Jeremy Powers can put a bike through a corner at speeds that are hard to understand. In the early season, you’ll see him go tape-to-tape on wide, fast lines, pushing the traction of his tyres to the limit. Once the weather turns, you’ll see him pull controlled slides through thick mud, carrying speed where most riders are tempted to just carry their bikes.
Part 1: Pre-riding
Before riding comes pre-riding. Take a good look at the corner, and how other riders tackle it. “During pre-ride, I’m looking for stumps, divots, ruts, sprinkler heads… anything that is going to get in my way,” says Powers.
“If there’s one that is particularly hard, I’ll pull off the course and see if the other riders are taking a different line. That happens once in a while – you don’t always see things how others see them. You get a good lay of the land, get comfortable, then increase the speed in those subsequent laps. The problem with most corners is that there’s a natural speed limit, and if you go over that you end up on the ground. You have to realize that you can’t take every corner at 25mph.”
Part 2: The Grass is Greener
Where you find grass, you’re likely to find traction. In practice, this means that you should seek out a cornering line that makes the best use of all the available grass. “Keep in mind that the shortest distance around a corner is not always the fastest. I’m always looking for ways to carry speed – the ‘line less travelled’ is what you’re looking for.”
Part 3: Feel the pressure
Roadies have been known to inflate their tyres far past the manufacturer’s recommended limits in the search of low rolling resistance, but crossers often do just the opposite. Experiment with low tyre pressures, which allow the tyre to deform and put more rubber in contact with the ground. A good rule of thumb is that the wheel’s rim will come into (gentle) contact with the ground about once a lap – although this tactic can cause a few pinch flats if you ride clinchers.
“There is an ideal formula, but it’s hard to get right. You’re looking for enough pressure to give the tyre shape and a bit of natural suspension, but not so much that the tyre is too ‘round’ as you ride it. Having a good set of tubular tyres is going to make your ride quality significantly better. I ride handmade French tubulars from FMB.
Part 4: Sometimes Cross Is Just Not Pretty
The goal of working on your cornering skills is to be as efficient and smooth as possible, saving energy and reducing the risk of sliding out. However, sometimes you just have to fight with the bike. “Sometimes, cross is just not pretty, it’s about getting the job done. In the mud, it can just be about keeping the bike moving.”
Part 5: The Body
Watching top riders, you’ll notice that there’s an orthodoxy when it comes to cornering technique. Shoulders and arms are relaxed, the body’s weight kept on the outside of the corner, and the head looking straight at the corner’s exit. There’s a reason everyone rides this way: it works.