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Pushing yourself to improve is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of mountain biking - there’s no better feeling than cleaning a new technical feature or taking your speed to the next level. With this in mind, we reached out to longtime professional mountain biker and coach Simon Lawton with Fluidride to get some mountain biking tips to help you improve your skills and have more fun out there on the trails. 

Improve Your Mountain Biking Cornering Technique

The fastest way to improve your overall mountain biking skills is to improve your cornering. With The Fluidride Method, we call this ‘Footwork’.
You might know that the bicycle is the fastest and most efficient human powered vehicle. What you might not know is that the mountain bike is also the fastest vehicle in the world on downhill singletrack, even faster than a motorcycle. This is because we can use footwork to our advantage on a mountain bike, allowing us to offset our foot height, effectively turning our hips. This means faster cornering. On a motorcycle, the only way to convincingly turn your hips is to take your inside foot off the bike - a risky proposition on a steep descent. So, mountain biking is fast, but how do you maximize that speed through corners? Read along as we walk through the proper mountain bike cornering technique. Practicing cornering will lead to not only more confident cornering on your mountain bike, but also faster cornering. 

How to Corner on a Mountain Bike

As in skiing, turning on a mountain bike requires putting more pressure on our outside foot. Unlike skiing, where your feet are level when standing in a neutral position, mountain bikers have one foot forward and one foot back. This is more like snowboarding where riders have one foot they prefer in front. Some riders are left foot forward, and some are right foot forward.

Regardless of your lead foot, the principles of cornering on a mountain bike remain the same. You should put more pressure on your right foot to turn left and on more your left foot to turn right. You can even try this just standing up on your feet. Do this: stand up from your computer and take a step turning toward your left and you will find your right leg is doing the work. Then do the same taking a step to your right, and your left leg will do the work. The basic principles of operating as bi-pedal beings hold true on the bike, as stepping off the outside foot is what turns the front side of the human body.

Weighting Your Feet

This said, you don’t want to put 100% of your weight directly onto your outside foot in order to turn your bike, this will stand the bike up, making it difficult to lean into the turn. We want to transfer weight toward our outside foot as the bike tips into the turn. Timing is critical here, and will really make the difference between being average in turns, and really ripping on the bike.

Footwork is really the control between level feet (referred to as 3 and 9 o’clock in the video above) and having the outside foot all the way down (referred to as 6 and 12 o’clock in the video above). Footwork is a relatively new concept in mountain biking. Until about 2003, riders used to put 100% of their weight on their outside foot coming into a turn and all the way through it. For those of you who have been skiers for decades, you might remember that skis used to turn in much the same way. The revolution in footwork came almost in tandem in each sport, with mountain bikers and skiers putting the majority, rather than all of their weight on the outside foot, and transferring the weight throughout the turn.

Foot Positioning While Cornering

In the downhill mountain biking world a rider named Sam Hill came out and destroyed the competition riding on flat pedals with ‘level feet’. This was actually footwork in action. Many riders mistook it for holding level feet, but he was actually controlling ALL the zones the feet can occupy in relationship to one another. Even Sam rode long off-camber turns with the outside held clearly at 6 o’clock. Sam has gone on to become one of the best Enduro riders in the world all these years later. Thanks for the riding revolution - and bringing faster cornering to our riding Sam!

Mountain Bike Cornering Drill: Slalom

In the video above, I’m making a series of four turns: front-foot, back-foot, front-foot, back-foot. Notice that I don’t rotate all the way around with my feet if I’m not pedaling. Think of a teeter-totter - you are moving into one turn - coming back to neutral - moving into the next turn - coming back to neutral etc. Notice the outside elbow raises as the outside foot is rotating down. It’s a simple move in theory, but takes time to master, so be patient as you learn. Using your phone to film yourself in slow motion is a great way to learn mountain bike cornering skills. Film yourself, then come back here to watch and compare notes. If you are a left foot forward rider, you should look similar to me.

Back-Foot Turns

My favorite side - I love turning left! Most right-handed riders will have the same perception since the right side body is responsible (or should be!) for turning left. During my pro riding career, I had solid left turns, and awful right turns. The bad news is that made me average as a racer, the good news is that fixing that flaw has allowed me to become a much better rider than I was decades ago. Technique is the great equalizer as we mature as riders, and fixing your footwork is ground zero. EVERYTHING you do on your bike is built around the way you control your feet. In the instance of cornering, it’s how you control rotation. When jumping and riding other features, controlling unwanted rotation is the key. Foot dominance has been present in every single rider I’ve ever taught - which makes it a natural place to start your very own riding revolution!

Here you can see me making a left-hand turn. You will notice that my back foot is creating the pressure since I’m a left foot forward rider. This is my ‘back-foot turn’. My back foot is moving down and back during the turn. Most riders have an easier time creating strong back-foot turns because most (not all) riders are ‘back foot dominant,’ preferring to hold the stronger more coordinated foot in back. Notice the compression of my Hightower LT in both the front and rear suspension. This is because my weight is over the bottom bracket with my outside knee driving over my toes. Note my lifted outside elbow. My elbow has lifted during the rotation of my outside foot, allowing the shoulders to turn with the hips. Back-foot turns give us more acceleration because the back foot is rotating toward the front of the bike. If I were a right foot forward rider, this would be my front foot turn.

Front-Foot Turns

My ‘second favorite side’ - my front foot turn. Many riders struggle in right-hand turns as about 90% of us are right-handed. Here you can see my left leg and left arm clearly working. The most common flaw in right-handed riders I coach is to weight the inside foot and hand by mistake. While I have that sorted now, as a rider, I tend to fall too quickly with my front foot through my front foot turn, which affects my lateral acceleration in right-hand turns. Essentially, I’m not as good as matching the shape and duration of the turn when turning right - still a work in progress. My life riding goal is to rip the tires off my bike in right-hand turn, or at least see even wear on my tire edges and shoes. Take a look at the bottom of your riding shoes if you ride flats. You might notice a difference. Gaining equality between the feet will enhance your riding like nothing else. 

Here you can see me making a right-hand turn. You will notice my front foot has started moving forward and down, creating pressure – this again is because I’m a left foot forward rider. This is my front-foot turn. Turning properly with the front foot can be a challenge to learn, as many (but not all) riders put their dominant, or more coordinated foot back when riding. You can see the front fork compressing as my knee drives over the toe on the pressuring (outside/left) side. Notice my elbow is lifting as my front foot moves down. This helps turn my shoulders along with my hips (which turn from footwork). There is less lateral acceleration in a front-foot turn because while the foot moves down, it’s moving rearward. If I were a right-foot forward rider, this would be my back-foot turn.

Go out and give this a try on the trail, and you will find a new sense of speed and control on the bike in turns. Start with easier trails and work your way up while maintaining your form.

Happy Trails!

Common Mountain Bike Cornering Questions

  • Should we hit 6 o’clock in a turn?
    While we shouldn’t enter a turn with the outside foot already down (as it will stand the bike up entering the turn) we will be ‘going through our footwork’ but not necessarily all the way to 6 o’clock. How far we should go through our footwork depends on the angle of lean of the bike relative to the angle of the ground, as well as our speed. In many turns, even the world’s best riders will end up at 6’oclock even if just for a moment. This is especially true on flat or off camber turns, or where they are going so quickly through a banked turn that the angle of lean greatly exceeds the pitch of the berm. There is so much to learn about cornering on a mountain bike, and we’ll get more into these topics another time. For now, just go out and practice your basic footwork.
  • Are there turns where my feet will remain level?
    Yes. If you have a very steeply banked berm and are only going through it at a speed that puts the bike at the angle of the berm, you are effectively perpendicular to the ground, which means you can have level feet just as you would coasting through a parking lot. This is why riders on a professionally built pump track might not use footwork, and also the reason we see less footwork from riders in a bike park with steep berms. The turns are effectively perpendicular to the ground. In the main video above, I’m leaning past the angle of the berms (since the banks are not super steep - and I’m going pretty fast) and therefore need to create outside foot rotation and pressure to bring traction to the inside row of knobbies, which is the only part of the tire on the ground at this point.
  • If a back-foot turn creates more lateral acceleration why don’t we just make back-foot turns?
    Because turns can happen very close to one another, so we want to be prepared to take the shortest path to outside foot pressure. If you are going fast on a trail, there is no time to rotate all the way around - and you would risk clipping a pedal during rotation if you created that habit. That said, I think we might see some new things from pros in the future. Time will tell…more to come on that!
  • Should I switch my lead foot while mountain biking?
    Generally, the answer is a simple no. Currently, all top riders lead with the same foot all the time (some are right foot forward and some are left), so this is how I teach riders. Modern trails turn very quickly, so we want to be able to take the shortest path to outside foot pressure. For now, keep your comfortable foot forward. In the above video, I do demonstrate in one clip with my right foot forward - this is only for demonstration. I’m a left foot forward rider otherwise. If you are an endurance rider or just want to take a break and are comfortable riding ‘switch’ you can, but you should still make front-foot and back-foot turns, something which takes time to learn and something I demonstrated once in the video above for all of you right foot forward riders. Students often tell me they are ambidextrous with their feet, but turn out to only be comfortable moving into only the front or back foot and are actually rotating their feet between turns. This would be like a snowboarder only making toeside turns - which would require an awkward 180 every other turn. After I get these riders sorted, they are stunned by their ability to turn.
  • How do I know which foot I lead with?
    Most riders are only comfortable standing with level feet in one way, but if you are unsure, just coast with level feet on your bike and make a rapid stop. Your body will help you sort out which is your lead foot.
  • How much better will I be if I master or at least improve this ‘footwork’?
    Everyone we work with goes out and breaks their PR’s after one class with this mountain bike cornering technique. I recently worked with the top XC racer in the Pacific Northwest, and she was able to take more than ten seconds off the sub 2-minute descent we worked on together - in just two hours - with dramatically less pedaling between turns - and increased cornering confidence and control.

Simon Lawton is the founder and owner of Seattle based Fluidride, and the creator of The Fluidride Method. Simon has been teaching riders for over 20 years. He raced pro Downhill and Enduro for 15 years. During his racing career, Simon amassed over 50 pro podium finishes at regional events, and two Medals (Silver and Bronze) at the UCI Masters World Downhill Championships. Simon created The Fluidride Method by watching the world’s best riders, and mimicking their movements on the bike to sharpen his own skills. He then created terms and vocabulary based on these movements to help transform the riding of his students. Simon has taught in a dozen countries on three continents, teaching over 1,000 riders per year in person. His teachings reach many more via his free online content and 3 feature-length films which are currently on iTunes. Simon’s latest venture, soon to be launched, is SNAPMTB, an online learning platform created to reach and benefit riders around the world.

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