Spring is now in full swing here in Australia and the first of the crits signify the start of it. Crit season also means getting accustomed to some high paced, tight cornering again.
Good cornering technique can save a LOT of energy and put you in the proper winning position in the final straight. Knowing how to corner properly can also give you what we call “free speed“. Many people have difficulty cornering so here are a few simple tips to help you along the way.
- Always look where you want to go and don’t fixate on the wheel in front of you. Never look where you do not want to go. It’s a sure way of heading in that direction.
- Anticipate the speed for the corner and brake before the corner if necessary. DO NOT brake while in the turn.
- Approach the corner wide, cut to the apex , and finish wide. The apex is straightest line through a corner and allows you to maintain the highest amount of speed. A common mistake is cutting to the apex of the turn too early. Approaching the corner wide also gives you more options when exiting the corner in case something unexpected happens.
- Quickly scope out the 2 or 3 riders ahead of you who have already entered the corner. Note if they are pedaling safely through it and judge whether you should do the same. If it happens that your inside pedal hits the pavement, don’t panic and don’t over-correct. Over compensation is how most crashes happen.
- Put all your weight onto the outside pedal if you stop pedaling. This pedal outside pedal should be facing down towards the road. Lift your weight off your saddle slightly to get that weight on the outside foot, get over the front of the bike (see photo below), and roll up behind and into the slipstream of the rider in front. It’s amazing how much speed you can keep and energy you can save by ducking right under the wind.
- If you are not pedaling through the corner and need to coast through (as in #5), once you have passed the apex of the corner begin to pedal again as soon as possible and accelerate out of the corner.
Random Cornering Tips
When riding in large groups such as criterium racing you’ll experience what’s called the concertina or accordion effect. This happens when the front riders slow down to enter a corner which compresses the pack together. The last rider in the bunch has to slow down the most. By the time the front riders are accelerating out of the corner the riders at the back are still slowing. This means the riders at the back have a lot of catching up to do and have to go faster than the riders at the front in order to catch up again. The further back you are, the more this surging effect is propagated towards the rear of the bunch.
The trick to avoiding this constant surging is to find your position at the front quarter of the bunch. You don’t want to be at the front doing all the work but you want to be close enough to the front so you can carry your speed through the corners and respond to any attacks or surges. This also enables you to read the race and see what’s going on up front.
This is an etiquette and safety thing. What “coming underneath” means is when someone passes everyone on the inside of the corner while going through. This is a mistake on two counts:
1) You could get cut off very easily by the rest of the group apexing the corner and you won’t get through. Your exit line will be over before it’s begun.
2) If you do manage to come underneath the through the inside of the corner you will disrupt the pack’s fast moving line since you will most likely swing wide through the corner. You’ll have the riders say a few colorful words to you at the end of the race. Hard to explain but hopefully you get the picture. Do it once and let the guys you just “chopped” politely explain it to you.
You may not realize that you intuitively countersteer every time you enter a corner. However, once you are aware of this concept it’s much easier to control and perfect.
To initiate countersteering, momentarily turn away from the direction you’re turning. This increases the lean of the bicycle into the turn. This method allows for greater steering control and makes it easy to affect a change in direction during the turn.
If you have 5 minutes, the following video does a great job explaining countersteering.