Better MTB Cornering with Coach Kevin Aiello
I’ve come to terms with it. I’m kind of spoiled. For example, extending a morning ride counts as work if you invite the right people. So here’s Better MTB cornering with coach Kevin Aiello!
Are you you’re already familiar with these concepts? Rad! In the world of “nothing’s new” there’s a lot of good advice out there. But take a minute to read and check out some photos that illustrate cornering techniques to make your ride more fun. Ready to take your riding to the next level? Contact Kevin at SoCalSpeedClinics.com and schedule a training session. Private lessons or with some buddies, Kevin will help you improve your understanding, confidence and speed.
We’ve covered good cornering practices with Kevin illustrating how important fit is to proper cornering techniques. (In fact we have another post with Kevin on pedaling more efficiently as well) Our previous cornering post focused on fit and some basics you should practice using a cone drill. In this blog let’s look a bit more about how to take this to the dirt.
Some things to remember from the previous write up:
Lean the bike more than your body. Keep your body near perpendicular to the ground to best weight the bike. The latter is going to come into play heavily in this post.
When you slide one wheel cornering it was over weighted.
Suspension works in corners. Brian Lopes’ Mastering Mountain Bike Skills has a quality section that describes pumping the trail. Then equates pumping turns just like you’d pump terrain, but on its’ side. Now one of the tricks to this is getting the bike into an optimum position so when you pump the bike it has ground support to “push back”.
Tires only have so much grip.
Smooth is fast.
Fast is fun.
Like a Tarantino movie let’s jump to the end.
Better MTB Cornering
Left: Kevin enters the corner too early and with too much speed. This slides the front end. Losing the front end is sketchy. It also costs a lot of momentum killing corner exit speed. By the time you’ve corrected you’re likely barely making the corner, if you made it. Which can make it seem sketchy to enter the corner with “less” time to turn (and more speed) but it is possible.
Middle: A flat corner offers less support to pump the suspension. It also requires the tire to sit on the transition area of the tread which is typically the most open. The tire is forced to “hang on” through the direction change. Again, compromised speed.
Right: Check out a couple things here. Kevin’s able to lean both his bike and body further as the lip of the trail becomes a mini berm. Most importantly using the lip as support he can pump off through the corner actually accelerating through the exit. The lip acts like a berm and the tire’s contact patch is more centralized. More of the force is applied “down” into the ground reducing how much the tire has to “hold on” during the turn. This provides a more confident feel.
Also, pumping the suspension into a lip or berm allows the bike to to “rotate” through the corner better. Better, better, better.
Now let’s jump back and look at the how and why’s that get us these results.
Seeing a Corner
It’s hard to overplay how important down trail vision is. When you start staring right in front of your wheel you’re bound to slow down and probably crash way more. Irony huh.
The image above is a corner that you are unable to sight entry and exit as you approach. These types of corners tend to have riders turn in too early for whatever reason (I’m guessing its in the back of your mind to start the rotation early in case its a closing radius and suddenly kinks around).
In most cases, if you’re riding within your limits, entering the corner later has clear benefits. It improves your sight line, allows you to pump against the outside of the turn and gives you the largest selection of exit lines.
Improve Your MTB Corner Speed
Another picture, the same concepts.
On the left Kevin rolls the flat line turning early into the corner. In the right image he capitalizes on a later apex corner while utilizing the edge of the trail as a berm.
(off topic: its interesting that e-bike’s actually help riders stay hooked up in corners. You can use an e-bike as a concept trainer as the extra weight, particularly on the BMC’s shown, hangs well centered on the bike. They track amazing through corners. The extra weight helps compensate for riders shifting around while they learn. Ideally you keep your weight central and both tires working equally, but riders new to the sport often find themselves moving all over the bike during corners)
Something to note – and you’ll have to look carefully – on the right image you see the suspension is compressed more than the left. Because the lip of the trail provides something to push against pumping the trail, preloading the bike into the corner unloading exiting the apex, is much more effective.
That small pocket allows you to dive the bike in, pump the corner and blast through the exit.
Instead of the flat corner where the tire is trying to “hold” or force a direction change using the extra support of even a small pocket, lip, berm, whatever, allows the tire to push “into” something rather than “holding on” across it.
Finding that lip or pocket allows the bike’s suspension to add mechanical input both into and out of the corner. As the bike sets into the corner (and as you learn to push into it) the suspension absorbs some of the inertia helping the bike start to change direction. And, since a spring is the only mechanical way to store energy (amazing fact right?) that energy that has been absorbed into the corner apex can be extracted (it pushes you) coming out.
One day I’ll sit down and factor out the math and science on this concept. Today’s not the day (as the edited version of this post edges towards 1500 words already…). But, suspension is most effective when it is absorbing hits along the axis of travel. Imagine hitting your tire with a huge hammer on the bottom of the tire. Suspension moves. Now, hit it on the axle. Ah, well, no suspension movement and you likely damaged something.
So as the bike leans further (without support from a berm, etc) the suspension becomes less effective. But what can that mean on trail? Let’s say there are braking bumps in a corner across both a lip (or berm) and the flat of the trail. If the lip can support you (an important factor in cornering hard that we might have left out so far hahaha) your suspension is going to be better prepared to engage the bumps riding on the lip. This is because the suspension is reacting more inline to its travel and more effective. Hitting a brake bump in the flats, with the bike leaned over is more likely to skip you up off the trail, even if just for a split second, changing your trajectory.
This is also one of the most overlooked aspects of a frame’s design during the review and purchase stage. Too stiff and it skips across everything. Too soft and it noodles around or doesn’t hold a line. Way to soft (or a combination of soft linkage too) and it can actually bind up or down during cornering. That’s super sketchy…
Many riders actually find traction, particularly cornering traction from wheel builds. Another post for another day. But if you’re interested chat with our team.
Learning to Corner
New to MTB? A good place to test these concepts are fire roads. Find a smooth bump or pocket and corner against it to see how much faster you can rotate through. Or, be nefarious. I was riding with an industry friend not too long ago chatting on a fire road traverse. We came to a downhill section with a turn. Well, my side had a nice little pocket. His, well it was flat. I stayed on the gas, so of course so did he. But once we got to the kink in the road I think he saw what I did. I had a berm to push against… I’m not sure he was going to blast off the trail, but once he hit the brakes and the bike stood up he went a foot or two off. Well, I thought it was funny.
Corner speed (and confidence) will allow you to close or even the gap on stronger riders. Knowing how to properly setup for a corner and best sight through it will help you rider safer.
In the Southern California area? Reach out to Kevin for a private or group lesson. I promise you will learn more tricks in an afternoon than you could read about in a month…
Finally – interested in some further rabbit hole concepts? Here are some from a couple of my favorite sports.
In F1 racing there is an advantage to having the most powerful engine and least downforce for top speed. But, if competition is at all close it’s almost always the car that corners better that comes out ahead. I forget who said it but an interview a few years ago said it simply: you spent a lot of time in slow corners so learning to be a lot faster there is more beneficial than being a little faster overall.
If you’re an aspiring racer its worth a look at the next course to debate where the advantages really are. I’m not a fan of the one run “hero” plan – I’m just going to go so much faster where I can. I think the racer who’s going to do it for a long time has to be more calculating and know if it’s close these are the places I can find it. No reason to stay pushed well into the red zone all the time.
Suspension looses effectiveness as the input becomes less linear to travel. For some really interesting looks at this check out MotoGP articles. Since they ride at extreme angles they design flex into the chassis. There are allegations you can see some of the old steel frame Ducati’s wiggle when they’re stood up as they had so much flex to accommodate the track at lean. So when you google that you’re going to learn about how cornering styles changed, then changed back, then diverged… So much awesome data while you #socialdistance hahaha…
See you on the trails!