How cornering is done.

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I revisited my nemesis this weekend, no it wasn’t the Springhill mountain bike trails, this was my first ride on those particular trails. It wasn’t the field of racers in my group of Category 3, 50+ riders, I’ve always felt that mountain bike racing was about me and not them. It was that old challenge that I’ve placed on myself more times than I can remember, you’d think I’d learn. All racing, no training, will I ever learn?

Racers coming out of the first section of woods.
Racers coming out of the first section of woods.

It was a beautiful morning as we drove to Barling, Arkansas, just east of Fort Smith along the Arkansas River. A cold front had moved through the previous day and the fall air was crisp but light wind and plenty of sun made it bearable. All I knew of the trail was that it was fairly flat and twisty. It had been described to me as ten miles of Pfeifer Loop for those familiar with the 1.8 mile loop we used for Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day. No big hills, no rocks, no technical riding, just a hammer fest of cutting turns and all out pedaling. Not really my favorite kind of riding conditions but a challenge nonetheless.

The twisty, turny map and profile of the Springhill Classic race course.
The twisty, turny map and profile of the Springhill Classic race course.

As we came over the highway 59 bridge we could see the race start/finish area with canopies set up and a slew of people milling about.  Many of them in fleece jackets with coffee mugs in hand to ward off the morning chill. We quickly found a parking space and got the bike set up so I could do a little pre-riding. I only had time to ride a mile or so down the trail before I needed to get ready for the start. This mile was my longest ride since the mud-fest of a race at Devil’s Den a couple of weeks earlier. So no training and a short pre-ride on an unfamiliar trail, this was going to get ugly.

I'm back there in the red, heading to the other side of highway 59.
I’m back there in the red, heading to the other side of highway 59.

My group may have had more participants for this race than it’s had for any of the other series races this year, thirteen racers lined up for the one lap race of the old guy age group. We had only a couple hundred yards in front of us before the field turned to singletrack. I promised myself that I would get in with the front pack at the start but found myself lined up in the second line at the start. I was lucky to enter the woods in 11th out of the group.

As long as I could stay ahead of the kids...
As long as I could stay ahead of the kids…

We moved quickly through the only section I had ridden on just minutes earlier. I held the tire in front of me through that first mile or so and then we passed under highway 59 and suddenly one guy blows past me. I don’t know where he came from but I assume he started late and was getting to the front where he belonged. At his speed he surely would have passed earlier if he started with us. My little group of 4 or 5 guys bringing up the rear dropped back into the woods and it wasn’t long before someone else passed me. Someone I’d beaten just a couple of weeks before. Where is a good rocky hill when you need one?

Racing with a backup engine.
Racing with a backup engine.

At this point I figured I was on the tail, my group slowly moved away from me. I was braking too much in the turns, sucking wind as I tried to get back up to speed. And there were a lot of turns. I rode on trying to just enjoy the ride. It was about seven or eight miles into the race that I finally started feeling good, I pushed a little harder. Maybe it was that I’d hit a few little elevation changes, some roots to bounce over. Maybe I was just getting warmed up but I wanted to pass someone. The unfortunate thing is that I was totally alone. I pushed anyway.

As I was getting near the end and suddenly I could see another racer, a rabbit. What I had in the tank would be left on the last mile, I did not want to be dead last. I passed my prey and just hoped that he was actually in my age group.

Not my best race. It turned out that I actually finished ahead of two riders, someone had been real slow off the line and I never knew they were back there. Time to spend more time in the saddle.

The Real Deal

Once done I quickly changed clothes and headed back into the woods to find Lisa who was taking photos in a turn somewhere in the first mile of the race. I enjoy watching the faster riders as they showed me how the turns should be taken. Leaning into each one, trusting the bike, taking the line, NOT braking.

How cornering is done.
How cornering is done.

The category two racers did two laps of the course and the category one and pros did three. Sometimes you don’t really get to see the lead groups more than a couple of times as they make their pass through the start/finish area to head out on another lap. This race allowed us plenty of time to take pictures back in the woods and then head out to other areas for more photos and still be close enough to watch the finish of the really fast guys.

The Webber/Drummond/Cragle Pain Train out on another lap.
The Webber/Drummond/Cragle Pain Train out on another lap.

A “pain train” had formed on the first two laps at the front. Frank Webber, Cooper Drumond and Chad Cragle were hammering it. I always picture these guys not saying a word, listening to their heart rates, planning attacks, fending off attacks, in the game, focused. I talked to Chad after the race about it. He said they had conversations during the race. No, not conversations about how they were doing or offering encouragement. Nope, Super Mario Karts was the topic. Chad has a weakness for Mario Karts and I think Frank and Cooper knew it. He said he spent a good part of a lap thinking about how the race would go if they were racing the carts. His mind wandered. He said he was thrilled when he came out of the video world to find himself still with Frank and Cooper. His sprint for the finish got him a second place. Frank had dropped off, another victim of under training due to impending nuptials (a much better excuse than I had) and Cooper came in first for another series win for the Bell and Company Team.

Other Options

Thanks to Mercy Cycling for putting on this Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series Event. The swag was the best of all the races so far this year and the after race hamburgers were yummy.

The short drop to the finish line.
The short drop to the finish line.

If you are ever in the Fort Smith area and looking for a fun, easy ride without too many technical sections, the Springhill Trails in this Corps of Engineers park are a great option. Perfect for taking a newbie rider. I also highly recommend the nearby Ben Geren Park Trails. They have some higher level of difficulty with more short climbs, some rocks and varying skill levels.

Mullet Run - Northwoods Trails - Hot Springs

We will be posting more photos from the race on our Facebook Page later today.

Next up, back to Iron Mountain.

Searcy County Waterfall
See also  Your Top 10 Arkansas Mountain Bike Trails - 2024

9 Responses

  1. Great article. Fun read! It’s probably wrong of me to comment this in most minds because I know this isn’t the forum, but what is? I came from road racing and new to MTB racing this year…thus I took a professional MTB technique camp in Colorado. My eyes were opened! For example…your picture and caption “How cornering is done” encourages everyone that aspires to ride MTB fast to do all of the wrong things..because XC racing is far to riddled with road riding “wisdom”. That rider is only doing one thing correctly for MTB cornering…looking ahead. His right heel is up, should be down, right knee is straight and should be bent and in towards frame, left arm is more bent than right, should be opposite, body is leaned into corner, should never happen on the dirt. His tires are barely hanging on because he is driving his center of gravity towards the ground and away from his bikes center of mass and if his tires brake lose he’s going down. Some day maybe MTB riding will shed roadie carry overs of long stems, narrow bars, high seat posts, balls of feet on pedals, heels up, but until please stop leaning into corners…that is if you really want to know what it feels like to really corner. Happy trails.

    1. The rider pictured is one of the top Cat 1 mountain bike racers in the state having recently won the overall in the 25th Anniversary Northwest Arkansas Championship Race. The terrain for the race in the photo is a flat fast course with a lot of tight turns. He is carrying his speed through the turn and laying off the brake. The lean is a necessity on this course, I could show you several other photos of similar technique on that same turn by other racers in the Cat 1/Pro field. I personally went through the turns in a more upright position and got my butt handed to me.

  2. Joe, fair response. I know who the rider is and that doesn’t change expert cornering technique and physics. Being upright isn’t the point but driving body weight through the line of inertia of the bike tires is. Flat course, you definitely don’t lean into corner, twisty, you definitely don’t lean into corner, hard pack with a little lose stuff on top, you definitely don’t lean into corner for maximum cornering speed. XC racers, even world class, are known for not being able to corner well, especially when you compare them to a downhiller that can corner twice as fast as an XC guy. I’ve never understood why a persons success drives people to put them on a pedestal that they are doing everything better. My point was that this rider could carry much more speed than he currently can with different weight distribution. Dialogue like this is good because too many people have a very hard time letting go of traditional “knowledge”. cheers

  3. Joe…meant to say, you are perfectly correct that the lean is necessary on the Springhill course, but only the bike lean, not the rider lean. Huge difference.

    1. I see now what you’re saying and I think the photo has fooled you a bit. He looks like he is looking into more turn but in actuality he was just coming out of the turn and into a straight section, shifting his wait back and preparing for the next turn to the other side. The only thing slowing him down here is that he took a look at me. I’ve watched this kid for the last couple of years on all kinds of terrain throughout Arkansas and he’s pretty dialed in on the turns. I’m sure he would say that he is still working to be faster though.

      1. Joe, no, it was extremely obvious that he is at the exit of the turn. I think your assessment of shifting weight back for the next turn is an attempt to try to explain something about his body position without agreeing with me, understanding good cornering technique, and as a result made another ill advised piece of advice. Here’s another link for you and all of the other “road” thinking MTB riders out there.

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