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How to Take Sharp Corners Without Slowing Down (or Falling Over!)

rider approaching left corner
A local racer prepares for an upcoming bend.

Cornering is one of the most important skills for all cyclists. It’s one that you have to learn immediately, but also one that you will work to perfect for many years.

In this how-to guide, I’ll dispel some common myths about cornering, teach you how to handle high-speed cornering, and reveal some pro tricks on how to corner faster than you ever thought possible.

You Are NOT Riding a Motorcycle

One cornering method that used to be commonplace was the “knee out” method like you see in motorcycle racing. You’ve probably seen it – the motorcycle rider is practically hanging off the bike, with their inside knee pointing into the corner, possibly even dragging on the ground.

It works when you’re on a motorcycle, because the bike outweighs you by a few hundred pounds! You need to get your weight off the bike to maneuver it. On a bicycle, though, your bodyweight is much greater than the weight of your vehicle!

The method does work, to an extent, and that’s why you still see it. Some old-school riders probably still advise you to do it. The problem is, it ruins your stability, and is going to limit your progress as your skills and confidence improve.

So let’s not make this “knee out” method a habit, alright? 🙂

(The exception to this rule would be when you’re mountain biking on technical singletrack – i.e. trails so technical that you may use a trackstand to pause and survey what’s ahead. That type of riding can require extreme body movements you won’t use when cornering on the road.)

The Basic Principles of Successful Cornering

Here are three things to get ingrained in your head from the start:

  • Brake before the corner.
  • Look through the corner.
  • Keep your body relaxed.

No matter the situation, you ALWAYS follow these three principles!

1. Brake before the corner.

When cornering, your tires need every bit of traction they can get. You’re on the edge of losing control. Braking is just enough to upset this fine balance, causing your tires to lose their grip, and you’ll most likely end up sliding off the road.

So, you never want to brake during a corner. Which means, you need to do any braking before you enter the corner, while your bike is still upright.

2. Look through the corner.

As always, look where you want to go. In the case of cornering, look through the corner to where you want to end up. Your body will follow your head and eyes.

3. Keep your body relaxed.

Though some corners are scary, tightening up from fear just makes you more likely to crash. Just like the white knuckle death grip on the handlebar when descending – don’t do it!

If you keep your body loose and relaxed, you can flow through the corner better. And if anything does go wrong, being relaxed will give you a chance to correct it.

How to Set Up for The Corner

No matter how sharp the turn, the goal is to make the turn as straight as possible. You do that by entering the turn as wide as possible, cutting straight through the apex, and exiting as wide as possible.

So you’re going to use as much space as possible on the road. During a time trial on a closed course, you have an entire lane to work with. During a mass start race or everyday riding, you have a lane to work with, pending current traffic conditions.

On public roads with oncoming traffic, make the most of your lane, but don’t cross the yellow line. If it’s a blind corner, don’t even come close to crossing the center line! Chances are, a driver coming from the other side will be crossing into your lane at least slightly. Exiting wide and coming face-to-face with a car is an experience you don’t want to have!

If you’re in a group, you’ll need to hold your line through the corner. You don’t get to use the outside-inside-outside line (unless you want to be run over by your competitors.)

And remember, brake before the turn! You want to enter at a comfortable speed you can handle.

How to Corner at High Speed with Proper Technique

At this point, you’ve slowed down to a speed you can handle, you’re entering the turn as wide as possible, and you’re looking through the turn.

Weight the outside pedal.

Put your outside pedal down (in the 6 o’clock position) and put your weight on that pedal. If the inside pedal is down, it could catch on the road as you lean into the turn, catapulting you off the bike.

Body centered over bike.

Keep your body centered over the bike throughout the turn. Both knees should be close to the frame like normal. If your pedals are positioned properly, your outside thigh and inside knee should be on either side of the top tube.

Don’t splay your inside knee out towards the corner!

Lean in.

Rather than turning the handlebar, you’re going to turn the bike by leaning your body (and bike) into the turn. Leaning both your body and your bike allows you to keep your body centered over the bike.

From this position, I’ll lean the bike further as necessary. The point is to always lean your bike just as much as you lean your body. (Don’t hang your body off the bike as you would on a motorcycle.)

Push on the bar.

Now here’s the real key that most people don’t tell you: push on the inside of the handlebar.

Just like you push down with your outside foot, you also push with your inside hand. With hands in the hooks/drops, you kind of push forward on the inside hand as you go through the turn.

If you need to sharpen the turn, push a little more. This really leans the bike into the turn, so go easy the first time you try it.

Speedy exit.

If you followed the previous steps, you should have just swooped through the corner gracefully. Now all you have to do is return the bike to an upright position and resume pedaling!

Pro Tip: How to Turn Even Sharper

If you encounter a super sharp turn, or you just want to enter a corner quicker (perhaps you’re planning a race-winning breakaway,) here’s a technique that can help.

To do it, just countersteer right before entering the turn.

As you approach, right before you dive into the turn, countersteer with the handlebar.

You’ll already be centered over the bike and have your weight on the outside leg, but right before you lean in, pull the handlebar back just real quick with the outside hand (yes, like you are turning the wrong way.)

For example, if it’s a right turn, you’re going to move the handlebar to the left.

Just a quick tug and then relax, letting the bar return to center. By pointing in the wrong direction for a fraction of a second, you’ll actually end up making a sharper turn in the direction you want to go! The bike will initiate the dive for you after that quick tug.

Try it in a parking lot first, and you’ll see the magic.

Pro Tip: Know Your Tires

Tires play a crucial role in cornering, and all tires corner a little differently. If you are running good tires such as the Michelin Pro3 Race or a similar pro-level tire, trust that they can handle sharp turns at high speeds. But don’t get too crazy until you get a good feel for the specific tire you’re using.

If you get your form down, good tires will do their job. The edge is made to be used in corners!

If you are running cheaper tires that are made for durability over traction and performance, though, be careful. The harder rubber won’t be as likely to grip the road in sharp turns. If the road is damp, forget about it!

Pro Tip: How to Pedal Through the Corner

So, you’ve perfected your cornering technique after years of practice. You’re so good that you enter the corner without slowing down.

Well, cornering “without slowing down” isn’t going to cut it forever. Eventually you need to be able to gain speed through corners.

I only know one way to do that – pedal through the corner.

Yes, it’s dangerous. That’s why it’s a pro tip. And only something to work on once you’ve mastered everything else.

Follow the normal routine outlined previously – body centered over the bike, weight on the outside pedal, etc.. But keep pedaling.

As your inside pedal comes down to the 6 o’clock position, you have to lean the bike out, to provide clearance for the pedal. But only for a fraction of a second. Once that inside pedal clears, you’re back in normal cornering position with the bike leaning into the corner.

Timing is everything. Very quick, but subtle movements are necessary.

For the majority of the corner, you’ll be in the proper cornering position, so you’ll still turn successfully.

Practice Makes Perfect

The final step? Practice. And practice some more.

Need a pro tip? Here: once you think you’ve perfected cornering, keep practicing it anyway.

When you’re just beginning, start out in a parking lot and set up a slalom course (like you would when doing these bike handling drills.) If you have a downhill slope, perfect. That will help you keep your speed up without worrying about pedaling.

Then venture out onto low traffic roads and practice negotiating real corners, building speed each time.

 

*Note that, despite the article title, some sharp corners will still require you to slow down!

 

Need to work on your drafting? Then read my guide on how to ride in a paceline.

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2 Comments
  1. sir, for perfect riding, which “Type” of tire should i use, in terms of 700c, or any other type.

  2. @Abhay

    You’re in luck because I also wrote a guide to choosing the best road bike tire for your needs!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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