Part 2 of Posture from 2006

Cure Your "2006 Posture" with Cone Training

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae
Date Aug 7, 2020
Reading time

What does riding through cones on a dodgy gravel road have to do with riding a mountain bike on singletrack? In the words of Kasper Wooley, "mountain biking is cornering." Despite this endorsement I was a little skeptical. Even after watching some of the best young gravity riders in B.C. spend 90 minutes riding their bike around 10 cones laid out on a section of Mamquam road in Squamish I wasn't sure how it would translate.

That was step one. To observe, listen, and get clear about how Joel Harwood's (of Blueprint Athlete Development in Squamish B.C.) carefully ordered suggestions are meant to be executed. I had already been benefitting from a third hand interpretation of his riding posture philosophy, which I had interpreted poorly, as laid out in my first article on this subject. The good news was that my riding took a monumental step forward while messing most of it up, so I was keen to pluck some fully-ripened fruit from that vine.


The other athletes told me that Kasper has spent more time working on cones with Joel than anyone. Kasper denied the allegations but demonstrated conspicuously ferocious skills.

We met in an inauspicious location. The lower portion of Mamquam road in Squamish is now closed to vehicles, and its surface is marbley and dusty making it ripe for the activity Joel had in mind. The idea is simple; ride flat corners mimicking the worst possible trail conditions to teach riders how to generate grip and speed. If you can do it when the conditions suck, you'll be able to go faster with more confidence everywhere else, like skiing gates in eastern Canada on icy slopes. I was glad to only be holding my camera for this session.


Joel Harwood of Blueprint Athlete Development performing the lonely task of laying out cones. Joel also works with athletes like Jesse Melamed, Finn Iles and Remi Gauvin

Joel's approach is to layer on elements of focus. This layering happens slowly so that you have a little time to assimilate each one, no longer needing to think much about the last once the next one is added. At least in theory. Riders would run through the cones multiple times before anything new was added. Joel uses Freelap timing in a clinical way so riders can easily determine what is working.


A warm up lap and a few more without timing are necessary so these hyper-competitive young athletes don't fall or get so obsessed with winning that their skills end up in the shitter.

I was struck by how simple Joel's instructions were, even to riders like Kasper, who may corner better than anyone in B.C. These tips were aimed at weighting the front wheel and having a strong body position. Mamquam road is hard from years of use but these youthful bruisers quickly dug deep ruts with their vicious schralping.

What did I learn from watching this session?

  • You'll be lost without starting your corner wide and early
  • Weight on your hands is essential
  • It's impossible to weight your hands without standing tall in the pedals
  • I will never be able to corner like these young superstars

The 13 young rippers made deep ruts in the de-activated road with the force of their cornering.

I heard a little more than that but those were the most important points. After spectating, it was time to put on my riding gear with a few buddies and get the pro treatment from Joel. We met at the bottom of Cypress where there was a ball-bearing covered road with just enough length and slope for ten cones. Joel set up the course and gave us our first things to think about, which were similar to the above but here they are in Joel's words.

  • Eyes up and wide opening corners sooner, carry corners before/beyond cone so you're set up better for the next - in general, wider entry is better until the distance travelled is too great that time is impacted
  • Shoulders - over bars, chest low, heavy hands (eventually outside hand)

Joel giving Trevor Hansen (left) and Mike Wallace a few tips before our session.

These were layered as well so we didn't talk about shoulders and hands until we had done a few laps of the cones working on our line selection. Getting heavy on the hands, or at least low and over the bars, was something we were used to but there was an essential element missing. Most of us old dogs were riding with our legs too bent, rather than standing tall in the saddle. We probably felt better with a lower centre of gravity but we weren't doing ourselves any favours. It's very difficult to weight your hands if the rest of your body is crunched down low. This may have made more sense in the age of 69º head angles and 26" wheels, but on 29ers with long front centres and 65º or slacker angles up front this was no longer necessary.


Mike Wallace looks pretty good here but his knees are a little too bent and he doesn't have enough hip hinge.


Joel takes the heels down approach and stands a little taller. This posture allows you to be deliberate about your weight balance on modern stretched out 29ers, rather than having your mass float indistinctly around the middle.

We were wearing FreeLap watches and our first runs felt slow, and they were. I was over 11 seconds through the cones the first couple of times. With Joel's guidance I began to break 10 seconds consistently and kept going down to 9.46 then 9.21 and finally to 9.06. It was felt great and I was astounding to have improved by more than 2 seconds over such a short course.

Mike Wallace and I both went down twice. Hard. It felt like falling on a cat track on your first day snowboarding. But on hard gravel. I managed to shred my right side and had a nice raspberry on top of my bruised elbow. Mike tore his brand new Raceface pants. Definitely wear some knee and even elbow pads and don't wear long pants if you care about them.


One of the more hyper members of our dad crew found running the cones a little tedious but I loved the challenge. At least when I wasn't spitting gravel out of my teeth.

Joel's first cue for standing tall was to push our heels down. This is almost impossible to do with bent legs and it was a tactile focus that allowed us to change the bad habits we had taken years to develop. Another cue that was particularly helpful to me was to add a forward pelvic tilt. We moved the cones up the hill for a slightly steeper and more challenging route through the cones. I started out faster and continued to improve until I stalled at about 9.6 seconds. Joel gave me one more tip before what was to be my final roll through; angle the bike before you reach the corner. This small change gave me another half a second!

cones-without-ruts copy.jpg

Go easy on us! Our ruts were slightly less impressive but our group was much smaller and we didn't spend nearly as much time. And we aren't as skilled or as aggressive.

Standing tall, as Greg Minnaar does, has been a revelation to my riding. I was out today after a two week working-holiday with too much beer and food and no riding and I expected to shit the bed regularly. Instead, focusing on these few elements got me quickly into the game and I had an amazing ride.

Here's Finn Iles and Kasper Wooley doing cone training with Joel Harwood of Blueprint Athlete which starts at 2:16 but there is some great riding before that

Here's Finn Iles and Kasper Wooley doing cone training with Joel Harwood of Blueprint Athlete which starts at 2:16 but there is some great riding before that

The next step in this process was to see if I could use what I had learned from Joel to coach a few of my friends. Clearly I am not an MTB instructor but I have coached other sports since high school and I thought it would solidify my understanding and help me determine whether I had understood correctly. The most helpful part was watching other riders of my level to notice their postural limitations, allowing me to identify my own. The other riders seemed to benefit as well, or so they said.

Whenever I have spent a little time improving my shape on the bike and practicing skills it has paid huge dividends, but for some reason I do it about once every 15 years. If you are in a rut or simply keen to learn and be able to ride faster and have more fun, I highly recommend doing something like this. The next step for me is to procure 10 or 20 cones so I can do this with some regularity so it becomes a habit.

Joel works with mortal riders like you and I as well as with pros, and the process is identical. Improved riding posture has helped me ride everything from berms and gaps to steeps and drops with more confidence, control and speed and I'm having as much fun on the bike as I've ever had. Do yourself a favour and instead of buying that purple stem to save 15 grams, book some time with a certified mountain bike coach in your area so you can schralp with the best of them.


There are more details that Joel talked about, and while trying to think about too many at once will mess you up, you may want to hear them for reference. Weighting the outside hand when cornering is important, as is 'steering' with your hips. Another one to think about is leading with your outside elbow.

This article by Chris Kilmurray goes into some of the subtleties of what he calls Prime Posture and references this episode of Fox Dialed.

Of course you can learn some of this on your own but key elements are range of motion and strength, particularly in order to get a good hip hinge. Joel sent us this video to try and to show the kind of training pro riders do to improve their body shape on the bike, but everyone will benefit from this sort of training.

I find this stuff fascinating and hope to continue diving deeper. Please share any helpful resources or tips you've found below.


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+10 Cam McRae Beau Miller Stephen Norman Agleck7 Velocipedestrian jaydubmah Timer Dan Pete Roggeman Louif75
Perry Schebel  - Aug. 7, 2020, 10:45 a.m.

good stuff! even as an old dog, i find the evolution / refinement of fundamental riding technique - such as cornering- to be endlessly engaging. cool to progress in ways that aren't necessarily tied to increasing amplitude / risk factor. the cornering speed of the current crop of shredders is totally inspiring.


+5 DMVancouver Tjaard Breeuwer Cam McRae bumVSmtn Pete Roggeman
hurricanejoel  - Aug. 8, 2020, 6:41 a.m.

I have learned that "pushing it" doesn't necessarily mean more risk/consequence. It is obviously a part of the process, but I think a huge advantage of drills is improved risk management. Between cones and a BMX/pump track any rider can make dramatic improvements. Bike park too, but then that thing about risk/consequence gets a little more complicated. 

Another one I encourage is to learning the difference between riding easier trails, and riding them well (i.e. better braking, better lines, better technique) instead of always upping the ante and survival riding harder stuff. This spring I took a crew of elites to the Dump Trails (Squamish) for race training. Green trails were still enough to challenge the crew and highlight their next steps for training.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Kevin26  - Aug. 11, 2020, 7:21 a.m.

I agree and think just survival riding and ticking off trails can lead to a skill 'plateau'


+4 jaydubmah Cam McRae Dan Pete Roggeman
LWK  - Aug. 7, 2020, 12:30 p.m.

good read!  I previously saw this video but this was really good additional info.  In my experience cornering seems to be the hardest of all MTB skills to become truly proficient at.  every corner is different, there are several things to think about and apply (as you explain) and often in varying amounts depending on the type of corners, terrain, etc.


+7 Agleck7 Cam McRae jaydubmah Tjaard Breeuwer Dan Pete Roggeman Christopher Daniel
IslandLife  - Aug. 7, 2020, 1:37 p.m.

Have been following these articles and watching/reading more on cornering technique and trying my best to apply it.  

Like you, most of my skills training came from the mid 00's (and some from the early 90's) and now at 42, I've been seeing some huge improvements in speed and confidence through corners.  I'm getting to the point where now trusting the position and that the grip will be there is getting scary for me!  My problem now is getting scared the grip or corner won't hold me... backing out of position... and then you're fucked... once you back out, you wash and you're down... I've had a few high speed two wheel drifts while freaking out and royally screwing everything up... caught two them... the last one has me limping around a little right now, haha.

It reminds me of F1 cars and the down-force they generate which creates insane levels of grip. (fun fact: at speed, an F1 car generates so much down-force, it could technically drive upside-down, which is to say it generates more down-force than the car weighs).  But those huge levels of down-force and grip only come into play at quite high speeds... so if a driver lets off and goes too "slow" into a high speed corner, they won't have the down-force (and grip) necessary to get them through the corner and they'll be in the wall in a split second... they have to commit or risk destroying a multi-millon dollar machine... and/or themselves.

I'm feeling a similar thing (on a much, much lower level, ha), with mtb cornering... as my speeds increase it feels like there's more momentum change or weight to use to push through a corner and you can generate huge amounts of grip at quite fast speeds... the key it seems now seems to be, being confident I'm going to nail that position and committing to those speeds and corners while trusting that the grip will be there... scary.... I wish the earth was softer.

I used to wonder how world cup and pro level riders could corner at such speeds... it just didn't seem possible... I didn't get it.  I'm nowhere near approaching those speeds and levels of commitment.  But working and practicing this stuff has opened my eyes to understanding how they do it.  And then you realize that these small incremental improvements in geometry, suspension tech, wheels and tires are all contributing to allowing these riders to go faster and faster and push harder and harder.  Getting to the point where it seems like... how much faster can they go before the consequences are too much??

Again, reminds me of F1 where they have limitations on the construction of the cars (engines, downforce etc) because they could be going much faster than they are... but at some point it crosses a line.

Anyway... thanks for these... this is fun!


+3 Dan IslandLife Pete Roggeman
hurricanejoel  - Aug. 8, 2020, 6:48 a.m.

The fastest riders, or at least those I'm working with, aren't doing anything special. World class basics has always been a philosophy of mine (i.e. in the gym, on the bike, nutrition, recovery, etc.). 

You already highlighted what separates them from the crowd: commitment and confidence. That said, it starts with improved timing, range of motion, and strength, followed by hundreds of reps and a ton of mileage to build commitment and confidence, then the speed just sort of happens.


+3 Cam McRae bumVSmtn Pete Roggeman
jaydubmah  - Aug. 7, 2020, 10:16 p.m.

Great article! It's fascinating to see how technique is influenced by evolution in gear - much like how ski instruction has evolved greatly with the advent of shaped skis, etc.  It sounds like one of the things that really helped was having a timing system to get instant feedback.

Freelap looks great, but it's pretty pricey. Curious if anyone knows of some other affordable timing options?


+3 Cam McRae jaydubmah Pete Roggeman
Velocipedestrian  - Aug. 8, 2020, 1:08 a.m.

My classic cornering failure mode is the same as on my snowboard: getting scared of the commitment required and leaning back... 

It's self fulfilling, the fear leads to the consequences. Then once I've had one of those crashes it's so much harder to make myself weight the front properly.


+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Perry Schebel  - Aug. 8, 2020, 9:01 p.m.

interestingly, for me, aggressive trench laying snowboard carving has informed the dynamics of bike cornering. the kinematics of high-g, locked in carves with energetic exits (ie, popping off the tail & airing between carves) kinda / sorta can be applied to 2 wheels as well. it's neat how disparate activities can feed into each other.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Velocipedestrian  - Aug. 9, 2020, 12:20 a.m.

Exactly! It sounds like you have the virtuous circle version of my vicious one.


hurricanejoel  - Aug. 8, 2020, 6:50 a.m.

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+2 Tjaard Breeuwer Dan
hurricanejoel  - Aug. 8, 2020, 6:51 a.m.

iPhone works really well too even though human error is a factor. I used them for years until I bought Freelap stuff.


+2 JVP Pete Roggeman
Hollytron  - Aug. 8, 2020, 8:49 a.m.

These articles are great I loved the first and have felt some improvements in cornering. I love corners its my favorite part of riding. One question. 

Does anyone else try and alternate which foot is forward when cornering. I try for inside foot to be the forward foot. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Ive been doing for years but Im wondering if its needed. One benefit is that I am much less reliant on my chocolate foot being forward and can jump/bunny hop either way (humblebrag alert!). 

Love this stuff now just gotta get some cones.


+6 Tjaard Breeuwer Cam McRae Velocipedestrian Beau Miller Dan Pete Roggeman
JVP  - Aug. 8, 2020, 9:54 a.m.

Like you implied, I think leading with your weak foot is a good skill to have so that you can survive moves with tricky entrances where you don't have the option to put your good foot forward. Certain rock>skinny>drop moves (most of them gone now) make you wheelie drop with your weak foot, and that takes deliberate practice. Alternating feet on long descents can also be a nice way to relieve fatigue and keep the body more limber.

That said, Simon from Fluidride here in Seattle told us there's not much to be gained by alternating feet on descents. He wanted us to instead focus on all the other fundamentals of body position. I wonder what Joel and other coaches think about this, there might not be one right answer.

Now that I'm doing some road riding, I tend to lead with my left/weak foot on tarmac. Not sure why, probably just to keep things from getting boring. 

Do you guys play games when behind equal or slower riders, or on easier trails? One is to try to keep pace with my weak foot forward, another is to try and keep up without pedaling and just pumping (it works surprisingly well). Take all the inside lines, take all the outside lines, smooth as possible, pop everything, pop nothing... Silly little stuff like this can make meh trails super fun, and also build skill. My riding friends have no idea all the weird little stuff I'm constantly doing to entertain myself. 

Another one that we all do is try to get certain trails "chainless", every time. Chasing friends chainless really makes you look for new lines. Some of them are crazy hard to get in winter, but super easy this time of year. One trail I can only get chainless in slow conditions if I take a certain fast high line and float over a mess of greasy, off-camber roots and get my bars close to a tree. It works great, until it doesn't, and I've eaten it HARD trying. I love that line. I hate that line.  

Bikes are fun.


+4 Lu Kz Endur-Bro Pete Roggeman JVP
hurricanejoel  - Aug. 9, 2020, 6:07 a.m.

re: foot positioning - I don't feel there's a "right" way of doing things. Think Gee Atherton vs. Loic Bruni: completely different body positions, both have Stripes. I don't generally coach swapping lead foot or dropping the outside foot, not because they're "wrong", but because I generally find there are other things that improve traction without complicating things, and swapping feet is an added variable that gets extremely hard in tight, fast, and rough terrain. 

No right or wrong, and I think it is useful to be able to do a little bit of everything so you're prepared when things don't go exactly to plan. We do switch foot pump track sessions relatively often for this reason.


Hollytron  - Aug. 11, 2020, 8:32 p.m.

Thanks for the reply! Ive been trying to stand tall heels down for the last few rides and its working. Cheers from one Joel to another.


Endur-Bro  - Aug. 8, 2020, 11:05 p.m.

Regarding foot position while cornering, is it feet parallel or outside foot down?


+1 Pete Roggeman
hambobet  - Aug. 10, 2020, 2:40 a.m.

Good to see this training on flat corners - I wish some others down our way would see this! Our local spot is a flat corner paradise but recently people have been building berms on a lot of the trails and I wonder if it's simply because they don't know how to ride a flat corner quickly. Be a shame if the whole spot became bermed as it totally helps learning to ride flats and taking it to bermed spots elsewhere!


boomforeal  - Aug. 18, 2020, 7:38 p.m.

great article cam. informative and (for me) very timely


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