So you’ve just opened your Instagram feed or Facebook, and you’ve been tagged on pics posted of the last group ride. You eagerly swipe through to see if she got the one of you pinning it through that corner.. but, it looks more Bokkie frozen in the headlamps than Rachel Atherton on the WC circuit? Don't let it happen again.
While there are tons of videos and blogs written about cornering, people still do the weirdest things, so let's put a fresh new angle on it. There are some common mistakes that we all make, so let's check them out and get some tips on how to correct them.
1. Don't steer your bike!
It's a corner, right, so steering is inevitable? Not necessarily. While you'll always have to steer a little, we often have a tendency to stay upright on our bikes, pinch the frame between our legs and turn the handlebars as we go. You're going through the corner holding onto that bike for dear life. You and the bike are one. The problem is, you are so rigid on the bike that you have to slow right down to get through the bend. The natural tendency is to lean your body into the corner, mistake number 01.
TRY THIS: LEAN YOUR BIKE, NOT YOUR BODY
Simple? If it was, more people would be doing it. It's not necessarily as easy as it sounds.
This is how it works:
1. Lean your bike down. Keeping your body perpendicular to the trail.
2. At the same time, put your full body weight on your outside leg (push down on the outside pedal), loading your full weight through the pedal. (Flat pedals really help to give you the right feeling)
3. Most importantly, turn your hips into the corner. Imagine a laser beam shining from your belly button, showing you the way as you turn. When you turn your hips, your inside arm will naturally drop (your outside arm should lift up) and your legs will form a Z-shape that will hold your body upright. Your inside leg is flexed with the knee pointing into the turn. This step is really important!
If you try to drop the bike without turning your hips it will feel as if the bike wants to fall over. This means you're not getting it right, yet.
This is the one skill that you should try at home first. Do practise drills on your driveway, or the nearest car park, anywhere, before you hit the trails. Since it's not an easy technique to master, it's difficult to get all the elements right on the trail where you also have to worry about tree roots, rocks and off-camber turns. A little practice drill every day for 5-10 minutes can boost your confidence enough to get a smooth run on the next ride, and this will make a big difference to your flow and momentum.
Once you get all the elements together, get loose, and practice on an open road, descending through wide corners without slamming on your brakes. Feather those brakes gently as you descend.
It also really helps to have a someone film you while you practice. Slow-mo works best to break it up into all the elements and check your style. In my experience, it always feels much better than it looks!
2. Don't hit the brakes in the turn
You need to hit the corner at a comfortable speed, allow yourself to flow through the turn and keep that momentum going. If you come in too hot, you have to brake hard. This means that your body is pushed towards the handle bars, pushing your centre of gravity forward, and you will have no time to lean the bike sideways and correct this. Locking brakes also messes with your flow, unless drifting through corners is how you always roll. If you slow down too much, you actually have to pedal again to catch up with your clever buddies, and this makes it difficult to get your body in the right position for the next turn.
TRY THIS: COME INTO THE TURN AS WIDE AS YOU CAN (TAKE IT HIGH) AND AT A COMFORTABLE SPEED, LIFTING YOUR HEAD TO LOOK OUT OF THE TURN
1. Gently feather your brakes before the turn and let go a little as you come into the corner.
2. Try to slow down BEFORE the turn, not IN the corner.
3. Lift your head and look ahead, out of the corner and towards the next one.
4. Find a line that's as high as possible and come in at a comfortable speed. Unless you're well versed with the Scandinavian Flick. In which case you shouldn't have to read this.
3. Don't shoot out of a corner on the wrong side.
It can happen that you felt good about the turn you took but you end up somewhere else as you exit the corner, which means that you haven't set yourself up properly before the turn. Stop, and take a moment to have a look at your tyre marks after your first try, as this will give you vital clues about your line. You may find that you were actually bang in the middle of the turn, or that you took it much tighter than you needed to. What happens then is that you're not set up properly for the next turn, and eventually you'll lose all your momentum as you are forced to a grinding halt.
TRY THIS: PRACTICE THE SAME CORNER LOTS OF TIMES, PUMPING OUT OF THE CORNER AS IT GETS EASIER AND MORE FLOWY. CHECK YOUR LINE AND TRY TO GO WIDER AND HIGHER EACH TIME.
Once you have the basic technique right, accelerate out of the corner by pumping and pushing your bike forward.
Now that you know what to do, take it to the trails and impress your friends with your new-found confident flow. And while you wait for your (lesser skilled) mates to catch-up, find a good spot and take some happy snaps to use for your next Instagram post.