Mountain Bike Technique: Flawless Cornering

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Who here can say they have amazing mountain bike technique? I’m lucky I make it up and down the mountain alive. Most spandex clad “expert” mountain bikers are usually doing at least something wrong while descending. Proper cornering technique is  one of the keys to success, some may say different, but cornering is our bread and butter and makes some of the biggest differences between fast and slow race runs.

My own technique unicorn is cornering. Usually I can get it right, but sometimes it slips between my hands. Or should I say my tires slip off the trail? I’ve fumbled with it for years and I become torn between ripping and skidding around or going slower to make it clean and correct. The unicorn often prevails and I end up with dirt in my face and a bloody shin. So hopefully you can take these tips from me, a self-proclaimed seasoned “expert” (minus the spandex), with(out) a grain of salt.

Knowing Where You Are

Reading a trail properly is very important. If you’re on a long winding part of a trail cruising through the woods, be prepared for any kind of corner. Corners can be long so you won’t have to use your brakes or some really tight single-track could throw a stick in your spokes and make you turn a tight 180-degrees. Regardless, at some point that trail is going to turn and you are most likely going to have to slow down. So pay attention, don’t get lost in having fun on the flowy bits.

Proper Braking Technique

Don’t brake in the turn, even if it seems logical. Your exit speed is key and if you’re slowing down all the way through the turn, you are going to have to be on the gas and pedal pretty hard to make up that lost speed (and time).

Ideally, if you need to slow down you should shut down the necessary speed before you get to the turn. This goes back to knowing where you are and properly reading the trail. If you come screaming in too hot to a switchback (kind of like I do) then you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you are going fast, get on the brakes and move your body over the back of the bike This puts weight over your rear wheel and keeps you from flying over the bars. Your front brake gives you 70-75% of your braking power; so don’t be afraid to use it. And try not to skid, that’s bad Karma.

Proper Vision

A lot of adults in my life told me to plan for the future. Well that same lesson applies for proper cornering technique. When approaching a corner you should be assessing the length and terrain. Does it have a big berm that you can rail? Is it going to be loose? How much speed should you keep and how much do you need to brake? These are all questions that you will ask subconsciously as your skills develop and you become a faster and more confident rider.

Upon entering the turn you want to be looking ahead and never down at or in front of your wheel. This is the point that you must begin to trust your tires. Your eyes should be trained toward the apex of the turn and making assessments such as changing your body position and any obstacles you may need to account for.

And when your bike is at the apex you should be looking at the exit of the corner and assessing all the same things I outlined above. And new questions to ask yourself are: Can I pedal? Is there a giant rock I need to get over? What trick am I going to pull off this jump?  Always be assessing what comes next, and to do that, you need to be looking ahead.

Proper Body Position

Now this subject is a bad egg. Sometimes corners are wild and any notion of body position goes out the window. Or should I say all over the trail? In the perfect corner, in a perfect world, the bike would lean a certain amount of degrees depending on how fast you are going. Your upper body would be squarely positioned over the bike, and your outside crank arm and foot would be at 6:00 while your inside crank and foot would be at 12:00. Your arms would be slightly bent at odd angles to accommodate for the bike lean and you would breeze through no problem.

Now that is a great way to think about going through a turn and most of that technique should be practiced. But I know that sometimes I’ve had to get on the back of the bike or be way forward over my front suspension. As your skills develop your body will learn what works in different types of corners and muscle memory will surely take over.

Practice Practice Practice

To blast through turns like a pro takes a lot of practice. Learning what you and your bike are going to do together in a corner takes a long time and often has to be relearned as you change equipment season after season. Lord knows that I struggle to put these technique tips into practice every time, but the fact is is that I still try to get it right. And trying again and again makes mountain biking worth it and fun to me.

And we all screw up cornering. No one is perfect. But when you do get it right, it is a lot of fun and gives you a similar euphoric feeling similar to skiing powder. I think that may be where the term “brown pow” comes from. As you ride more and become more familiar with your local trails, the repetition will build your skills. Which you can take them to new towns and new trails, and have more fun.

By Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist