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Riding a bike requires almost equal parts skill and trust. And successful cornering is all about trust. One cannot ride in a straight line forever, though I suppose it is feasible, so inevitably turning is going to come into play. There are at least two kinds of technical turns which cause trepidation and fear among cyclists: turning on a fast descent, and curves from a steep ascent into a steeper grade. They require different technical skills, but the same level of trust.
B. Universal Cornering Skills
Making a turn on a bicycle is easy compared with explaining what you do to make a bicycle turn. Your position, the bicycle’s position, and the position of the front wheel all make a difference. In our experiments with bicycles, the Exploratorium staff has discovered that you can initiate a turn to one side by steering to the other side. Motorcycle riders call this “counter-steering,” a small jerk on the handlebars in one direction to initiate a turn in the opposite direction. (Emphasis added.)
- Keep your head up.
- Look into the corner, not at the ground.
- Moderate your speed before you enter the turn, not while you’re in it.
- Beware of gravel on the road, but don’t freak out about it — Don’t slam on your brakes!
- Brake evenly with both hands, not just one.
- Lean into the turn, and press on the handle bar with the inside hand (counter steering, this may never need to be a conscious activity, but its important to think of it this way).
- Keep your inside foot up and your outside foot down (to keep from bashing your pedal into the ground).
- Avoid riding your brakes to keep them from overheating (thus heating the rim and leading to a popped tube, see the section on Fast Cornering).
C. Fast Cornering
.For some, a descent full of twists and turns is nothing short of bliss, while for others it’s pure terror. Wherever you fit in this spectrum, you may find helpful some instruction on how to handle unforeseen problems.
Steep descents can be tricky. Steering will be exaggerated, small turns become more difficult, and your weight is transferred forward. This is a very different experience from riding the flats, and you must know how to counteract these forces. In addition, the road surface conditions play a greater role. At slow speeds, potholes, gravel, spilled oil, and fallen tree limbs are a challenge, but at high speeds such conditions can become a greater threat.
When cornering, lean your bike while keeping your body more upright. Weighting your outer pedal [another way to look at counter steering] and/or pointing your inside knee into the turn can help you maintain proper cornering position. An abrupt steering correction can break the front tire loose, as can the front brake if applied with too much force. Ride within your limits, and adjust your speed based on your line of sight.
Speed control on descents is essential, which is best accomplished by feathering, or light taps, of the brakes. Stopping distances increase greatly with speed (especially when the rims are wet!). … The steeper the descent, the less hard you can brake without pitching over the handlebars, so choose a speed that will allow you to stop comfortably if there is an obstacle or hazard just out of sight.
Another problem in descending steeply is that the wheel rims and brake pads may get hot if you apply them too frequently or for too long a time, potentially causing tires and tubes to fail. Use both brakes and short intervals of braking with time in between for the rims to cool.
The article then recommends braking in less steep area rather than on the steepest portions of the hill. Great advise to keep you from doing an endo and will help keep your brakes cooler.
D. Slow Cornering
- Make sure you’re in a gear that can accommodate the increased steepness (possibly your lowest gear, or “granny gear“).
- Keep your cadence up (this is the other half of being in the correct gear for the hill) so that you don’t burn out your muscles half way through the ascent.
- Keep your head up and look into the turn.
- Most importantly: Don’t stop pedaling.