Cornering is a great place to put a little extra time and energy if you’re looking to improve your speed on the mountain bike. Not only will cornering with proper technique allow you to carry momentum and actually move faster on the trails, but it can also save you energy.
Just like any skill, learning how to corner well on the mountain bike will take practice. I recommend practicing in both a controlled and uncontrolled environment. This way you are able to dial in specific techniques, while also applying it to real-life terrain.
Controlled Environment: Start your cornering practice on some grass. Set up cones, bottles, gloves, or any other markers to designate what you will be cornering or turning around. This environment allows you to really focus on specific cues or body position techniques since you don’t have to be concerned about navigating a trail at the same time. The grass also provides soft cushion if you were to slide out. I find that grass gives me a little extra confidence to be able to push myself up to speed. Usually I find that I can go a whole lot faster than I think.
Uncontrolled Environment: An uncontrolled or open environment would be out on the trails. It’s important to practice cornering in a real-life situation with rocks, sand, off-camber turns etc. You can pick one corner on the trail to practice over and over or you can ride your normal route, but really put a mental emphasis on each time you corner your bike.
Once you know where you are going to practice, you have to know what to practice. Here are my tips for cornering on the mountain bike.
- Eyes Looking Where You Want to Go: Have you ever looked at a rock on the trail and thought, “Don’t hit that rock, don’t hit that rock, don’t hit that rock…” and then you immediately hit the rock. It’s the same concept. Your bike is going to go where your eyes go. Use that to your advantage when cornering. Look through the turn and down the trail to where you want to end up.
Drill: Set up two cones and complete figure 8’s. Make sure your head is looking ahead of each turn you complete.
- Brake Before the Turn: It’s just like driving a car. When you come up to a corner or a turn, touch your brakes before you actually start to turn. Control your speed as you approach the corner, and then let off of the brakes as you actually execute the turn.
You have more traction on your tires when they are rolling so by letting go of the brakes when you are turning you will have more traction on the ground. Additionally, you will be able to carry better speed out of the corner and accelerate with greater ease.
Drill: This technique can be practiced anywhere and is more of a mental drill than anything else. Set up a cornering course or find a flatter trail with lots of turns and consciously try to let off of the brakes during each turn.
- Outside Foot Down: When cornering, make sure that the foot on the outside of the corner is down near the bottom of the pedal stroke. This allows you to press into the pedal and helps your bike stay upright.
Drill: Weave through multiple cones so you are forced to turn in both directions. Focus on switching which foot is down with every turn. Notice how putting more or less weight into the outside foot feels.
- Lean the Bike: This is the one part of cornering that can seem counter intuitive. As you approach a turn, allow the bike to lean under you while your body remains relatively upright. For example, if you are turning left, lean the bike left and keep your body more or less straight. This will allow the tread of your tires to stay planted onto the ground while your body weight continues to push the bike down onto the dirt.
Drill: This is a great skill to start practicing on grass. Complete one corner at a medium speed and practice leaning the bike. Really exaggerate the drill or even have a friend film you. Chances are you aren’t getting as sideways as you think you are.
- Weight Centered: Think about keeping your weight centered between the two tires. You want equal pressure on the front and rear tire throughout most turns (obviously steep switchbacks could alter this). When you apply even weight across both tires you are allowing both tires to grip the ground evenly and you lessen the chances of washing out.
Drill: It can be hard to find your center. That’s why I first like to go to the extremes. Practice in a controlled environment cornering with your weight forward and backward. Be careful, but the extremes should help you better navigate where you feel most comfortable (somewhere in the middle).
- Dropper Post Down: If you have a dropper, put it down! It will make a big difference and you’ll be able to lean your bike a lot further.
If you don’t have a dropper, you might even consider lowering your seat for practice in a controlled environment.
7. Check Your Tires: Even the most skilled cornering master needs the correct tools. Look for a tire that has raised side knobs that can grab the ground. A couple of good cross country tires for cornering would be the Maxxis Ikon or Ardent.
Still not sure exactly where to start? That’s ok. Just start somewhere. Go out and start turning and cornering on your bike.