Mountain Bike Basics: How to Ride Corners

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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With terrain that can be unpredictable and constantly changing, mountain biking has certain challenges you don’t get on the road. For example, learning to perfect your shifting on a mountain bike requires time and practice as does handling corners.

Whether it’s riding switchbacks or taking a sharp corner on a descent, good technique helps you build confidence so you know you can handle whatever lies ahead. Aside from making you faster and improving overall performance, learning how to maintain your momentum in corners can help prevent injury by avoiding dangerous scenarios that can often lead to an accident.

1

GET IN THE READY POSITION

Unlike road cycling, the trail can be completely unpredictable. Even if you’re keeping your trail awareness dialed in, sometimes it can be difficult to know what you’ll find just around the bend. When you do approach an area like this or are entering technical sections, you’ll need to get into the ready position. Here’s what you should do:

  • Keep your pedals horizontal and your weight evenly distributed.
  • Bend your elbows and lean slightly over the handlebar to even out your weight between the front and rear wheels.
  • Look up the trail as far as possible for potential obstacles.
  • Lift your backside off the saddle, standing tall with your heels slightly dropped off the pedals.
  • Keep your fingers on the brake levers while you lightly grip the handlebars.
2

ENTER AT THE RIGHT SPEED

Most, if not all, of your braking should be done before you enter a corner. This allows you to lean into turns and ride a good line without having to worry about slowing down. If you aren’t sure whether there’s loose dirt or other obstacles waiting out of your field of vision, always err on the safe side and slow down more than might be needed. This keeps your tires rolling during the turn instead of skidding, which is dangerous and slows your momentum.

3

SHIFT TO AN EASIER GEAR

Before you enter a corner, shift to a gear that matches your speed as you exit. This prevents you from being in a gear that is too difficult for you to accelerate out of the turn. A few clicks up the rear cassette should do the trick.

4

BRAKE MID CORNER

Even if you’ve slowed down to enter the corner, sometimes you still may need to brake again during a corner. In these situations, it’s better technique to use your rear brake to slow down to an appropriate speed. When you use the front brake during a corner, it can potentially lock up your wheel and cause a skid while taking you off your intended line of travel.

6

HOW TO HANDLE BERMS

Berms are banked sections of trail commonly seen at bike parks or trail networks that are created to be ridden down at high speed without much braking. When approaching these, brake as needed and enter the curved pitch high and wide, exiting low. Lean your body and bike into the turn as needed for balance.

6

HOW TO HANDLE CAMBERS

Cambered sections of trail occur when the inside edge of the trailbed is higher than the outside edge. This causes the trail to be slanted, and often is accompanied by tree roots. When this occurs in a corner, a crash is more likely to occur if you aren’t using good technique. Here’s what to do:

  • Slow down as much as possible, preferably to a walking speed.
  • Pick a good line, opting for the side of the trail that has the least pitch.
  • If you’re forced to ride over roots, hit them straight on as opposed to at an angle.
  • Keep your body more upright and turn with your handlebars rather than relying on excessive leaning.
  • Distribute your weight evenly over the pedals and between the front and rear wheels.

Even the best bike-handlers can make mistakes. Avoid these cornering miscues to carry as much momentum as possible around the bend.

1

DROPPING THE OUTSIDE FOOT

As a road cyclist, dropping the outside leg on a corner helps steer the bike and makes leaning into the apex easier. However, on surfaces that are less predictable, keeping the outside leg straight gives you less traction and control. While it’s not always wrong depending on the scenario, cornering with the feet level on the pedals can be helpful if you’re new to the sport.

2

LOSING TOO MUCH SPEED

While this advice might sound like you need to brake less, the opposite is actually true. The key to maintaining momentum in a corner is being in control. This allows you to pick the best line possible and be ready to accelerate out of the turn when the trail levels out. Braking before the turn and not braking during the turn are good habits to get into so you don’t end up going off your line and over large rocks and other obstacles.

3

OVER-INFLATING YOUR TIRES

When riding on rough, technical terrain, an over-inflated tire can make it difficult to control your bike and be less forgiving. Lowering your air pressure slightly can help improve grip and traction and make tough corners easier to deal with.

4

NOT USING YOUR DROPPER SEATPOST

Most mountain bikes have a trigger that allows you to instantly drop your seatpost to a lower level. Using it on downhill technical sections and corners allows you to lower your center of gravity, making it easier to steer and lean into tight turns.

5

NOT ADJUSTING YOUR SUSPENSION

Like a dropper seatpost, you can also adjust your front suspension on most mountain bikes via a handlebar remote. Increasing the compression damping improves handling and traction on corners when needed.

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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