By Seb Kemp
Corners are the cornerstone of mountain biking (*vomits* sorry, I couldn't help myself). Get them right and everything becomes a little easier. Fail to master them and everything on the trail will be a little harder.
No two corners are precisely the same but these five basic pointers, based on the patent-pending Zero Wash Out Methodology, might help you carve curves a little bit more confidently. The worst thing that can happen on a corner is that you wash out and hit the ground. The answer to this is to B.A.T.H.E. (Brake – Angulation – Twist – Hands – Extension).
Again, this week we have the lovely Candace Shadley of the Trek Dirt Series on board to show us how to corner smoother, safer and maybe faster.
Stirling Moss once said 'It's not how fast you go into the corner that counts, but rather how fast you leave it.' Slower in can mean faster out.
Braking before the corner, and then releasing the brakes throughout the turn, lets both your bike and body perform at their best.
In some situations it might be necessary to drag your brakes through the corner to control your speed (you'll often need to do this on descending turns for instance) but make sure before enter the corner that your speed is reduced to what it needs to be. Sudden braking during a turn will force the bike to stand up, force you to correct your body position and can lead to a loss of traction as your wheels fight to slow down and turn at the same time. It is like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, it makes things complicated. So slow down in a straight line well before the turn.
We generally steer our bike by leaning it (as opposed to by turning the front wheel as we might do in a tight switchback corner); you lean your bike and counterbalance with your body.
Bikes can be angulated pretty aggressively, and as long as you don't lean over with the bike you won't fall over. Try this in a car park at first. Coast along at a steady speed then turn by gently angling the bike while keeping your bodyweight centered over the tires.
Unlike MotoGP racers we should not be leaning into the corner with our body, and certainly never leaning our body over more than the bike. Unlike fire-breathing motorbikes, mountain bikes are much lighter than our own body weight and we are moving relatively slowly, so to generate traction we must get our weight directly over the tires. Remember applied weight equals traction.
There are exceptions to angulating like this (for example, if you are going really fast on bermed trails) but for most corners this technique is going to help minimize the chances of you wiping out.
Twisting your body into the bike (screwing down into the bike and in the direction of the turn) gives you a lower center of gravity, which makes you more stable and gives you space to angulate the bike more. Sometimes I tell people that if they had paint on their tires they’d be trying to make the darkest line possible in the corner by pushing their weight into the bike and the tires. Weight equals traction if applied correctly.
Imagine a laser beam coming straight out of your belly button and trying to shine it towards the exit of the turn. If you have angulated the bike enough your bottom should stick out over the outside of your bike, too.
The twist is the component of this technique that really makes a big difference to many riders. This subtle move helps you see the exit earlier, gets your body weight over the tires more (your booty should hang out directly over the tires), lowers your center of gravity (useful when changing direction) and helps drive weight into the correct hand when turning, which is the next point…
Weight equals traction, so the more you press, the more grip you will generate. However, you have to be pressing in the right spots at the right time. When cornering, get your weight forward and attempt to press more weight through the grip on the top hand when the bike is angulated.
Pressure control (the act of weighting and unweighting various parts of the bike throughout maneuvers) in the hands is essential. When you angulate the bike bring the outside hand (this changes, obviously, depending on the direction of the turn) toward your midline and as you twist drive your shoulder into what will become the uppermost hand. As you angulate the bike the top hand will be more closely lined up over the tire contact patch. Weight this hand more because it will drive your body weight into the tires. A strong component of this is creating a strong frame with your upper body with your elbows out.
Getting your shoulders over the bars will really help with this. It is understandable that newer, shyer riders will tend to slink off the back of the bike, afraid of what is ahead of them, and fall over. However, this is what compounds the problem. The less weight you place over the front tire, the more likely it is to wash out. Weight equals traction.
Despite what some advice says do not push most on the lowest (or inside) grip. You will end up on your face more than you want by doing this. Pushing on the lowest grip pushes the tire tread outward, not down, and increases the likelihood of washing out the front wheel. Think about an imaginary line running between the two contact patches of your tires and keep your weight directly over that line.
Try this simple demonstration:
Stand over your bike (feet on the ground for now) and angulate (aka lean) it to one side. Now push on the handlebar grip that is closest to the ground. What happened? It slid out, right?
Now start over again. Angulate the bike in the same direction but this time push on the upper grip. The wheel doesn't shift does it? Keep pushing harder. Even try using both hands. This gives you an indicator of the correct hand to weight when cornering.
This is usually only appropriate for riders who have mastered the previous steps in the technique. Don't rush to get to this point. The previous steps are more important to get right.
When you feel more confident with your cornering, start to drive even more traction to the tires toward the exit of the turn by pushing through your feet powerfully. You should be screwed into your bike anyway (step three: twist), so as you unscrew and straighten the bike upright, in one fluid movement try pushing yourself up to neutral position with a powerful push through the heels of your feet. This should drive more traction to your tires but also generate some momentum and bring you to the neutral position quickly, ready for the next corner or obstacle.
The Order Of Things:
Remember that we are trying to spell out the word Bathe and to do so correctly means putting the letters in the right order. In the same way, twisting first and braking last might get you all discombobulated. Find a simple easy corner that you can session over and over again, and as you ride through it (quite slowly at first) spell out the stages out loud. B-A-T-H-E! BRAKE-ANGULATE-TWIST-HANDS-EXTENSION
Master each stage of the B.A.T.H.E technique before moving on to the next.
You will go wherever you look. So always look up to be able to see a corner (or other obstacle) early, prepare for it, then reach your eyes through the corner to find the exit.
Often, riders ask whether they should keep their pedals level or drop the outside foot. The answer is that it could be either. It’s helpful to at least start with flat pedals, maybe you’ll then decide that having the outside foot drop works better for you in different situations (especially flat corners) or maybe not.
No two corners are the same. However, these are a few elementary techniques that are consistent and which can make your riding more enjoyable. Different corners might require a slight change in timing and execution, but the five stages of B.A.T.H.E. will help.
Some people refer to this skill as 'high-speed cornering,’ however this is somewhat misleading as you don't have to be moving at high speed to benefit from this technique. However, this does differ slightly from very slow-speed turns (switchbacks, for instance) when more steering is initiated by turning the handlebars and remaining a little more upright. That is a technique for another time.
Candace Shadley and the Trek Dirt Series
Candace Shadley is the founder and director of the Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps, a women's only and co-ed mountain bike education experience. The program was started in 2001 and they now run an average of 18 instructional camps per season throughout North America. Since starting they've taught nearly 9000 participants.
Bike Magazine’s Gun For Hire is also a certified mountain bike skills coach and before he joined Bike he worked for the Whistler Bike Park and well as guiding and coaching clients throughout BC, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden and Nepal. Seb believes that both writing and coaching are, in fact, very similar roles - both require information to be broken down and communicated clearly and concisely. In an attempt to simplify coaching techniques Seb learned to strip back the skills to their core elements and designed a series word games or visual clues related to each technique that make them easier to learn and remember. We will be revealing some of these throughout Friday Five, however, there is no replacement for hiring a good coach and getting some first hand guidance and feedback.