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Cornering and Descending

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 7:48 PM | Steve Kroeck (Administrator)

Cornering and Descending

The most difficult part of going downhill fast on a bicycle is overcoming fear.  Fear results in tension, which causes muscles to tighten.  Tight muscles don’t react to change very well.  Besides relaxing, and before going too fast, it’s also important to get up-to-speed about the different ways to corner on a bike.

There are essentially two techniques for cornering – turning and steering.  The top diagram illustrates the technique for a slow turn where the rider and bike lean as a single unit in the same plane.  It’s ok to pedal through a turn when you aren’t leaned over too far.  When in doubt, coast. 

The middle diagram shows a rider coasting through a turn at a faster speed.  Notice the bike is leaned over farther than the rider, who stays more upright.  In this situation, the riders elbows are bent, the outside pedal is down, and the inside knee leans into the turn to make room for the top tube.

For faster speeds, get as low as possible.  Keep your shoulders low, pressure on the outside foot and inside hand, and a balanced for-aft position on the bike with your rear slightly off the seat. 

In the bottom example, the rider is using a more advanced technique of steering through the turn.  Here the rider leans and the bike is held more upright.  This allows the bike to be pedaled through the turn and is often used during wet conditions when more traction is needed.

Using this technique, the rider shifts the body forward placingnose over the front brake lever.  Also opposite of the steering technique, hands are used to pull on the inside bar and push down on the outside.   Knees are in to maintain pedaling. 

Before putting these techniques to work at speed, there are some things you can do to improve your chances of making it to the bottom.  First, be aware.  Pay attention to weather (rain, fog, ice), traffic (cars, pedestrians, animals, other riders), road conditions (gravel, potholes, metal grates/lids, street markings), and tree cover that keeps roads wet for longer periods.

There are some general rules, too, for fast descending, some of which are specific to groups.  Be predictable; obey all rules of the road; avoid passing on the right; announce your presence; allow space between yourself and other riders; don’t cross the centerline; cross cow grates upright and at 90 degrees; scan far ahead; reduce speed whenever hazardous conditions previously mentioned warrant or sight distance is limited. 

When the road tips downward, it’s best to relax as much as possible and lower your center of gravity.  Put your hands in deep part of the drops, elbows bent.  On straightaways, keep the cranks horizontal and most of your weight on your feet.  With your back horizontal, grip the sides of the saddle with your thighs.  Are your still hands relaxed?   A tight grip will transmit road shock through your shoulders and head.  Now your ready for the turn…

If you need to slow down, now is the time.  Before entering the turn, feather both brakes until you reach a manageable speed.  You can also slow yourself by sitting up and using air resistance.  Now comes the important part: keeping your head up and eyes forward, maintain focus ahead on where you want to be.  Use your peripheral vision to observe what’s directly around you (including hazards).

Using the turning or steering techniques described earlier, flatten the curve by staying as wide within the lane(near the center or edge line) as you can, then cut across the apex, and exit the corner wide again.  Correct your line by using your hips to shift body weight and/or bike lean.  Stay off the brakes while in the turn.  Applying brakes will increase momentum upward and outward.  Are you still looking ahead?  Hands relaxed?  Good, you made it.

Now get ready for the next turn!

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