Fine-tuning your cornering skills will make you faster and safer. Here are our tips for getting it right.
1. Assess the corner
On your approach to a corner you need to gauge how much speed you can carry through it. How tight is it? Can you see around it? What is the road surface like? Are there any drain covers? How wide is the road? What are the conditions? Is there traffic?
You can just pedal normally around shallow bends, but you’ll need to adjust your speed and technique for tighter corners, especially if the road surface or conditions are poor.
Get your hands on the drops for tight corners because this is your most stable riding position, lowering your centre of gravity and adding some weight to the front of your bike. Hold the handlebar firmly but not with a white-knuckle grip.
You’ve probably heard that you should do all your braking before the corner and none while you’re actually cornering, and we’d agree that that is what you’d do in an ideal world. However, occasionally you need to continue braking on downhill corners (particularly hairpins) or you’ll pick up too much speed to get around.
Also, you’ll sometimes find that an unknown corner gets tighter as it goes on, or you’ll simply misjudge a corner and find that you’re travelling too fast when you’re halfway around; we all make mistakes. Any braking you do when cornering needs to be as smooth and as light as possible because it’s much easier to slide than when your bike is straight and upright.
If it’s a tight corner and you’re going to have to stop pedalling, use the last few seconds of the approach to shift into the gear you’ll want when you exit.
Look where you want to go. Keep your eyes on the point where you want to exit the corner and your body will naturally adjust your leaning, steering, and line to ensure that’s where you go. It can be difficult but if you’re nervous of not making it around the bend and ending up in the ditch, try not to focus on that ditch or that’s exactly where you might find yourself.
The classic line is to go wide before the corner, cut into the apex, and then go wide again as you exit. This lengthens the corner so you don’t have to ride at such a tight angle, allowing you to carry more speed through and out the other side. Clearly, you have to be very careful when altering your position relative to the verge and we’re not suggesting that you head onto the wrong side of the road.
Fig.1 (below) shows a rider taking a left-hand bend without straying onto the opposite side of the road (in a country like the UK where we ride on the left).
Fig.2 (below) shows a rider taking a right-hand bend without straying onto the opposite side of the road (in a country like the UK where we ride on the left).
Sometimes this wide, apex, wide line isn’t necessary. For sweeping and slower corners it’s often quicker to take the shortest line around the inside of the bend.
You’ll naturally lean as you corner. The tighter the corner and the faster you take it, the more you’ll have to lean. You might be surprised at just how far you can lean in dry conditions with good tyres, but bear in mind that you’ll lose grip far, far sooner if the road is wet, oily or gravelly, and it’s sometimes difficult to identify those factors in advance.
If you stop pedalling for a corner, position your inside pedal in the 12 o’clock position and your outside pedal in the 6 o’clock position to give yourself the maximum clearance when you lean – grounding a pedal is bad news. Push your weight down onto the outside pedal. Accelerate only once there’s enough clearance and you’re sure that applying power won’t cause the back wheel to slide.
Overlapping another rider’s rear wheel can spell trouble if they take a different line from you around a corner. You’re better off hanging back to avoid clashing.
Being relaxed is easier said than done but your cornering will definitely improve if you can stay cool, move fluidly, and think clearly. If cornering fast fills you with fear, slow it down a bit and gradually develop your skills. You’ll relax more as you gain confidence.
If you’re committed to improving your skills, find a winding section of traffic-free road and ride it several times, trying to improve your performance gradually. Perhaps make up a short circuit. Work on getting your approach speed right, improving your braking, the amount that you lean the bike and the lines that you take. Try corners of different angles as well as uphill and downhill bends.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.