If you want to finish first, you must have every aspect of ATV racing down to perfection; starts, jumps, straights and especially corners. If you aren’t fast in the corners, then you?re going to be losing a ton of time every lap.
To some observers, cornering fast on an ATV doesn?t appear to be that difficult. But for those of us who have tried to rail a turn like a pro, we know that there?s actually a lot of things happening all at once. Body positioning, throttle setting, clutch fanning, front brakes, rear brakes, and steering input all must be undertaken to the right extent and at the perfect time. When everything is working right, you?re hard on the hammer and wheelying past your competition. In the long run, it?s a lot of fun, and that?s why we do it.
To find out the secrets to pro-level cornering, we talked to some of the best in the business. Current National MX and TT Champ Doug “Digger” Gust filled us in on some of the cornering techniques that helped him win the most prestigious title in ATV racing. Veteran National Cross Country racer and multi-time champion Barry Hawk revealed his woods cornering secrets, and we also talked to the King of ATV Racing, Gary Denton, who is now retired but still knows all the tricks.
ENTERING THE TURN
When approaching a corner on a cross-country or motocross track, you should be in a slight crouch with your rear end off the seat and your weight towards the rear. This way, when you hit the front and rear brakes, there will be more weight over the rear wheels where it?s needed. Your arms resting on the handlebars will provide plenty of weight for pushing the braking front tires into the dirt. “In smoother track conditions such as TT and speedway, you would simply stay seated and slide your weight back to get better rear braking. The trick to racing just about any vehicle is to do most of your braking while travelling in a straight line?that?s when they are most effective.” explains Denton.
The one thing top racers don?t do is coast into a corner. You should stay on the gas hard until the last possible moment and then, at the same time, be applying the brakes to the maximum. So the order of business while entering a corner is full throttle, chop throttle, and at the same time full brakes?no coasting!
What about the throttle and clutch? Many racers pull in the clutch and make their downshifts while they?re doing the initial braking, all the while keeping the revs up with the throttle. In the middle of the turn (at the apex), they start feeding out the clutch, feeling for the rear wheels to get traction before applying full throttle.
There are basically two ways to attack a corner on a quad. Coming in tight to the inside and going straight to the outside, and then making a quick abrupt turn is called “squaring it off.” The other way is to come in wide and follow the outside edge with more momentum. That?s called “rounding it off.” Whether you square off or round off a turn depends on if you are going for a pass, if you are holding someone off, or where the next obstacle happens to be. If none of that is happening, you simply have to figure out which is fastest, but we can?t tell you how to figure that out. “Knowing whether to round off or square off a corner only comes with experience and race smarts,” says Hawk. Gust explains another aspect, “Sometimes I like to square off a tall berm to get a downhill drive off the banking. That way I also protect my line from someone else diving in on me by taking up so much of the track.”
Of course staying tight to the inside and squaring it off is one of the most common defensive moves on the race track, even if it isn?t always the fastest. “You practically have to bump someone out of the way if they?re holding the inside all the time,” says Denton. “But sometimes that?s what has to be done.”
MAKING THE APEX
Once you?ve applied the brakes enough to make the corner, move your weight to the front and to the inside of the machine to give the front end a good bite and to keep the quad from hiking up on the outside two wheels. Alright, how far forward and how far off to the side? Well, that all depends on the surface in the corners, the type of tires you?re running, and the width of the quad. Narrow quads like stockers require a more pronounced “hanging off” than a widened racing machine. On a smooth TT track where the outside rear tire is searching for traction, you won?t be hanging off near as much. Feeling and knowing just how far forward and off the side you need to be comes with experience. Eventually, it feels instinctual.
Some pro racers drag the front brake slightly in the middle of a corner to get more traction for turning. And when squaring off a corner, the key is to stay hard on the rear brake as you start the turn with the handlebars, thereby allowing the quad to spin around in a “brakeslide.” Most of these moves at the apex are done with the clutch in and the throttle revved.
One of the most fascinating things about watching Gary Denton race was how subtle his weight transfers were while cornering. “You don?t need to be wildly hanging off the side with your outside foot up in the air,” explained the eight-time National Champ. “You want to keep your weight low and your moves deliberate and smooth, all the time feeling what your quad is doing and where it needs weight for traction.”
In the woods, Barry Hawk works on getting a certain rhythm going. “When my quad is working good and there?s no traffic in front, I can get really keyed in to the corners, slicing and dicing my way through the woods, he explains. “Hang off this side, hang off that side, keeping it smooth, keeping the momentum going, concentrating on how close the inside front wheel is getting to the trees, but always looking ahead to the next corner.”
GETTING OUT IS JUST AS IMPORTANT
You may have been a hero at the approach and in the middle of the turn, but unless you get back on the gas as quickly as possible on the way out, the other guy may pass you. Basically you?re dealing with three things as you exit the corner?(1) traction to the rear tires, (2) getting pointed straight to the next corner, and (3) keeping the front end down.
The keys to these three things are weight transfer and throttle control. “As you start to finish the corner, ease the clutch out with lots of revs to the point where the rear tires almost lose traction,” says Gust. “That way you?re getting maximum drive. As soon as you?re pointed in the right direction, hammer it! Since your weight was already near the front for the corner, that should keep the front end down, but now you want maximum traction at the rear wheels, so you can slide back on the seat. You still don?t want to do a big wheelie on the straight or you?ll have to back off and blow the whole deal. Just rip through the gears and get to the next corner quicker than the other guys.”
So, you think you got it? Time to put in some practice. Brake as hard as you can while still travelling in a straight line. Work on squaring off, rounding off, and brakesliding. Try hanging off the side as little as possible, keeping your weight low. Ease the clutch out to get max traction with as little wheelspin as possible. And finally, keep the front under control as you throttle out to do it all over again.