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Friday, April 23, 2010

How to high speed corner, or techniques for effective cornering with a bicycle

This photo taken by Paul Pate (thank you sir!) shows the camera position that I used.  A friend of mine said the video looks like it was shot from my spleen.  Basically he was very close to correct.

Also pictured in this photo is Justin Maciekowicz (trying pronouncing Maciekowicz.... good luck with that).  He's a very good time trialist, but not so much on criterium cornering.  If you don't believe me, just watch the video again. Oh, and in the video, there is a young rider from team Mesa, named Martin Lang.  I don't know him yet, but I've heard very good things about him from my friend Ethan.   He says Martin is talented and has a good future in the sport.  After the race, when explaining his poor cornering, Martin said that he didn't trust his tires.  My genius response was, "Dude, get new tires!"

[Follow up comment:  The only problem with the cornering in this video is the gaping caused by a combination of not drafting tight to the rider immediately in front and also riding the breaks before and during the turn.  The lines are good, inside pedals up, and body position are all good.]

Below are the key elements to ideal high speed cornering, or techniques for effective cornering on a bicycle.

The ABC's for high speed cornering on a bicycle

A. confidence.  Confidence is key.  Successful high speed cornering requires it.    One  beauty of criterium racing is that you do the same corners over and over.  Repetitive successful navigation of high-speed corners will give you more and more confidence .  This confidence will be carried into your next race and continue to build for subsequent races.  Eventually you will become a master at cornering. 

B. Smoothness.   Smoothness is basically not grabbing the brakes, looking ahead, and staying on the wheel of the rider in front of you.  Smoothness comes from both confidence and good form.  Smoothness  involves relaxing and not thinking too much,  and doing the exact thing as the other racers  are doing in front of you through the corner.   Do not think..... "I could crash.  I might crash".  This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Instead think...... "If that person in front of me can do it, I can do it!"   That's the racing attitude.   

C.  Good Form.   Good form involves pushing down on the outer leg, pointing your inside knee toward the corner, and leaning the bike while keeping your body mass  over the bike. The most important thing is  lowering your center of gravity and transferring your weight to your outer leg by pushing down on the pedal.   Stay light on your handlebars and saddle.  Generally this is instinctive, and is experienced by "the lean" (or counter steering)   Just lean the bike into the turn and it will follow.  Look up ahead (not short-sighted) to where you plan to go.  Straighten out the turn by starting as wide as possible, and then aiming the bike to the inside edge of the corner.  Try to do most of the turn early for the following reasons:  One, if you don't, you can run out of room and hit the curb and crash, and, two, the physics of a rotating wheel is such that when it is suddenly or quickly leaned while spinning,  it physically causes the wheel to WANT to go in that direction.  To be sure:  Spin a wheel (held at the axle) in your hands and lean or tilt it and see what naturally happens.  The wheel will try to force itself to turn in the direction it is leaned. 

The best tires for racing

Tubulars, or Sew-ups,  are the best race wheels/tires for racing, period.  Second best is Vittoria Open Tubular clinchers.  They rule in the rain.  I know I said "period" on the tubulars, but for the newbies:  tubular wheels are lighter than clinchers and, therefore, faster (force divided by mass equals acceleration).  Also tubular tires are in effect like riding on balloons and are much smoother than clinchers and tend to grab more on extremely fast corners.  Additionally, tubulars have a rolling resistance that is lower than clinchers (illustrated here in my post with other important factors influencing performance ).  Also tubulars are less prone to "snake bite" flats (as when the rim double pinches/punctures the tube from say.... potholes or rocks).  The downside of tubulars is that they are much more expensive and generally can-not be patched and take a little coaching on gluing.  I would recommend never riding a patched tubular in a race or put stop leak junk in race tubulars.  Think about how important tires are.  Not only is your race outcome dependent on them, but possibly your health. 

If anyone has opinions or ideas concerning tubulars, cornering, or how to help Justin and me out, please feel free to comment.  Cheers!

Update:  Justin seems to have the cornering down....   Additionally he has beaten me a few more times.  Not to worry, I will try to return the favor as the season progresses.  Additionally, Martin Lang is riding well.  He must have gotten new tires!

Additional update that I think is quite important, comes from my friend, former coach, and former professional bicycle mechanic for the Pro Jelly Belly Cycling Team.
"Thomas McDaniel June 2 at 3:24pm
Dave, I read your blog about cornering and felt compelled to add commentary. You make reference several times about keeping weight over the center of gravity, but then later add to point the knee into the turn, which in fact moves valuable weight outside the center of gravity (or more importantly, away from above the contact patch of the tyre). The reason pointing the knee towards the inside of a turn helps is because it facilitates the hips rotating, which guides you through a turn. Bicycles are steered with hips, not hands. Unfortunately most cyclists are so tight through their hipflexors they cannot keep their knee above the tyre while rotating their hips into the turn, thus losing the benefit of additional weight atop their contact with the road.
As for other ideas....tubulars are not meant to be run @ highest of pressures. In fact, I would run tyres for the team @ 90 front and 105 rear on technical courses like Downers Grove, but only 85/95 if raining. My riders absolutely loved it, and rarely crashed because of it. The supple nature of the pressure allows the tyre to soak up lots of the effects of cornering, and keeps the tyre consistently in contact with the road, which is great for high speed cornering and power transfer. The energy potentially lost is negligible compared to the security and performance of properly inflated tyres. Keep in mind, this is from 284 days of racing with 9 bikes worth of tubulars per day. Never a rolled tyre, and significantly fewer punctures and crashes, especially in wet conditions."

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  1. Thanks for your ABC's on cornering. I am a noobie to racing and found a lot of value in your words of wisdom.


  2. Force= Mass x Acceleration

    Acceleration = Force / Mass

  3. My advice is to ride and race in Colorado. You learn how to corner real fast, or you get dropped/crash.


  4. Thanks for the correction. You are 100% correct. My misuse of symbols makes my acceleration equation 100% wrong. I'll fix that later (can't do it on the mobile). Regards, Henderson

  5. I just made some important additions concerning cornering. Primarily the technique of lowering your center of gravity and focusing on a heavy down leg, while staying light on your saddle and handlebars. In effect you want to transfer your weight to your down outside pedal. This is EXTREMELY effective for fast sharp cornering. Try it, it is wonderful. (you have to adjust your body a bit for steep downhill turns, but still try to load the down leg).

  6. i always panic when cornering and end up putting on the breaks help

  7. David, don't worry my friend. Reread my post and keep practicing. I promise it will get better (or not).

  8. This post is very useful for us. Because we have a lot o tips and tricks from this post. Thank you for this amazing post share.

  9. You make so many great points here that I read your article a couple of times. Your views are in accordance with my own for the most part. This is great content for your readers.

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