Now the equipment looks good, it’s time to get your butt on the bike, and get moving. Fast. Being comfortable riding and cornering at speed is a fundamental of racing, and high-performance cornering. The question of “How fast is fast” comes up all the time. Let’s start this way. You need to be comfortable of reaching a speed of 40-45 mph on a bike to really function in a race. While you’ll likely not be at that speed at any point in a race other than a descent, it’s important to know how your bike handles at that speed BEFORE you get into a situation, and also allows you to work backwards to the types of cornering speeds you can expect to encounter in a race.
How speed works in a corner is a pretty simple physics lesson. The wheels on your bike are essentially big gyroscopes. This is what’s keeping you upright in the first place. The faster you spin them as your speed increases, the greater the force is that is keeping you up.
To really get comfortable at cornering at speed, you need to practice descending. Sounds simple, right, just going down hill? Well, sort of. The ideal situation is to find a road that has a few bends in it, and about a 6%-8% gradient (you can combine this with your climbing repeats for a well rounded day). Obviously, you wan to have as little traffic as possible, and you have to obey the traffic laws, so if the hill has a dozen stop signs, find another one! (and wear your helmet!) The descending drill goes something like this:
Descent #1– Pick a gear that allows you to still put some effort on the pedals, but keep a fairly high cadence. First time down, accelerate to about 20mph, and then let off the gas a bit, and coast through the turns. Try and stay in the drops, constantly scanning the pavement 20-50 ft ahead, looking for any kind of debris, potholes, etc. As you approach the bends in the road, shoot for the apex of the turn, and lean into the corners. You want to try and maintain your pedaling through the turns. It’s important to get used to this sensation, even if it means scrubbing some speed before the turn or on the straights to feel comfortable doing this. (Remember, this is a drill).
Descent # 2– Now you’ve had a run down, and got a bit of a feel for the descent, you need to start adding in speed. As you start the descent again, jump out of the saddle a bit to get going, and pick a gear 1-2 cogs higher than before. Follow the same instructions as above, but instead of scrubbing speed off on the straights, try and keep pedaling the whole way down. (If you need to scrub speed, do it as you set up for the turns, using both brakes. We’ll cover this more in the technique section though). As you come out of each turn, get out of the saddle for a few pedal stokes, sprinting down the hill. As you start to go faster, work on keeping you back flat. As you go through the turns, think about where you are on your saddle. As you slide back on it, you can apply more force to the rear tire. Imagine yourself trying to press the rear wheel into the pavement with your butt.
Descent #3– It’s full on speed time. Attack the top of the descent like a sprinter. Keep shifting until you are really having to work to turn the pedals. They key here is that you don’t want to come out of a turn under-geared, and then be bopping up and down not applying any force on the cranks. Really lean into the turns. At this point, you may be going fast enough that you can’t (or won’t) pedal into and out of the turns. Keep your outside crank down, and as you set up for the turn, really lean into it, almost dropping your shoulder. Explode out of the turns with a full burst of speed. It’s not uncommon to hit 45+ mph at this point.
The key to all of this is that you’re getting comfortable at speed, and leaning your bike around corners as opposed to “turning” around the corners.
[Editors note:] This is the 2nd part of a 3 part series writing by David Burke and presented by Steel City Endurance, Ltd.
See part I of the article here:
Cornering Part 1 – Equipment
Part III of Skilz Drillz will focus on the next area of cornering skill development – Technique! Look for it to be posted around the end of May. Get advanced notice by signing up for the newsletter, “Forging the Athlete”
Author David Burke has been racing road and mountain bikes for over ten years all over the east coast. He’s currently working his way back up through the ranks after a few years off, and is an avid gear-head. He is currently in the process of obtaining his USA Cycling Level 3 coaching certification and will be accepting athletes soon. Please contact us if you are interested in hiring or consulting David for your cycling training.