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First a story…

A couple of years ago a friend of mine who is a former pro rider came out to Colorado and naturally, we went for a bike ride. While he can pretty much drop me at will, through high speed turns it wasespeciallyembarrassing. At one point when he politely waited for me to catch up, Ifinallyasked him what dark magic he was using to so blatantly defy physics. He offered to follow me for a bit, and after we went through one turn he stopped me and condensed all his years of mountain biking experience into one sentence: “Dude, you’re totally doing it wrong.”

The Wrong Way

What was I doing wrong? I’m glad you asked! It turns out that like many riders, I was coming into turns with my crank arms parallel to the ground. Like this:

Photo credit: mtbgreg1

While this works great for downhill and straight lines over uneven terrain, for cornering it’s the wrong approach. Thisposition raises your center of gravityslightly, while preventing you from applying any direct pressure to the bike. You end up limited by the traction of your tires, and even the slightest bump or root will knock you off your line. Instead of directing the bike where you want to go, you end up where the bike wants to go. At best you will make it through your turn white-knuckled and butt-clenched. At worst – well, we’ve all seen those skid marks leading out of the apex of turns and into the bushes…

The Right Way

The correct way to go fast through a turn is to push down hard with the pedal on theoutsideof the turn, while having the inside pedal at the top of the pedal stroke. Let me break it down in detail.

Let’s suppose we are going into a right-hand turn. (right is this way –>) As we enter the turn, move the pedals such that the left is all the way down, and the right is all the way up. At this point all of your weight should be on the left pedal, the bike is leaned in the direction of the turn, and there is no weight on the right pedal. Also make sure to keep your right knee as close to the top tube as possible. Your torso and the bike will form a straight line from your head down to the ground, like this:

Photo Credit: Andermic Photography

Also make sure to stick out your tongue in the direction of your turn. That part is key.

This position accomplishes several things:

  1. Your full weight on the outside pedal allows you to leverage physics and drive the tires harder into the ground for added traction.
  2. Smallobstaclessuch as bumps or roots will be less likely to knock you off your line, due to the increased traction.
  3. From this position, you can quickly and easily adjust your body further, if needed, due to speed or the nature of the turn.
  4. When done properly, you will “slingshot” out of the turn, picking up a little speed in the process.
  5. As you come out of the turn, you are already set up to resume pedaling and gain even more speed.

Photo credit: element22

Notice how the rider above is leaning his body further than the bike. This is called ‘countersteering’ and is useful in extremely fast turns, or when you encounter a turn that issharperthan youanticipated. The directional forces alluded to in Number 1 above are multiplied.

So the next time you hit the trail, pay attention to your how you arecurrentlydoing it and give this technique a try. Your mileage may vary, but I am now powering through turns at roughly 2 – 3 times the speed I used to. If you’re racing, this is a good way to make up time over the whole course, and if you’re on a rec ride, it’s fun to watch your friends faces when they witness the slingshot effect.

Oh, and it turns out I was doing it the right way all along on my road bike. I have no idea why my brain was leading me astray on dirt…

Thanks to mtbgreg1 for modeling the wrong way, even though he normally does it correctly. 😀

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# Comments

  • trek7k

    In fairness to Greg, that photo doesn’t show much of a corner – if anything I’m sure he had already recovered at that point and was hammering the pedals to pick up speed. 🙂 I, on the other hand, could definitely use some improvement in this area.

    One of the things I learned at the Trestle DH 101 course was to lean your weight onto the inside of your handlebar through a turn. This seems counter-intuitive at first but it actually gives you more grip and keeps you steering into the turn. You can even test this out by setting your bike in the dirt and leaning it to the side and trying to weight both sides of the bars. Weighting the inside will push your tires into the dirt more.

  • dgaddis

    I would love to hear some thoughts on what to do with the inside knee. Stick it out into the turn, or keep it tucked in close to the frame? I do both, just whichever feels best at the time. It seems like with the knee out, if the rear tire slips you can pull the knee back in to help stand up the bike and regain traction. It *seems* that way.

  • fleetwood

    Great article. This is an area I have been working on, and had an idea on some of the tips above, but this is a great condensed lesson. I look forward to working on this some more. And will definitely use the tongue technique. I haven’t been doing that part at all.

    @maddlacker – My guess (I don’t ride road) is that the difference you were seeing between the road and the trail is because subconsciously you know that on the trail all it takes is a slippery root, loose rock, or soft dirt to put you on the ground and fast. There are not as many variables on the road, although I’m sure there are times when there is some loose debris or the roads are wet that you could get a little shaky.

    I think that to rail a turn like that you have to have the technique AND the confidence to know that you are going to come out of it unscathed. The latter might be as much or more to overcome than the former.

  • mtbgreg1

    Yeah, that wasn’t much of a turn, so I was just pedaling straight through it. This is a capture from my GoPro, and my pedals just happened to be horizontal at the time. 🙂 However, it does illustrate the point…

    Great article! If you’re a skier or a snowboarder, this is similar to a nicely carved turn. You really are able to pressure the tires into the turn in this way, thereby increasing your traction. This effect is noticeable on any bike, but it is especially noticeable on a full-suspension mountain bike. With an FS, you are able to compress the suspension going into and through the turn, creating even MORE traction than you could have on a rigid or hardtail.

    Just another reason to ride a dualie 😀

  • dgaddis

    greg – actually, the dualy doesn’t increase traction because you compress it into the turn. It soaks up bumps, instead of you skipping across them, that’s what increases traction. Compressing the bike into a corner does give the suspension more room to move when extending, so it’ll handle small dips better too.

  • dgaddis

    Ah, nevermind that previous comment. I missread your post, I thought you were meaning compressing the bike would put more force on the tires to create traction.

  • mtbgreg1

    Isn’t that how it works, though? If you compress the bike going into the turn, the suspension pushes back in the middle of the turn, fully extending when you exit the turn, it seems logical that it would increase traction in a turn the same way it can increase it on a climb. At least, that’s the way it was explained to me by a rider with way more experience than I’ll ever have (at least, until I’ve been riding for a couple of decades)…

  • trek7k

    Anyone noticed today’s POD? That would’ve been an even better pic to use than the one of Greg. 🙂 Too bad I’m pretty sure that’s what I’d look like riding that berm.

  • dgaddis

    Suspension increases traction (at either end of the bike, climbing or cornering) by allowing the tire to maintain contact with the ground, not by increasing pressure on the tires. Ride a rigid bike offroad and you’ll realize just how much a bike will hop and skip over bumps without suspension! lol

  • mtbgreg1

    Yeah, I get why having the tire contact in the ground more increases traction–I rode fully rigid for my first several years. That’s why I don’t anymore 😀

    However, that doesn’t preclude the claim that suspension increases pressure on the ground in certain circumstances. I’m asserting that they are both true.

  • maddslacker

    @dgaddis, as I mentioned, keep the inside knee as close to the top tube as possible. This allows for you to move it out, if needed, to maintain balance should the need arise.

    @trek7k, YES! That pic IS perfect!

    @mtbgreg, Funny you should mention skiing because I was just thinking about that when I was skiing last weekend. The principle and physics are identical, you’re just substituting a metal edge for tire shoulder treads.

    @fleetwood, I don’t even think it was that, I think I had just always done it right on pavement, but got sloppy on dirt. And I don’t own a road bike per se, I have my old HT mountain bike converted to a commuter, so it’s not even like different bike = different style.

    As for HT vs FS, this technique works either way. With FS, it absorbs bumps in the turn, with HT it will skip a bit when you hit something, but if you’re committed and are driving into the turn really hard, the rear tire will hook up again after the obstacle. It feels a little disconcerting, but it works.

  • fleetwood

    When applying this technique, how does standing vs. sitting impact the equation?

  • element22

    The photo of me on the bike may look a bit misleading but I had the bike angled more than my body….In a turn the bike pitches more allowing more of the transition and cornering knobs to dig in, while my weight being more over the bike pushes down on the tires..

  • mtbgreg1

    After attending the skills camp last weekend, I’ve realized that the photo example of the guy doing it “correctly” is actually incorrect, and that this sentence is very wrong: “Your torso and the bike will form a straight line from your head down to the ground.” Instead, you should lean the bike separately, keep your body upright with your torso as close to directly over the bottom bracket as possible. Also, you should turn your hips to the outside of the turn so that your torso (your chunk of mass) is facing in the direction of the turn.

    I didn’t know that before the camp… now I do. Maybe I’ll write a follow up post. But just thought I’d throw that out there in case anyone was looking for cornering tips!

    • Mark Knowles

      After researching how to corner and applying that knowledge to the trails I found this post was almost completely wrong. That was until mtbgreg1’s reply which is spot on. I have increased my speed and flow in turns and switchbacks immensely. With a lot of practice I may actually be good at it someday! 8>)

  • maddslacker

    @mtbgreg1, good catch. it turns out I’m doing it right, but I described it wrong.

  • mtbgreg1

    Ah gotcha! Good job! I for one wasn’t quite right and needed some work…

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