Different bikes, different techniques: How does bike geometry change how you ride?

The main two bikes I’ve been riding in the last month are these:

While I was riding in Sedona one morning, I realized that the Ibis Ripley benefitted from a different cornering technique than did my Rocky Mountain Altitude.  The more I thought about this, the more interested I got in looking at this concept more in depth.  I just posted this full video to my Patreon page, where I post a new, full length riding tutorial every month.  

Here’s the ride vlog video where I mention this difference: https://youtu.be/nlwLWUfFZho

The two bikes aren’t that far off in geometry- both use around a 450-455mm reach, and the differences I measured are as follows:

Her you can notice that my back is more flat on the Ripley, and that the front wheel is ever so slightly more turned. This is because I am trying to get further back on the Ripley, and I need to turn the bars more because I can’t lean it quite as much as I can the Altitude.

Ripley AF:

  • 65° head angle
  • 334mm BB height
  • 432mm chainstay
  • 770mm front center
  • 1200mm wheelbase

Altitude 29”:

  • 64° head angle
  • 343mm BB height
  • 440mm chainstay
  • 785mm front center
  • 1230mm wheelbase

There is one huge difference between the bikes: the wheelbase.  

First off, all bikes with dropper posts have one thing in common- they corner best when you are getting low on the bike, putting your weight on your outside foot.  In fact, I’d say that just getting low on the bike is by far the single most important technique to learn, but that’s for another video.  

There are three things we’ll specifically look at today: body positioning, handlebar turning, and line choice.  

The differences are subtle, but they are there.  Left: with the altitude, the bike is leaned slightly more.  The bars are turned a few degrees less- which feels very different, but is subtle enough that it’s a challenge to show through visuals.  But the most striking difference between the Altitude and the Ripley (right) is that I am more upright on the Altitude, as I am more centered.  On the Ripley, I have a much more flat back as I am further back on the bike.  

The Ripley is fresh on my mind- and I commented in multiple videos that I need to get much further back behind the bike when cornering in tight situations.  This is a style I’ve used for years, and for me it feels right at home.  It also lets me pump through a corner really well, as the way my weight swing from front to back works out, it uses more of the bike as leverage, creating more of a pump.  

How to corner: https://www.patreon.com/posts/27981205

The Altitude was a tad harder for me to muscle through turns.  I need to keep my weight in the center of the bike in order to keep the front wheel from washing out.  Also, it’s simply so long, it’s hard to get off the back.  But this centered position is very neutral, and when you’re going fast, it’s fantastic.  Notice the handlebars are less turned, and more straight, than with the Ripley. Now for the pump, I’m still pumping hard, but I’m a bit more forward.  My back is more upright.

Turning the bars: with both bikes, I’m leaning them waaaay over.  But notice how on the Ripley I’m turning the bars a bit more?  This is a more old school technique.  It also means that a less experienced rider will be able to ride this bike more upright and it’ll respond better to that than would a more aggressive bike, like the Rocky.  On the Rocky, I keep the bars much straighter, and lean slightly more.  This means I’m trusting the wheelbase- and it works.  

This corner is quite a bit more challenging on the Altitude, as it is a pretty sharp turn. I am pretty much either stuck to trying to rail this corner from outside to outside on the Altitude, but on the smaller wheelbase Ripley I do have more options.  Again, you can notice how much more upright I am on the Altitude, as I am more centered on that longer bicycle. 

Line choice: the shorter bikes can obviously turn tighter.  This means you have more options for line choice, which can be more fun.  While it’s going to take more energy and attention to corner consistently fast, it also means the bike will fit into a few more options than would the Rocky.  

Line choice matters because corners are rarely isolated to themselves.  So often there’s an obstacle before, after, or heck, even in the middle of a turn!  The smaller bike will punish you more if you hit one of these obstacles, but it’ll also allow you to tailor your turn so that you can have a better line before or after.  

In this pic it’s easier to see the extra lean on the Altitude, and the more upright body positioning.

Like I always say, there’s more than one way to ride a bike.  My techniques are not going to be for everyone, but I hope you can see what and why I do things the way I do, and hopefully learn from that.  I pull back hard on the handlebars to pump my bike through turns- I get comments from folks who LOVE doing that, and there are plenty of folks who aren’t into that at all.  Furthermore, bike geometry, size, and set up is important too.  What works on my 1995 hardtail is different than what works on the 2021 Altitude!

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