We’ve all seen videos and photos of the pro mountain bikers riding corners with crazy speed and we say, “yeah, I can do that.” However, the reality sets in as you lean into a corner going too fast or too slow, take a foot off the pedal, and are very much out of control. Professional riders make it look easy, but they also get paid to train and race so they should hopefully be better at cornering than the rest of us.
So how do you corner a mountain bike like a race winning champ? I’ve found there are a few key skills to develop when you’re on the bike to keep your speed and flow. These are all subjective though. Your personal riding style and the trail itself will dictate overall cornering technique. You could have perfect form, but if the trail has been poorly built then riding corners fast or smooth can be really difficult.
You should be always be looking ahead when you come into a corner. This is important to anticipate what’s coming next, not only when cornering, but whenever you’re on a mountain bike ride. When you enter a corner, you should be looking at the apex of the turn. And when you’re at the apex, you should be eyeing the exit. By looking ahead you can anticipate and make corrections for changing variables – like giant rocks or roots. This will allow you to carry more speed throughout the turn.
2. Speed and Gearing
Exit speed is crucial for fast cornering. In a perfect world, you would have all your braking done before you enter a corner. Obviously if you are on a new trail this could prove difficult, but try to anticipate the corner and hold as much speed as possible for the exit. You should also be in the proper gear to be able to pedal your bike out as quickly as possible. If you do need to dump speed in a corner, lightly pull or “feather” your rear brake. This keeps you in control of the bike but without killing all of your speed for the exit.
3. Body Position
Body position is tricky as everyone has a different riding style. Start with a balanced position over the bike. As you enter a corner and are looking ahead, your inside knee should come up and your outside knee should extend. Think of your feet being at 12:00 and 6:00 on a clock face. Your elbows should be slightly bent and your chest should be forward, over your handlebars. This lets you naturally twist your hips into the turn as well as give you a better vantage point to look through the turn.
Ultimately, you and your bike are going to do some leaning – together and separate. This is all dependent on your riding style and confidence. As you develop your cornering skills, you’ll subconsciously move the bike underneath you and make small corrections in anticipation of terrain changes.
Make sure you have a firm grip on your bars, but let your body relax. If you enter a corner too stiff then you won’t be able to make small body corrections to guide the bike smoothly through the turn.
If you’re going to do only one thing correctly when cornering, let it be braking. A corner ultimately slows you down so try to retain as much speed as possible for the exit. If you get the braking right, the rest of the techniques listed above will follow.
My last pro tip on cornering: ride a pump track. Pump tracks demand that you hold your speed in order to be ridden properly, and a well-built one will help you get your cornering technique down quickly. A lot of towns and cities are building pump tracks and other bike park features in and around local neighborhoods. Stop by your local bike shop to see where the closest one is. Or if you’re in Park City, check out the Trailside and Canyons bike parks.
Cornering when mountain biking is all about confidence and staying smooth. Practice on mellow, smooth corners and work up to steeper, faster, and more aggressive corners with more speed. As you learn and become familiar with a variety of corners, you will see your speed and confidence increase.
Paul Boyle, Marketing Associate