PEZ Goes to the Movies: Masterclass-The Art and Science of Cornering

How to corner

“A man’s got to know his limitations,” remarked American philosopher Clint Eastwood in 1973, long before a mountain bike trail in East Sussex was named for him, but these are words to consider. In the world of cycling we face many limitations as to our weight, our strength and power outputs, our descending skills, and our inability to get sealant to stay in a tubeless tire. We can see videos on how to get more aero, or at least buy expensive bicycles to make us more so but one skill that does not seem to get the attention it deserves is how to corner faster and with more confidence. A recent GCN+ video examines this skill.

The presenter of “The Art and Science of Cornering” is Alec Briggs, British domestic racer and someone who says at the beginning of the video “Railing the corners for me is the ultimate exhilaration on a bike.” No question of that as there are some clips of him riding at high speed during the Rad Race, an event that takes place on an indoor go-kart track using fixed-gear bikes. Of course, there are also some crashes when people go beyond the limits and the point of the video is to show how to get those “marginal gains” from improved cornering while staying safe.

Alec Briggs first gives a demonstration of skills that can be used in a race, as other riders are around you. After showing the basics of entering a corner and using the apex, he moves on to more advanced skills, such as trail braking by using the rear brake to control the bike in a turn, then on to going into a corner late to work back into a group and finally comes the “safe dive bomb,” which takes some talent to avoid becoming an unsafe dive bomb.

Next we have some examples of actual racing, with both the Rad Race and a road race which, while local, does include some high-level professionals keeping their hands in. In both cases the Alec Cam gives a good view of what is going on and how a pro rider can use corners at high speed, whether to save energy to have more coming out or to launch an attack.

On the subject of attacks, interviews follow with two World Tour professionals noted for their descending and cornering skills. Matej Mohorič astonished everyone by his hair-raising descent of the Poggio as he approaehed the end of Milan-San Remo this year, while Vincenzo Nibali reflects on the changes that technology has brought through disc brakes but also the need for the cyclist to practice the skills needed.

The heady mixture of descending and cornering at high speed is definitely a thrill and Alec Briggs takes us to a beautiful road in Wales to show how it is done. Relaxation is a key component while focusing on the road ahead. For some of us, finding a suitable hill for practice can be a challenge but one message that comes through again and again is the need to work at this, just as with any other skill.

Next comes a scientific examination of the variables in cornering as a stunt man is put on a bike to see the differences that factors such as tire pressure, road surface (ie., wet vs. dry) and the rider’s position on the bike will make. At some point, the coefficient of friction goes beyond what is sustainable and while we all can’t corner like Peter Sagan an awareness of limiting factors can help improve this skill.

Vincenzo Nibali had mentioned that riding cyclocross or a mountain bike is a way to improve bike handling and cornering and Alec Briggs meets up in the Forest of Dean with British pro Rich Payne to learn about riding trails and cornering on dirt. There is impressive speed involved but also precision as unlike being on a track where you just slide off, mountain bikers are surrounded by trees that are best avoided. And in his continued investigation of cornering at speed, the presenter hitches a ride on the pillion of a 200 mph superbike motorcycle

The program ends with Alec Briggs taking on an iconic road for British cyclists: Cheddar Gorge, a limestone ravine in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, which is 400 feet deep and 3 miles in length. It was the site of the British National Hillclimb Championship in 2007 but Briggs is there to ride downhill and take the fastest Strava time possible. The gorge road appears smooth but is quite twisty and Briggs will approach some corners at 75 km/h as he puts everything into practice that has been shown in the video.

While the video is entitled “Masterclass-The Art and Science of Cornering” the first message that appears onscreen in the video is that it is “for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as an instructional guide.” Furthermore, those shown in the program are all professionals on traffic-controlled roads. And, please, please please “do not attempt to recreate anything shown in this film.” Well, okay, but that does not mean it does not contain a lot of useful information and some excellent segments to allow you to visualize how to approach cornering. And, honestly, it looks like a lot of fun. Alec Briggs says that improving your cornering skills will make you faster, safer and more efficient. After watching this who would think otherwise? And ride that roller coaster of Cheddar Gorge…

The GCN channel on YouTube offers a snippet about cornering and how to trail brake with Alec Briggs and James Lowsley-Williams at the Odd Down Cycle Track near Bath:

“Masterclass-The Art and Science of Cornering”
Presented by Alec Briggs and Oliver Bridgewood
Filmed and Directed by Lewis Rhodes, Hugh Farrow and Tom Simmonds
Length: 1:12:48
GCN+ Originals, 2022
Available through streaming on GCN+
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