Whether you’re tackling repeated switchbacks on long and sweeping European descents, or more rugged and occasionally gravel strewn bends in the UK, you need to know how to corner a bike.
Corners keep cycling interesting, but to ride them well you’ll need to know how to maintain your speed and keep your tyres on the tarmac.
Lightweight bikes and narrow tyres – even with 25c and wider tyres being the current trend – do not allow for motorcycle-style knee to the ground cornering, add to that the often poor state of the roads you’re riding on, and you soon realise cyclists are up against it a bit. It pays to stay wise when cornering.
We’ll not harp on about this for long, as we are talking real world scenarios in this feature, where it’s not always practical to corner in this manner. But it is worth touching on apexing, nonetheless, as it’s universally recognised as the most effective way to take a bend at speed.
Put simply, apexing a bend is about flattening out the curve as much as possible, by taking a broad line in and out of the turn.
The flatter the curve the faster you will safely be able to go around it, or to look at it another way, you will be able to go through at the same speed but much more safely, as you won’t be struggling for grip or reaching for the brakes in a panic. Remember it’s still possible to apex a corner and stay on the correct side of the road.
You might have a set of handlebars firmly in your grasp, but it’s not actually steering with them that’s mostly responsible for getting a bike to turn at speed — it’s leaning. Without getting too scientific it’s a question of moving your centre of gravity, so that the bike stays balanced around the turn.
The faster you’re cornering, the further you will have to lean in order to get your centre of gravity lower, to maintain balance and grip. Clearly there are boundaries, as excessive leaning does not help once the tyres can no longer supply enough traction to keep you upright and sometimes it’s a fine line between success and failure.
It’s a question of common sense, but more so familiarity with the bike and how it handles in a given scenario — for example when riding wet roads in the rain vs dry roads. Regardless of all the theory in the world, the best bet is to practise and find both your own, and your bike’s, comfort zones.
The general thinking here is it’s best to adjust your speed before the corner — getting your braking done while you are still upright and travelling in a straight line. That means you must be looking far enough ahead, but also relies on an ‘ideal-world scenario’, and a number of other assumptions.
The truth of it is often you cannot see enough of the bend, or are unable to predict every eventuality, often resulting in the need for some pace adjustment in the turn. But there are ways you can make it safer.
First, we appreciate it’s the hardest thing in the world to fight the body’s natural instincts, but if you feel it all getting a bit nervy in a corner your first reaction is likely to be to go rigid. Tensing up will just make things worse, so hard as it is, try to stay relaxed, particularly your upper body. If you’re trying to scrub some speed then a big no-no is to apply a huge fistful of brake.
If you grab at the front brake you risk the front end washing out (sliding out from under you). Locking the back wheel will send the bike into a speedway style, broadside skid, which is tricky to recover if you’re travelling at speed. So, the moral of the story here is, easy does it.
Only apply brakes smoothly and sparingly. Remember you’re not trying to come to a stop, just scrub enough speed to bring the bike back onto the line you want and you’ll be amazed how little braking force is required.
Your eyes are your biggest allies when cornering. First, because you need to quickly scan the road and evaluate what lies ahead in the turn, sometimes making split-second decisions about speed and line choice. Second, your body, and subsequently bike, will naturally pull towards the point your eyes are focused on.
If you’ve ridden off road you’ll no doubt have found that out the hard way. It usually goes a little something like this… “that’s a slippery looking tree root, I mustn’t ride… splat — too late!” That doesn’t mean you should stop keeping your eyes peeled, but equally once you’ve registered the presence of potential pitfalls then look ahead at the line you need to take, don’t remain focused on the obstacle or danger.
It’s good practice to stop pedalling as you lean the bike over in a turn (unless you’re on a fixie), keeping the inside pedal up to prevent it striking the ground — at best unsettling you and the bike, and at worst forcing you to have a little sit down in the road.
Try to apply pressure to the outside pedal – which should be at the bottom of the stroke – this will help maintain balance as you lean into the bend.