Weekend challenges are for women who want inspiration to take their riding to the next level and suggestions of where to begin. Challenge yourself this weekend! Here's your task.
Just because you know how to turn your bike doesn't mean you know how to corner. Hopefully you do, and even better, hopefully you know because somebody kind and knowledgeable taught you at the critical moment in your development, but many have never had that luxury.
When teaching cornering, I always start with walking through the action that every body part is performing in a perfect high-speed corner.
Hands: In the drops. If they are touching brakes they are doing it before the turn. They should also shift down before you go into the turn to anticipate having to accelerate out of it.
Feet: Inside foot up. If you take a tight corner and lean your bike into the turn and your inside foot is down you will eventually clip your pedal on the pavement and go down. If you enter a criterium and put your inside foot down — even once — riders will flee so they won't be caught up in your wake when you go down.
Eyes: Looking through the corner. People always tell you to look “up,” but that's misleading and very unspecific. Look where you are going, many bike lengths ahead of you, never directly in front of you and down. Your bike goes where your eyes go, and if you're looking down, that's where you'll end up. Definitely don't look at the wheel ahead of you, but "through" the rider.
Elbows: Relaxed, never locked.
Butt: On the seat. It may seem basic, but you can tell immediately if someone comes from a mountain bike background by their cornering, because they resist sitting firmly in the center of the saddle around corners.
When you enter a corner in a race with closed roads, approach the corner wide, then cut into the apex and exit wide again. This is the straightest line around the turn, which requires you to slow down less. That said, the key when you are in a pack is following the wheel in front of you, and you can't be swerving in front of people to take a wider corner. Pick a wheel you trust to pick the best line.
When in a pack in a criterium or another corner-heavy course, keep reminding yourself “location, location, location.” Otherwise, you subject yourself to the “accordion effect,” where the woman in front slows down, causing the woman behind her to slow down a little more, and the woman behind her more still, and so on, and getting stuck at the back means you have to work harder out of each corner to make up for the momentum and distance you lost. Staying in the front few rows will reduce fatigue dramatically.
Turning comes from your hips, not your hands. You have probably been told to lean into the corner, but there's more to it than that. I've heard weighting your bike explained in many ways, including, “apply downward pressure on your inside bar,” and “put weight on your outside leg and inside hand,” but my favorite explanation is that you want to keep your center of gravity over your wheels, so use your inside hand to push your body and shoulders upright over your bike when going into a turn.
Accelerate out of the turn. You can begin pedaling in a tight turn at the apex, and once you come around you will often need to put in a few strokes out of the saddle to catch back on. You'll thank yourself for having already shifted into a good gear before the corner.
Go to a business district in your area after hours, when cars won't be passing. Ideally, go with a few girlfriends and practice cornering in a tight pack, plus as a bonus you won't feel so strange about riding in circles. Make a short circuit with as many corners as possible, but with good visibility for potential cars. Figure-8 configurations or L shapes allow you practice in both directions, but keep in mind that turning left usually requires crossing oncoming traffic.
Take the turns at top speed, but soft pedal long stretches between turns. Push yourself to remember every point every time around and take them faster each lap.
Get after it.