighting your bike through the turn. As you approach a turn, consciously relax your hands and arms so you have a firm, but not white-knuckle tight, grip on the bars and your upper body feels loose. Your elbows should be bent.
Scrub speed ahead of the curve.
Hitting the brakes makes your bike sit up and straighten out. That’s not the position you want to be in when you are turning. You want to get most, if not all, of your braking out of the way before your corner so you can coast through the turn with minimal braking, if any. To do this, feather your brakes (i.e., squeeze the levers just enough to caress the rims) as you approach the turn. You should rarely feel your weight going into the bars. If your weight shifts forward, you’re squeezing too hard. Then, let go once you’re in the turn, feathering again only if necessary.
Press into your pedal.
For sharp turns, you want to keep your wheels planted firmly on the ground (and avoid skidding) by weighting your wheels. Extend your outside leg and push very heavily into the pedal as you lightly press down on the handlebar with your inside hand. This will help you maintain traction as you sweep through the curve.
Look where you want to go.
Your bike follows your eyes, much as your body follows your eyes. So, look through the corner to where you want to go. Pay attention to what some pros call the third eye (your navel). That, too, should be “looking” (pointed) in the direction you want to go, as it ensures your hips and torso are carrying you through the turn. Remember, you’re steering with your full body. So point your eyes and chin and shoulders in the direction you want to go, and the rest will follow.