Most e-MTB cornering technique is the same as on a regular mountain bike: arrive at the right speed, pick the right line, and emerge out of the corner with your body in the right position.
The right speed
The ‘right’ speed is determined by a variety of factors. Firstly, the physical nature of the turn - an open sweeper on hard-packed dirt can be taken at a higher speed than a hairpin turn on loose gravel, or any corner covered in wet mud.
Secondly, reading the trail, as we covered in part 2 of the series, is a constant requirement. Time and experience will help you gain knowledge about what is, or isn’t, the right speed for a corner judging by its shape or type of surface. If you’re in any doubt, ‘Slow in, fast out’ is a good mantra. Practice seeing how quickly the bike decelerates without braking; this may be enough to get you around. If brakes are required, then use both evenly. Don’t be afraid of the front brake, but be sure that the bike is upright when you use it. Applying the front brake when you're leaning into a corner can cause the front wheel to understeer and fall in towards the apex (also called ‘washing out’), instead of rolling and carving the radius with grip. Unless you have very good reactions to release the front brake, dab the rear brake and counter steer to stand the bike up-right. A front wheel wash out usually leads to a crash.
To make an e-MTB accelerate out of a turn with the least possible lag from the motor, you need to resume pedalling as soon as you can after apexing; that is, when you’re in no danger of clipping the inside pedal on the ground. If you wait until you’re physically clear of the corner before resuming pedalling, your corner speed will be compromised because the added weight of the bike will slow it more rapidly than a regular mountain bike. Understanding the subtle timing required to seamlessly blend muscle and electrical power to maintain a high average speed is the absolute key to generating that lovely feeling of flow that defines a great mountain bike ride.
The right line
Again, reading the trail is vital. As a rule you’re looking for the smoothest, widest, grippiest line through any corner. Smooth is good because it means the tyres are in contact with the dirt, delivering even levels of traction and feedback. You want 'wide' because it’s easier and faster to set the bike into a corner on a single trajectory that will take it right through, from start to finish, with no secondary steering adjustment. This is where tyre grip and handling skills become more necessary.
Most e-MTB’s have large volume, well-treaded and stiff sidewall tyres, to deliver the most consistent ride character while operating under the extra loads an e-MTB can generate; however, even these tyres won’t be able to hold your flat-out combined speed on flat loose turns, so keep a look out for any added assistance you can get from positive trail camber or berms (a flat, level section). Even small berms can significantly increase the speed at which you can take a corner, as you're able to use more of the tyres crown. The tread on the tyre's crown is more stable than the shoulder tread, which is inherently flexy.
The right position
We’ve established that you want to be centred over the top tube, with your head up and eyes on the line, and muscles as relaxed as possible while maintaining form and a safe grip of the bar. The key differences with an e-MTB are down to managing the flow of electrical power to deliver you into the turn at the right speed, so reading the trail is a key element here. You need to know when to stop pedalling to cut the electrical power, so as not to over-shoot your line - enter too fast and you could get into trouble.
When cornering, there are two positions you can adopt for your legs. The most common is to take the corner with your outer leg fully extended (to the six o’clock position), placing as much force through that outside pedal as possible. This also serves to keep the inside pedal clear of obstruction.
For lower speed turns, especially those where you might have to negotiate a rock, root, drop or step mid-turn, keeping the pedals level (horizontal) is useful. In this position the tyre shoulders (where the cornering tread is located) aren’t being loaded as effectively, giving less grip and increasing the chance of them sliding.
In a short time, you’ll feel comfortable cornering with your legs and feet in both positions. As your trail-reading skills improve, you’ll find yourself instinctively selecting one or the other for each corner, switching between the two styles when necessary.
One smooth movement
While you need to think about approach speed, line and body position when cornering, you don’t actually mentally split them up while riding; if possible you don't even want to be consciously thinking about them. They should become natural, instinctive actions which allow you to corner at a good speed and in one smooth, fluid movement. Coming in ‘hot’ slamming on the rear brake with dramatic skid might look good for others, but it’s slow and will ultimately ruin the flow of the ride!
Practice makes perfect
There is only one way to get good at cornering... unsurprisingly, that is to actually get out there and do it. Take every opportunity to test your skills, relishing the varying challenge each off-road corner presents. Every time you get it right and sail around a turn at speed, try to remember what you just did. Pinpoint the things you did and the positive effect they had on your corner. They say it takes ten thousand hours of practice to master a skill, and that’s very true of cornering on a mountain bike regardless of whether it’s human or e-powered. So with that said... go out and get cornering!