Joe Rafferty, elite-level racer and owner of coaching business Pro Ride, has been passing on his expertise to riders for over 10 years. Here he gives the lowdown on berms.
Pushing your body weight and tyres into the banked outside edge of a berm lets you ride it faster than if it was a flat corner. But the faster you ride and the tighter the bend, the more you need to lean. If you find yourself grabbing the brakes halfway around, it’s usually a symptom of not leaning enough rather than going too fast.
Instead of separating corners into berms and flat turns, it’s better to think of them in terms of two different techniques, which we call ‘railing’ and ‘carving’. Railing a turn is when you lean with your bike and your pedals are nearly level. This is best done on high-sided berms with big positive cambers, where there’s no chance of losing grip or where you want to pump the turn.
Carving is when you lean your bike more than your body, which you need to do in really tight turns or when you need grip. You can carve both flat turns and berms.
The berm in the picture is fast and tight, with limited grip, so it’s better to carve it than to try and rail it, because that would most likely result in you losing traction while travelling at speed.
Enter the corner at a speed that’ll allow you to make it round without dragging your brakes. Choose a wide line and make sure to ride in the berm itself, not on the gravel that often sits in the bottom of the turn.
Look towards the exit, and enter with your pedals level and your chest low over the handlebar. Start to lean the bike by twisting your hips towards the exit of the berm, pushing your inside hand down and transferring your body weight onto your outside pedal – this should all happen smoothly!
To lean even more, turn your hips further towards the exit and push the bike down onto the edges of its tyres. As you exit the turn, allow your bike to stand itself back up. If you’ve leaned enough, you should have made it round the turn without having to jab at your brakes.
You’ll nearly always end up where you look, so direct your eyes towards the exit and fend off that temptation to stare at the floor right in front of you or where you think you’re going to crash.
If you’re struggling with looking up, think about keeping your chin up instead.
Get your chest low and over the handlebar when you go into a corner. Doing this will mean your arms are bent, so you’ll have plenty of room to extend your inside hand and lean the bike over.
If your chest is high and your arms are straight, you’ll find it impossible to lean your bike when the trail gets rough. Drop your heels, keeping knees and elbows bent.
Learn to lean if you want to corner faster. You’ll need to use your arms, torso and legs to lean the bike.
If you’re struggling with leaning, practice on tarmac, where there’s plenty of grip, to find a good leaning position before trying it on the trail.