Pretty much any motocross rider will tell you that their favourite obstacles are corners. And on top of being fun, cornering is the most important technique you can practice if you want to keep your bike in control and improve your time during a race. Even one-tenth of a second per turn can make a big difference. Think about how many turns there are on a track, then do the math – by improving your technique, you could save at least one-tenth of a second on each turn. That seriously adds up.
Before we dive into the tips and mistakes to avoid, let’s quickly cover the basics of motocross cornering.
The Basics of Motocross Cornering
Just about all motocross cornering tips and tricks fall into the same categories:
- Being mentally prepared. If you know what’s coming, or you can focus on the corner that’s ahead of you before you arrive at it, you’ll make savvier decisions.
- Staying in control of your bike. This means making sure it can hit your line and knowing how to lean with it so it manoeuvres the way you want it to.
- Maintaining stability and traction by adding downward force. There are numerous ways to add downward force when riding, from knowing when to sit when accelerating to smart tricks for distributing weight as you lean into a turn.
We’ll get more into all of these tips, but this is essentially what you want to do when cornering:
When You’re Preparing For the Turn
- Choose your line.
- Brake before you enter.
- When you’re done braking, move your body forward.
When You’re Heading Into the Corner
- Lift your elbows up.
- Put your inside leg out, raise it up and point your toes in.
- With your outside foot, weight the peg.
- Engage your core.
- Keep your arms and upper body loose.
When You’re In the Corner
- Maintain a smooth throttle.
- Avoid using the clutch as much as possible.
- Use the front brake as needed to keep the bike in control.
When You’re Exiting the Corner
- Hit the throttle – keep it smooth.
- Put your inside foot back on the peg.
- Keep your head up and aligned with your body.
- Look ahead, farther than just the terrain in front of your bike.
Essential Motocross Cornering Tips and Drills
Here are the seven of the most important motocross tips and drills to help you improve your cornering skills.
1. Look Through the Turns
Your front tyre usually follows where you’re looking, so if your sights are set on the turn, that’s where your bike will go. Don’t look at the terrain that’s close to your front tyre – you can lose balance or stand the bike up.
With motocross, you know what the track looks like (unlike with off-road riding), and you can see where the turns will be. This makes it easier to be mentally prepared because you can think about the turns before you even approach them.
2. Brake Early and Throttle Early
Ease off the throttle earlier than you think you should. Going fast is fun, but don’t hold the throttle too long when you’re heading into a corner. What’s too long? Holding it down until you have no choice but to back off.
When you brake a little bit earlier, you initiate the process of turning earlier, too. You can enter the corner at the speed you want instead of having to deal with whatever speed you’re at once you arrive at the corner.
3. Position Your Body the Right Way
The right body positioning means better balance and control of your bike. Start by riding in the attack position, then when entering a corner and braking, adjust so that your weight is toward the back of the bike.
Unless you’re accelerating out of a corner (or you’re accelerating while on very rough terrain), you should be standing up. Practice transitioning from standing to sitting so that it’s one fluid motion. You don’t want to sit too early, though – sit right before you’re ready to accelerate.
4. Keep Your Elbows Up
Keeping your elbows up makes you better able to absorb the terrain and manoeuvre the bike. This is a good tip no matter what type of terrain you’re on, but it’s especially useful when going through a turn. Raising your outside elbow naturally tilts your torso, shoulder and head in the direction of the turn, allowing you to lean deeper into it.
5. Lean Into the Turn
Keep your body aligned with the bike’s angle to maintain your balance. If you can commit to the turn with your whole body, you’ll be able to maintain speed and traction.
Point your inside leg and toe slightly in. This helps you lean the bike into the turn, and it distributes weight toward the front of the bike. As you do that, weight the outside foot peg. This will add more force to the frame and tyre’s of the bike.
6. Hit Your Line
You have to be intentional as you ride. If you’re not focused on hitting your line, you could get off track as you go around the turn, and then you’ll have to use the exit to regain control – but that’s when you should be preparing for your next turn. Missing your line around one turn can impact the next few turns, too.
Every corner should have more than one line option, and the one you choose will change as some of them get worse. Practice riding on different line choices. That way, if a rut’s too deep or a bump gets too big, you can switch to another line you’re already familiar with.
7. Take Advantage of Practice Tracks
Find a turn track, which is a small course with a bunch of turns for the purpose of practicing cornering. You can even make your own if you can find a large enough area.
Even easier is to make ovals and figure-eights with your bike. Yes, these are super simple corners, but they’ll give you a ton of practice so you can get the fundamentals down.
Cornering Mistakes to Avoid
When riding, you’re always doing one of three things: accelerating, braking or coasting. Coasting is usually wasted time because you’re not accelerating or braking, two techniques that help you go faster. It’s common to coast when you enter a turn, especially if you brake early. Riders tend to coast between when they let off the brake and hit the turn and accelerate, but that time you spend coasting could be spent either braking or accelerating.
Braking Too Late
If you brake late, you could end up veering off your line, and even getting off-track a tiny bit can use up a precious second. Braking early may seem like it’s in direct opposition to going fast through a corner, but it lets you better control the speed at which you enter and exit the turn. Plus, you’ll maintain control and balance this way.
Not Knowing Whether to Sit Forward or Back
Typically, you want to sit forward on the seat as you go through a turn. This puts more downward force on the front part of the bike, which adds stability and traction. However, the type of terrain will determine if you want to put more force on the front or back of the bike. If you’re in a deep rut, you want more force on the front; if you’re on a sand turn or a flat, hard-packed turn, try a neutral or rear position to see if it works better.
Remember, these are tips to try out, not hard-and-fast rules. Every rider has their own style and knows (or discovers) what works best for them and their timing. And every track can have different challenges that require tweaks to your usual ride style. For example, some riders may find that they maintain control and don’t lose time if they coast a little bit between braking and accelerating when heading into a turn. And on very flat, slick turns, you may want to only lean the bike, not your body, to maintain control. The basics will get you started, but figure out what works for you, your bike and the track.
You’re not done perfecting your motocross skills. Check out our article about how to ride a motocross bike like a pro.