Words by Andy Barlow | Dirt School
Downhill switchbacks can catch you out if you go in unprepared. Here are some of the best (and worst) approaches to tak
Hairpin corners can often catch riders out if they come in unprepared. Here we’re going to look at the way a a variety riders approach them and allow you a better understanding of how different riders might tackle the same sharp turn on a trail.
The wide line
Forever making it look easy, you roll smoothly in on the brakes and open up the corner by turning up onto a part of the track off the main trail. You then gauge the exit to perfection and nonchalantly roll out the other side. This is all about your choice of line and the timing of your braking. You’ll need a good amount of traction to turn up the camber, and plenty on the exit to make it out smoothly, but you might actually have to be on the brakes everywhere else. Remember; if you get this one right never admit to having a deliberate plan – it’s just not gentlemanly.
Watch: How to corner on a mountain bike
The wrong way
This happens to all of us from time to time. You come in expecting a gradual corner and end up being completely caught off-guard as the corner tightens. It’s easy to start in the middle of the trail, but as the corner sharpens you can end up losing grip and drifting wide on the exit – often leaving the trail. The only way to tackle this is to slow down, and perhaps even put a foot down for safety.
Ever optimistic, you come in without even the slightest intention of slowing down before slamming on the rear brake, putting the bike into a skid, with your foot off to slide it up the middle. You will often come to an almost complete stop and end up having to pedal out the other side. Despite it looking dramatic, this technique actually works. Unfortunately it also erodes the trail. A fun technique; but not a sustainable one.
The racer run
It’s all about the exit speed. Come in with confidence, open up the corner with the same high line as before but carry a lot more speed than you thought possible out the other side. A huge part of this is down to confidence. An aggressive body position is key. It will allow you a lot more trust in the front of you bike and mean that you can gauge your traction to perfection. You might even want to get a cheeky pedal stroke in on the way out. After all, those KOMs aren’t going to win themselves.
The climbing hairpin
You’re not always descending when you encounter a hairpin turn. A successful climber will open up their line on the way in by staying wide. Once you commit to the turn you can control your balance by pedalling and gently accelerating out the other side. Any camber on the way out can be used like a berm, so you can slingshot your way out the other side and continue your climb with a little more momentum.
The endo is everywhere in the Alps, and if it’s a steep enough downhill hairpin then this technique might be the only way of pivoting your bike around a really tight bend. For this one you’re going to have to be confident with your front brake skills. Come in and gently apply the front brake as you rock your body weight onto the front wheel. As soon as your rear wheel is off the ground, you want to throw your hips out, causing your back end to pivot around. Make sure you’ve rehearsed it on flat ground before you try it for real.