by Fred Matheny
Want to corner on your bike better than ever? Start by forgetting nearly everything you already know.
Davis Phinney’s Secret to Cornering
“I always cornered in the old-fashioned way: my inside knee stuck out and I sort of steered around the corner. But I found a much faster and safer way to corner at speed. It’s called countersteering. It became the technique we taught at our cycling camps. Using this method, I could fly through corners where I used to have to slow down. It’s safer, too, because it provides more control.”
EXAMPLE! “When I went to Europe to race, I thought I knew how to get around corners fast,” recalls Phinney. “After all, I was a criterium specialist and I was used to hanging it out in the last corner.
“One day in my first season in Europe, we were flying down this nasty descent in France and I was trying to catch the group ahead. I was gaining fast when suddenly I realized that I’d caught up for one simple reason. The next corner was a U turn and the group had slowed way down.
“I got partway around, locked up the brakes, and went catapulting over a stone wall into a vineyard. It took five minutes to find my bike. After that I decided I’d better think through this cornering business.”
How to Countersteer on a Bicycle
Here’s how to turn using the countersteering method. You’ll know when it clicks by that big smile on your face.
1. Start the turn by putting the outside pedal down. (The outside pedal is the right one if you’re making a left turn.)
2. Stand on the pedal. Press your body weight on it. Pretend you’re trying to break it off. This will lower your center of gravity and make the bike more stable.
3. Hold the handlebar in the drops.
4. Move your butt to the rear of the saddle.
5. Lower your torso along the top tube. Make yourself long to balance your weight along the bike’s wheelbase.
6. 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). Don’t stick it out so it’s pointing into the turn like motorcycle road racers do. Pushing your knee into the top tube will automatically turn your hips toward the outside of the turn. This makes the bike dive rapidly into the corner but in total control.
7. Press your outside leg’s inner thigh against the saddle, pushing the bike down and to the inside against the pressure of your weighted outside foot.
8. At the same time, pull gently on the handlebar with the outside hand. Phinney used to tell riders to push with the inside hand. The new method accomplishes the same thing while taking weight off the bar and improving control.
The bike will carve smoothly around the corner. It’ll lean as much as you need it to while your body remains relatively upright.
Need to adjust your line because of gravel or a wet spot? Simply relax the outside hand so you aren’t pulling the bar so hard. The bike will straighten up so you can avoid the obstacle. Once past, increase your pull with the outside hand to lean the bike over again and complete the turn.
Try This Countersteering Drill
Crash Course in Countersteering: Instead of learning how to countersteer during normal riding, give yourself a crash course in an empty parking lot. (Don’t take us literally on that one.) Set up paper cups or traffic cones to form a slalom course. Zigzag left and right past the cups. The closer you place them, the quicker your position shifts must be—and the faster the technique will become automatic.
Important Tip: Know Your Bike’s Braking Capabilities
Braking Away: You can’t corner fast if you don’t know how rapidly you can decelerate for a corner. And that means knowing the power of your brakes. To practice, pick a sign about a hundred yards away on a straight road with no traffic. Approach the sign moderately fast (about 20 mph) and experiment with how much distance you need to stop. Apply the front and rear brakes evenly at first.
Notice, however, that the front brake delivers more stopping power because your weight shifts forward as you decelerate. You can stop faster if you squeeze the front brake harder, but there is a risk. To make sure you don’t rotate right over the handlebar, always slide your butt back. The harder you grab the front brake, the lower and more rearward your body should be.
Start practicing the countersteering technique and soon you’ll be taking corners faster, more safely and with greater confidence than ever.