Cul-de-Sac Kung Fu: Essential Cornering Drills You Can Do Anytime, Anywhere

Because cornering is king and time is money

There was a time—before my coaching business picked up, before kids—when I could ride my pick of motocross, downhill, cross-country, or dirt jumps any day of the week. Those days were glorious! But, thankfully, I don’t have that kind of flexibility anymore. Odds are that you’re in a similar boat and can’t ride awesome trails every single day. That’s good because:

  1. You need rest.
  2. You need variety.
  3. You can only ride as well as you live—if your life is out of balance, your riding will suffer.

That Sunday shred is rad! But it’s not where you learn new skills—it’s where you execute the skills you already have and reap the rewards. Driveways, cul-de-sacs, or even parking lots on your commute to work are great environments to dial in new movement patterns because they’re accessible and consistent.

Use the following CDSKF (cul-de-sac kung fu) drills to develop the essential skills that empower all great cornering. Start with Level 1, work up to Level 2, and then dive into Level 3. Your riding will feel better with each quality practice session.

Setup

  • Ride your normal bike. Seat down. Flat pedals are nice because you can wear the shoes that are already on your feet.
  • Pick an open area. Pavement is best to start. You can add dirt later.
  • Place cones, gloves, fish heads, or other targets in a square about 15 paces apart. You’ll be making 90-degree turns around your course.
  • Turn in the direction that feels best (probably to the left, like Zoolander) when you’re learning. This will speed up the process. When turning to your good side feels great, start turning the other way, too.
  • Practice often. Five minutes of practice five times a week is way more helpful than 25 minutes of practice once a week. If you can manage 25 minutes five times a week, you’re killing it!

Level 1 – Make Angles

Bikes turn the way skis turn: When you lean them onto an edge, they do the work. Most riders are terrible at this until they really practice. Take this one step at a time:

1. Lean Your Bike

Extend your inside arm into the turn. Your shoulders should stay level and your bars should be leaned. Keep your hands weightless so the bike can steer itself. This sets an edge, which makes your bike turn.

102115leanbikeanimation

2. Load Your Foot

As you lean the bike, drop your outside pedal and smash 100 percent of your weight into that foot. This action loads the edge and increases traction, a skill that will save you in a surprise off-camber turn.

cornering-drop-foot

3. Drive Your Hips

As you initiate the turn, start pointing your hips where you want to go. A ski coach from Mogul Logic once told me to imagine there’s a flashlight in your belly button. This adds power to your turn, and it creates space for your saddle to lean under your thigh. It also helps you look into the next turn.

hips

If you’re too busy to ride your local cul-de-sac, practice this tricky movement while you’re on a conference call:

102115turnhipsanimation

Level 2: Make It Smooth

At this level, you’re going to execute the exact same movements, but you’ll concentrate on fully integrating them.

Lean the bike as you load your foot. Rather than flopping your bike and foot into the turn, gradually increase the lean and load. Pass through a moment of maximum lean and load, then release the pressure as you return your bike to upright. This massively improves balance and increases traction.

Simultaneously, remember to drive the turn by opening your hips. Your hips should hit maximum “openness” at the same moment of maximum lean and load.

Watch and feel the flow of the turns in the video below. Notice how the hands, feet, hips—whole body—act as one integrated unit:

Level 3: Generate Speed

Your mind is about to get blown to pieces. Are you ready?

You can pump through corners–even flat ones–just like you’d pump through a depression in the trail or between rollers on a pump track. The slideshow below illustrates this principle—click through and read the captions:

Watch and feel the timing and flow of this turn. The more aggressively you pump a turn, the more power you need, and the more level your feet will stay.

Do it well. Do it often. Tell me how it goes!

For more details on these skills, and to learn even higher levels of MTB kung fu, check out the Lee Likes Bikes online MTB school.

Cul-de-Sac Kung Fu: At-home drills for on-trail mastery

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