Absolute Beginners: Relearning Steering

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When we first learned to ride bikes as children, the two most trying ideas were remaining upright and steering. Balance came quickly, and with it a gut instinct about how to steer. Once dad took the training wheels off and we were darting up to the neighbor’s house (without a helmet, gloves, or a clear sense of which side of the street was correct), who knew that any more needed to be learnt?

As adults taking up the sport, that question may return: I know how to ride a bike, why should I think about steering? The answer is that making a few conscious changes in the way you handle your bike will make your rides safer, faster, and more enjoyable.

I wrote an extensive piece on cornering; The steps are outlined in the post, but I repeat them in brief here for convenience:

Look into the turn. Choose a line for the widest-possible but safest turn. Gauge your speed and brake before entering the turn. Lower your outside foot and press down, driving your foot toward the ground. As needed, apply gentle pressure forward to the inside handlebar. If you’re riding too fast, lean into the turn to keep your line.

In this post, I want to emphasize: focus on controlling your bike with your foot by driving it down toward the ground.

Figure 1: Eyes up and looking at the exit to the turn. Original Image Credit.

Generally, counter-steering is accomplished by getting your bike to lean in the direction of travel. Motorcyclists accomplish this by gentle pressure on the inside handlebar and by actively leaning into the turn. While you can do the same thing on a bicycle, that technique can make cyclists feel wobbly and cause unnecessarily and too-early braking.

Instead, as I learned at the Savvy Bike 201 Clinic, focusing on driving your foot down rather than pressing on the handlebar keeps your center of gravity over the bike making you feel much more stable and in control of the turn.

This is not an easy technique to master, even once you’ve figured out how to accomplish it. That’s why its important to think about the steps and practice them consciously on each ride: train yourself out of habit, and into proper form. Here’s a nice video demonstration of the technique.

There’s so much more to discuss. How to choose your line? Why not brake in the turn? When to lean your body? I’ll address each of these in future posts.

As always, please leave your notes, corrections, or suggestions in the comments!

Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!


One thought on “Absolute Beginners: Relearning Steering

    […] voice. Keep both hands on the handlebars and apply both brakes gently, but firmly. Remember: in the turn itself, your outside foot is down, counter steering you, and your inside foot is up, safely far from the road […]

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