Mountain biking would be a pretty boring sport without corners. Whether bermed or
off-camber, rocky or rooty, loamy or hardpack, sweeping or switchback, every type of terrain presents a unique challenge. Unlocking the secrets of cornering is the key to going fast and staying smooth.
There are two principles you must grasp before you can learn to corner efficiently. Firstly, at slow speeds, steering involves turning the bars. As velocity increases, inputs at the handlebar gradually reduce and turning is achieved by leaning the bike. Secondly, on and off-road cornering technique is very different. To see the difference, watch a Superbike race followed by a motocross event. On road, the racers lean the bike and the body, almost climbing off the side of the bike because grip is both high and constant. The motocross racers lean the bike, but keep their bodies relatively upright, thrusting the inside of the handlebar towards the apex of the corner and forcing their weight through the point at which the tyres contact the dirt for maximum traction. On a pushbike, the principles are the same, so to improve our cornering on an mtb we must follow the example of the motocross racer.
For the example here, we’ve chosen a simple corner with good sightlines and plenty of run-off. As a practice bend it’s just about perfect, allowing you to concentrate on technique without the risk of running into other riders or obstacles. We’d recommend finding something similar for developing your own skills.
1 In the main photo you can see a fairly straightforward corner. Although this one’s at the Laggan Wolftrax trails, it’s still the sort of bend you’ll come across in trail centres across the country.
2 Being a flat corner makes it all the more important to maintain speed through the turn to the next section. Sprinting in, jamming on the brakes and sprinting out will soon knacker you out.
3 It has the benefit of being in the open, allowing Andrew to see all the way round the bend and judge his entry speed without worrying about any hidden obstacles or it tightening mid-corner.
4 On the approach he assesses the surface of the corner (Is it rough/rooty/wet?) and its radius. With a flat run-in, there is no need to brake into this corner. If the entry was downhill, he would aim to do all his braking on the straight before the corner, as braking mid-turn tends to straighten the bike.
5 While he doesn’t want to brake mid-corner, Andrew covers the levers with one finger just in case he encounters anything unexpected.
6 “The main thing with any corner is proper set-up”, explains Andrew. “Stay relaxed and don’t lean with your head and shoulders”. As he enters the corner, Andrew is setting up his position. “Stay relaxed and the let the bike follow the terrain”. As you approach the corner, keep looking as far round as you can.
7 His outside pedal is down, putting weight and pressure through the knobs of the tyre as it digs into the corner, and giving clearance to the inside pedal. His inside arm is extended into the corner to lean the bike over, but both arms remain bent to absorb any rough patches.
8 As he gets deeper into the corner you can see the bike is really leant over, but his body is relatively upright and he his putting huge pressure through the outside pedal. All his body weight is running down through the bike and that tiny contact point between the tyres and the ground. His eyes are now focused on the exit of the corner, which will naturally level up the bike for the next straight.
9 His saddle is resting on his thigh, adding extra control to the attitude of the bike and providing a reference point.
10 As he exits the corner, he puts weight onto the inside pedal to power away, also using the crank to pull up out of the mid-corner crouch.
Your pilot on this voyage of discovery is none other than former DH pro and freeride legend Andrew Shandro. Originally one of the world’s top DH racers, and winner of the
X-Games, Shandro was one of the first downhillers to cross over into freeride. He quickly made a name for himself as a big mountain expert, and took silver at the Red Bull Rampage in 2003. Since then he has appeared in the seminal films The Collective and Roam, and spends much of his summer teaching kids how to ‘send it’ at Whistler’s Summer Gravity camps. www.summergravitycamps.com.