There are 2 main types of corner and I use different techniques when I ride them. You may read different interpretations in mountain bike magazines like Mountain Bike Rider (MBR) but I believe my ways are better!
Many corners have a berm, a banking which allows you to maintain your speed and helps to steer you round. This is the sort of corner which you always seem to see at trail centres. They prevent riders from braking hard before the corner, because you simply don’t need to. The problem with hard braking on a trail that will be ridden thousands of time each year is that the surface will degrade, leaving loose material and bumps. As you go round the corner you are unlikely to slide your wheels, so this again protects the surface. A natural trail is often very different. You can find natural berms but they might not extend all the way around the corner so you’ll take the corner in a different way. Sometimes a shallow rut gets scored into the ground but it’s hardly a reliable berm. It’s more likely that the surface will be flat or even have an adverse camber, meaning that the corner slopes the “wrong way”. I love a flat corner because I like to reach the limit of grip and feel the tyres start to slide, it’s a real thrill, to me the nirvana of mountain biking. Today I rode 3 laps of Healey Nab with it’s man made trails. Just about every corner has a berm so I’d mainly be using only one of the 2 cornering techniques.
So what’s the best way to ride a berm? You are better to stand on the pedals rather than sit on the seat. You arms should be bent at the elbow to bring your upper body close to horizontal. You should now be looking down at the steerer tube of the forks where your handlebar stem attaches, or even a little in front of this. In this position you’ll have plenty of body weight pressing down on the handlebars which promotes front wheel grip. As you reach any corner you want to do your braking, if needed, whilst you’re still travelling in a straight line. Then when you reach the corner you lean the bike in by pushing the handlebars downwards into the corner. Keep your upper body fairly upright and your arms and legs flexed and loose. This way you can absorb any bumps in the surface. If your body is stiff the only movement available is for the tyres to slide, so they will! Keeping loose gives you the best chance of avoiding a slide. You’ll generally ride fairly centrally around the banking of a banked corner, allowing the banking to direct you. A little slide will usually just send you a little higher up the berm where hopefully you’ll find grip again. This is completely different to riding a motorcycle on the road where you’ll often lean your whole body off the inside of the bike, leaning more than the bike itself. By leaning the bike over when off road you can react much better to slippery parts, undulations and changing surfaces.
So why do you need a different technique for a flat corner? You don’t! You can ride a flat corner in just the same way but if you’re going to test the limit of grip you’re likely to occasionally find yourself sliding to the ground. MBR will tell you this is still the right technique but I beg to differ! If you want to take the flat corners at the maximum possible speed you’re going to find yourself sliding quite often so need a strategy to control those slides. The way I do this is to use the method used by motocross riders. As I enter the corner I’ve extended my inside leg out. I’ll often find that I sit close to or on the saddle. The extended leg and foot are there for a purpose. If I get a rear wheel slide I’ll just keep the front wheel pointing where I want to go and hope it grips again as the slide scrubs some speed off. If the front wheel slides I’ll temporarily lose the ability to steer. The bike will fall into the corner and my extended foot will tap the ground. This reduces the weight pressing on the rear wheel causing this wheel to slide, scrubbing speed off and allowing the front wheel to regain grip! It’s like magic. A little tap of the foot on the ground and a front wheel slide is turned into an easy to handle rear wheel slide. You can practice the method by turning around on a slippery surface with your foot extended, turning in tighter until a wheel slides. It’s simply too dangerous to use this technique on a berm. If you slide over the top you could hit rocks or trees.
Today I found only one corner where I felt I needed to use the second technique. It has a low berm but was loose and gritty in the middle. I was cutting across the middle of the corner to save distance and felt the tyres wiggle on the surface. I had my leg sticking out for safety if needed. I rode 3 laps but had almost had to call my ride off just as I reached the trails. I felt the pedal cranks moving as if loose and when I stopped to check I realised that the central bolt, which holds everything together, had indeed come a little loose. I didn’t have a 10mm key to tighten it so made some progress by jamming a 6mm and a 4mm key in the socket. Fortunately another rider stopped and had the correct tool for which I was very grateful. He saved the day!
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