Railing corners is one of the Holy Grails of trail riding - riders who can do it flow faster and those who can't complain about their tires and head tube angle.
The truth is that cornering is just a series of movements that, when put together, help you turn faster and with more balance and confidence. However, as I've learned from guys like Gene Hamilton and Lee McCormack, it takes some thought and practice to really dial it in.
Cornering breaks down into 3 basic steps:
1) Turn with your hips. Set up for a turn with the hips by pointing your belly button the direction you want to go. This will shift your hips to the outside and shift some weight to your outside foot. The more you shift your hips the more you'll want to drop and weight your outside foot.
2) Use counter-pressure to steer into the turn. Counter pressure (which I prefer to the term counter-steering) is when you push forward with your left arm to turn left and push forward with your right elbow to turn right. This gets your bike to lean over and your front wheel to track better through the corner. The more you push with your left hand the sharper you'll turn left, the more you push with your right the more you'll turn right.
It is the complete opposite of how most riders steer into a turn and impossible to pull off unless you are in the right body position on the bike. However, this concept is very important to learn if you want to be able to corner consistently. It freaks some riders out how their bike practically turned itself once they get this concept down.
3) Look through the turn. With all of this hip shifting and counter-pressure you have to look through the corner. Going into the corner you should be looking at the middle of it, not the entrance. Once you hit the entrance you should be looking at the exit and once you hit the exit you should be looking out of the corner at the next section of trail.
All of this will add up to faster, more consistent cornering. I shot a video showing how this works and going over a drill you can use to try it out in a parking lot to see how it feels. It is tough to learn this stuff on the trail which is why you need to put in "parking lot time" to really advance to the next level.
The biggest take home lesson is this – at a certain point just riding your bike will make it harder for you to advance. Some mountain bikers who ride a lot and are considered good riders have the hardest time getting this "new" stuff down. They have logged so many turns using bad form that they had to first unlearn what they had learned, as Yoda would put it.
Practice this stuff for 10-15 minutes, 2-3 times a week so you can start to ingrain the new habits. Keep in it mind when you are riding the trail and you'll be amazed at how quickly you can improve your cornering technique.
James Wilson is the owner MTB Strength Training Systems, the word's only company dedicated to developing strength and conditioning programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. James owns a training facility in Grand Junction CO and is the strength coach for the Yeti World Cup Team. Visit his blog www.bikejames.com to sign up for your free mini-course 10 Steps to Instantly Improve Your Riding and bodyweight workout.