Skills to slay the hills

Need to know how to corner better? Find out how Gee condenses all his turning and braking by picking ‘safe points’ along the trail.

Story from 2014.

How to corner

The Atherton family were born to ride bikes. Elder brother Dan Atherton was a formidable 4X racer and is a dominant force in enduro, while sister Rachel is also a downhill world champion.

The Hollywood script for the Atherton family came in 2008 at the World Championships in Trentino, Italy, where both Gee and Rachel climbed onto the top step of the podium.

How to square off a turn

Here’s how to bag the line less travelled…

  • By squaring off the turn I give myself less distance to travel. Sometimes the main line is rough and bumpy, and if you can cut inside then you’re on a much smoother line.
  • The berm is there to catch you, so you can really let the bike come out from underneath you as you’re come in. As you’re about to touch the berm and hook up you need to be off the brakes, so that when you do catch you keep your momentum and it’ll push you forward.
  • You can turn the bike before you get to the turn. That way you slide down into it, and by the time you hit the berm you’ve made your direction change and you’re facing the right way ready to accelerate out.
  • It’s important to have the right angle as you hit the berm. If you’re too upright, your momentum will carry you straight over the top. If you come in too hot and too banked over then, unless you’re absolutely hauling, you’re not going to stick to the berm properly.
  • Make sure your bike and your body are at a similar angle, so all the pressure goes through to the tyres in a nice straight line.
  • As you come in, look at the line you’re about to ride. But as soon as you’ve committed to making the turn you need to be moving your point of vision to the exit. Remember, your body tends to follow your line of sight.
  • If you come in with too much speed you’ll have to do all your braking in the turn. You need to be off the brakes by the time you hit the berm.
  • You need commitment. You’re making the same turn that you might make over six metres, in six feet.
  • Keep your weight centred – if you push too far over the back you’re going to rock backwards and loop out slightly, but too much on the front could squirm you or cause you to twist.
how to corner

Join the dots for speed and flow

Join the dots down a trail

It’s easier said than done, but it’s the secret to great riding…

  • Sometimes there is an option to stay out of the ruts and the deep holes; they’re the things that are going to get you into trouble. Instead, as you come into the section you’ve got to spot the safe points, like banks or take-offs. Then just thread those points together, banging from one to the other.
  • Unless you’re on one of those safe points, don’t do any braking or turning. Any direction change or movement needs to be done on those points.
  • Before you hit that safe point you need to know exactly how hard you’re going to brake and exactly what direction change you’re going to make, because you’ll only touch it for a split second. Everything has to happen in one movement.
  • Depending on the section, the extreme would be to literally hop from one section to the other. If it’s longer you’re going to ride or skim over the ground. Literally manhandle the bike until the next safe point — all the movements are really explosive.

Foot out, flat out

  • I use Crank Brothers Mallet pedals rather than Shimano SPDs because I can slam my foot back on, in whatever position, and it goes straight back in. I don’t need to adjust the position to clip in.
  • Obviously it is faster to go around a turn with your feet on. But if I take my foot out I can commit better. On a downhill track, when it’s super loose and you’re not exactly sure what it’s like, sometimes taking your foot off lets you hang off the edge more.
  • Tapping the brakes can be a panic reaction. I use getting my foot out instead. That way I can leave off the brakes and hold on to speed a little bit longer.
  • I don’t plan where I’m going to take my foot out; it’s improvised. When I watch guys who race on flat pedals, they don’t really take their feet off any more than the guys who are clipped in. Once you get used to putting your foot in and out of the pedal it doesn’t make any difference.

Pump not pedal

Force yourself to freewheel down a track and you’ll notice a big difference in your riding. It’ll always be a positive change.

Pedalling is a hard thing to throw in: you have to make sure your pedals don’t hit the ground; that you’re not going to get thrown off line.

If you can get away without pedalling you’ll find it’s much smoother and the bike is going to be more composed.

Work on your technique and speed will follow

Think about riding smoothly and speed will come as a by-product. It’ll be better quality speed as well — you’ll be riding with more confidence and control.