Criterium King Davis Phinney Shares Wet-Weather Secrets

Learn how to keep up and off the pavement when the going gets wet.

Does cornering on wet or slippery surfaces boost your heart rate faster than a sprint up a killer hill? There's no reason it should. In fact, in my career I always used wet conditions to my advantage.

I remember one race in particular, 1987 in Austin, Texas: The rain was coming down steadily as we waited on the start line. The gray pavement was turning black and the road had an ugly, oily sheen. With six corners per lap on the slick course, anticipation had given way to fear the nervous tension was reflected in every face.

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I spent the whole race refining my line through the last two turns, and on the final lap, I leaned it over as far as I dared. I heard the rider directly behind me lose traction and slide away. But I stuck the last corner and had my arms up in a victory salute well before crossing the finish line.

Here are four pointers that will help you ride to your max when the going gets wet.

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Build Confidence

If practice doesn't make perfect, it at least makes you better. If you view every corner on every ride as an opportunity to practice cornering technique, your understanding of turning mechanics will get better. And once you understand the mechanics, your comfort zone will expand and your confidence will soar.

Here are the basics: choose a line that allows you to carve a smooth arc through the turn. Start wide, cut to the apex, then swing wide again. Shift your weight to the rear of the saddle, put the outside pedal down and weight it, then lean the bike into the turn with gentle pressure on the inside of the handlebar. Practice on grass around traffic cones, then in a parking lot and finally on the road.

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Lean the Bike Gently

Don't dive into wet corners. The first rule I teach is that the bike will turn if leaned. How much you lean depends on the turn's tightness, your speed and the available traction. Although wet roads don't automatically mean less traction, always assume that they do. On slick turns you don't want to push the bike over too far because you may slide out.

Conversely, I find that the recommended method of holding the bike upright while leaning the body out into the turn isn't necessary, either. The best method in the wet is to maintain an even angle with both bike and body leaning over together. In this way you let the bike turn instead of trying to make it turn.

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Easier said than done, right? Think of driving a car. In poor conditions a death grip on the wheel will cause you to creep along, and in an emergency it will increase your chances of ending up in the ditch. Similarly, on two wheels, tension magnifies any mistake. So consciously let your tension go. Try exhaling as you approach a turn (wet or dry). Feel your shoulders drop and your grip lighten.

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Use Small Movements

Breaking evenly between the front and rear will help you stay in control and keep the wheels planted. Ease off the brakes as you enter the turn. If needed, you can continue to feather the rear brake. Pretend you're a stream of water finding a smooth path around the corner.

Flow like a river so there's no jerky motion only a seamless arc. Flow takes rhythm and a little soul. No slam dancing here. Pick a smooth, gradual line. Ideally, all motion is subtle, all reactions are soft. Overreact even just a little and well, you know: time for the red badge of courage.

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