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Practical guide to improve your cornering

Joseph Delves
6 May 2016

Don’t let cornering drive you round the bend.

Cornering is an essential skill for any cyclist. Although being a better bike handler can help you win races, the main reason to learn to corner correctly (or rather safely) is because it could save your neck. Although it is possible for you to come off your bike while riding in a straight line, it’s more likely to happen when you’re going round a bend.

We've covered the science of cornering, such as how far you can safely lean before - read How far can you lean a bike in a corner, plus pro tips on cornering perfection but how do you translate that into practical, real-world advice? Like all techniques, it’s a process that can be learned and then perfected with repeated practice. Here are a few pointers on how to do it right…

The approach

As you approach a corner, check around you for movement of traffic or other riders. When you’re confident the road is clear, move out towards the middle of the road. This will dramatically improve your cornering angle, giving you more width to negotiate the turn in a smooth arc. The tighter your entrance angle on the approach, the more difficult cornering becomes. In wet conditions, you should be looking further up the road than usual, and when approaching a corner, look out for things on the road surface that  can adversely affect grip like oil, mud or loose gravel – all lethal in the wet.

Changing Gear

As you approach the corner, as well as braking, change down to a lower gear. This should be a gear that you can comfortably exit the corner on. It’s no good pedalling into a corner on 53x12, forgetting to change gear and then grinding almost to a halt as you struggle to accelerate out the other side.

Riding Position

Cornering is often a lot easier if you’re riding in the drop position on your handlebars. You have easier access to your brakes, your arms are more relaxed here (as long as you keep them bent), and your weight is lower and easier to shift, too. The lower centre of gravity also means you can go faster more safely.

Braking 

Giant TCR Advanced SL braking

As you approach the corner, cover your brake levers and start reducing your speed. Your biggest potential danger when cornering is approaching too fast and then having your brakes lock up as you grab at them in a moment of panic. It’s far better to have to let go of the brakes a bit than to grab them hard and risk crashing. That said, try not to brake too early ahead of the turn and lose all your speed.

Shift your weight

When you’re a few metres from the corner, lift your foot closest to the corner side so your pedal is up. This will improve your balance and weight distribution and prevent your pedals from hitting the road. Distribute your weight so that it pushes down through the leg furthest from the corner (which will be down) as this helps balance and improve tight grip by forcing the tires onto the road. Keep your upper body loose as stiffening up can make the bike drift. This is especially true in wet or icy conditions, when you’ll also need to be wary of leaning – don’t lean as much as you do in the dry. 

Head position

Stelvio corner

Your head should be up at all times, looking ahead, not at the road surface two metres ahead of your front wheel. Doing this prevents you from taking a smooth line through the corner. Your eyes need to be parallel to the horizon and looking through the apex of the corner towards the point at which you want to exit. This way you’ll ride towards where you’re looking. Look away from this line and you’ll most likely drift in that direction as a result. Concentration is the key.

Exiting the corner

As you come out of the corner, don’t straighten the bike up to soon – do it gradually. Stay in your cornering position until you’re fully out the other side. Don’t start pedalling too soon either, as you’ll probably hit your pedal on the road. Only start pedalling again as the bike starts to right itself.

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