Expert Cornering: It’s Weirder Than You Think

When it comes to mountain biking, there are several reasons why you should want to corner faster and more aggressively:

First off, it’s fun.

Plus, you’ll shave tons of time off your laps, carry way better momentum, and, lest we should forget, have way more fun. Here’s the breakdown on how you can corner like a pro on your XC, trail, or downhill bike:

Intro: Understand the Physics

At all times, gravity pulls everything on earth straight down. At the end of the day, the difference between sliding out on a loose corner and sticking to it like velcro comes down to how well you work with gravity.

The knobby treads on your tires are designed to bite into the ground when weight is directly over them. As in, when it’s coming down at a 90º angle to the ground. That’s right: your tires don’t work as well when the force comes down at an angle. 

Think about that for a second. When we corner, we naturally lean our bodies and bikes into the corner. That means our body and bike simply lean over, and our center of gravity is now over bare ground — NOT over the treads of our tires. This causes them to want to shoot out from underneath us. 

If you don’t believe this, grab a sturdy mop. Aim it straight down or at a very slight angle, and you can lean your weight on the handle. But aim it out at a 20º to 30º angle and lean on it, and it’ll shoot out like a watermelon seed.

Step 1: The Bike-body Technique

It seems like a paradox. If you naturally want to lean into corners, how do you keep your weight over the treads?

The answer: lean the bike, not your body.

This will feel utterly unnatural and ridiculous at first, but stick with it. Practice on flat ground. Lean the bike left and right underneath you, keeping your pedals level and sticking your knee out to accommodate the seatpost and top tube. One arm will go nearly straight as you dip one handlebar grip toward the ground, and the other elbow will bend significantly. The more aggressively you can manage to lean the bike, the better your cornering.

Do as much contortion as you need to keep your center of gravity directly over that contact point between the tires and the ground. Remember, you’re driving your weight straight down onto those treads to help them get the best grip possible.

Step 2: Speed Management

Alright, now it’s time for the second counter-intuitive point: your tires will grip well until you touch the brakes. If you brake in a corner, your tires will react to the stopping motion by wanting to continue in a straight line. This tends to make them slide straight out of the corner.

To avoid this, you must do all — and we mean all — of your braking before the corner. Ride brakeless through the turn, and carry speed out of the corner. If it’s a short corner, you may need only a small pump of the brake levers. If it’s a long, swooping downhill corner, you may need to slow yourself far more than you’d think before you enter it. By the time you exit, gravity will have gotten you back up to speed.

Step 3: Know Your Bike

Today’s mountain bikes are unbelievably precise machines. You can implement expert cornering techniques on XC, trail, downhill, or any other off-road bike — just take the time to get comfortable with the bike’s geometry.

A case in point is the Santa Cruz 5010 C S. This full-suspension XC machine is nimble and particularly hungry for cornering due to its 27.5” wheels, responsive 130-140mm suspension, and an incredibly generous lower-link VPP configuration. The slack headtube angle and low bottom bracket help you do less contorting to keep your center of gravity over that sweet spot.

Another example is the Specialized Stumpjumper Pro LTD 27.5. You’ll quickly learn this carbon cornering guru is steady on a rock, even on the rockiest of corners. This is thanks to its OHLINS RXF 36 fork and TTX22 Coil Shock, as well as its carbon rims that remain stiff and confident against all types of variables in a corner. 

And the Juliana Maverick brings the same type of power in a fast, 29” format. With 140mm of travel and a flip-chip allowing you to adjust the height of the bottom bracket and headtube angle, you can truly customize the way you corner.

About Mike’s Bikes: Mike’s Bikes is a growing family of local bike shops, all with a singular purpose - to get as many people on bikes as possible. We locally own and operate twelve wildly successful stores in Northern California. In addition to our brick-and-mortar shops, is one of the top online bicycle retail sites in the country.