There are three major areas that cause road cyclists grief when it comes to riding skills: climbing, descending, and cornering. Sometimes the latter incorporated with either of the former can make it all even more tricky.
Developing your cornering skills on your road bike will improve your confidence, and your speed as you won’t need to decelerate so much for every bend. It doesn’t need to be difficult either – a little know how and practice will go a long way.
Here are five areas that can cause problems for road cyclists when cornering, and how you can overcome them…
Not knowing how to position your weight
Cornering isn’t just about turning the handlebars. In fact, turning the handlebars makes up a tiny percentage of the actual movement – or it should.
When you corner, you need to lean into the bend. Imagine your bodyweight dictating your direction as you swoop – and then put that into practice.
It’s a lot easier to get this right when you’re in the drops, as your weight is over the handlebars. Lift up your inside leg, and keep the outside leg active to maintain stability. Look up and out the other end of the corner - in the direction you want to travel.
The faster you’re going, the more you need to lean in – of course leaning in too much can cause you to lose traction, and wet roads mean you should adjust your speed and stay slightly more upright.
Working out the perfect degree of lean takes practice. Head out to a quiet housing estate or car park, that you know won’t have a lot of traffic, and practice cornering. Gradually increase your pace as you become more confident, but take your progression slowly – there’s no need to overcook it and learn how much lean is too much the hard way.
Not knowing what line to take
You can’t always take the line you want to take. Sometimes the 'perfect line' would mean crossing over onto the other side of the road, or there’s just a massive pile of gravel right where you want to turn, so you’ll have to adapt your plans. However, knowing the ‘ideal’ line to take means you’re more likely to use that line where you can, and to deviate from it less when you have to make adjustments.
So what is this magical, mythical line?
You want to hit the apex. This means entering wide, and exiting wide – creating the smoothest line possible. Feather the brakes to slow yourself down as you enter the turning point, and accelerate once you’re on the way out, and have returned to an upright position.
This video below shows you how to do it 'perfectly'...
Cornering well means controlling your speed by feathering the front brake, holding the handlebars firmly and looking where you want to go. A nervous rider is likely to death-grip the handlebars and look down at the ground – which will negatively affect their balance and make the whole situation more scary.
It’s also important to have confidence in your own experience. You know when to brake, and by how much. Not trusting your instinct can result in hurried braking on the bend, which can cause your back wheel to skid.
Learn where your limits are, where you need to brake and by how much by practicing this in a controlled environment at various speeds. If you’re in a race environment, it’s an essential skill to learn to sit on the wheel of the rider in front and follow their line. If they get round that corner, you know you can follow at the same speed – you just have to trust yourself.
Unstable fit on the bike
Guess what: it’s actually not all about you. Your bike has to pull its weight when it comes to cornering, too, and little changes can make a big difference.
The key to success is having a bike set up that puts your weight in the right place. A lower, longer position will place more weight over the handlebars, which means you can lean more and have more control in a corner. A more upright position might make you feel more secure, but brings your centre of gravity further back. This can be adjusted by changing the stem on your bike.
Of course – you can go too far. The perfect bike fit for you will be different to the perfect bike fit for your buddies. You don’t want to get so ‘long and low’ that you find your core isn’t strong enough to support the position, resulting in numb hands and reduced control.
If you’re looking for a ‘middle ground’, one nice method of checking your reach is right is getting onto the hoods, and looking down. Ideally you won't be able to see the hub of the front wheel – if the hub is in front of the bars the reach could be too short, if it’s behind it may be too long. Do remember that this is a ‘rule of thumb’ and doesn’t take into account that some riders will want a more aggressive fit whilst others will want a more upright fit.
Finally: handlebar width is important. If the bars are too wide your weight placement and thus balance will be affected (and you’ll get sore shoulders). Most women have narrower shoulders than men, so unisex bikes often need to be adjusted with narrower handlebars. To find the right width, measure your shoulders at their greatest width – and look for handlebars of a similar size (eg most women get on with 36-40 cm bars)
Too much tyre pressure
Tyre pressure is one of the most crucial factors in cycling performance – but it’s very often overlooked. The ideal tyre pressure is dictated by tyre width (wider tyres = lower pressure), rider weight (lighter rider = lower pressure) and conditions (wet or rutted roads = lower pressure).
The lower the pressure, the wider your contact patch with the ground. That will make corners feel much smoother, whilst very high pressure might feel faster to accelerate, yet can give the feeling of skating on ice. Go too low, and you’ll increase rolling resistance and risk more punctures.
Finding the perfect tyre pressure takes practice. However, as a guideline – a woman of around 55-60kg might want to run around 85-90 psi in a 25mm tyre in the dry, and reduce that by 5-10 psi in the wet. If you weigh more, increase the tyre pressure slightly and if you weigh less you can decrease it. Once you’ve got an idea of your ideal tyre pressure range, you can experiment a little bit and see what works for you.
Practice makes perfect - the more time you spend riding your road bike, the more corners you'll come across, and the more confident you'll feel about them. So - keep riding, keep practicing - and most of all, relax!
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