Hold Your Line

You know what’s hard to do on a trainer? Practice cornering at speed. But have you ever tried to get your team out for cornering practice in sub-20-degree weather? Even if lucky enough to find a plowed parking lot, your teammates will stand there shivering and miserable, dutifully slaloming through a course of water bottles but just waiting for someone to declare they’re going home. That may be why we show up for spring racing strong but rusty in some of the key speed skills.

So here are some links and tips about how to corner at speed. Obviously, no one is going to read this post and become an instant expert, nor I am making claims to expertise. Skill only comes with practice . But a few extra resources can give you a few things to think about next time you’re swooping around that empty parking lot.

Choosing your line.

Before you even enter a corner, you have to set up and plan where you’re going to go. To start with the simplest example, when you’re by yourself (hopefully breaking away off the front, but in my case, often huffing and puffing in a chase), look for the flattest possible curve through the corner.

fig1
To pick the flattest line, start at the outside, cut toward the inside corner, and finish at the outside.

Picking the turn with the largest possible radius allows  the maximum possible safe speed through the turn. First, look ahead for potholes and sand. Also notice how the turn is banked: a turn that slopes inward, like a track, allows you to take it corner faster than one that slopes away from the corner. The flattest possible turn starts at the outside, cuts close to the corner at its apex, and finishes at the outside (in a circuit or road race, of course, obey the yellow line rule!) The smaller the radius, the slower a rider needs to go to be able to turn her bike without overcoming the friction forces that are keeping her wheels from sliding out. That means that when cornering in a pack with riders on either side, you (1) need to leave space for riders on the inside, and (2) can’t go quite as fast because that safe line will be tighter.

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When cornering in a pack, everyone has to take a slower, tighter turn. If behind the leaders, follow the line of the cyclist in front of you.

 As you can see in the figure above, the blue rider off the front was able to take her fastest line, but the pack behind her needs to take slightly tighter turns to leave space for each other to safely make the corner. The most important rule of cornering in a pack is to be predictable. If you need to slow down, do it before you start the turn so that you can coast through the corner without braking; putting on the brakes while in the turn itself will increase the chance of losing traction. Follow the line of the rider in front of you (usually what people mean when they say “hold your line”).  Avoid coming underneath, like the red rider in the diagram below:

fig3
Resist the impulse to dive-bomb on the inside of the turn.

 In this example, the red rider is trying to pass the blue rider on the inside of the corner. She risks cutting off Blue’s line, and she is also going to have to brake hard to make the tight turn. What a mess! Save attacking for the straightaways.

Getting through the turn

Okay we’ve figured out what the optimal line is through the turn, now how to actually do it. Check out elite junior Millie Tanner’s form as she takes this corner (also, because Milliegoat!):

millietanner

To start with, her hands are in the drops. Getting low and forward isn’t just about being aero, it’s also about a lower center of gravity and maximum control. Eyes are up and looking past the turn. Outside pedal down with most of your bodyweight on it. (Okay, when you get really good you can start pedaling through the corners, but that’s ninja stuff after you have mastered the basics.) According to Joe Near of MIT,

“A big part of getting low is also getting very loose and forward so that 1) you have more weight over the front wheel, increasing traction there and 2) your body soaks up bumps during the corner — if you don’t do this, the tire has to do the whole job, and the tire’s elasticity will push you up in the air after the bump (and you don’t have any traction at all when you’re up in the air).”

This pic of Rose Long and Leslie Lupien at Shippensburg in 2013 is a great examlpe of getting long and low: their torsos are just about parallel to the road. Note that Rose is on the hoods and Leslie is on the drops, it depends a bit on bike fit. Check out that game face.

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Photo credit Jan Valerie Polk

Putting it all together,  Brian Walton breaks it down to line, eyes, and legs. This video with Robbie McEwan agrees on the most important stuff: low center of gravity, eyes up ahead, and find your line. In the first pass, Robbie has his arms locked out and sitting up too high; the next time around, he’s bent at the hips, with elbows at an angle  and chin closer to the stem.  Then he demonstrates coming in too tight or starting the turn too early, versus starting way to the outside for a nice wide turn. And his final advice can be taken to heart: “never focus on where you are, but where you’re going.”

This race has a great example, when three guys take the corner at 2:55. To avoid hitting a flaky pedestrian (dude! there’s a bike race happening and it nearly squashed you!) they have to take the turn wide and miss the apex; but rather than get fazed, the guys in green have an exit strategy, riding up on the sidewalk. They wouldn’t have been able to pull that off if they’d only been looking at the asphalt in front of them.

Got any other good videos or Web sites about cornering technique? Share them in the comments! Thanks to Shaena Berlin and Jenn Wilson for the idea to put this together, and Joe Near for the tips!

 

 

  • Milliegoat

    Thanks for sharing the photo!! Awesome advice!