Most cyclocross courses are short, fast and filled with sharp twists and turns. With mud, gravel and other obstacles to deal with, cornering on a cyclocross course can be a lot different than what you might be used to on a road bike.
To help you nail the basics, use this advice to improve your cyclocross cornering skills and become a safer and more efficient rider.
The basic cornering technique on a cyclocross bike is different from what you might be used to on the road. Depending on the surface, you might need to pedal around a turn and not lean as much as you might be accustomed to. Pedaling helps you keep your traction, and in those instances when you have to slow down significantly, it improves your balance and keeps you from having to hop off the bike and run.
Here are a few technique tips you can use:
- Keep your weight centered, leaning neither too far forward nor backward.
- Slowly pedal through the corners and accelerate out when possible.
- If you can’t pedal through a sharp corner, rotate the outside pedal to the 6 o’clock position. You can also unclip the inside foot and be ready to put it down on the ground to keep your balance if necessary.
- Look up through the turn and keep your eyes on the spot where you want your bike to go.
PREPARE BEFORE THE TURN
While you might not always have time, getting in the right position for a turn before you reach it makes a big difference in how well you’re able to maintain your momentum. Here’s what you should try before you enter a corner:
- Use your brakes to slow to a speed that enables you to navigate the corner without using the brakes.
- Move your pedals so the crank arms are horizontal to the ground.
- Stand on the pedals, applying most of your weight through the pedals so your body is in a neutral position.
- Relax your grip, which makes it easier to handle unexpected bumps or other obstacles you don’t see in the line you choose.
- Shift to the gear you think you might need during the corner or to accelerate out.
CHOOSE YOUR LINE
On a road bike, you’ll enter most corners wide, lean your bike as you shoot for the apex and exit wide. This allows you to travel in as straight a line as possible while maintaining maximum speed. In cyclocross, this line might not always be possible, and you’ll need to consider other factors. If the corner has mud, for instance, you might want to stay to the edges of the corner where there might be more grass or slightly harder ground. This allows you to pedal faster without losing too much momentum. You’ll also want to avoid deeper sections of mud, even if that means taking the long way around a corner. On a gravel corner, you might want to choose a line that is smoothest and doesn’t have as many rocks.
This means you’ll sometimes need to forgo the shortest line in favor of the line which provides the most traction. This helps you keep your momentum and pedal faster out of the corner.
GET THE RIGHT TIRES
When choosing tires specific to cyclocross, make sure you get a pair that has knobs on the outer portion. This gives you extra traction when you need to lean your bike slightly to get safely around a bend. Also, choose a wide enough tire that allows you to run a lower tire pressure. For those courses when you’ll have to navigate a lot of tight turns on loose dirt and mud, running a lower tire pressure gives you more traction. Just keep in mind tire pressure should also be based on the weight of the rider, so if you run a tire pressure that’s too low for your weight, then you’ll be more likely to puncture on a bumpy course. To get it right, you’ll need to experiment with different tire pressures and see what works for you.
One of the major keys to navigating corners safely while still maintaining as much momentum as possible is being able to relax. This can be tricky when you’re trying to deal with your wheels spinning out and other competitors trying to move past you on a tight turn. But being tense only causes you to overcorrect, takes you off your line, and possibly makes you lose control of your bike.
Instead, try to keep your upper body as relaxed as possible. This makes it easier to absorb bumps and make small adjustments when your wheels lose traction. Don’t fight the direction the bike wants to travel, and instead go with your momentum until you can correct yourself safely.