How to rail a road bike

Speaking of VeloNews, here’s a story that ran in the February 2006 issue.

The Red Bull Road Rage, held in Malibu, CA on Nov. 5, 2005 showed us all how road bikes are meant to be ridden. Featuring Myles Rockwell, David McCook, Brian Lopes and Mark Weir.

The Nov. 5 2005 Red Bull Road Rage ran racers down Malibu’s Tuna Canyon Road: a 2.5-mile, 2,000 foot paved plummet featuring 50 turns and top speeds in the high fifties. The course had its share of sprinting, tucking and white-knuckling, but the deciding factor was neither brute force nor low fear IQ. It was the ability to carry speed through the steep, tight corners.

Full-time carpenter and 2000 downhill world champion Myles Rockwell won the time trial in 4:24.7, with pro criterium racer David McCook finishing one second back. World four-cross champ Brian Lopes overcame a near death experience to finish third, four seconds behind Rockwell.

Click for big.

Here’s what some of the fast guys had to say about going fast down a road like this.

Know the course
Lopes said the course started and ended pretty flat (a relative term, considering the overall grade is 15 percent). “You were basically sprinting as hard as you could for 30-40 seconds. There were turns, but you didn’t have to brake for them. There was no skill — just power. The end of the course was the same way. But in the middle it got steeper, and the turns got tighter.

“You had to link from turn to turn to turn. You had to know the turns, know when to brake, how much to brake. A lot of the turns are blind, and they all look the same. If you go too hot into the first corner you drift out and you’re late for the next corner, then you’re even later for the next one.”

“Sometimes you have to look through the mountain,” said McCook, who says he has won many races because of his cornering skill. “Know there the road goes and where you want to be, and look there — even if there’s a mountain in your way and a cliff on the other side.”

Speaking of cliffs, said Lopes, “I was going into this turn really fast, and the back wheel locked up and I started fishtailing. I threw some weight over the back to make it hook up, but before I knew it I was on the pavement sliding. I hit the curb and caught on my stomach. I looked around and I was hanging from a 100-foot cliff. Oh my God, I could have just died.” This realization didn’t scare Lopes, but it did convince him to run full suspension for extra traction in the corners.

While you’re memorizing the curves, says McCook, pay attention to the surface. “The traction is different on new or old asphalt, or new or old cement. You can’t make every turn the same — one’s gonna be slipperier than the other. Pay attention, and don’t take anything for granted.”

Choose smart lines
Make every turn as wide as possible. That means entering on the far outside of the road, crossing to the inside then sweeping all the way outside. White to yellow to white. “In a criterium where I’ll be riding 50 or 60 laps I’m learning the turns more each time,” says McCook. “As I go faster and faster, I use more of the road. I’ve even bumped off the curb.”

Many riders make the mistake of diving directly into the inside of the corner. This “early apex” line forces you to do most of your turning late in the corner, which slows you down and leaves you little room to correct mistakes. Remember those cliffs?

You’ll exit faster and more likely stay on the road by carving a “late apex” line. Come in very wide, brake hard, get most of the turn done, then sweep inside to finish the turn. This gives you much greater exit speed, and it lets you do your hardest turning on ground you’ve seen — important on an unfamiliar road. It also gives you leeway; if you lose traction or the turn keeps turning you have room to deal with it.

Says McCook, “It’s like they do in GP motorcycles — go in hard, hit the brakes and halfway through hit the gas. Only halfway through I pedal.”

Control your bike

Here are the basics of cornering form:

– Look where you want to go.
– Outside pedal down and weighted.
– Get as low as you can.
– Lean your bike.

Bike lean is the key to cornering. The tighter the turn and the higher your speed, the farther you must lean.

Many riders lean their bodies into the turn but try to keep their bikes upright. Major magazines have claimed this is the key to safe cornering, but it’s actually the key to awkward cornering. Instead, lean your body into the turn — and lean your bike even more. This sets a harder edge and increases your bike control.

“If you try to keep your bike up, when your bike slips there’s no way to catch the bike, no way to lift it up,” said McCook. “When you have the bike under you or to the inside, if it starts sliding you can lift it and catch the slide.”

When you lay your bike into a left turn, tilt your hips to the right and weight the right pedal with a bent knee. Think about resting your left butt cheek or thigh on the saddle. This will create perfect body/bike angulation.

Pro cross country and Super D racer Mark Weir took fifth in the Road Rage time trial and was duly impressed. “Lopes is the gnarliest dude ever,” he said. “Seeing him hit the corners opened my eyes. He was so leaned over, it was like, ‘Is that possible?’ This was the best education on how to ride. Now that I’m home and riding on dirt, I just keep leaning, and my bike sticks.”

Go for it
When you’ve learned the road, chosen good lines and mastered your bike control, you’ll be much more comfortable as well as faster on your next descent. But to go really fast requires something special.

“I did a run with Myles, and he is not normal,” said Weir. “He’s so gifted, so natural. He just tucked and pedaled. Most people would falter then take time to get back, but he linked every corner. The way he followed lines, the way he used every inch of the road, was amazing. He was at home.”

Said McCook, “I try to pedal through everything, and I only use the brakes when I have to. I like the movie “Million Dollar Baby” — sometimes the winner does what the loser is afraid to do.”

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