Three Steps to Corner Faster

Last night at my MTB Skills & Fitness Boot Camp we went over cornering. Cornering is one of the Holy Grails of riding – riders that can do it well go faster with less effort. However, as I learned over the course of two Better Ride camps with Gene Hamilton it also a bit counter-instinctive. Left on their own, most riders simply develop bad habits.

Cornering breaks down into 3 basic steps:

1) Turn with your hips. Set up for a turn with the hips by pointing your belly button the direction you want to go. This will shift your hips to the outside and shift some weight to your outside foot. The more you shift your hips the more you’ll want to drop and weight your outside foot.

2) Use counter-pressure to steer into the turn. Counter pressure (which I prefer to the term counter-steering) is when you push forward with your left arm to turn left and push forward with your right elbow to turn right. This gets your bike to lean over and your front wheel to track better through the corner. The more you push with your left hand the sharper you’ll turn left, the more you push with your right the more you’ll turn right.

It is the complete opposite of how most riders steer into a turn and impossible to pull off unless you are in the right body position on the bike. However, this concept is very important to learn if you want to be able to corner consistently. It freaked some of my campers out how their bike practically turned itself once they got this concept down.

3) Look through the turn. With all of this hip shifting and counter-pressure you have to look through the corner. Going into the corner you should be looking at the middle of it, not the entrance. Once you hit the entrance you should be looking at the exit and once you hit the exit you should be looking out of the corner at the next section of trail.

All of this will add up to faster, more consistent cornering. I’ll do a video on this next week, especially about the counter-pressure concept, but in the meantime think about some of this stuff and try it out in a parking lot to see how it feels. It is tough to learn this stuff on the trail which is why you need to put in “parking lot time” to really advance to the next level.

The biggest take home lesson from last night was this – at a certain point just riding your bike will make it harder for you to advance. Some of the campers ride a lot and are considered good riders but I noticed that they had the hardest time getting this “new” stuff down. They had logged so many turns using bad form that they had to first unlearn what they had learned, as Yoda would put it.

Also, make sure you check out www.betterride.net, www.bikeskills.com and www.leelikesbikes.com for some more info and videos on skills training. No matter how good you are you can get better and these website are great resources that every rider should be utilizing.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Ned says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, seriously. This is a much simpler way of explaining it than I’ve been using with the kids. Between your workout program and practicing what I learned in Gene’s camp it’s all coming together I had one of my best trail rides ever tonight, it all started to click.

    Reply • June 9 at 10:14 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Ned – isn’t a cool feeling? I’ve been killing it since I got back from Gene’s camp and getting the fitness and skills to start clicking is what did it for me too.

      Reply • June 11 at 7:14 am
  2. Ole says:

    Its weird. I read Mike Boyles book this wintertime and trained a lot of strenght with your program, and suddenly this season Im able to corner so much better. Its the push same hand as you turn to trick that does it for me πŸ™‚

    Reply • June 10 at 3:34 am
  3. neil says:

    This is good stuff.
    I was taught what they called “counter steering” in motorcycling – for me it seemed so much easier to think of pushing the inside grip “down” into the corner, because “steering the bars the wrong way” – as a concept in the mind – is hard to deal with.
    I think that what’s happening when we do this is somewhat like a slalom skateboarder, as they shoot thru that line of cones, their head stays in an almost straight line and they swing their legs out into each corner. On the bike, “pushing down” into the corner with the inside grip actually steers the bike out from under you and you then fall into the corner much faster than by traditional “steer left to go left” techniques.

    Look at a good downhiller, he seems to keep his head inline and swing the bike out into those tight almost switchback berms the builders like to make.

    I also think that it’s good in corners to have the inside foot [and knee] forward, this may seem counter intuitive when you try to turn your hips in the direction of the corner (you CAN do that hip turn though, you HAVE to), but having the inside foot forward enables you to quickly drop the outside (back) foot down and weight it to get more grip (I think it’s called dipping the foot). It’s often enough to drop the (back/outer) pedal down just some of the way, not always quite to the bottom. If you were to start out with your knees the other way, – so with the inside foot back it takes a whole 30% rotation forward to get to where you need to be with the outside pedal [and on a tight trail with deep ruts your outside pedal may strike as it goes past bottom dead centre].

    In the corner, once you get the “push that inside grip down” technique off, it somehow it feels as if you’re rotating about your inside knee as you drop in – this happens whether you need to drop that outside foot much or not.

    Hey, don’t forget you need some weight on that front wheel or you’ll wash it out. Learn this at low speed!

    Reply • June 10 at 3:22 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ neil – good stuff. I was taught the term “counter pressure” by Gene Hamilton and I like it better since most people hear counter steering and think they are turning the handlebars instead of pushing into them. I have also found it helps a lot to set your feet with your inside foot forward going into a corner as it does let the outside foot drop in reaction to leaning the bike over. There are a lot of finer points to cornering but I’ve found that the 3 basic steps I talked about will deliver the bulk of the results and people can add in the finer points as they feel more comfortable with the basics.

      Reply • June 11 at 7:13 am
  4. jeffB says:

    So with 100% sincerity I ask….what do people do that *don`t* turn the way you describe? I`ve always done everything listed above, even when I was a youngster in middle school carving down the huge hills on my way to school. It was just the instinctive way to do it. Lean the bike, outside foot down, push the outside grip, steer from the hips…all things I have always done. I wasnt always the fastest rider but I guess I was one of the smoother guys, and my friends always said I had good flow. The more details you can mentally put on autopilot the more you can concentrate on the ride itself. I`ve said before that the “ride” should be one event, as opposed to a string of hundreds of awkward, frustrating single movements.

    And even though I already do many of the things you bring up James, it`s nice to get some reinforcement that I actually “get it” in regard to at least some aspects of riding my bike πŸ™‚

    Reply • June 10 at 9:25 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ jeffB – Most people turn the handle bars and do little to nothing with the hips. They steer their bike like they would a car, which doesn’t work since it is a two wheeled vehicle and reacts differently to turning.

      Reply • June 11 at 7:08 am
  5. Ian says:

    @jeffB I don’t know if you said it mistakenly or not, but the key is to push the inside grip when turning. this naturally makes the bike lean to the side thats being pushed. Pushing the outside grip (or pulling the inside grip) is how a lot of people do it, which isn’t the best way.

    Reply • June 11 at 5:21 pm
  6. jeffB says:

    @ Ian: I`ve been around the block a time or two. Most of the questions I ask are to inspire thought in others. I find a little bit of humility goes a lot farther than flashing my pro card LOL. The intent for this reply is in no way meant to be jerkish. Despite the fancy-schmancy card in my wallet there is still a TON out there for me to learn. I found that getting others to ask the questions I`ve asked along the way helps us both learn. I knew the answer before I ever asked πŸ™‚

    Reply • June 11 at 5:58 pm
  7. jeffB says:

    And yeah, I do push the inside grip. I don`t really think about it, but it clicked when I went back and read James comment on “counter pressure”. Kinda like a built in steering damper. ( A great example of how the internet, despite all of it`s possibilities, can turn a simple conversation into a huge miscommunication very quickly!!)

    Reply • June 11 at 6:17 pm
  8. Ian says:

    I kinda figured that was what you meant based on the other knowledge displayed in your first post, but i thought i’d at least point it out for people just passing by πŸ™‚

    Reply • June 11 at 6:26 pm
  9. jeffB says:

    Cool πŸ˜€

    And let me take this opportunity to say that my pro status certainly is NOT in mountain biking! Although I have been on a MTB for 13 years, my “career” was in BMX. The only MTB competition where I live is XC, and let`s face it…I`m not your typical XC racer build, let alone close enough to try and earn a pro card. I *might* be able to pull it off in DH or 4X but I`m in for a 6 hour drive minimum for that stuff. Fun for a mini vacation but too far to try and compete regularly.

    Anyway, this is bikeJAMES.com, not bikeJEFF.com, so my apologies for the mini hijack.

    Reply • June 11 at 9:00 pm
  10. Noah says:

    I’ve been practicing! I’ve really been focused on getting my chest down and lower back arched toward my belly-button. I swear I instantly feel better on the bike when I do this.

    As you eluded too, it’s been hard for me to correct my incorrect cornering technique but it’s getting there! I’ll have a new video up soon and you can see my positioning has changed and I’m consciously straightening my inside arm and getting the bike more leaned. I can’t wait to go practice this on the DH bike!

    Thanks coach!

    Reply • June 14 at 12:09 pm
  11. Kirk says:

    This is very similar to how they teach you to ride a motorcycle and I think why I have done well without much bike training. Having taken a motorcycle class back when I was young and riding a motorcycle now for about ten years, as I get into mountain biking (two years into it), it is interesting to see which skills carry over. Another thing I notice some bikers doing is breaking while in a turn instead of breaking before a turn, then letting off and starting your pedaling when you are about halfway through the turn. IÒ€ℒm sure you have a few more precise pointers on that concept James.

    Reply • June 15 at 10:29 am
  12. Sketch says:

    Look’n forward to the video!

    Reply • June 23 at 4:35 pm
  13. bizyclayz says:

    hey guys,

    i was under the impression that “counter-steering” is a technique that has the rider turn towards the outside of a corner ( ie turn towards the right when about to enter a left -hand corner) , then turn normally into the corner so as to effectively making the arc described by the corner wider and less sharp. this is a common technique in auto racing.

    in my mind, the “pushing the inside handle bar down” technique is more accurately described as “bike-body separation”, a skill used when the bike is angled into corners independently from the rider’s torso. in other words, instead of sitting and steering ( or leaning with the bike), the rider is supposed to stand on the pedals and lean the bike.

    i know these are fine points but i’m a real big fan of Elladee Brown’s “Westcoast Freeride Fundamentals” DVD and that’s the way she describes it… thoughts?

    Reply • August 10 at 3:29 pm
    • bikejames says:

      It is a bit of semantics but the description you gave of counter-steering is, in my mind, more about setting up for a good attack angle on the corner. Counter steering is literally “push left to go left” and comes from motorcycle riding. It does relate to separating yourself from the bike but you since you actually push in the opposite direction that you want to go the term “counter steering” or “counter pressure” seems appropriate. I have not seen that video you mentioned but Gene Hamilton is The Man when it comes to skills training and has invested thousands of dollars in learning the techniques used in other wheeled racing formats to figure out what would work best for mountain biking and since he taught me what I know I’ll just stick with his terminology.

      Reply • August 10 at 5:09 pm
  14. jon kane says:

    I am decent at cornering but looking to get better. I see from your advice and reviews, pushing on the hand in the direction you want to corner makes a big difference, ill try that. Also, i was wondering what you think about leaning the bike versus body. i hear a lot of different opinions about it. When cornering hard with a low bb, its imperative to keep the inside foot up and outside down. When using this motion, you want to keep weight on the outer foot right?

    Reply • September 23 at 8:09 am
    • bikejames says:

      I think that the outer foot should drop and the harder you need to carve the more you need to set that outside edge. I’m not sure I like to just drop the foot all the way all the time, I find that if you go into a corner with your foot inside the turn forward (importance of switch stance) and lean the bike the outside foot will drop will drop as much as you really need to automatically. I’ve messed around with it and felt that in shallower corners dropping my foot all the way actually felt less balanced than keeping it level going in and just letting it drop as much as it needed.

      Reply • September 24 at 6:38 am
  15. jon kane says:

    Thanks a lot for the reply, coach!

    Reply • January 21 at 1:46 pm
  16. Leonard says:

    I understand that you do this to initiate the turn, but I just deliberately lean the bike, while maintaining upright body position (ie textbook cornering). I don’t find myself doing the ‘initiation step’ so to speak.

    I do have the correct cornering form – lean the bike, body upright, outside foot down, inside up, etc.

    Is it (allow me to say), a ‘necesary evil’ to steer momentarily against the direction of the turn to initiate the turn? Am I missing something if I am not doing the ‘initiation part’?

    “push forward with your left arm to turn left and push forward with your right elbow to turn right”

    Reply • August 10 at 5:44 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      To be honest I’m not sure that the “initiate the turn with counter steering” is the right way anymore. I think that it should happen more as a reaction to the traction needs of the corner rather than the way to initiate the turn.

      Reply • August 11 at 12:03 pm

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