The Ultimate MTB Cornering Drill


By Gene Hamilton — Do you want to master the art of cornering? If so, I’d like to share the ultimate on-trail drill to make you corner faster. This drill makes me so much faster that I often get PRs while doing it.

I have found that focusing only on the front brake keeps you centered (not creeping back over the rear wheel while braking) and frees up bandwidth by eliminating two things that you formerly had to pay attention to, namely your rear brake and rear wheel traction. The importance of “freeing up bandwidth” cannot be overstated!

Gene Hamilton cornering in Moab, Utah on the Falcon Flow Trail. Photo by Corie Spruill Photography,

What is bandwidth?

Think of bandwidth as the total amount of focus you have. You need 100% of your focus on where you are going to be in 5-7 seconds and how you are going to get there.

The ineffective way to use your bandwidth:

When I’m using both front and rear brakes as I’m slowing down before a corner, I’m “feeling” my rear tire for traction and listening to my rear tire to help me modulate the rear brake. This takes a lot of focus.

If I don’t have enough bandwidth (focus) left over for my vision, the most important piece of cornering will suffer. If 50% of your focus is on what is happening behind you, you only have 50% for what is most important to you: figuring out and doing what you need to do over the next 5-7 seconds. What’s behind you is done; what’s in front of you is the only thing that matters.

The effective way to use your bandwidth:

By focusing on using your front brake aggressively and not worrying about the rear brake, your entire focus is on what is in front of you. This makes you feel like you are going slower, less rushed, and more in control. It’s mind-blowing! That corner that always feels a little too tight? It seems gigantic now. Instead of “Oh, crap,” your brain is laughing at how easy this is. It is that easy.

Back to cornering:

The most important pieces of cornering are, in order of importance:

  1. Vision. Looking at the corner and picking your line on the way to the corner (ride the corner with your eyes).
    1. You should look through the corner past the exit as you start your turn. (Unless your vision is blocked, look as far into the corner as possible, and as soon as you can see further, do so.)
  2. Understanding and being proficient at Counter pressure/steering.
    1. Initiate a turn by pushing your inside grip forward away from your body (gently steering in the opposite direction).
  3. Understanding and being proficient at finishing your braking to cut speed in a straight line (knowing how to get the most out of your front brake).
    1. Never try to change direction and cut speed at the same time. This overloads your tires’ ability to maintain traction, and it decreases your lean angle by making the bike stand up.
  4. Here is Greg Minnaar’s take on maintaining correct body position:
    1. You need to stay hinged at the hips, elbows up and out, weight-centered, and above your bike.

More on Body Position:

Do you understand and are fairly proficient at those skills? Then you are going to love this drill! If not, please practice those skills and become good at them before attempting the following drill. This is best done on a trail where you can descend easily, but which gets much harder as you increase your speed.

My favorite trails in Moab for this drill are Eagle Eye, Falcon Flow, and Hazard. These are curvy blue trails and fast, but not steep, black trails.

Finally – The Drill:

Pretend you don’t have a rear brake. Focus on only using your front brake (which does 70-100% of cutting your speed) all the way down the trail.

Like me, you may have gotten used to using your rear brake to try to save you when you enter corners too fast. Knowing that you won’t be using the rear brake can be scary! That fear will help you slow down so you enter the corner at a speed that makes the corner feel easy at your current skill level. By forcing yourself to slow down to the correct entrance speed for the corner, you will corner with more control and less fear and achieve greater exit speed.

I have found that focusing only on the front brake keeps me centered (not creeping back over the rear wheel while braking) and frees up bandwidth by eliminating two things that you formerly had to pay attention to: your rear brake and rear wheel traction.

This makes it much easier to look through the corner.

I’m already centered and usually feel like I slowed down more than needed as I start the corner. This makes looking through the corner easier as I am confident and calm. Though it feels slow (because I’m looking further ahead and more relaxed), I can exit the corner with greater speed, which has led to quite a few PR’s.


This drill reminds me of when I ran into my former student Cody Kelley (US National Enduro Champion) several years ago at Bootleg Canyon. He ran up to me, saying, “Gene, Gene, I’m so excited!” I asked him what he was excited about, and he said, “I’m wearing out two sets of front brake pads before wearing out one set of rear pads!”

I was so impressed! He asked, “Why are you impressed? You taught me this?” I replied that I might have taught him that, but I was still too in love with my rear brake. This was one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments

The student had become the master. Have you watched Cody ride/race? He reminds me of Minnaar. He is so smooth and calm in the corners that he’s almost boring to watch. Thankfully, he has style for miles on the rest of the trail.

Go out and practice this drill/technique and start riding safer, faster, and more efficiently today.


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