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Technique video: 6 simple ways to get faster round hairpins

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. Here's the essentials, fully explained in the video above.

1 Hands on the drops

This is your most stable riding position. Getting in the drops moves your weight down and puts your hands in the most powerful position or braking.

2 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)

3 Change gear

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

4 Inner pedal at 12 o’clock

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

5 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. 

6 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 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. 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.

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16 comments

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jaysa | 2 years ago
0 likes

Bit of fun from last Summer in France ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kogqzXUMPY

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slappop | 3 years ago
0 likes

I use the Armstrong technique:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haEbtHiUcBc

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maviczap | 5 years ago
0 likes

Oh well that's me on the naughty step

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jaysa | 5 years ago
0 likes

Care using the edges of the road like that - steep hills often have grit and pebbles that can have you off or skidding, and the inside of the bend where the rider comes closest to the edge has grit washed out that you can't see till you're committed, and that's also where the gradient can be steepest, so hardest to recover. Nice line though ...

Look out too for long vehicles ascending (coaches, trucks, flatbeds, campers) that have no choice but to come way over the centreline in the bend - I just hang back until they've finished.

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contender | 6 years ago
2 likes

That is a really awful strategy and video to apply to anything other than a closed road. Unless you've had an extended view of the road down, including whether there are any motorbikes coming up. you should aim to be nicely positioned on your side of the road as you come round that bend.  As I taught my son: Out, In, Through: go wide, go in to the apex, and go through assuming that of course there'll be a car coming, so you don't get surprised or flinch as you come round that bend. That hairpin as done in the video is precisely what I've given him a lecture about as in the "what not to do" story. Special case: you've had a long view down the hill before you start the hairpin sequence: no vehicles on road, but even there you need to imagine there's someone coming up at 50 mph so the "clear zone" shrinks as you go down.

To finish then, here's my example: descending Col de Madeleine on an MTB with an 8 year old on the tagalong behind, so I'm keeping my speed below 30 all the way. Bikes on the bends, cars on the bends, no need to worry as we are lined up. My friend mark, he's off to one side and I'm worried about him, but he lives in the Alps and drives like a local ... https://youtu.be/EzpHQunWDQg

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John Smith replied to contender | 5 years ago
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contender wrote:

Special case: you've had a long view down the hill before you start the hairpin sequence: no vehicles on road, but even there you need to imagine there's someone coming up at 50 mph so the "clear zone" shrinks as you go down.

 

And you can see every inch of the road at all times and are sure you have not missed a bike in a layby, a low sports car or a tunnel that feeds out on to the road. Which is not the case in this video.

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Velophaart_95 replied to contender | 2 years ago
0 likes

It seems to be a common fault in descending advice - as though everybody is on a closed road. Most won't be, so ignore lots of this feature.

Choose lines that give you the best view, safety before positioning, be able to stop in the road available, and on your own side of the road. And don't go into blind corners flat out......

Go and watch Advanced motorcycle training, you'll be a better cyclist descending than this.

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caw35ride | 6 years ago
0 likes

An important piece of advice that is missing here is to apex late. To achieve that, you'll need to run a little deeper into the corner, bleed off more speed while you do so, and turn a little later. Doing so will cut you quite a bit of slack should you encounter anything unexpected in mid-turn or as you exit (e.g. "the gradient steepened a lot near the apex").

I suspect that the real reason your man needed to brake mid-turn is that he set his apex too early and was at risk of running wide. As a cautionary tale, the video makes for a good lesson!

Good advice for cornering technique on a bicycle here: 
http://www.flammerouge.je/images/factsheets/Corner%20Schematic.pdf

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caw35ride | 6 years ago
1 like

> Bloody dangerous crossing into the other lane on blind hairpins. 

Definitely, but on many high mountain descents you can have a really good look down the road from above in which case, if you can see that it ius clear, you can safely use the whole road. IMHO, of course.

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CXR94Di2 | 6 years ago
6 likes

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.

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pauldmorgan | 6 years ago
4 likes

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.

 

 

 

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dodgy | 7 years 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. 

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cyclisto | 7 years ago
4 likes

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.

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SingleSpeed | 7 years ago
2 likes

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?

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madcarew replied to SingleSpeed | 7 years ago
1 like

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...

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Russell Orgazoid replied to SingleSpeed | 7 years ago
3 likes

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.

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