Riding Skills: 3 key elements my dear Watson…

The BST© (BrakeSteerTurn) series presents another rider training article

While turning is certainly not a secret, I do believe this piece is something worth reiterating again and again- because again and again…we sometimes see our fellow riders not completely understanding and/or executing a basic turn in a safe and efficient manner. Being on the correct or proper line- at any speed is first and foremost critical to safety.

What I’m referring to is, a basic constant-radius corner. A basic turn is made up of three parts; the entrance, the apex and the exit. Of course there are other various types of simple or complex corners and/or turns; These include double or triple apex corners, decreasing or increasing radius types, chicanes, esses, hairpins, etc. But this article will center primarily on the simple (design) of a basic 90° corner. The main focus will be on the ‘mechanics’ of the basic corner, how to execute the fundamentals of corner entry and exit, but not so much on the intricacies of cornering techniques.

note that this diagram is referring to a single lane and not the entire roadway

Point of Entry

Starting with the approaching entrance of a corner, which is always the first part of any corner, a rider will and should go through the following progressions: 1. Initial braking application, 2. the TIP- (Turn In Point) and 3. the braking release point. As a rider approaches the entrance, they should only be thinking about these first three tasks above. Not about where they are going or where their corner exit is… (yet) Keep in mind that the window or frame of time in which all of these things are happening will be in fractions of a second.

Once a rider has ‘hit’ the corner entrance mark, then the focus should immediately be on the apex of the corner. Now depending on speed, lean angle and external surface conditions, it may be possible to adjust the bikes line mid-corner, if indeed the rider finds themselves ‘off’ the most effective line. Now this could be a tricky maneuver depending on speed and conditions. Though a short gentle pull or a slight dragging of the the brakes (preferably the rear brake) mid-corner will usually be safe to do, in order to get the bike back on its ‘proper’ line. Of course lean angle is a significant consideration, which will typically be determined by rider/machine speed. Remember, radius determines speed. (as does the coefficient of friction- also known as traction…)

What the above phrase means is, the given curb-to-curb radii of a roadway corner will accommodate varying speeds- according to how ‘tight’ or ‘open’ a corner is. Wide sweeping corners will usually allow a rider to enter fast and stay fast through the entire turn. Not so with a hairpin or decreasing radii corner. It should be noted that if a rider is needing to significantly brake mid-corner, then entry speed was likely too high or the TIP was markedly off. If the rider hits the apex fairly correctly, then the next step is to focus on corner exit.

Exit (stage left?)

Arguably, corner exit is perhaps the most critical part or section of the corner. Screw up the entrance or be too wide of the apex…and a rider will always, always be on the incorrect line for a ‘proper’ exit. If the rider made the entrance and apex reasonably well, then the exit pretty much takes care of itself- though the rider must still be very mindful of any variable or change in road condition(s) and obstacle(s). “It all begins with Vision”

This segmented approach to a turn, where a rider divides a corner into very small portions or segments, enables the rider to work through the ‘mechanics’ of a turn, task by task. What this does, is essentially allow the brain to focus on fewer decisions per millisecond.

Key Elements

A primary factor is to always try and remain relaxed on the machine. Remember that once a bicycle is in motion, the gyroscopic effect of the wheels help to keep the bike stable. The rake and trail of the steering geometry (which are fixed by the fork type and its offset) will  assist in keeping the bike stable and going straight, even after the front wheel may be deflected by a bump or irregularity on the road.

This is because of the self-centering aspect of the tire’s contact patch is positioned behind the steering axis. Though, when a beginner or nervous rider ‘clamps’ down (the ‘ol death grip) on the bars, it tends to provide unwanted input that may interfere with the bike’s ability to straighten itself out. So keeping the upper body relaxed and fluid will be a help rather than a hindrance in cornering.

One Vision ( one real decision…)

It’s always best to get your body and vision set up for the corner early, before the entrance. Then a rider needs to begin to initiate counter-steering, along with shifting the body position by slightly pivoting the shoulders and hips towards the bend of the turn. As Counter-steering, along with body pivoting, will allow the bike to ‘tip’ into the corner without much force applied. It should feel natural and easy. Not hurried or panicked.

Hurrying or rushing the corner will usually result in a rider running wide towards the middle and wide of the exit of a turn. The faster one rides, the trickery entry speed determination becomes. This is where VISION, or Forward Vision is the most critical.
Keeping the eyes far ahead towards the exit of a turn at ALL times is a core, key factor. Finding the optimal entry/corner speed takes practice, a lot of practice. These are some of the fundamentals of cycling that are often overlooked or just skimmed over. But as easy or basic as this may seem, it is a core skill-set that needs constant reinforcing. Especially as riders age and spatial judgment and visual perception slowly degenerate.


There seems to be a constant ongoing debate (though it is moot) about whether counter-steering or ‘body’ steering is the most effective way to steer a bicycle (or a motobike for that matter). There are those who think it has to be one or the other or, that counter-steering isn’t necessary at all! But in reality those who believe that notion are missing a key point. Which is, utilizing the upper and lower body together is by far the most effective and efficient way to steer a two-wheeled, inline, single track vehicle. Initial steering input should always begin with light counter-steering (a slight pushing-forward on the inside bar- which utilizes the front wheel’s gyroscopic effect, essentially permits the bike to ‘fall’ into the corner)

In summary, as the rider enters the corner, the focus quickly shifts to the apex and then the exit- all of which happens in milliseconds.  Being prepared early and staying aware will allow a rider to re-position themselves if necessary in order to be on the ‘proper’ line when cornering. Approaching these tasks methodically and accordingly may improve a riders ability to corner BOTH safely and efficiently. Now get out there and practice folks!

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2 Responses to Riding Skills: 3 key elements my dear Watson…

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Now, do you get into the “point at the apex with the inside knee” and “push on the outside pedal” to get that extra little bit of speed to carry through the turn?

    I find both of those, along with taking a good corner in the drops to lower the COG, really stabilize a turn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Archetype says:

      Well for me Jim, I never go into the drops. For me personally, I feel that I have more leverage in the hoods, which allows me to have more control. I also don’t like the feeling of having all of my upper body weight placed on my wrists and hands, it just doesn’t inspire the confidence I have when on the hoods

      Drops versus hoods is an ongoing ‘discussion’ in the industry. It really doesn’t ‘lower’ CoM as much as it moves it slightly forward. The amount that it lowers CoM is almost negligible, this is becoming more evident as bars become more and more compact- further reducing the distance from the hoods to the drops. I can get just as ‘aero’ whether I am in the hoods or the drops. Plus, consider that a riders CoM is at the hips/waist, not so much at the head and shoulder area.

      A dropper-post would be way more effective than moving your hands. (btw- there are droppers for cross bikes, I think you will eventually see an option for the road) Anyway, I also don’t really push that much on the outside pedal. What works for me is leaning the bike as little as possible believe it or not. I’ll hang my body off and counter steer more while usually pedaling through a corner. It can be sketchy, I’ve ‘caught’ a pedal or two 😀

      But after a while, you get a feel for how much angle you can get away with before clearance is an issue. I also tend to ‘trail brake’ on certain occasions. So, basically, I’m sometimes scrubbing off deep into the corner with the rear brake. Now the bike wants to ‘stand’ up at this point, so you have to be prepared for that and adjust- put more ‘lean’ into the bike. Sure, I’ve had the rear step out a bit on a couple of occasions, but caught it in time. Gets your attention for sure! 😛

      I typically don’t recommend it because it can bite a rider in the ass, if it is not used judiciously. But for someone with a high skill level like yourself, it’s a fine practice. Having that ability for ‘seat of the pants’ feel is a big advantage to using this technique. This style works very well for me on the road, but not so much off road. I need a bit more work on my off road skills! lol. I’ve started to use a technique I read about (cannot remember where though) using the elbows and trying to touch my knees to the corresponding direction of the turn when cornering on the mtb. Works well, just a matter of repetition.

      Liked by 1 person

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