Cornering on a bicycle is a pretty intuitive process.
Your body figured how to maintain control while turning ages ago,
however, you may not understand the principles at work. The fact is,
when cornering, you don’t actually steer the bicycle. That is, unless
you are moving at very slow speeds—for example, less than 8 mph—speeds
low enough that the bike remains almost perfectly upright. When
cornering at typical riding speeds, you are, in fact, countersteering.
is just like it sounds. It is the opposite of steering. You’ve probably
noticed that any time you turn you lean in the direction of the turn.
This is the primary effect of countersteering. Suppose you want to turn
right. By turning the handlebar slightly to the left, the front wheel is
shifted left of your center of gravity. This initiates a lean to the
right. Once the bike is leaning to the right, it turns right, the same
way a skier or skateboarder would. Ending the turn requires steering the
front wheel back under you to bring the bike upright, something we
learned to do unconsciously years ago.
The turn’s radius (its tightness) is controlled by two factors: Your
countersteering and your weight distribution. How you weight the pedals
will help determine how the bike corners. The most common mistake new
riders make in cornering is to drop the inside pedal. A rider who
doesn’t understand the principles of countersteering will effect a
weight shift to lean the bike in the direction of the low pedal.
Unfortunately, this can result in the pedal hitting the ground, which
can result in a crash. Even when it doesn’t result in grinding the pedal
on the ground, with so much weight shifted in the direction of the
turn, oversteering—turning too sharply—can result.
Before you can take a corner at speed, you need to figure out how you
prefer to coast. This is another reason to know which of your feet is
dominant. By putting your dominant foot forward, you can better shift
your weight from side to side to control the lean angle of the bicycle. Keeping
the cranks level will help you control your weight distribution as you
corner. If you have ever ridden with no hands on the bar, then you
already know you can control the bike by shifting your weight on the
pedals and saddle.
How to Look over Your Shoulder
To get the fullest picture of what is
behind you, you need to be able to look over your shoulder. Looking over
your shoulder accomplishes two things. First, it gives you a clear
picture of how many cars are present. Second, it shows drivers you are
aware of the traffic and will be less likely to make a sudden turn into
trick to looking over your shoulder is to keep the bike pointed
straight while your head and shoulders are twisted to the left. Sounds
easy enough, but the hardwiring in our brains is such that where your
eyes are pointed, your head tends to follow. And wherever your head
points, the body tends to follow.
To overcome this, pick a road with
little traffic and a painted shoulder line. Try riding a few inches to
the right of the shoulder line with your hands on the top of the bar.
Next, twist your head and shoulders to the left while continuing to look
forward. Remove your left hand from the bar and keep your body centered
over the bike—do not lean as you twist. Many riders will put their left
hand on their hip as they twist.
You will likely drift to the left
as you twist your head and shoulders. With some practice, you’ll find
that you can twist without drifting. The next step is to simply look
back quickly, just like checking the blind spot when you drive. If
traffic is heavy or moving quickly, you may want to look back twice in
Your first priority, of course, is to remain aware of
what is directly ahead of you.
Your peripheral vision is absolutely
key to this maneuver and riding safely in general. Compared to driving a
car, you have more unobstructed view and remaining both vigilant and
observant will make this move safer and increase your awareness overall.
Likewise, along with the unobstructed view, your sense of hearing is
heightened because you’re not encased in a car. You’ll soon learn to
recognize the sound of traffic approaching from the rear and can steer
accordingly. Supplementing a look back over your shoulder with vigilant
listening will dramatically improve your safety on the road.
Patrick Brady is the author of the forthcoming "The No Drop Zone,
Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding
Strong," published by Menasha Ridge Press, which will be released this
May. When Patrick started writing about cycling 20 years ago Greg LeMond
was still a pro and Lance Armstrong was an amateur hoping to make the
Olympic Team. Since then he has served as an editor for Bicycle Guide
magazine and publisher of Asphalt Magazine. In addition to his work as a
contributing editor to peloton magazine, Patrick publishes his own
blog, Red Kite Prayer.