By: Brian Fiske
It’s not easy, but this advanced move will help you carry more speed and control through corners. World Cup mountain biker Chris Kovarik shows you how.
The Expert: Chris Kovarik holds the record for the largest margin of victory in a World Cup downhill race: 14 seconds, earned at the 2002 event in Fort William, Scotland. These days, he and his wife (fellow downhiller Claire Buchar) are lead mountain bike skills camps and clinics in Australia, and in Whistler, British Columbia. We caught up with Kovarik as he was prepping for the 2013 season to seek his advice on how to drift around a corner while maintaining speed and control.
The Art of Drifting: The move happens when you enter a corner with speed, lean your bike over to turn, and your tires start to lose traction. This causes your bike to slide, or “drift” as momentum pulls you to the outside of the corner. Skilled riders can anticipate this, and control it—making them faster down the hill. Drifts happen often in loose or wet terrain, where your tires have a hard time maintaining traction. This is different from skidding, which happens when you lock up your rear brake and drag your tires around the corner. Skids slow you down, but drifting helps maintain your speed and can have less impact on the trail.
Carry Your Speed: Pros like Kovarik intuitively know how much speed they want to carry into—and out of—a corner. The rest of us will have to practice. But as you learn to drift, remember that speed is the force that causes your tires to break loose. Kovarik recommends practicing on a loose, fast corner with a long run in. As you enter the turn, keep your eyes focused beyond the exit and lean your bike over to carve around the apex. Repeat several times, carrying more speed with each run and leaning the bike over until the tires start to break free. That’s when the fun begins.
A Balancing Act: Once you’re tires break free, it’s a matter of balancing your weight. The key is to keep your front wheel glued to the ground, while the back wheel does what it needs to do—within reason. To do that, Kovarik says keep your weight slightly forward. “As I’m approaching the exit, I’ll shift my weight over the bars to keep traction on the front wheel,” Kovarik says. “If you get your weight too far back, you’re going to come out of the drift slow and bog down,” Kovarik says.
Constant Corrections: The goal of drifting isn’t just to slide around corners with a big plume of dust and smoke. That looks great in photos and videos, but won’t help your riding. You want to blaze around a turn as quickly as possible and exit in control. That means counter-steering as your tires slide, just as you would in a car that’s slipping on an icy corner. “While in the drift, I’m continuously correcting my front wheel [steering into the opposite direction of the turn] to prevent the rear from coming out too far,” Kovarik says.
Plant Your Foot: As you learn to drift, Kovarik recommends extending your inside foot out and ahead of the cranks to prevent you from falling over if your wheels slide too much, or if you lean too far over. The move also helps keep your weight low. This is easiest done with flat pedals but can be performed with clipless pedals if you anticipate the corner and unclip ahead of time. Wondering what it looks like? Check out the image of Kovarik below.
Foot out, weight forward, counter-steering, wheels rolling, dirt flying—Kovarik has mastered the drift. (Ian Hylands)