Want to learn the secret to safer, faster and more confident cornering on a road bike? It’s called countersteering.
Here’s how to do it:
—Practice in a safe place. Practice cornering in a vacant parking lot with a slight downward slope. Set up large paper cups or traffic cones in a line about 30 feet apart so it looks like a slalom course. You might want to wear more protection than just a helmet and gloves. Knee and elbow pads, for instance. Some riders prefer to practice on a grassy slope first in case they fall. But, really, just not being too aggressive before you’ve mastered the technique is your best protection.
—Assume the position. Approaching a turn, hold the handlebar in the drops for greater stability. Slide your butt to the rear of the saddle, bend your elbows, and lower your torso along the top tube. This helps evenly weight both wheels. If you sit up while cornering you’ll have too much weight on the rear wheel and it could slip out from under you on a slick road. If you get low over the top tube without moving your butt rearward, the front wheel won’t be weighted sufficiently and it could wash out, dumping you to the ground.
—Weight the outside pedal. Start the turn by putting the outside pedal down. (This would be the right pedal if you’re making a left turn.) If the inside pedal is down, it might hit the pavement when you lean the bike over and send you off line or cause you to crash. Raise your hips slightly off the saddle and shift your body weight onto the outside pedal. It should feel like you’re standing on the pedal with one foot, trying to break it off. This weight placement lowers your center of gravity and makes the bike more stable. If you’re a downhill skier, this is like weighting the inside edge of your outside ski for a turn.
—Push in with the inside knee. As you enter the turn, push your inside leg against the bike’s top tube. (In our left turn example, that’s the left leg.) This is the opposite of traditional cornering where the inside knee is pointed into the turn. Pushing your knee into the top tube automatically turns your hips toward the outside of the turn. This “hip pitch” sets up the bike to dive rapidly into the corner, but, because your center of gravity is securely low (due to your weight being balanced between the wheels and concentrated on the outside pedal), you’re in total control.
—Press and pull to make the turn. Next, press the thigh of your outside leg against the saddle. This has the effect of pushing the top of the bike down and toward the inside. At the same time, pull up slightly with the outside hand. The bike will carve smoothly around the corner. It will lean as much as you need it to while your body remains relatively upright, standing on the outside pedal.
—Adjust your line. Need to adjust the line you’re on because of gravel, a pothole or something else in the road? Simply relax the outside hand so you aren’t pulling quite as much. The bike will straighten up so you can avoid the obstacle. Once past, pull again to lean the bike over and complete the turn.
Sound complicated? These instructions include many things to think about all at once. But in practice, countersteering is intuitive and feels right. Break down the technique I’ve described and work on one or 2 elements at a time until you can put them all together. It won’t take long. Then you’ll be safer, more confident (and faster) through corners.