ASK COACH FRED

Which High-Speed Cornering Technique Is Better?

Question:

When cornering at fast speeds, I know you should coast with the outside pedal down and shift your weight to it. But what should you do with the inside leg -- point your knee into the turn or keep it in next to the bike? -- Jay B.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

Traditionally, rider pointed their knee into the turn, aiming it toward where they're going.

The sharper the curve, and thus the more lean angle needed, the farther out the knee would go. You still see pros corner this way when watching race videos or TV coverage of this season's events.

But there is another way. I first saw it used by American pros Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel in the 1980s.

Called "countersteering," it consists of these 4 elements:

  1. Hold the inside knee or shin against the top tube (depending on frame design)
  2. Weight the outside pedal heavily as with any cornering technique
  3. Press the outside thigh against the saddle
  4. Push gently against the handlebar with the inside hand (or, if you prefer, lift with the outside hand)

All this results in the bike cutting through the turn with a greater lean angle than your body.

In the past, I coached at Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps where Davis taught countersteering by having riders negotiate a slalom course past traffic cones in a parking lot.

He argues that it's the superior way, and I believe it. I've followed Phinney and Kiefel down mountain passes here in Colorado. They fly!

Countersteering works on a mountain bike, too. I almost came to grief a few years ago, trying to stick with Davis on singletrack descents.

I’m a proponent of countersteering and recommend giving it a try.

I like it better because it seems more stable in tough corners. It's also easier to change my line in mid-turn if I encounter gravel or sand. I simply let off some pressure on the inside hand. The bike straightens, then I re-initiate the turn by pushing again with my inside hand.

To learn, use paper cups to make a slightly downhill slalom course in an empty parking lot. Countersteering will seem awkward till you break your old knee-out habit, but once you get the hang of it, you'll feel the advantages.

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.

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