Here’s our guide to handling the switchbacks quickly and safely

If you’re riding in the mountains this summer you need to get your hairpin technique dialled. 

• Hands on the drops

This is your most stable riding position.

• Brake before the corner 

Do your braking before you turn. You might occasionally misjudge the corner or find a hairpin that’s so steep and/or narrow that you can’t get around (or can’t get around without going onto the wrong side of the road) without braking in the corner too. They do exist. In these situations your braking needs to be as smooth and as light as possible.

Pyractif 2013 - Day Two -  Peyresourde Descent Corner (Photo - P Diprose)

• Change gear

Before you reach the corner, shift into the gear you’ll need when you exit.

• Inner pedal at 12 o’clock

Have your inner pedal high to avoid grounding, and push your weight onto the outside pedal.

• Wide, apex, wide

Go wide before the hairpin, cut into the apex, and then go wide again as you exit. This allows you to carry more speed through the corner. 

Clearly, you have to be very careful when altering your position in the road and we’re not suggesting that you head onto the wrong side of the road unless you know it’s safe and permissible. 

• Spot your exit

Look where you want to go.


These are just the basics. For more detail read our feature: 11 tips for better cornering.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.


SingleSpeed [409 posts] 11 months ago
1 like

Theres a lot of braking going on mid corner in that video...or was that supposed to be a how to go round a corner slowly badly?

madcarew [559 posts] 11 months ago
SingleSpeed wrote:

Theres a lot of braking going on mid corner in that video...or was that supposed to be a how to go round a corner slowly badly?

Hard to tell how hard the guy was actually braking, the gradient steepened a lot near the apex, so some braking to maintain even speed may have been necessary. From the 'off the bike' view, the technique looked sound, just not remarkable.

In these videos "Brake before the corner" should really be changed to something that reflects that on most reasonable gradients, when cornering at high speed some braking needs to be retained through the corner to prevent a crash inducing speed increase mid corner...

cyclisto [372 posts] 11 months ago

I would recommend definitely not stepping into the opposing lane. If a fast motorcycle rider appeared, the bicycle rider on the video would be unable to avoid him/her at such speed with skinny 23c tires. This is a very wrong riding line for public roads.

Plasterer's Radio [370 posts] 11 months ago
SingleSpeed wrote:

Theres a lot of braking going on mid corner in that video...or was that supposed to be a how to go round a corner slowly badly?

Relax, mate.

dodgy [236 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

If I ride like that in the alps on holiday, there's a good chance I wouldn't make it home. Crap video. 

Pauldmorgan [234 posts] 4 months ago

It's almost although people are being wilfully contrary here.  I'm no pro so ymmv but I don't think I've often hit a hairpin apex at exactly the right speed such that I don't need to have the option avalable  to gently feather the brakes a little through the corner (or realised I could've been going quicker - damn!) but of course that's the aim and heaven when it happens. Brake levers have a little travel before the pads engage so you would not be able to tell exactly what was happening in the video just from the lever position.

Obviously if there's traffic you don't ride on the opposite side of the road but when riding a hairpin you often (as in the example) have really good visibility of the road below and hence what is coming up so you can choose your line accordingly after a look down. There's a calculation to be made that's quite rapid so experience matters and for the most part I would suggest staying close to the centre line rather than the outside of the corner unless riding a closed-road event. I have three kids so I select my commitment to a corner with that in mind but confidence levels build and things get re-normalised later in the ride  1

In the video example the rider is on the "wrong" side of the road coming towards the corner and will have had a lot of time to see whether something is coming from below that they need to avoid (and people with cameras making the film giving them signals?) and if there was they would have stayed on the right of the centre line. The apex is the "right" side of the road so no problem there although it looks "wrong" to UK viewers initially. For a video like this, showing how to use the whole of the road illustrates the techniques better even though in real-life you usually need to show more caution.




CXR94Di2 [1994 posts] 1 month ago

Unless its closed road event, stay on your side of the road.  Bloody dangerous crossing into the other lane on blind hairpins.  I sat at the top of mont Ventoux last year, several riders nearly wiped out by crossing across the white line for a car to suddenly appear.  by all means enjoy the speed but stay on your side.