Safety Tips for Fast Cornering on Any Bike
When serious cyclists aren’t on the bike, they often daydream about their favorite parts of the ride. One scene that often comes to mind is the downhill corner. Very few moments in the ride can compare to the thrill of this one.
“There’s a certain harmony of bike and cyclist working in concert to maximize cornering speed, with minimal or no braking,” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie.
Still, this joyous moment can be cut short if you don’t know how to handle a sharp, downhill turn. Taking it properly involves attentiveness to several important areas — and a specific approach at each key point in the turn. Read on to learn how Coach Darryl tackles fast cornering on the bike.
The 2 Extremes of Downhill Cornering
Two extremes can dampen the fun of a fast downhill turn. On the one hand — and most serious — is the obvious fact that downhill turns can be treacherous on the bike. If the road is wet or you take the turn too sharply, you could very well end up in the hospital.
Darryl witnessed this first-hand on one ride when he saw a rider take a sharp downhill corner, only to be airlifted off with serious injuries and a $15,000 bill shortly thereafter.
Because of the danger involved, some cyclists take the other approach with downhill turns: extreme caution. To avoid any semblance of risk, they brake hard going into the turn, creep around the corner, and then pedal back to speed after finishing. This may keep you safe, but it certainly takes all joy out of a good downhill corner.
Darryl used to ride regularly with a rider who took this approach. Not surprisingly, that rider ended every turn far behind the rest of the group.
4 Areas to Watch on Downhill Corners
The good news is that there is a way to avoid these extremes and tackle a downhill turn safely without losing the thrill. And it starts with paying attention to four key areas:
- Know the terrain. Oftentimes, you can’t see around corners. If you drive the route beforehand, however, you’ll know each turn and any important obstacles or features that could otherwise surprise you.
- Examine the road surface. Potholes or other road damage can sneak up on you quickly on a fast turn. Pay attention to the road as you ride so you’re prepared for any potential hazards.
- Watch the cyclists in front of you. As they take the turn, are they braking suddenly? Do they swerve? These are signs the turn might be treacherous, and you should slow down.
- Look at the road width. Understanding how much road you have to work with on your turn will help you prepare to navigate the turn properly, as we’ll discuss below.
How To Safely Navigate the 3 Sections of the Turn
If you’re attentive to the above areas, you’ll be much better prepared for the turn. Assuming everything looks safe and you’re clear to take the turn with speed, you need to be ready with the right approach. There are three key zones in a turn, and you should put yourself in the right position for each one.
For each of these, we’ll describe the correct positioning from the perspective of a right-hand turn.
1. The Approach
As you approach the turn, you need to get out as far as possible from the inside of the turn. As Darryl puts it, “take what the road gives you.”
Generally, for a right turn, you should get as far to the left side of your lane as you can. Never cross over into the oncoming lane, of course, and always check your rearview mirror to be sure everything looks safe. Once you start turning, pedal in an arc toward the inside of the lane as you approach the apex.
2. The Apex
As you move through the turn, get your bike as close as possible to the inside of the lane — in this case, the right side. Aim to be about 6–12 inches from the edge as you pass the apex.
Important safety note: Never brake during this part of the turn or as you’re leaning your body. If you do so, you risk sliding across the pavement. Braking should be reserved for before and after the turn when your body is upright.
3. The Exit
After you pass the apex, guide the bike through the turn and out toward the far edge of the lane again — in this case, the left edge of the lane. Again, glance at your rearview mirror to ensure you’re not getting in front of anyone.
Once you reach the edge of the lane and the road straightens out, steady the bike back into an upright position and finish out the turn back in the center of your lane.
Positioning yourself in this way throughout the turn will help you navigate the corner safely. If you have any trouble recalling where you should be, remember this final tip from Coach Darryl:
“Use as much of the road from side to side as you can safely.”
Image by Chris Hilber from Pixabay