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One of the most important skills of riding is also one of the most overlooked. Becoming more confident when you corner on a road bike is an important step to being safe and smooth while riding–and can also be the key to faster bike splits.
“Small moments in a race can have a big effect,” explained Olympian and world champion cyclist Peg Maass Labiuk of Wenzel Coaching in Portland, Oregon. “Being able to corner with ease can help a rider avoid major safety mistakes and time consequences.”
Yet many road and triathlon cyclists neglect this element of training, assuming it is more important to build speed and endurance to come out of the corner. But excessively slowing down for turns, then speeding back up after rounding the bend, is a huge drain on energy reserves. Bad cornering skills are also a hazard on group rides, a huge safety concern when riding in traffic, and poor racing strategy.
Though most people think fast cornering is about bravery, it’s really about skill. The more you practice cornering during training rides, the better (and faster) you get at it. “A well-planned workout can include skills while making physiological gains,” said Labiuk. “Mastering all the skill components of a course can make you feel prepared and confident.”
Your Step-By-Step Guide for How to Corner on a Bike
1. Look at where you want to go.
Set yourself up for success by scanning the terrain of the corner. Is there traffic around you? What about other riders? Do you see any potholes or debris to avoid? Is the road wet? “You have to be looking ahead to where you want to be going in order to set yourself up,” said Labiuk.
2. Choose your line.
When riding through a corner, it’s generally most efficient to approach wide, lean inside to the apex and finish wide. This creates a straight line through the corner, and is the most efficient way through. However, this isn’t always possible–sometimes there’s traffic or another rider in the way, or a patch of gravel in the apex. In such cases, it’s best to choose a line that will get you around the bend safely. Labiuk says watching race coverage (especially overhead shots that show how wide racers go into and out of a corner) is a great way to learn how to choose lines while turning.
3. Get in position.
If you’re riding in aero position, sit up and hold your brakes; if you are on a road bike, hold the handlebars in the drops. These positions put pressure on the front wheel, which allows for more traction and control on the bike. As you approach the corner, keep the outside pedal down. The knee of the inside of the turn should be bent and positioned by the top tube. Keeping this leg position through the turn allows
4. Lean the bike, not your body.
Cornering on a bike isn’t from turning the handlebars. In fact, the handlebars make for a very small factor in the turn. “The actual turning comes from leaning your bike into the turn,” said Labiuk. “It’s the hips that move the bike. Look where you want to be. Turn your head and your body will follow.” Working out the perfect degree of lean takes practice, so practice in a parking lot or on a quiet cul-de-sac before you take your skills onto streets and mountain switchbacks.
5. Let go of the brakes (and fear).
Most of us squeeze the brakes out of tension, not safety concerns. Labiuk uses a mind trick to help riders harness their tension and become more confident (and therefore faster) on turns: “When I’m conducting cornering training, I like to have athletes make noise: ‘zoom’ into the turn, roar like an engine accelerating out of the turn, shifting like a race car. Making noise is like exhaling, and keeps them from holding tension. It’s fun! Experienced racers can get more speed out of a turn when they think about letting go of the brakes to keep momentum and accelerating as soon as they are out of the lean angle.”
6. Ride on.
As you exit the turn, you’ll also exit the lean, which will let you get back into riding position (whether aero or on the hoods).
7. Practice, Practice, Practice.
It may seem like a lot to attend to, but with practice, you’ll settle on the key reminder phrases to set up the turn. At first, you can even say those key phrases out loud as you approach a turn—“choose your line, get in position, lean in, zoom”—as a sort of mental checklist. Soon, it will become second nature.
Practice also applies to race-day prep–when possible, pre-ride your race course (or drive it) to suss out places where cornering strategy will be key.