First, take a look at the picture below. I will refer to
this picture throughout this article.
For reference purposes concerning the cornering picture (Riders in
Corner), the red cyclist is the one on the far left, the blue
cyclist is the one in the middle, the green cyclist is the one on
the far right, and the lines represent their lines through the
corner. The picture is meant to represent three cyclists taking a
right hand corner.
The picture with the arrows or vectors (Forces When Cornering) is to
help you understand the basic forces involved in cornering with the
bottom line being the ground or road. I will refer to the horizontal
(pointing left), vertical (pointing down), and diagonal (pointing
lower left) vectors. Remember that the length of a vector shows the
speed or amount of force while the direction of the vector shows the
direction of the force or object. Please familiarize yourself with
the two pictures before continuing.
In this Chapter, I am going to teach you a scientific and common
sense approach to cornering. I am going to stress the does and
don'ts of cornering along with common mistakes I have seen in
cornering. I have found it amazing that some of the mistakes I have
seen have worked their way up into even pro racing. It seems that
experience alone is not an adequate teacher.
Please pay close attention to the details. This lecture is crucial
to everyone in cycling even if you believe you know all about
cornering. You may be making mistakes without knowing it and even
little mistakes can put you down.
Let's start with the picture in the lower right corner. The vertical
vector is representing the force of gravity pulling you down. When
you are riding in a straight line on flat ground, there are only two
basic forces acting on your bike (this is excluding wheel turn etc.)
Those two forces are gravity pulling you down toward the ground and
the kinetic energy keeping you moving forward.
In this position, you keep your center of gravity over the
centerline of the bike to keep the bike vertical and going in a
straight line. If you move your center of gravity to either side of
the centerline of the bike, the bike will lean in that direction. If
you place a pedal at the bottom of its stroke and place all your
weight in that pedal, the leverage of the pedal will cause the bike
to lean and turn in that direction.
Most people mistakenly believe that you control the direction of
your bike with your handlebars but the truth is that you move your
handlebars very little except at very slow speeds when you cannot
lean much. You actually control the direction of your bike with your
saddle. By causing your saddle to move left, you cause the bike to
lean left, which causes your bike to turn left.
You should know this from walking with your bike and only holding it
by the saddle. You can make your bike go where you want by leaning
the bike with your saddle. When you are racing, you do the same
thing except instead of leaning the bike with your hand, you are
leaning it with your center of gravity.
THEREFORE, (and this is a big therefore) the control of your bike
during a race is determined by your center of gravity (placement of
your weight) in relation to the centerline of the bike. Don't forget
At this point it is important to understand a basic principle of
physics which states that an object in motion will remain in motion
at a constant direction and speed unless acted upon by another
force. Don't forget that either.
When you lean the bike to the right, the shape and rotation of the
side of the tire brings into play another force acting on your bike,
which causes it to turn to the right. The geometry of your tires
rotating downward in relation to the surface of the road brings
friction force into play. This friction force comes into play
PUSHING your bike to the right.
Suddenly, you have two different forces acting on you and your bike
other than kinetic energy. You have gravity pulling you down, the
vertical vector, and centripetal force pulling you to the left
(while you are turning right), the horizontal vector. Any time you
have two forces acting on an object, in this case your body, the
combination of those two forces creates a third vector, the diagonal
The length and direction of this vector is determined by the
relative lengths and directions of the other two vectors. Since
gravity remains constant on flat ground, then the variable is the
centripetal force but it will only vary in intensity. As the
centripetal force increases in intensity, it causes the diagonal
vector to increase in length and become more horizontal. As the
centripetal force decreases, the diagonal vector shortens and
becomes more vertical or in line with gravity until it equals
gravity when you are riding in a straight line.
If you find this confusing, read it again and again until you
understand it. It is important that you understand this so you can
figure out when someone is telling you something wrong about
The diagonal vector represents the combination of the other two
forces which, to make it easier to remember, I call it your racing
gravity. I call the direction that this vector is pointing your
racing down, or the direction in which your racing gravity is
At this point, common sense should tell you that you must keep the
center line of your bike in line with your racing gravity and you
must keep your center of gravity or weight placement so that the
center line of your bike is directly between your center of gravity
and your racing down. If you move your center of gravity to either
side of the centerline of your bike, your bike will move in that
While cornering to the right, if you move your center of gravity to
the left, either your bike will set up and you will stop cornering
or you will flip off of your bike to your left. If you move your
center of gravity to your right, either your bike will lean more
causing the bike to turn harder or the bike will lean too far
causing the tires to lose traction, you will go horizontal with your
bike, and crash.
I regularly hear and read riders being told that they should put
their weight in their outside pedal when cornering. By this point
you should understand that if you put your weight in your outside
pedal when cornering, it will cause your bike to set up and you will
either stop cornering or crash.
Then why are you being told to put your weight in your outside pedal
It is very simple. These people, when cornering, feel pressure on
the bottom of the outside foot when cornering and mistakenly take
this to be their weight being shifted to that foot. Actually, they
are keeping their weight over the center line of the bike and
putting pressure in their outside pedal.
There are two proofs that you are not putting your weight in your
outside pedal when cornering:
(1) Lean your bike in a standing position against something while
standing next to it. Put your foot on the outside pedal with the
pedal at the bottom and push down hard with your weight but not too
hard (you don't want to hurt yourself.) Your bike will quickly slap
upright against your leg.
(2) If you are pedaling through a corner, how can you be putting
your weight in your outside pedal? It should be common sense that
you cannot pedal with all your weight in one of your pedals.
If you think about what is happening while cornering in relation to
physics, you will find that you are instinctively doing something
interesting. You are keeping your weight over the centerline of the
bike in relation to your racing down and racing gravity to hold it
in the proper position for cornering AND you are torqueing the bike
tires into the ground to increase your traction to keep it from
Pay close attention to BOTH your hands and feet.
You will find that you are pulling up on the inside handle bar and
pushing down on the outside handle bar to force your front tire hard
into the ground. The pressure on your outside pedal is meant to help
force the rear tire into the ground.
Therefore, the proper cornering technique is to sit on your saddle,
relax, torque the bike just a little to cause the tires to bite, and
let the bike arch through the corner. Your upper body and head
should drop lower and toward the inside so that your head will be
just about over the inside brake lever. This is to better position
your center of gravity on the bike in relation to the centerline of
the bike. It is also important to keep a smooth arching line through
the corner. Bobbing and weaving will throw your line off. It is just
Oh, did I say relax? Yes, because tensing up will cause you to pull
the bike to the outside, losing control, and forcing yourself to
brake to regain control.
Remember what I told you about the word relax being one of the most
important words in cycling? That is very true in cornering. If you
tense up while cornering, you tend to push your center of gravity
away from the corner or toward your outside. This causes you to pull
hard to the outside and can easily cause you to crash. Therefore, it
is crucial that you practice cornering until you learn to
instinctively relax while cornering.
It is the single most important thing most people can do to improve
In a later chapter, I will teach you drills you can practice to
teach your subconscious mind to gain the confidence required for you
to be able to relax while cornering. You should practice these
drills on a regular basis for the rest of your racing career.
do, you will reach a point to where cornering feels great and is
fun. Then you will really love roller coasters. :-)
Let me teach you a technique for helping you relax for corners. You
will find that when you tense up, you grip the handlebars very hard.
This causes your forearms to tense up because the muscles, which
control your fingers, are in your forearms.
In order for your forearms to tense up, you have to brace them by
tensing your upper arms and to tense your upper arms you have to
brace them by tensing your shoulders. Just grab anything really
tight with your hand and feel the muscles up your arm to your
shoulder with the other hand. You will see that all the muscles are
This tensing action causes you to straighten your arms and push away
from the corner which causes your bike to pull toward the outside
causing you to lose control. Therefore, to relax for corners, you
simply relax your grip around your handlebars, which permits all the
other muscles to relax.
Before you commit to the corner, let your fingers hang until the
muscles up your arms relax and then gently wrap your fingers back
around the bars just tight enough to have a firm hold on the bars.
You will find that this little trick will make it possible for your
entire body to relax which will improve your cornering.
Clearing the Corner
As you are approaching a corner, there are several things you need
to do. First, you need to do what I call clearing the corner. What
you are doing is looking as far into the corner and at the road
surface to see if there is anything that can cause you to crash. You
are looking for irregularities in the road surface, sand, water,
rocks, and other objects like the bodies of racers who have crashed
ahead of you. You should clear the corner before you lean into the
After you have cleared the corner and just before you lean into or
commit yourself to the corner, you look as far through the corner as
you can. You will find that you and your bike will follow your eyes
through the corner. If you are looking at the road in the corner,
you will tend to pull to the outside and lose control of the bike
because it is too close to you to set the right line through the
corner. If you can't see all the way through the corner, look as far
as you can as if you can see all the way through it.
At this point, it is important for you to remember the lessons I
taught you about how to use your eyes in a bike race.
Remember that you will use your center vision for what you want to
be your main focus and use your peripheral vision to watch other
things. When cornering, use your lower peripheral vision to monitor
the ground searching for something you may have missed such as
rocks, water, and sand while keeping your main focus through the
This is particularly important when riding a blind corner you can't
see all the way through. You keep your focus through the corner
while constantly clearing the road with your lower peripheral vision
as the road comes into view. This way, you don't lose your line in a
You are committed to a corner, part of the way into it, you suddenly
find yourself in trouble. What do you do?
First, it is important to understand what happens if you don't react
right. Your bike will lose traction with the ground, you will
suddenly lose all that nice friction force which is pushing you
through the corner, you and your bike will suddenly go horizontal,
and you will immediately move in a straight line towards the outside
of the corner at high speed.
This will happen so quickly that the riders on your outside will not
have time to react much less get out of your way. You will cut under
them, taking their bikes out from under them, and crashing them.
This all happens in a split second.
The proper reaction is to set the bike up in a straight line, slam
on your brakes, and bring the bike to a stand still or back under
control. This sounds drastic but is the best thing to do when you
have just had something happen which is causing you to crash because
it keeps the bike under you and the people on your outside will keep
their bikes under them, it also permits all of you enough time to
straight line your bikes and grab your breaks, and it keeps you
reasonably under control. Watch the pros. They often use this
technique with not one person hitting the ground even with a rolled
How do you do this? Just as soon as you feel the bike start to go,
you kick your hips to your outside in one quick move. This stops the
cornering by straightening the bike up and brings you back on top of
your bike with your wheels down.
By the time your bike has straightened up, you have had more time to
react to braking than it would have taken for you to knock down the
first rider to your outside. This has permitted the rider on your
outside to have enough time to react, straighten his bike up, and
hit his brakes. You just saved two or more riders a lot of skin.
It is very important that you not use this technique as an out for
panic. If you are not comfortable in a peloton while cornering, you
didn't do your cornering drills and should go to the back of the
peloton to practice following the pack through the turns until you
feel comfortable leaning through the corners.
Now, let's say you are on a fast down hill in a blind curve.
Suddenly, you see sand in the corner. DON'T PANIC!!! First, lightly
hit your brakes just enough to feel your weight shift forward a
little bit. This will decrease your speed enough that you can take a
sharper line through the curve, which you will need after your next
Second, just before your front wheel hits the sand, release your
brakes and set your bike up in a straight line until after your rear
wheel has cleared the sand and had enough time make one revolution
after passing through the sand, then lean back into the curve on a
slightly tighter line to continue the curve at the now slower speed.
If necessary, resume braking by caressing your rims.
If you remain leaned in the sand, your tires will lose traction when
they get on the sand, they will slide out, and you will crash. If
you don't release your brakes before hitting the sand, your wheels
will lock up when you get on the sand, you will lose traction, and
crash. Understand? Good. If not, read it through again and think
The main thing is to keep control and keep the wheels down. This
requires remaining relaxed as much as possible and the only way you
can do that is to practice your cornering drills.
Inside ? Outside
Over the years, I have often heard discussions between racers who
were concerned more about crashing than winning. They would tell
less experienced racers that you ALWAYS want to be on the inside
when taking a corner because, if someone crashes on your inside,
they will carry out into you causing you to crash.
If not crashing is your primary concern in a bike race, then they
are partly right. What if you are cornering slowly enough that a
rider doesn't carry outside when he crashes? This is especially true
with 180-degree turns. When you crash when going too slow, you just
drop and stick because you are going too slow to have enough
centripetal force to carry you outside.
In slow corners, it is safest to be on the outside so you have an
out in the event the rider in front of your crashes. If you are
going really fast in a corner and the rider in front of you crashes,
you tuck inside of him just a little because he will carry out from
in front of you.
But, in a slow corner, the rider will just drop where he is,
therefore, you must set the bike up and go to his outside because
you will have riders or a curb to your inside. I always taught my
riders in the lower categories to take really sharp and slow corners
on the outside so they could set up and get around crashes. I got
thanked more than once after a race.
Proper Racing Line
I have reproduced my wonderful little graphic - I'm a cycling coach,
not an artist :) - at this point so you
don't have to scroll back up to refer to it. We are now going to
refer to the upper left graphic. We are going to talk about the red,
blue, and green riders so review the picture again paying close
attention to their lines through the curve.
Basic physics teaches you that the proper line through the corner
above should be from the outside to the inside back out to the
outside like the blue and red riders are doing. The reason for this
is because it "flattens out" your line through the curve. The
flatter your line through the curve, the faster you can take the
Look at the line for the green (right) rider in comparison to the
line of the other two riders. He is setting up on the inside and
going straight to the outside. His line is much sharper which means
he won?t be able to take the corner as fast as the two other riders.
This is true for almost all corners even for down hill curves. You
should always go from outside to inside to outside in order to
flatten out and open up the curve.
The exception to this is the complex corner where you have to set up
for one curve to come out of the first curve in proper position for
a second curve immediately following the first curve. This takes
practice because you have to be able to see the line for the second
curve, the required entry point for the second curve, and then trace
that back to where you have to exit the first curve. This permits
you to establish where you should enter the first curve. It helps if
you practice riding figure 8's.
Look at the green and blue riders in our picture. They are crossing
lines in the curve. If they go into the curve at the same time,
either one will have to break hard and let the other go or they will
both crash. Riders should never take different lines into a corner.
So you ask, "How do riders go through a corner two or more at one
time?" Look at the red and blue riders. They are not crossing lines
but are taking PARALLEL lines through the corner. This means that
the outside rider has to either travel a little faster than the
inside rider or he will lose ground. As you can see, there is a huge
difference between crossing lines and taking parallel lines in a
corner. The parallel line is how the pros will even attack to the
inside of another rider in a corner.
This brings about a very important matter I have seen with
increasing occurrence in US bike racing. Riders who don't understand
this basic principle of physics try to keep passing on the inside
just before a curve after the outside riders have already leaned or
committed to the corner.
Because the inside riders are still going straight when the outside
riders have committed, they are taking crossing lines and the inside
riders are almost always "cut off" in the corner and forced to hit
their brakes. They, in their ignorance, blame the outside riders but
the truth is that the inside riders were in the wrong.
The rule is this. You should always be merged with and running a
parallel line with the other riders in a pack at least 10 meters
before the outside riders commit to the corner. If you are not, you
will cross lines in the corner and either get cut off forcing you to
brake hard and lose ground or you will crash. You cannot violate
this rule because it is basic physics and you cannot change the laws
of physics just because you want to move up one more position before
Therefore, it should be common sense that, if the pack is not going
all the way out for either the entry or exit or all of the way in at
the center and they are not braking for the corner, then the corner
is wide enough for them to take the corner at full speed without
using the full width of the course.
This means that, as long as you ride a parallel line, you can pass
the pack on the side where they are not going all of the way to the
curb. Understanding these basic principles makes it possible for you
to develop tactics based on the way the peloton takes a given corner
as long as you obey the rules.
If you find that a pack tends to over brake for a corner and is not
going all the way out to the curb on the exit, you can save energy
by drifting outside one bike width going into the corner, not
braking and letting your speed carry by passing people on the left,
and not having to accelerate every time out of the corner.
This is a risky move and you must use your own discretion as to
whether or not to make this move because a rider could drift out at
the exit and put you into the curb. To help prevent this, it is best
to estimate your passing so you will be along side of the rider you
exit the curve with so he will know you are there before he exits
the curve and will leave room for you.
Of course, the opposite is true. Let's say the pack is going into
the corner at full speed and not having to go all the way to the
inside curve. If you take a parallel line through the curve, you can
attack under the other riders into and through the curve to get a
jump on them before they exit. This is commonly used by pros for
attacking and going into the final sprint.
Cover the Rider on Your Inside
I clearly remember Eddy Van Guyse (the race announcer) teaching me
how to corner in a pack of 100+ riders when you are going through a
We were in the Second Annual Summer Fest Criterium in the summer of
1970 (later it became Super Week.) It was early in the race and we
were taking 90-degree corners at full speed four riders wide. He
told me a very important rule that has stuck with me over the years.
Eddy said, "Always cover down on the rider to your inside." By this,
he was telling me to always leave room for the rider on my inside to
navigate the corner because, if I don't and he crashes, he will
carry outside into me and we will both crash. It is a pretty good
rule. Don't forget it.
The way this works is quite simple. You are both carrying kinetic
energy into a corner and using friction force to push you through
the corner on just the right line. This means that the two forces
have to be balanced just right or your line will change, possibly
cause you to suddenly lose control, and crash.
When any two objects, which are in motion, collide, they exchange
energy causing them to change directions. If you don't leave room
for the rider on your inside in a corner, you will cross corners,
collide, exchange energy, change lines very radically, and possibly
Rider Size & Cornering
I have heard a myth about rider size and cornering which needs to be
put away. We KNOW that smaller riders corner faster than larger
riders. The myth has it that this is because the larger rider has a
higher center of gravity and is, therefore, less stable in the
This is true for a four-wheeled vehicle because it cannot lean to
keep its centerline in line with the vehicle's center of gravity.
But it is not true with a two-wheeled vehicle because the vehicle
You see, as long as the center of gravity is in line with the line
of the vehicle and its racing down, the vehicle is stable regardless
of how high the center of gravity is. Therefore, the center of
gravity cannot be the reason that smaller riders corner faster.
The reason smaller riders corner faster is because smaller riders
ride smaller bikes, which have a shorter wheelbase from front to
back. On a racing car, there are two things to wheelbase, which
affect the cornering speed of the vehicle. These are the
front-to-back wheelbase (FB) and the side-to-side wheelbase (SS) of
the vehicle. We are not concerned with the SS wheelbase because we
only have two wheels and lean in the corner.
What you need to know is that the shorter the FB wheelbase is, the
faster you can corner. This is because a shorter FB wheelbase
permits the vehicle to take a sharper line through a corner at a
given speed or a faster speed for a given line through the corner.
A really great example here is a large truck turning in relation to
a small car with the same SS wheelbase. The large truck has the
longer FB wheelbase and has to take a longer line through the corner
and/or a slower speed through the corner. This is true with a
This is very important if you are a Criterium specialist and want a
custom designed bicycle to help you be faster in corners.
What you want is a bike with steeper seat tube and head tube angles.
The steeper seat tube angel moves the seat tube farther forward
making more room to move the rear wheel forward. The shaper head
tube angle moves the front wheel backwards.
These two things in combination decrease the FB wheelbase and make
the bike faster in the corners. As a matter of fact, you will notice
that track bikes have sharper tube angles and a shorter FB
wheelbase, which makes them faster and easier to handle in the
Looking for more common sense advice on professional riding? I
devote 15 chapters to pro riding techniques in my book
A Better Way To Train.
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