Positioning on the bike
As you approach the corner, you want to have a low, aggressive position, either in the drops or on the hoods (if on a cross bike) and with elbows bent. Inside pedal should be up with your knee pointing into the turn. Your eyes should be up and looking where you want the bike to go. Press your foot into the outside pedal to help keep the tires loaded. Thus far, none of this is much different than aggressive cornering on the road. Where it is different is in the lean-angle of the bike.
Cornering off-road usually requires the bike to be leaned at a greater angle to be able to engage the outside row of cornering knobs. But on the dirt and in the grass, you can’t just lean your body further to the inside of the turn as you would on the pavement – you must lean the bike in under your body and keep your body more to the outside of the turn.
Why is this? In addition to helping you engage the cornering knobs, you are more stable. If the tire slips or moves around on a loose surface and your center of mass is leaned way into the corner, it is unlikely that you will be able to recover. If the bike is leaned in, but your center of mass is less so, a slip of the tire can be caught.
Keeping your center of mass outside can also help in quick transitions, allowing you to flick the bike back and forth more easily for fast riding on twisty single track. Mastering this technique will make you more confident on slippery or loose surfaces and make you far more comfortable with the feeling of their tires moving around. Give it a try and you will be gaining speed and confidence in no time!
Here are some general talking points to keep in mind:
- Your weight should be off the saddle at all times, unless you’re resting.
- When not pedaling, you should be coasting with your dominant foot forward, up off the saddle, elbows bent, sitting forward with your head up.
- You should learn to “float” off your bike, allowing your legs and arms to compress and absorb any uneven terrain.
- Your weight should be on your feet, not on your saddle.
- When going down hill, or around turns, your position should be neutral. Not too far forward and definitely not too far back.
- Learn to “pump” your bike out of hills and turns. This is known as “free speed”.
- Stand up out of turns and sprint to make up for loss of speed.
- Take the outside to outside line in a turn, not the inside to inside. This way you don’t have to slow down as much.
- Look more at MTB racers for riding position precedents, not road cyclists who are concerned with being “aero”.
- Learn how to lean in and out of turns. Ride aggressively and fast.
- Learn your bike’s limitations… You should feel like you’re always at the tipping point around corners. Sometimes that means RUBBER SIDE UP in practice!
For more reference, check out these links and videos. Always great to review and absorb information from a variety of sources!