I don’t know about you but I find no skill as hard to master as cornering. Even with the same amount of time and effort, cornering is usually one of those skills that most riders don’t pick up on as fast as most others.
Cornering on your mountain bike has a lot of moving parts between your body and your bike. It is a delicate balancing act between laterally shifting your hips and leaning the bike over and one that can easily go wrong in many ways.
Because of this I’ve spent more time and effort trying to decipher the skill of cornering your bike than any other skill. And more than any other skill, I’ve found that how you move off the bike will dictate how well you can corner on the trail.
The reason for this is that cornering your mountain bike a very athletic movement. In fact, it is much more athletic than cornering a motorcycle.
Motorcycle cornering technique is often taught ver batim as “mountain bike cornering technique” but they are in fact two very different methods of cornering.While the principles behind cornering a two wheeled vehicle are the same, the methods you use on each is going to be a bit different.
And it is in those differences that you need to focus your training to really improve your cornering.
The main difference is that on the moto you are smaller and weaker than what you are riding. On your mountain bike you are bigger and stronger than what you are riding.
This means that you can steer a moto while you really have to carve a mountain bike. Cornering a mountain bike is more like turning a surfboard or skateboard – or even skis – than a moto.
The big difference between these two methods in the use of the hips. Because of the body position a moto puts you in you are not able to use your hips to turn like you can on a mountain bike. The seat position on a moto keeps your hips more centered over the bike and puts you in a more upright position, which fundamentally changes how you can use your hips.
Because you are on a few hundred pound beast with 12 inches of travel, a throttle and a couple hundred CCs of power behind it you don’t need your hips as much to make it through corners. This means that while you still need to “steer with your hips”, how you do it and the degree you do it to are much different on a moto than a mountain bike.
On your mountain bike your seat is – or should be – out of the way, allowing for much more lateral hip movement instead of just hips “twisting”. Check out this video to see the difference between twisting and laterally shifting your hips if you aren’t sure what I mean.
You also can – and should – be in a much different body position. Instead of sitting more upright and sitting down or pinching your seat you want to be bent over more with your hips back and your chest down.
This body position will let you remain balanced on the bike while also being able to keep enough weight on the front end to steer through the corner. And it will mean that you will need a different method to move on your mountain bike compared to on a moto.
Again, the biggest difference is in how much more “alive” your hips need to be when cornering your mountain bike. Watch a surfer, skateboarder or skier carve turns and you’ll see what I mean – they have to launch their body into the corner and bring whatever is under them along for the ride.
You can’t carve a turn in those sports with “dead” hips that just sit on top of their feet. You have to get those hips waaaay out to the side to carve a turn and that is exactly what you need to do on your bike as well.
To help you with getting your hips more active when cornering and using them more effectively check out this video with 5 movement tips that should help. In it I also explain a bit more about how you need to move to stay balanced in corners and really tap into that feeling of carving through the turn.
So, now that you understand that your lateral hip movement is vital to your cornering it is time to explain how to improve it. And, like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, how you move off the bike is really going to dictate how well you can pull it off on the bike.
The truth is that most riders can’t move their hips laterally without turning into some sort of twisted mess. Keeping a strong, neutral spine while twisting through the hips is something we lose the ability to do unless we train it, which means we need to train it.
My two favorite ways to train this movement are the Stick Windmill and the Kettelbell Windmill. I use the Stick Windmill as a mobility drill to improve range of motion and the Kettlebell Windmill to “cement” those gains by increasing the ability to control and produce tension through the movement.
Combined they make a powerful combination, although you should use caution and not rush into the Kettlebell Windmill. Since you are using weights you need to make sure your form with the Stick Windmill is perfect and effortless before worrying about adding load to the movement.
While there are a lot of other things that go into good cornering technique, I’ve found that until this lateral hip movement is there on some level it doesn’t matter. But once some basic mobility, strength and body awareness were established those other things started to make much more of a difference.
If you struggle with cornering or just want to dial it in a bit more then make sure you are applying these concepts and using these exercises to help you. They’ve really helped me and a lot of my clients and customers improve their cornering technique, resulting in more fun and flow on the trail.
That’s it for now, if you have any questions about this post or cornering in general please leave a comment below. And if you liked these tips please share this post with a fellow rider who could benefit from the info.
Until next time…