Clive Forth's A-Z of mountain biking: C - Bike Magic

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**How To

Clive Forth’s A-Z of mountain biking: C


Words: Clive Forth
Photos: Frazer Waller
Previous lesson: here.

Moving on this week to C and the enormous topic of Corners and Cornering technique.

Loamy soil and hidden roots require top technique and maximum concentration.

Definition of corner

  • · 1a place or angle where two sides or edges meet:
  • · a sharp bend in a road:they took the corner in a skidding turn

The dictionary description is quite loose and doesn’t truly describe the type of corner we are used to talking about, you have to use a bit of artistic impression and imagination to visualize the outer and inner edge of the trail converging in strait lines rather than with curved radii, the description of a turn better describes what we often refer to as corners.

Definition of turn

  • 1move or cause to move in a circular direction wholly or partly around an axis or point:[no object]:the big wheel was turning
  • [no object] change the position of one’s body so that one is facing in a different direction:
  • move (something) so as to be aimed or pointed in a particular direction:
  • change or cause to change direction:[no object, with adverbial of direction]:

Call them what you want corners are a place where good technique can see you gain distance on your friends or seconds on your enemy, hit the right line, hold the head up get that footwork right and the sweet feeling of maintaining the flow engulfs your being. Get the speed on the entry wrong, mess up your line choice and you may be paying an impromptu visit to the “dirt cafe” and asking for a table for one!

There are various terminologies used to describe the fundamental basics of cornering but I fear it’s sometimes not as easy as 1,2,3. Multiple factors inhibit the possibility of boxing out any skill and technique in such a way, articles like this one are far too short to divulge into the intricacies of all the various scenarios and even a feature length film would miss out on some nitty little detail that may be a valuable piece of advice for another corner on another day.

Snow and ice enable you to get loose with ease, notice I am further forward to get the front wheel to grip up, this has caused the rear to go light and slide out.

Personally I think the thing that makes the topic tricky is not the corner or sequence of corners we decide to work on but what lies before them, between them and after them, our technique has to be adaptive especially when riding outrageously technical terrain. When it gets “busy” it only takes a slip here, a knock there and suddenly the text book is thrown out the window and you’re in a world where 1,2,3 becomes a complicated algorithm divided by your phone number and multiplied by your post code.

The basics 

The basics are just that, basics! They will enable a rider to corner in a better manner than if the fundamental principles were ignored but the real way to get to grips with cornering is to get out there and practise. Feeling for traction is everything, making micro adjustments to increase or decrease grip as required comes with practice, patience and time, surfaces have similarities but metre-by-metre the available grip varies as we roll over different terrain, exposure to terra firma is everything.

So the basics:


– Where you look you will go

Spot your line on the way in, look for roots, rocks and earth (RRE) that you may need to negotiate, adjust your line accordingly.

Speed Control 

– Brake or accelerate

Your vision is everything, it tells you if your coming in hot and need to scrub some speed or if the trail is rising up you may need more speed to make it up the gradient. Try and do all your braking in a strait line, avoid braking in the turn if you can as the forces from braking acting on your wheels will reduce traction. I appreciate this is not always possible when working on steep gradients.

Match your gear to match the terrain

Select the correct gear on the entry so you can pedal on the exit.

Body Position

Looking at the turn and terrain ahead you can adjust your body position and foot work accordingly.

Stand tall and proud over the bike but do not lock the limbs, cranks relatively level with the heels dipped slightly.

Look through the turn as you enter the corner spotting for your desired line, move the eyes and the head, the more you move the head the more aggressive you will turn.

Push through with the outer grip, that is to say in a left corner push the right hand, avoid pulling with the left, pulling the bar dips the elbow and the torso follows pointing you into the ground and not in the desired direction.

Lean the bike over into the turn, the faster you are traveling the more leaning and less steering we do.

Keep your torso upright so gravity pulls your mass down through the main triangle of the bike.

Turn your hips into the direction you want to travel.

On longer travel bikes with slack head angles you may need to ride in the front centre (bring your hips forward slightly) to get the front to grip and “turn in”.

Outer foot down in this off camber turn, head up looking in desired direction of travel and hips turned in.
Foot Work

Try experimenting with “switching” your lead foot.

Mellow or shallow radius turns allow you to ride through with cranks level, tighter turns may require you to put the outer pedal down to counter balance the lean.

As you approach a left turn you should lead right foot first and visa versa. This will turn the hips into the corner and allow you to drop your outer foot on a forwards pedal stroke should you need to do so, back pedalling into (and in) turns works but you risk derailing your chain from the chainring if your not using a chain device.

Practise makes perfect
  • Try and practice one element at a time
  • Set up a slalom course on some open ground and maximize the amount of turns you put in during a practice session
  • The BIG fear most riders have is sliding out/falling. You will be amazed at how much grip you can get from a mountain bike tyre, practice a “safe” turn where penalty for falling is minimal, soft grassy or sandy ground are preferable. Ride that turn faster and faster until the wheels start to slide out
  • Don’t panic and tense up if a wheel slides, grip follows slip, even a small lip or edge will pride support for your tyre, stay loose and supple and just let the bike move around below you
  • Think about the corner exit speed, slow in, fast out
  • Avoid dragging and locking the brakes, keeps wheels rotating for maximum traction

You may find some of the information in B for braking useful too, get out and practice, develop that muscle memory so you perform instinctively and keep it rubber side down.

Clive Forth MTBSkills – Transition Bikes.

Images courtesy of


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