Follow these tips to give you greater control and speed

Cornering can be one of the most satisfying experiences you can have. How can you improve your game plan so that you can ensure you always get it right?

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The seamless feeling of linking turns is what we all aspire to achieve, and when it works can be the difference between riding and flowing. So why is it that so many of us feel like we’re stalling in turns a lot of the time? What do people mean by slow in fast out?

This month Andy from the UK’s leading coaching company Dirt School looks at how to recognise different types of turns, how to set up differently depending on how much support you can expect, and how to feel like you have more time in the moment and leave with better exit speed.

Notice how as Andy turns from one way to the other, his body position stays completely fixed. The disconnect is at his hips and knees NOT at his head and shoulders.

Body position

The first thing you should always remind yourself about when wanting to improve is your body position. It’s the first thing we work on with any rider and by far the cheapest and easiest thing you can improve on for the biggest gain. When we say easiest though we don’t mean that it’s easy; it’s definitely one that you’ll have to stay on top of, but it’s also a part of your technique that once automatic will give you the biggest levels of control. Stay tall with your legs, drop your heels, and keep your elbows wide and your head over the stem. Your neutral riding position should become so much of a reaction that you don’t even have to think about it.

Face the trail

As these articles progress you’ll hear us talk about using your hips and knees to influence your balance and change of direction. The easiest way of getting into this is to think about centring your body position around your bars, forks and front end of your bike. That means that as you turn the bars from left to right, your whole body from your head and shoulders right down to your knees and hips follows. You’re not trying to twist your body. Almost the opposite. You’re trying to make a shape that is consistent with the front of your bike. Your neutral riding position will rarely deviate from a strong, stable shape that is centred around your bars.

Your feet should be level with whatever surface you’re on. If it’s a berm then keep them level. If it’s a flat corner then you can drop your outside foot but don’t lock out the leg.

Traction

As always at Dirt School we’re going to mention how to generate traction through pumping the bike into the trail to make the tyres heavier when you need grip. This isn’t a quick push, or a quick stab at the corner. What we’re talking about here starts low and continually stands up so that you make the act of driving the bike back into the trail last the whole way round whatever feature you’re pushing against. You’re not pushing with your arms. You’re pushing with your legs. Read last months issue on jumps to get a better idea on how to do it properly. Once you master the act of driving your weight back into the trail for corners, you can apply more weight for grip, or back away if the tyres start to loose traction. This puts you in control of how much grip you have not the speed that you’re doing.

Different levels of support

Different corners have different levels of support. For the purposes of this article we’ll break them down into three main categories. Berms, flat corners, and switchbacks. Recognising which type of corner you’re about to tackle will give you a slightly different game plan on the way in, and hopefully allow you more time to react, and better control while you’re changing direction.

A berm has consistent support all the way round. Use this to your advantage by getting up onto it and staying in a confident shape. You can push gradually with your legs to generate exit speed and pump.

Berms

If your corner has a consistent camber in your favour then you can expect that the support will be consistent throughout. If this is the case then keep your pedals level and try and take a line that keeps you in the same place on that camber the whole way round. The secret is to bend your legs and arms on the way in, get yourself on that consistent line, then as the corner progresses slowly stand up so that you force your weight back into the camber. The tighter the berm the quicker the movement. But you’re trying to make that weight last all the way round so you can drive yourself out of the other side. Pumping a berm will give you plenty exit speed and fell like you are in control all the way round.

DON’T: Drop your outside foot, Go up the inside, Lean the bike over

DO: Keep your pedals level, Drive your weight back into the corner, Look for the exit

Speed comes from confidence. And confidence comes from control

Exit speed

If you’re looking to carry more speed out of any corner then it comes down to looking where you want to go, and feeling confident that you have grip and control during the turn. As long as you’re following our advice on the way in, then you should be able to slowly apply pressure by gradually straightening your legs and making the tyres dig in more for extra weight. Be conscious of where you’re looking. If you’re looking at the edge of the trail then you’re going to go there. Instead take a quick glance at where you’re going to be earlier on, then as the corner progresses lift your gaze so that you’re looking out the other side. It sounds so simple. But a lot of riders will look directly at the thing they don’t want to do! Take your time, drive heavy with your legs for grip, and keep facing your exit. The speed will come with confidence.

Looking where you want to go sounds easy but will give you loads more time to see what’s coming up and line you up with a speedier exit. On a flat turn think about lining your whole body up with the direction you want to go in. You can drop your outside foot but not all the way. Keep your feet roughly level with the ground that they’re on so you can get feedback from the trail.

Flat turns

The less camber a corner has the more you can expect the traction to fade out on you as you progress around it. To help you deal with this movement you can do a few things on the way in so that as the movement happens you feel like you have room to allow for the instability. It’s okay to drop your outside foot here, but try not to drop it all the way down with your outside leg completely straight. Instead, on the way into the turn sink into the bike from your regular riding position and try and line your whole body up with the direction you’re traveling in. You want to think about your shoulders being connected with the front of your bike so that as you turn one way or the other your body follows. The disconnect with your bike should be at your knees and hips. Not at your head and shoulders.

DON’T: Lean away from the turn, straighten your outside leg

DO: Let your hips follow your shoulders and angulate, keep your knees bent, look where you want to go

This trail is about as steep as they get, but Andy is still looking for the high line so he can do the majority of the corner before he speeds up.

Switchbacks

If the trail turns right back on itself then you’re going to have to set up high and think about your line. The worst thing you can do here is go up the inside – especially if it’s steep! That will cause you to accelerate before you’ve done any of the corner. Instead turn up the slope on the way in and stay high later than you think. By turning down late you can do most of the corner before you pick up any speed meaning that you do the turn before the acceleration. Gauge the acceleration of the slope and brake to avoid picking up speed too soon. Depending on the exit you can either trust the grip and push into it, or angulate to preempt a loss of traction.

DON’T: Go up the inside, pick up speed early, hang off the back

DO: Stay high later, drop in with confidence, look for the exit

Having a plan on the way in to any corner will allow you to have more control while it’s happening. Body position sounds easy but will take feedback and practise. Do as much of the corner before any of the acceleration get you. Remember you can always brake while you’re loosing hight. Just get off those brakes for the final part of the turn where you need the best grip.

Slow in, fast out

Take your time on the way in. If you spend time setting up in a good body position, scrubbing speed off while you have control, and setting up your line properly, then as the corner progresses you should feel like you’re accelerating the rest of the out. Going fast is about feeling confident. And feeling confident is about having control. Don’t try and go fast. Try and focus on having more more control. You’ll do this by giving yourself more time to react on the way in.

Get some good feedback

Taking time to seek out a good, local, and reputable coaching company will save you years of doing it wrong. An experienced coach will be able to feedback exactly what you’re doing and lay out a plan for how to correct it over time. It’s not too late to ask for a mountain bike lesson from your local service provider for Christmas. Most coaching firms will do vouchers, and I’m sure that your better half will appreciate you coming home with fewer injuries in 2020!