The second ‘how-to’ in the Brake Steer Turn (BST©) series.
So lately I have been reading up on road cycling articles and watching cycling videos on the subject of bike handling and descending skills. Mainly as a rider and former moto racer I have a genuine keen interest in the topic and I am curious as to the latest information being doled out.
I figure, perhaps there is something I could glean as well, heck I’m always open to learning something as long as it is both credible and valuable. Though lately what I have been reading and watching is a bit frustrating. Some bits I have been reading and viewing (from so-called ‘experts’) is really a mix of good advice but with a bit of outright incorrect advice.
So, I’m not going to call out any specific Bicycling type magazines, the so-called coaches-experts or the various cycling video channels that are purporting some of this misguided info, but suffice to say, there are more than a few top line publications and cycling sites that are doling out some poor advice and somewhat questionable opinions on bike handling and descending skills. In fact there is even a misguided bloke who claims that you don’t need to counter steer at all!
How sadly uninformed that poor man truly is…but the worst part is, some if not many riders will take that advice to heart. So I heavily advise…to Steer clear of those would-be squidly riders! 😀 To be fair though, some of these publications do offer some sage counsel, but, they are also offering up a couple of ideas and notions that are either simply incorrect. And in fact presenting some opinions as fact- rather than what they are, which is opinion. And in my view has to potential to nullify some of their credibility.
Though, if I give some of them the benefit of doubt (for simply not comprehending the very complex nature of single track, two-wheeled vehicle dynamics and physics) perhaps a portion of their advice is just simply short-sighted, from a lack of understanding the dynamics of two-wheeled vehicles. Just to be clear, Both bicycles and motorcycles are classified as single-track vehicles. Though they vary greatly in weight, they BOTH steer in the same manner and both utilize counter steering, no ands, ifs or buts about it.
Okay, so let’s dive in and point out what I know to be incorrect information regarding two-wheeled steering dynamics. There seems to be much confusion about steering a bicycle (or motorcycle for that matter) often this confusion results in compromised control, which leads to either poor cornering technique and-or a crash. Simply believing or thinking that one can properly steer a bicycle with just body lean or a shift in body weight alone is absolutely false.
But apparently this has become the popular narrative, but I assure you, it is a False Narrative. And as far as where to put a riders hands or where to steer from, the popular opinion that a riders hand must always be in the drops is another misleading statement. In fact, a rider actually has more leverage in the hoods than in the drops.
Where to place your hands or steer from is simply a personal preference, but when a rider is in the drops, a rider is placing more weight on their hands, wrists and shoulders- as weight is being shifted forward (and so to, the Center of Mass, debunking yet another ‘theory’ that riding in the drops “lowers the center of gravity” which is mostly rubbish. Because whether in the drops or in the hoods, the center of mass is so much not affected by hand position, but rather by body position. And furthermore, getting your shoulders a couple of inches ‘lower’ only very slightly affects CoM. It is not measurable in fact.
But for the average rider, this extra weight on the wrists/arms/shoulders could result in less control. Next time you head out for a ride, try counter steering in an area that is free from traffic. In the drops make firm inputs to the bars. Do this a few times or as many times as you want. Then do the same in the hoods. Note your observations.
Alright, so some of the misguided advice goes something like this; ‘push down on the outside pedal, press your inside leg against the frame and lean your body…that’s it” -Well, that is Misleading advice, which causes problems for riders, both new and experienced. The idea that a rider can properly steer a bicycle at any speed other than very low speeds by just utilizing body weight and using only body lean is one giant myth (busted by the way).
Counter steering always works, just push on the bar and bike responds Instantly, each and every single time. This allows the rider to have more control, resulting in safer riding conditions. Now that is not to say that body lean isn’t a worthy technique, when combined in conjunction with counter steering. Body lean is merely a component in the bike handling mix, but it is not the sole skill. I have and still advocate using ones torso and hips to aid in turning-cornering, but the main component of cornering is to employ counter steering.
Utilize just body lean and a rider will more often than not, run wide, will usually miss the apex and subsequently, the risk of crashing rises as speeds increase. Have you ever wondered why many of the pro’s run wide, or run off the edge of the road or crash in a turn? Well, barring an obstacle, it is usually a result of compounding factors. The first is they typically start their turn-in too early, they typically use just their body to make the turn instead of counter steering and once they begin to run wide, they then succumb to Target Fixation.
Now there are some exceptions, some of the best pro riders like Sagan, Nibali, Evans, Cancellara and other great descenders understand and utilize counter steering and that is what separates them from the rest. Yes, steering is light on a bicycle and that causes most riders to have difficulty in separating the lean of their body with the slight effort it takes to counter steer.
Praising the virtues of Body Steering as it is sometimes called, counter lean, –that is ‘steering’ without counter steering is dangerous. [link: While a rider can certainly initiate the steering action using counter lean, a rider cannot maintain the arc or angle as both speed and ‘external forces’ increase (the forces acting against a bicycle are gravity, inertia and friction- the latter generating Centripetal Force) If the turn or series of turns are decreasing in radius, then a rider will simply miss the apex and run off the road or at the very least run wide.
There are so many riders who still suffer under the misconception that body steering is all that is necessary to turn and-or corner a bicycle in a safe and precise manner. The end result is that they are dedicating themselves to an idea or notion that has the potential to do harm to themselves and possibly other riders around them. Counter steering truly becomes evident when there is an obstacle to avoid.
If a rider uses just the ‘body lean’ technique, the rider will experience a momentary lag from body input to actual movement on the bicycle, as in the bike won’t do what the rider wants it to do, at the exact moment when the rider expects it to. So, if a rider needs to initiate a avoidance maneuver or a quick, sharp turn, the rider will most likely end up in a heap or at least crossed up.
If a rider is confronted with a obstacle from road hazards or other riders and is not able to initiate firm and concise counter steering, more than likely, the rider will be unable to avoid said obstacle(s). If a rider relies on just using body lean most of the time, when that critical moment arrives and quick, firm counter steering is necessary, it won’t be an automatic reaction, instead, survival reactions (freezing up, tightening the grip on the bars along with target fixation) will all take over and that could and will probably be disastrous.
I defy anyone to descend quickly and just use body or counter lean alone. Try it. Keep your hands on top of the bars without gripping and pushing on the bars. Just rest them on the bars and go attack your favorite descent. You can get back to me after the body cast and bandages are removed. Or not, if perhaps you’re paralyzed or maybe even worse. The fact that so-called experts are telling and propagating the body lean technique to steer in a descent is down right dangerous and just irresponsible in my experienced opinion.
If you are inclined to really delve into single-track vehicle dynamics for both bicycles and motorcycles, there is a very in-depth and very technical wiki article here: Countersteering Dynamics and Implementation