Welcome to another article in the BST© (BrakeSteerTurn) Series.
In this edition, we are going to focus on very aggressive riding and racing techniques, rather than our usual tact of club, avid and casual riding techniques.
If you have been following along with our program, you will already know of the three most key skill sets needed for riding on two wheels:
So instead of re-hashing the critical elements of implementing each of those core skills, we will focus mainly on fast cornering technique. One of just many aspects that will separate a good rider from a mediocre rider is being able to ‘Read‘ a corner. What does that mean? Well, each corner will always present a different challenge. Every corner will vary in radius, length and line of sight. So it is imperative that a rider be able to break down a corner in order to take advantage of what a particular corner has to offer.
The objective of getting through any corner, is taking the straightest line possible. The most efficient way through the corner, will usually wind up being the fastest and the most efficient line will have a rider maximizing the radius. Typically, a rider will spend more time in the deceleration mode rather than in the acceleration mode through a corner. So the objective is to either balance that time or reduce the amount of deceleration. Seconds count! 😀
Remember, radius determines speed. What? The more lean angle applied to a bike, the slower the corner speed will be. So maximizing the radii or radius MEANS, minimizing bike lean. Leaning the body along with light counter steering while leaning the bike as little as possible will typically ensure faster overall corner speed.
Reading a corner takes a lot of practice, it takes focus and patience. At speed, especially hard riding or racing a rider has only fractions of seconds to determine what type of corner he or she is approaching. Is it a constant radii? An increasing radii? A decreasing radii corner, a chicane or a hairpin? (this is where vision and spatial judgment are so very critical)
In the above Constant Radius single apex corner, of the three lines only two are acceptable for carrying sufficient speed through a corner. The light blue line suggests a wide arc approach also known as ‘squaring off’ a corner. The green line is more of a traditional racing line, which requires a precise entry, but will yield the most speed on corner exit. While the dark blue line is an example of turning in too early, which results in a very wide exit. This will almost always conclude in having to slow down and forsake corner speed in order to stay on the road. #lostseconds
Along with assessing the geographical layout of a corner, a rider must be able to ‘read’ the entry, the apex and the exit of any specific corner in order to take the most efficient line. Then throw in the condition of the road surface, objects and any potential hazards. Again, all of this must happen and be processed in fractions of seconds. For aggressive, fast riding styles and/or racing 1 or 2 seconds is a luxury, it is an eternity. And it can be the difference between making a corner or not making a corner… #crashboombang
Implementing good cornering technique is vital to fast and safe cornering. Body Position. Vision. Execution. Riding on instinct is hands-down the incorrect and wrong way to ride. As humans, we are wired to ‘listen’ and/or ‘react’ to our fight or flight instincts. Otherwise known as (SRs) Survival Reactions. SRs are a riders WORST enemy. SRs include; Panicking, Tensing up, Target Fixation and using unnecessary Braking . So if riding fast or racing is the goal, then overcoming these SR instincts are absolutely necessary.
Fast riding or racing requires the use of both the upper and lower portions of the body. Counter Steering with the hands, as well as slightly pivoting the upper body and the hips to assist the lean of the bike into a corner. A simple trick I learned many moons ago and now teach is ‘chin above the wrist’ when cornering. This can also aid a rider in performing any mid-corner corrections if necessary. AND don’t forget, eyes up, Head up- ALWAYS. The number 1 Cardinal Sin of riding… is dropping the head and the eyes.
By keeping the body inline with the bike, it will be necessary to apply more lean in a corner to match the radius, which will result in deceleration. In contrast, leaning the body just slightly more than the bike will keep more of a tire contact patch under the bike and therefore carry more exit speed out of the corner (This is a common and proven practice in mountain biking) Obviously, exhausting the edge grip of a tire will have negative results.
As far being in the ‘drops’ or in the ‘hoods’ it makes absolutely NO difference, it simply comes down to rider preference and choice. You may argue and think otherwise, (CoM, blah, blah blah. Going into the drops does NOT lower CoG. It slightly moves the CoP- Center of Pressure, but it is negligible) but this is one of those ‘narratives’ that has proven to be false. In fact, riding in the hoods will actually give a rider a bit more leverage on the bars, which means less effort to initiate countersteering.
Also key is being relaxed and ‘loose’ on the bike, this will allow a rider to be in sync with the machine as the Applied Forces are acting against both rider and bike. Being tense or stiff in the saddle with too much pressures on the bars will sacrifice control and invite instability. Set your entry speed with light smooth braking, then release as you pick a precise turn-in point. Advanced riding technique can also utilize trail braking, (as we talked about in a previous article) but for initial technique, this method works fine. (see video below)
Steer and lean the body in conjunction and the bike will follow the gyroscopic path of the corner. By using the upper and lower body together a rider will find that the bike steers more easily with less effort and increased stability.
Notice at 7 seconds in how just a light and short pull on the (left side) brake lever ‘sets’ corner entry speed. This enables bike and rider to maximize mid-corner and exit speed. Also notice that the braking only lasts for 2 seconds. Minimizing ‘deceleration’ is a key component to efficient cornering.
Keeping the FOV (Field of Vision) operating at every second is paramount. Constantly scanning the foreground while intently focusing on the background. Now, some might say this seem counter-intuitive, but it really isn’t. Focusing on the foreground will lessen the amount of time a rider has to act and react to the road and changing conditions. By not focusing on the background, a rider may not see a potential problem before it is too late. Sacrificing just a tenth of a second at speed could be the difference of experiencing a crash or near miss or not. By keeping the vision as far up the road as possible, a rider has more time to act and react to all of the conditions.
The only way to become proficient at fast cornering is to practice it. Believe it or not, the best way isn’t to go out and go fast at first. The best way to implement efficient riding techniques is to steadily progress from slower speeds to faster speeds. Executing the techniques of proper visual skills, body position and situational awareness takes time and patience, as previously stated. Practicing and improving ‘race craft’ with specific riding drills and working on awareness is a learning tool that has no shortcut.
Now get out there and practice… 😉