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Want to be the fastest cyclist in the world? Then you’re going to need to get your line choice, braking and cornering dialed.
I’m going to talk about the three most important things that you can practice on your bike.
Line choice, braking and cornering are all connected – they feed each other.
- Line choice is how you position yourself on the trail and how you enter and exit sections. You need to be in the right place at the right time to get through a section safely.
- Braking relates to when, where and how long you brake for. Braking too much or too little, as obvious as it sounds, can completely change how you tackle a section of feature of a trail.
- Cornering is the process of getting through a corner taking into account the entrance, apex and exit.
One of the biggest misconceptions about cycling is that it’s all about being fast everywhere.
That is not entirely true.
It’s actually more about being able to control your speed and how you use bike and body to control your speed. Cornering encompasses everything between entering to exiting a corner. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the quickest riders are some of the best at using their brakes and controlling their speed – not simply trying to be the fastest everywhere.
When you’re on a trail, line choice is super dynamic. You never have two corners the exact same, so your vision on the trail is super important. Look up and predict what’s coming towards you. If you’re looking down at your wheel, things approach you much faster and by doing this, you reduce the time you have to prepare—the quicker you are traveling, the further you look ahead.
Read the trail
Your ability to read the trail directly correlates to your line choice and positioning yourself on the trail. It’s all about looking ahead and knowing where you are going – this is a key skill for all cyclists. If you’re unsure where you’re going, which is mostly due to not raising your head to look where you are going, you will ultimately end up with an overload of information as you try to keep up with the features of the trail. Give yourself time to react to oncoming features.
There is a saying that ‘straight lines are fast lines’. This is mostly true, the straighter you make a corner, the easier it is to carry your speed through the corner and out the exit. In tight single tracks there is often no choice but to just stay on the track and follow it. If you are on a track that is wide with large open corners, you need to have a heads-up approach and carve a line in your head from corner to corner.
Put simply, how should you tackle a very generic and simple corner? Enter the corner wide, while looking through the corner. This means you want to look towards the exit or where you want to go. As you come down to a controlled speed, come off the brakes and allow yourself to flow through the corner. Trying to keep a consistent speed is often the best way to maintain grip through a corner. However, every trail is different and often corners are followed by corners and features, but give yourself the best opportunity to deal with them by placing yourself in a position that allows you to carry speed through the corner.
Line choice is not only limited to corners, but every aspect of a trail. Even on a straight section, you can have variations in the terrain – roots, undulations, puddles, natural jumps, rocks, stones – pretty much anything. Where you have variation, you have a choice and gaining experience on the trails will teach you better how to pick a line better than any article will. However, some tips to take with you next time you hit the trail are:
- Use the contour of the terrain to your advantage, use roots or bumps as a source to help lift your wheels over features that can otherwise slow you down
- Look for lines that open up corners i.e allowing you to take a wider entry to the corner than the obvious trail will
- If it’s wet and muddy, look for ruts that have already cleared the thick mud
- If roots are already shined, aim to the top of the roots so that you leave room to slide down. Don’t aim for the base of them where the trail offers no space to slide down any further
- Entering a corner, choose the line that offers you the best surface to brake effectively on.
In mountain biking, braking is one of the most important aspects. When you pull the levers, there is so much more going on than just simply slowing down. This section will help explain some considerations you should make the next time you take to the trails. The hope is that with a better understanding of what is going on, you can become a better rider. Little, by little.
Braking creates instability. When we brake, the weight of our bodies and the momentum carried by the bike, all gets pushed forward. This shift in weight can unsettle a bike when it’s in a state of limited grip. When we brake, we ideally want to brake when the bike is straight and perpendicular to the ground. The reason for this is that when the bike is straight, we are braking on portions of the tire that are flat and everything is in line with the direction of travel.
If we brake when we’ve the bike leaned over, or in a turn, it forces additional weight onto the front wheel and increases the chances it will loose grip. The same applies to the rear, if you want the rear wheel to skid, it is more likely to occur when the tire is on the side knobs, rather than the centre. This is why if we need to use brakes while entering the corner, we either want to be on the brakes and maintaining the same pressure, or gradually remove braking pressure rather than applying more. When you apply more it forces the bike to stand up and pushes you wide. The sooner you can get the braking done, enter the corner with brakes just coming off, the better you can exit and carry speed into the next section.
From reading the previous sections, you can already see how much the line choice and braking influences the actual method of taking a corner. When we corner, we are always looking to get into the corner and away as cleanly as possible. We also want to take a smooth and consistent speed throughout the corner.
There’s a misconception, especially when starting out, that you need to brake for every corner. As simple as it sounds, mentally it’s quite hard to overcome. A good exercise is to find a trail you know and consciously brake on a very simple corner, then let off the brakes completely and let the bike roll through. Repeating this, take the corner the next time with less brakes until you can take it with no brakes at all.
The hope is that overtime you begin to realise how capable you and your bike are at traveling quicker through sections by doing the simple things really well.
Track your improvements
Using something like Garmin Edge can be a really trick addition to your everyday spin for tracking your improvements over time. Using an application like Strava, you can see your times on trails and compare them to previous rides.
You simply attach the device to your handlebar or stem cap and leave it to track your ride. Or, you can use it as a stopwatch to time yourself down sections that you are trying to improve on. Using something as simple as a timer is a really powerful tool to show how doing the simple things really effectively over time, will show on a stopwatch.
The aim of this article is to highlight some key things that you can take to your next ride out on the trails. There are 101 more aspects to line choice, braking and cornering. However, if you can bring a process to the trails of heads-up riding, braking strong in a straight line, opening up the corner, looking to where you want to go and having the confidence to get off the brakes and build up your exit speed, you will gradually start to become far more confident in the process.