Bike-Handling Basics #1: How to Corner

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Riding over a variety of terrain is part of what makes cycling interesting and exciting. But as you venture out and begin to ride up and down long, steep climbs or sign up for a cycling event, you’ll need to be confident in your bike-handling to stay safe.

Whether it’s a criterium race or a fast descent down a mountain pass with multiple switchbacks, cornering correctly is an essential cycling skill. Fine-tune your technique and increase your confidence no matter what the road throws your way with these cornering techniques:

In terms of safety and maintaining good wheel traction at all times, body position is one of the most critical elements to cornering. Paying attention to body position also helps you improve your control over the bike, provides easier access to your brakes and makes it much easier to balance and lean your bike to maintain your speed.

Here are a few of the body position basics you should put into practice before you enter a corner:

  • Position on the handlebarsRiding in the drops lowers your center of gravity, which makes it easier to handle your bike and lean. Keeping your hands in this position in a corner also gives you better access to the brake levers to control your speed and put downward forces on the front wheel to maintain traction.
  • Pedal position: To lean into a corner, you’ll need to balance the bike correctly. Straightening your outside leg and keeping the inside pedal at the 12 o’clock position helps. This also allows for pedal clearance, keeping the inside pedal from coming into contact with the pavement as you lean. Apply pressure on the outside pedal and on the inside handlebar as a counter balance when you lean into a corner.
  • Head position: Staring at the road directly in front of you or even focusing on the centerline is a common cornering mistake. Keep your eyes up the road and focus on where you’ll exit the corner to pick the best line and scan for any potential hazards.

Apexing a corner allows you to navigate a bend in the road while maintaining as much speed as possible. This is because the technique flattens a curve by allowing you to take as straight a line as possible when entering and exiting the corner. Keep in mind this technique uses more of the lane, so watch out for traffic and hazards.

Choosing your line of travel:

  • As you approach a corner, position your bike as close to the center line as is safe
  • Control your speed before you lean your bike, allowing you to release the brake as you enter the corner.
  • Aim for the apex of the corner or the inside portion of the bend. Leaning into this portion of the corner and taking your hands off the brakes allows you to keep your balance while maintaining speed. Counter balance by applying pressure to the outside pedal and inside drop to lean your bike instead of steering with the handlebar.
  • As you exit the apex of the corner, take as wide a line (toward the center line) as is possible while keeping safety in mind.

As a general rule of thumb, you should exit a corner faster than you enter. To do so, slow down as much as you need before you enter a corner — after considering obstacles, traffic and other safety concerns.

To brake correctly, you’ll want to use both the front and back brake. Grabbing on the front brake lever can take your wheels out from under you, while only using the back break can cause you to fishtail and lose control. Instead, feather both brakes lightly until you’ve slowed to a safe cornering speed. You’ll also want to shift into an easier gear as you stop pedaling so you can accelerate in a reasonable gear once you exit the corner.

Once you’ve slowed to a safe speed, let go of the brakes as soon as you start to lean into the corner. Braking in the corner causes your bike to stand up, becoming more upright and making it more difficult to lean. Leaning into the center of the turn is what helps you maintain your speed and keep as straight a line as possible. After you pass the sharpest part of the corner, accelerate out of the corner until you are back up to speed.

Not every corner is handled the same way. How much of the lane you have to use, vehicle traffic, other cyclists on the road, the condition of the road and any potential debris or obstacles can alter how you take a corner. Before you attempt to apex a corner or maintain a high speed, safety needs to be considered before all else.

If for any reason using more of the lane could cause a potentially dangerous situation, adjust your speed as much as necessary to improve your safety. Staying upright is the most important aspect of cornering — and excessive risks should always be avoided no matter the scenario.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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