Why am I getting dropped in berms?

Hi Lee,
I’ve been racing for a while, and I constantly get dropped by my friends in berms. When I follow, I end up just a little farther back after just about any berm. I consider my weight balanced, but it seems like my body position is biased to the front of the bike. This works great for attacking looser or rougher straights and turns where the front wheel leads and the rear wheel just tracks along, but I think my position is killing me in well-supported turns. I feel like I’m just standing on top of the bike in berms, and I’m just loosing speed. Do I just need to shift my weight back and carve with the rear wheel? Just sit down and rail?
Thanks, I love your website, and sorry for the long question,

Hey Charlie,

Great question.

Cornering is incredibly complex. Just some of the variables:

– Physical dynamics like bike lean and camber thrust

– Different cornering techniques (weight forward foot out, centered and railing, etc.)

– Individual riding styles

– Differing cambers

– Varying surfaces

– The full range of speeds

– Various turn shapes

– Bike setup: geometry, frame, fork, stem, bars, wheels, tires

And so on. The interplay of these factors makes cornering infinitely complex — and double-extra awesome.

Pro DHer Curtis Keene rails paving stones on Whistler’s A-Line. It’s subtle, but he shifted his weight back slightly as he entered the berm. See the slight pull on his forearm muscles? That’s the tell-tail sign.

Back to your question
Why are you losing time in berms? It could be any factor or combination of factors. I suggest looking at these things:

– Pump the berms. Remember that a turn is just a hole turned on its side. How would you pump that hole? Pump the turn the same way.

– Think of a swing. You know how, to get speed and height on a playground swingset, you lean back on the downslope? Try that in the “backside” of the berms. One way to do this subtly: As you set your bike into the berm, sink your weight back onto your saddle.

Experiment. Have fun. Rip it!

— Lee

And BTW: Lay off the brakes!

Know more. Have more fun!

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12 replies
  1. Adrian says:

    Hi Lee,

    So are you saying that ‘generally’ one would be seated some way or the other when riding a berm? I’m usually just off my saddle. Do I have the wrong technique?


  2. leelikesbikes says:

    >> So are you saying that ‘generally’ one would be seated some way or the other when riding a berm


    Oh boy, I should have expected this. Cornering is complex, remember?

    Generally, you want to be centered and off the seat. In your attack position.

    There are times when it’s advantageous to be forward or back, and there are times to sit. As you lay into a big, sweet berm, leaning back and/or putting weight onto the saddle can give you a boost. Sometimes.

  3. Adrian says:

    Cool! That’s basically what I do. I treat each one on it’s merit. I just looove braaaping berms!
    Thanks Lee

  4. Eric says:

    I would offer intelligent commentary but…

    “How would you pump that hole?”

    C’mon Lee! I thought this was a family site.

  5. jimmy says:

    I had the same thing happen to me this past summer at Whistler and it was by a beginner mountain biker.

    1st Day – The first day she was just learning the basics of riding at Whistler. Braking, body position, etc.

    2nd Day – She was learning to trust the bike. Whistler. Whistler Kona Stinkys rentals and handle anything and she had to get it in her head to trust the bike.

    3rd Day – She was pulling away from me in the berms. I could keep up because I was faster in the technical sections but it was driving me crazy when she pull ahead in the berms.

    I asked her how come she improved so fast. She said it was just skiing. It turns out she was a really good skier and mogul skier. She was able to translate her ski pumping action to the bike.

  6. Richo says:

    By “backside” of a berm, do you mean the first half.
    Have never been able to work this out.

  7. Scott says:

    …realizing this post is a couple of weeks old…

    Just considering what’s happening to your wheels, I don’t think a berm is a hole, I think it’s a hump. You don’t “fall” into a berm, you get “pushed up” by it. In physics nerd speak, this would be the difference between the “fictitious” centrifugal (center-fleeing) and “real” centripetal (center-pulling) force. When you go in a circle, there’s an increased forced pushing up on your tires that peaks at the apex, just like when you go _up_ over a hump/whoop/whatever.

    Now, that said, you describe pushing into a berm to gain more speed, which seems to jive with my personal experience. Pushing down is what I do when going into a hole, not when cresting a hump. [insert grade-school giggles here] –Train of thought here– Considering it further, when going into a hump, I push into the first part, then pull up when it starts to level out (calculus speak: the inflection point or where first derivative of height vs. horizontal distance changes sign), then push down the backside again. So I guess I’m saying a berm is more like that initial push into the hump (or a push into the kicker of a jump) than the push down the backside. It’s possible I’ve got my technique all wrong here, so let me have it.

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