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mountain bike cornering

Mountain Bike Cornering, Part 1

Mountain Bike Cornering, Part 1

I received a great question from a BetterRide mountain bike camp student today: “Since braking IN a corner is BAD, is it better to err on the side of braking TOO MUCH prior to entering the corner or err on the side of possibly having to brake during the corner? I find that I’m unsure as to how much speed I need to carry. My old habits would incline me to brake a little before and a little during the corner, but now I’m wondering if it’s best to err on the side of entering the corner too slow and never having to brake in the middle of cornering.”

The short answer, it is much better to brake TOO MUCH on the entrance than to tap your brakes in a corner!

Why this is true and why is it the second most important “skill” in cornering? (the number one skill in cornering is vision! more on that in a future article) Because it will allow you to have much more control in the corner, stay relaxed and exit with more speed! The goal of cornering is to produce as much exit speed as your skills allow. This isn’t just for racing, it is for all mountain bike riders, more exit speed will not only make you faster it will save a lot of energy too!

mountain bike cornering

Student George Fuller working on cornering our Hurricane, UT camp.

How braking in a Straight Line before a corner increases exit speed for mountain bike cornering:

When ever you are braking to slow down (versus braking to purposely get the rear wheel to slide) you brake in a STRAIGHT line! Tires can’t multitask very well and asking them to slow you down and change direction at the same time doesn’t give them enough traction to do either well. A few days before one of our camps with World Champ Greg Minnaar at Bootleg Canyon there was a Canadian coach coaching a provincial team and he had a braking drill set up that went straight for a few feet then had a dog leg in it. I heard him say to his athletes, “Anyone can brake in a straight line, that’s easy, braking and changing direction is much harder.” It took a lot of will power to not shout back, “yeah, but why would you want to!” as braking and changing direction is not a good skill. When Greg got into town and I told him about that his reply was, “how did that guy become a coach? That is a terrible thing to teach and practice.” In addition to decreasing your traction braking in a corner causes a few other problems, it decreases your lean angle by standing your bike up and makes the fork dive changing your head angle and throwing your weight forward. Always cut speed in a straight line!

By braking before the corner and coasting through the corner you have great traction, a consistent head angle, consistent weight placement and the correct lean angle. In addition the corner will be much calmer and relaxing without so much going on, making it feel slower and easier than braking in the corner.

mountain bike cornering

Greg Minnaar off the brakes and cornering like the champ he is! BetterRide Downhill Mountain Bike Camp 2007

So we have more traction, are calmer, in better body position and relaxed but we haven’t gotten to the biggest benefit of finishing our braking before the corner, a longer ramp to accelerate down! Most corners that you are carrying enough speed into for technique to be important are downhill corners, they lose three or more feet of altitude from beginning to end. For example: You have a corner that loses 10 feet of altitude (it starts at 1,510 feet above sea level and ends at 1,500 feet above sea level) and the pitch of the corner is steep enough that your speed increases by 25% for every five feet you descend. Your instinct is to go fast! So you enter that corner at 20 mph while your buddy enters that corner at 10 mph, and you are thinking, “sweet, my buddy is a wuss and I just put 10-15 feet on him at the entrance to the corner” (which you did). Then just before the half-way point of the corner you realize you are going way to fast and brake hard and slow to 10 mph and then let go of your brakes at the half-way point  (magically, at 25 miles an hour you slow to 10 mph in the middle of a corner without sliding out or crashing in just a foot or two of distance, more realistically you would end braking almost to the exit of the corner). So now you are at the middle of the corner doing 10 miles an hour (and your adrenaline is spiked, your eyes are as big as tennis balls and you are super tense because your nearly crashed) but you are still 10-15 feet ahead of your buddy and you have a five foot ramp to accelerate down through the exit of the corner (so in this example you exit at 10 mph times 1.25 or 12.5 mph). Your buddy mean while has accelerated from 10 to 12.5 mph at the halfway point of the corner, is totally relaxed and smiling knowing he is going to increase his speed by 25% again from the center of the corner to the exit. So your buddy exits the corner at 15.6 mph (12.5 x 1.25). For argument sake let’s say you still exited the corner a few feet in front of your buddy but, your buddy is going 3.1 mph faster than you and there is a long flat straight away after the corner (or an uphill!), who is going to get to the end of the straightaway quicker? Who is going to use less energy on that straightaway ? Obviously your buddy is!

There is an old motorcycle/car racing expression, “sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast”, and it doubly true for mountain bikers as you don’t have an untiring engine to make up for your mistakes.

A great way to prove this to yourself (which is really important, though you may believe me your subconscious still has it doubts) is the “French Cornering Drill”, so named because Marla Streb told me she learned it from some French downhill racers. The drill is quite simple, find a corner where right after the exit the trail goes uphill and see how far you can coast up the hill after the corner, the further you coast the more exit speed you had! First go in hot (at your normal, too fast for the corner pace if you are like me) coast out of the corner and draw a line in the sand where you coasted to. Then come in hot, brake really hard on the straight before the corner (slow down to total wussy pace) and see how far you coast. Then keep coming in a hair faster until you are going as fast as you can go without braking in the corner. You will be amazed at how much more exit speed you have (how much further you coast) when you come in at the correct speed for your skills in that corner! Do this drill today!

Lastly, remember, mountain biking is an offensive sport, there is really true in corners! We want to always enter a corner with a positive goal, “blast this corner”, “rail this corner” not a defensive goal, “gosh, I hope I make it”, “don’t crash here”, etc.

Great form

Setting Up to Rail a Corner On Your Mountain Bike

Setting up to rail a corner on your mountain bike! Interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of our students:

“Just a quick follow up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there is rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, this is a common problem with riders of all experience levels. I spent a lot of time working on the same issue a few years ago and still practice braking a couple of times a week for this reason. The problem stems from getting back while you brake, getting low is good but we need to stay  centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner. Although we stress a centered braking position in our skills progressions I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” and it is plain instinctual to move away from danger. Staying centered while braking took me a while to master and if I stop practicing it I find myself reverting to scooting back as I brake. Scooting back does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake.   Getting back also puts you out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  A great on trail drill is to focus on staying centered as you brake for a corner. Use A LOT of front brake, only brake in a straight line before the corner and then let off and attack the corner.

 

Rail a Corner on your mountain bike

BetterRide student Matt showing proper body position (centered and neutral) for descending and braking.

Stay centered and you will brake more effectively. When working with World Champion Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes. This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took with us.

One of our fastest students, Cody Kelly (who won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom this year) told me that he now wears out two sets of front brake pads for every set of rear pads! That should be every riders goal! The steeper and/or looser the terrain the more you have to rely on your front brake.

As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality! Have you practiced the braking drill from our mini-course recently?

Pro Tip:  Now that you are in the right body position where and how you do you braking is very important. ALWAYS brake in a straight line! In other words, finish your braking before you start your corner! Your tires can’t multitask, asking them to slow you down in one direction while asking them to change direction at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Have you noticed all those braking bumps on the entrance to the corner? Well, why are you riding in them? Usually there is a nice smooth section of trail just to the outside of those braking bumps, use the smooth part of the trail!

Create a railed corner (or two)! Stay tuned for next weeks article on line choice for cornering!

Shawn Neer, Downhill switchback in Pemberton, BC

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You!

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You! Sounds unbelievable but it is true, James Wilson recently wrote this: ”

So what would you say if I told you that a major bike manufacturer was shipping all of their mountain bikes with a sticker that told riders not to use flat pedals? What if the sticker literally said that their bikes are supposed to be equipped only with toe-clips or clipless pedals?

And what if I told you that no one at that company can seem to explain why it is there? What if the company had been caught in several lies and that they were actually misquoting and misrepresenting laws in defense of the sticker?

And what if all of this was taking place while a lot of people in the mountain bike industry stood by and said nothing, deciding instead that a pro-clipless/ anti-flats sticker with no factual reason to be there wasn’t really a big deal?

Well, you’d probably call me paranoid and crazy. And, up until a few months ago, I would have agreed with you.

But then someone posted a picture on Facebook and I got sucked into a story that I still find hard to believe. Unfortunately, though, it did happen and the easiest way to start this off is to outline the events in the order they took place…

- A picture of a sticker was attached to one of my Facebook posts. The person who posted it said that it was off of a Trek mountain bike and that all of their mountain bikes – including their DH bike – were being shipped with them on the cranks. The sticker read:

“This bicycle is to be equipped with pedals that have a positive foot-retaining device such as toe-clips or clipless type pedals.”" More from James here: http://www.bikejames.com/strength/why-is-trek-putting-an-anti-flats-sticker-on-their-mountain-bikes/

How crazy is that? Toe-clips?! I can’t think of a more dangerous pedal type! Even clipless are quite dangerous until you train your feet/ankles to un-clip easily and consistently. Trek is openning themselves up to quite the lawsuit with this advice!

Here is an update on an article I wrote six years ago on pedals.

I get some version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

“I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?

Thanks,
Ada”

This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders.

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in (a year before I became honestly as comfortable being clipped in as I was on flats!).  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding flat pedals the last few weeks and each day I like them more.

Pros of running flat pedals (with 5.10 Shoes)

Some Mountain Bike Compaines and shops want to hurt you!

Thin Flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampon with 5.10 shoes is a great combination!

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders (which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax!).  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts and bunny hops. This can be valuable when learning proper technique. “Proper technique” is in control, in balance and much more efficient than “muscling” or yanking your way over the obstacle.

Pros of being clipped in:

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel (although they have made me less smooth because of this). When you foot lands with the heel or instep on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot no matter how stiff you ride. This is the main reason I and World Champion Greg Minnaar clip in, downhill tracks are rough and it is easy when running flat pedals to have your foot bounce and end up in an awkward place on the pedal.

2. Being clipped does make pedaling a little more efficient.  Again let me repeat myself, a little more efficient, there have been no studies done that I know of.  If pedaling at 100% efficient vs. 99 or 98% efficient is more important to you than having a little more confidence clipped in might be for you. Remember, being efficient on mountain biking is more than just pedaling, smoothness, cornering ability and confidence will also help you become more efficient.  Turns out I was wrong about that, I still haven’t found a study that shows that clipless pedals or more efficient, I did find an article that shows that “pulling up on the backstroke” is a less-efficient way to pedal (it adds power at the sake of efficiency). Study here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-73

3. Being clipped in encourages you to ride and corner with correct technique and body position keeping your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of our camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to and putting your out of position. Riding clipped in forces me to stay in balance and use proper technique”.

4. Although clipless pedals may not be more efficient they do allow you to produce more power by pulling up. This can be handy when you are climbing a super steep, challenging trail and need that extra power to help you get over the top! Sure, it isn’t quite as efficient but at that point making the climb is more efficient than stalling!

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!  find which pedal system you fill most comfortable on and confident riding on.

After 18 years of riding clipped in 99% of the time I now really enjoy being unclipped about 30% of the time. Riding flat pedals keeps me honest (efficient, smooth and relying on technique instead of power)!

Flat or clipless pedals are simply a different way of doing things neither is better than the other and clipless pedals are certainly not an upgrade!

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Mountain Bike That Trail that Scares You With Ease! Faster Too!

I think almost every mountain bike rider reading this will admit they are not as skilled or as fast as Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat or Greg Minnaar, yet many of us would like to be! Often I hear riders say, “That guy is ballsy! I wish I was as fearless as him!” The thing is Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar aren’t “ballsy”, they are skilled!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

So what do we do, we try to ride trails that scare us and/or go faster nearly every time we ride! Which is fun and challenging, two things mountain biking is great at! There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and having fun, I encourage that. The problem with that approach though is it is very hard, I would say impossible to ride the most challenging trails or ride as fast as a world cup champion without equal skills to the world champion. Don’t you agree? I mean if you have 80% of Steve Peat’s skill (which would be impressive) it would be extremely hard to ride a world cup track, even at 90% of Steve Peat’s pace, much less 100%! Now, let’s flip that around, if you honestly had 100% of Steve Peat’s skill wouldn’t it be much easier to ride a world cup downhill track, as fast as Steve Peat? I know it would be.  Yet so many mountain bike riders believe simply trying to ride harder trails and/or ride faster will improve their skills (including me for the first 8-10 years I rode and raced). Sure, you might stumble into some correct skills this way but you are also going to develop some serious bad habits and likely get hurt!

Unfortunately just riding faster builds fear, bad habits and injury, not skills. Why, well, watch most amateur downhill racers, even though they are going much slower than the World Cup Champions mentioned above they almost look faster as they are out of balance and out of control! Ever watch amateur practice on a steep, technical track? It is scary, and yes, amateur racers have way bigger balls than top pro racers because the amateurs are riding the same track with WAY less skill. Think about it, Aaron crushes most top pro racers, in a four minute downhill he will beat nearly 100% of all amateurs by a minute or more! Yet, how many injuries have sidelined Aaron in his career? I can’t think of one! Yet, those amateurs who are 25% slower are getting hurt left and right! Which means despite riding much slower (which should be safer!) they are getting hurt worse and more often. This approach is proven to fail. World Cup Champions ride with confidence! They don’t “hope” they make that sketchy section, they know they are going to make it!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So how can you mountain bike that trail that scares you with ease? Faster too? Increase your skills? There is only one way to improve your skills (at anything, mountain biking, playing guitar, painting, surgery, basketball, etc.) learn the correct techniques then do structured practice (drills) to in grain those techniques. Read about any “master”, in sport, in surgery, in music, etc. and you will read about all the time they spent doing deliberate practice, not simply “having fun” at what they have mastered.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

 

Think you are going to somehow learn to ride at your best by just riding? I am sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Your instincts are millions of years old and designed to save your life on foot, not ride a bike, not surf, not play football, not play the piano! For more about your instincts read this: http://wp.me/p49ApH-tD  ,  Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

In short, learn the correct, in control, in balance techniques and then spend your time deliberately practicing those skills and you will see your ability, confidence and fun sky-rocket!