Tech Talk: Improve Your Cornering

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Cornering is not as simple to understand as the experts seem to make it, at least to those who are more conscious about their body movements as opposed to those that naturally and instinctively do it. Being in the former group, I’ve been trying to come up with various cornering strategies for certain corners and have come to understand a few things.

The primary basics:
– you need to consider the path of both wheels individually, going around the corner.
– to reliably point the front wheel where you want it to go, you must have decent weight on the front, typically with your hips in some location in front of the saddle
– to swing the rear wheel tightly behind the front in a sharp/hard corner, usually after the front has rounded the corner, it is better to shift your hips back and drive force into the outside pedal, preferable with the heel down.
– it is generally wise to keep your upper body fairly perpendicular to the ground, where the tires meet it, to avoid slipping laterally. This means it’s okay to lean the body in a berm, but not okay in a flat turn.
– your form should be adapted to your frame’s geometry, setup, your trails, your current speed, your traction levels, suspension characteristics, etc., implying there’s no perfect text book form you can use for everything.
– brake before the corner, not in the corner, but if you must, use your rear brake only.
– use your core as the origin of your movements, with lateral hip movement being particularly effective.

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After someone bringing to my attention my relative lack of proficiency at cornering, and putting more attention to remedying it, I’ve created a general form that seems to be generating some dramatic successful progress. Combining all these basic basic understandings/beliefs, I’ve put together this sequence of movements to nail some of the flat and off-camber corners in my backyard trails, and come to accept that cornering on berms is much different after riding at Big Bear (Snow Summit, Skyline). Generally, I aim to use the same techniques I learned in car racing games: entering on the outside, braking before, and aiming for the apex (I do this driving to and from Big Bear too, on the 330, which I imagine would scare any passengers who are afraid of speed and finding the limits of traction). I’ve got sharp 90 degree turns down pretty well, thanks to this, adding a little counter-steer (steer away from the turn, before steering into it with a lean), but anything in between needs a decent sense of speed, camber of the turn, traction, and sharpness of the turn to determine the ideal technique. With this knowledge, turns with inconsistent radius and inconsistent surfaces (ruts, rocks, dirt humps, roots, sand/dust, etc.) don’t seem as tricky anymore.

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The basic form/movement for sharp 90 degree turns: for the first half of the turn, focus on pointing the front wheel to follow the line around the turn that hits the ideal apex point (important to hit it not too early and not too late), accepting that your hands can be beating through the bush on the inside by taking such a line. To pull it off, you need sufficient weight on the front, and on a decently balanced bike, all this usually takes is standing on the pedals with your hips forward of the saddle, even with a light touch on the bars. Once the front is past the apex, this is when you start to shift weight back behind the saddle to control the rear of the bike, with your outside foot driving into the pedal, and sort of falling into the turn. Once the rear clears the apex, you can accelerate, and from your behind the saddle position this will result in that cool looking wheelie as you exit the turn, that you sometimes see in shred videos.

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Other types of turns require different strategies and techniques, but generally, the basics apply. Quick twisty 45 degree turns, to bermed hair pins turns, turns coming out of a G-out, turns coming off a fireroad descent, switchbacks with steps, etc. No strategy applies to all, but with an understanding of the basics, you can build up effective techniques that work for your situation and setup, up to the point where you are confident enough that you can comfortably corner with riders side-by-side with you, even passing other riders mid-corner. For example, fast twisty XC corners, especially if you have a steep head angle, can be done in the saddle, sort of loosening your legs (not weighing any pedal down), decoupling them from the rest of the bike to allow it to lean/swing more freely, and just steering with the handlebar to point the wheel, exaggerating a bit with the counter steering to ensure the rear wheel isn’t clipping the insides of the turns.
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For those with experience with cornering, what are your tricks? For those who have had a lot of hardships learning how to corner, what harsh lessons have you learn in regards to what to avoid? Does anyone have regularly encountered tricky corners that are their nemesis? Post up pics/videos of corners of riders handling them. I want this to be an on-going project, to inspire and motivate improving the art of cornering, noting success/progress and addressing issues. I will be looking for my own tricky corners to plop a camera on a tripod next to, and drill it to eventual mastery, as I know I was messing up on even the simplest of things, like hitting the apex too early.
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Note: I recommend that bike setup be balanced before trying to practice cornering, getting the front and rear suspension feeling like they are working similarly (no rear susp, no prob), and not having the saddle too far up that you cannot shift your hips freely fore and aft.

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