(c) Tim Bardsley-Smith

The art of cornering

Tips from the world’s fastest riders

Ever since the day that those training wheels were taken off your first ever bike, you my friend, have been able to navigate yourself down the path in a more or less straight line. But as you and I well know, the hardest part of mastering these two wheeled machines isn’t just rolling wherever the wind takes us, it is the ability to change direction! Turning corners. Sounds simple but in reality being able to corner, ‘well’ is the difference between an average rider and a good rider. The difference between a great rider and a god damn super star rider! Yes that is right, the humble ol’ corner out there on the trails is the largest factor that separates your skillset from that of the world’s best bike handlers; the likes of Aaron Gwin, Tahnée Seagrave and Troy Brosnan. Now, what if we offered to open Pandora’s box today and share with you some of the most treasured cornering ‘tips’ from those very riders and a handful of other [R]evolution favourites? Okay, okay, you’re welcome. Read on…

Aaron Gwin knows how to hammer corners like this one in  Vallnord, Andorra. // Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Aaron Gwin // YT Mob

One of the biggest factors to great cornering is the use of your eyes, especially in bermed corners that have a radius of 90 degrees or more. Perfect technique will still not result in fast corners if the rider does not use their eyes to “lead” them out of a corner. You’ve probably heard the old riding tip, “lead with your eyes and the body will follow”. Well that is mostly true and I’ll explain how this is done from entrance to exit in a corner.

1 // When entering a corner under braking, I generally look ahead for what I call the “pivot point” in a corner. This point is usually close to the middle or apex of the corner but can vary depending on traction or trail conditions. Since you cannot look out of a corner before you enter the corner, this “pivot point” will focus your eyes ahead to a certain point and allow your entrance line and body position to adjust properly to best attack this point and most importantly, set up for a successful corner exit.

2 // Once you near your pivot point, immediately shift your eyes from that point to the exit of the corner (that is the point where the corner ends and the next straight away or turn begins). If you tell yourself to “look out of the corner”, you will generally adjust your eyes to the proper place. This will take a little bit of practice but once mastered, your exit speed will improve greatly and that is everything when it comes to fast cornering. Looking out of the corner will also naturally help your body to maintain proper positioning and set you up to get on the pedals or prepare for the next corner.

“Here’s a few common mistakes that I’m sure you have experienced or will experience while practicing this technique; If your eyes do not “lead” out of the corner far enough you will find yourself constantly running out of room on the exit of your corners. Often times, to avoid completely running off the outside of the turn, you will hit your brakes on exit causing the bike to immediately stand up. Once that happens, you have completely killed all of your exit speed and are lucky to just keep the bike from falling off the edge of the track. The goal here is to brake on entrance and roll on exit. Beginner riders often do the opposite.”

3 // Be patient, slow down a little at first, and really get the feel for looking out of your corners. If mastered, you will notice a sizable difference in your exit speed and ultimately, the momentum you carry throughout the trail.

Tahnee Seagrave shredding langynog // Dave Mackison / Red Bull Content Poo

Tahnée Seagrave // Transition Bike Factory Team

1 // My number one tip when cornering is that you want to keep your head up and eyes on the exit! You want to be looking ahead at where you are going, that way your body and bike will follow.  

2 // Keep an attack and ready position. Like most things in life, you can’t go in half-heartedly.

“Be ready and commit!”

3 // My final tip is to make sure that you put more weight and push down on your outside foot. This will make it a lot easier for you to carve around the corner and it will also give you more speed! The more you push, the more speed on the outcome. Don’t worry, you’ll soon find your limit.

Troy keeping it smooth during the CWX Les Gets, France round.

Troy Brosnan // Canyon Factory Team.

1 // ‘Braking” First thing to always think about before entering a corner is to get all your braking done before you start leading into the corner, this will help you hold traction throughout the corner and also increase your exit speed out of the corner instead of braking and sliding in the middle of the corner.

2 // ‘Spot Apex” You now spot the apex of the corner and lean in, you will be able to feel and also test the traction without the brakes on.

“Staying in an attack position low to the ground will lower your centre of gravity and give you more balance also.”

3 // “Looking up” When hitting the apex you should be lifting your eyes to now spot the exit of the corner, wherever you look you will naturally want to go. It is super key to looking forward while riding as you will see obstacles earlier and have more time to react and also spot the next corner you are going to slay!

Jack Moir railing his proto Intense in  Vallnord, Andorra // Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Jack Moir // Factory Intense Cycles

I know for me these are the three most important factors that allow me to carry as much speed as possible through corners. Hope they help you too!

1 // Find the widest line into the corner. This opens up the corner, allowing you to carry more speed the whole way through. You have to make a decision on the condition of the track though, sometimes the widest line is a lot rougher and it maybe not worth going a foot to the inside and taking a smoother line.

2 // You’ve all heard it before, “Try to brake before the corner and then flow through smoothly.” Braking during the corner not only robs you of your exit speed, but causes your tyres to brake traction and not hook up nicely. Although this is the correct technique most of the time, in some rare cases, I might come into a really fast flat corner and use a little back brake to slide the rear wheel and quickly change the direction of the bike.

3 // Look ahead! Especially in a really fast corner. You want to be looking ahead where you are going not at your front wheel.

“You should be spotting your exit when entering the start of the corner.”

Jared loving the loam in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Jared Graves // Specialized

1 // It’s all in the hips! Try and keep your upper body upright, and guide the bike around more by using your hips and butt. You want to keep your centre of gravity as centred as possible, so by keeping the upper body upright, and leaning the bike over while using your hips and legs to steer, you will be able to corner faster and with more traction.

2 // Body position, be relaxed, keep the whole body loose, if you ride stiff then you are basically asking to crash when you hit a bump mid turn. Staying loose and relaxed allows the bike to do what it wants, and will ensure you keep traction. Being stiff makes the bike want to deflect and push off every rock and root on the trail.

3 // I would say the biggest one for me is to look where you want to go, it’s something that takes constant concentration as it is super easy to be distracted and look at that big rock right on your line, which is exactly where you DON’T want to go.

“So eyes up and spot the point you want to exit a corner as early as possible!”

Josh giving his new ride some in Santa Caterina, Italy

Josh Carlson // Giant Factory Offroad Team

1 // Brake early and get off the brakes before the apex of the turn. (Free tip: if you don’t know where or what the apex is, Google it and learn where and what the Apex of a corner is. It will help you a lot in life).

2 // Try and enter as wide as possible. This will help you carry speed through the corner and exit with momentum. 

3 // Use your body english and cornering position. Point your outside elbow, look forward to the exit of the corner and push the bike into the ground. If it is a berm, push into the berm and use it to generate speed. If it is flat, try to put as much weight on your outside pedal as possible. 

“The more momentum you can carry through the corner, the better. This will save energy too as you won’t have to lay down the hammer as you exit the corner.”

Connor versus Valnord, Andorra. We know who won!

Connor Fearon – Kona Factory Team

1 // Practice! If you’re wanting to improve your cornering skills the best thing to do is go back to basics, set up a little slalom track with cones or a cutty track in the local park. Doing these little exercises gets you familiar with the traction point of your tyres, and gets you comfortable with sliding around on your bike. Get the stop watch out and do battle with your mates to add a bit of friendly competition to it!

2 //  Set up is everything. Slow in, fast out – you’ve probably heard it a million times before but it really is the one fundamental rule for cornering. If you’re hitting the brakes and feeling like you’re getting stood up in the middle of corners, you’re going in too hot! It could be beneficial to go slower than usual into corners to perfect the technique, then ramp up the speed.

3 // Look forward. Now you have your entry speed dialled coming into turns its all about the exit. You’ve brake checked coming in once you’re in the middle of the turn all your focus should be about the exit of the turn and what lies ahead on the trail.

“I’d say when I’m riding I will only focus on the turn coming into it, brake check and I’m looking past the turn before I’ve even hit it.”

Harrision Dobrowolski // Specialized Australia

1 // I definitely try to take the corner as high to the top or as wide as I can into it, to maintain as much speed as you can through it and come out the other end as fast as possible. If you are taking this kind of approach to cornering you are less likely to wash out compared to taking a lower line into the corner.

2 // Another way to corner is tipping the bike in and trying to get the bars as low to the ground as possible, this will get the bike leaning to the side tread of the tyre and possibly the most grippy part of the tyre and there is a low chance of sliding out by doing this. This also maintains speed so well throughout the corner, definitely worth having a crack at dialling this one in!

3 // Staying clipped in or keeping your foot on the pedal rather than dabbing a foot through a corner is good for maintaining speed but definitely something that takes confidence. It saves that time of clipping in and potentially slipping a pedal and slowing down a run. Another advantage of this is that you have instant power out of a corner, definitely a good way to take a corner.

Tegan Molloy // Kona-Fox Racing

1 // As we are approaching the corner we want to be standing up in the “attack position”. That is level pedals, slightly bent knees and bent elbows. Think aggressive. You always want to be looking ahead. As you are approaching the corner you want to look for the entry, apex and then the exit. It sometimes helps to pick a rock or root in the entry and aim to ride either below or above it. This helps keep you on the right line to maintain corner speed.

2 // Whenever it comes to cornering it is always best to think slower in, faster out. It is important to do the majority of your heavy breaking before you reach the berm, ideally three bike lengths before you reach the entry. This way you are only using brakes through the turn to control speed as you need.

3 // As we gain confidence, speed and the corners get steeper, it’s time to try some bike-body separation. To do this we are coming into the corner standing up in the attack position, picking our entry and continuously looking around the corner for the exit. We can either drop our outside pedal so our inside pedal is up or do this with level pedals depending on the corner. Lean a little into the corner and get a bit of angulation on the berm, you’ll find that the inside arm tends to be bent and the outside arm a little straighter. When performed correctly, you’ll feel yourself gain speed and get the nice ‘swoosh’ feeling through the corner.

Bryn Atkinson // Norco Bikes

1// Timing is everything, especially in the corners! Whenever I teach a skills clinic, slowing the rider down is one if the first things I’ll focus on. Regardless of skill level, If you aren’t in sync with the rhythm of the trail you will constantly feel rushed and overwhelmed. Generally, when I ride a trail for the first time I’ll slow it down to 80-90% and scan the terrain for obstacles and options for lines. That way the next time I come down, I can pin it knowing what’s in front. 

“So, the next time you head out on the bike, whether you know the trail or not, just slow down, take a look around, chances are you’ll surprise yourself and see something you didn’t even know was there.”

2 // Force it.. Sometimes: It seems we all have a preferred direction to corner, for me I favour the right. For the longest time there was a big difference in the intensity I could carry into and out of a “hard banked left”. Obviously, it is crucial to be able to corner both ways, especially when you’re racing World Cup. So to correct it, one of the ways I’d work on this is I’d force the bike to lay over in the corner, throw my shoulders in the direction I want to go, and at the same time oversteer a little to let those knobbies “eat”. As long as you keep your eyes where you want to go, chances are you’ll pop out a little early and right on track. As with anything, I’d recommend trying this at a slower pace in a corner with a lot of support, be it a rut or berm, but give it a go next time you find yourself struggling to finish a corner.

3 // Practice drills: One of the best ways you can improve your cornering is buy setting up specific corner drills, and practice, practice, practice. Cones on the ground, on a quiet slippery dirt road is a great way to sort out your form, and see what works for you. Try expose yourself to as many different styles of terrain, that’ll teach you to anticipate what your tires are going to do on the ground before it happens. Also don’t be too picky on the type of trails you ride, especially when you’re trying to improve, you can learn something from every style of trail. 

Graeme Mudd

1 // Know where you are going by looking where you are going. It’s not a starring competition with the turn, once you pick a line keep the process moving and pick your head up to see what’s next. Your body and bike will follow, you are less likely to brake too deep into the turn, you will have more time to process the next turn or section and you will have the chance to lay a few watt bombs down if needed.

2 // Point where you want to go. Dragging the brakes too far into the turn will force your bike to stand up and stall you in the turn or the complete opposite, it will force you to loose tracking and slide (unless that is what you are trying to do, you bad ass mojo). When trying to teach yourself not to do this, have a go at literally pointing your fingers to where you want to go. Do your braking early before you start tipping in, once you begin to rott into the turn, release your brakes and use those braking fingers to point in the direction the turn is going. When you are subconsciously doing this instead of subconsciously braking you have passed this class.

3 // When racing, cornering speed is usually to set us up for how fast we can hit the next straight away. Going flat out through a turn then blowing your exit speed right before a long straight section is not ideal. Plan your turns with the track around you.

“If there is a technical turn followed by a crucial section of track, it’s best to focus on being clean around the turn then fast where it counts.”

Sian Ahern // Norco Australia

1 // Look ahead to where you want to go. Making sure you are looking through to the exit of the corner. You go where you look, so seeking ahead will help you to corner smoother and not get held up mid-way through the turn. This is a skill used in most sports and a very vital part of helping to be smooth. 

2 // Get braking done before and not during the corner. If you were to brake during the corner you would lose traction as your tyres have the most amount of grip when they are rolling and not skidding. This would ensure that you are carrying your speed through the corner. 

3 // Weight the outside pedal. This is a skill that I carried over from my motocross background, which was ‘weight the outside peg’. This skill is generally put into action when on a flat turn or a turn with minimum support rather than a berm which has the support.

Baxter Maiwald // Canyon – Fox Racing

1 // Look through the turn: I reckon the key to cornering fast is being able to look around the turn and not at it. A lot of people (myself included) get caught put looking at the apex of the corner for too long. Look at the apex on approach, but as soon as you enter the turn you need to be looking for that exit and beyond.

2 // Brake early: whether it be a flat turn, rut or a big berm, you never want to be riding the brakes through the corner. Brake hard as late as possible BEFORE the corner when you are still going straight, then let off as you enter the turn. If your wheels are turning, you’ll have more traction and won’t get stood up in the turn.

3 // Weight distribution/body position: think about where you’re putting your weight depending on the corner at hand. Long corners and flat turns, twist your hips, lead with your knees and stay on top of the bike. Tighter berms and ruts, lean with the bike, pump into the apex and lead with your shoulders.