Consistently losing front wheel on gravel cornering - geo, tires, rider error?

Frustrated. Been working on my gravel riding for a few years now. My main bike is a Felt Breed, with Santa Cruz 650B wheels, Vittoria Terrano Dry tires measuring 51, at +/- 30 PSI). Surprisingly, moreso than my other bikes on gravel (old diverge, canyon endurace with 700c Gravel Kings) the front end wants to lose traction in so many corners, including those taken at slower speeds without obvious loose gravel.

I finally crashed last weekend, after taking a known, sharp turn, at what I thought was a good speed/line, I looked back over my right shoulder to make sure my friends saw I turned, and bam. My sense is I shifted my body/front end and was over in the looser side of the fire road. But still, finding it wanting to give all the time.


Every gravel race I have done this year I’ve seen at least three riders wash out on corners. I’ve done it myself in the past. So you’re not alone. This is what works for me.


Of course, weight on your outside leg…out side pedal at 6 o’clock.

A lot of people sit up going into a corner. Maybe relax and get on the hoods. That moves your weight off the front wheel at exactly the worst time. Concentrate on moving your inside should down and inside instead. If you want to peak back and check the competition do it after the turn…you’ll get a better look anyhow.


I’d need specific model year, and size info for a proper comparison, but from a quick look it seems the Felt is more “new school” geo which could be part of your issue. It appears to have a longer front center than the other bikes. This matters because it alters the weight distribution between the wheels which is key in handling issues like this.

I have had similar issues with my Salsa Warbird (new school) vs my old Trek Boone (old school / CX). The WB is WAY easier to lose traction on the front if I am not actively shifting weight forward and down over the bars. I never had to focus on it that way with the Boone, because the front tire is more “under” me with the shorter front center.

I think it is a sometimes overlooked aspect of the geo changes seen in gravel bikes in the last 5 years or so. They are following the trend first seen in MTB that started maybe 10 years ago. The long fronts lead to a certain amount of “stability” that people like in tricky situations, but that stability also comes at the cost of “agility” in the form on weight on the front wheel for more active cornering.

I find that I must actively engage and think about any corners more than a mild bend, especially if it is particularly loose. I’ve had 2 falls (resulting in bent RD hanger in both cases) that caught me totally off guard. I kinda hate it if I am honest and I am actively considering to ditch the WB and revert back to my Boone.

Maybe I am a handling curmudgeon, but I am not an immediate fan of these “modern gravel bikes”.

For reference, here is the comparison I made from guessing on model years and picking my size.


Maybe the geometry is just not good for you?

I don’t like the slack front ends either. It might make sense on a DH bike, where your weight is always shifted to the front when it matters, but I don’t understand why its supposed to be good for gravel.


Yeah, Head Tube Angle plays in here as well. I didn’t mention it above, but it is the other part of the long front end that we are seeing. I am not a fan for use in my area.

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Good thoughts! The only gravel frame I ever lost my front wheel with was my old steel rando frame. With the rake on the front fork I guess ‘effective head tube angle’ was pretty slack on that frame.


Everything in handling is about the tires.
For loose surface grip, you need the tire to dig into the surface. Do you see where the cornering lugs are on this tire? WAY off to the side. You need to lean the bike WAY over to get those to engage.
MTB cornering 101 is to overly lean the frame, here you need to do it all the way. What I mean is… if you look at a motoGP rider, they are under the bike trying to keep the tire more upright, here you’re going to be doing the opposite.

Yes (note the knee pointed out give the frame more room to lean)



given this design… this might be the wrong tire for you. The g-one allaround and terra speed would also fit into this category because they don’t have corning lugs. Maybe try the g-one Bite or Maxxis Rambler in that size.

  • Coming back to this aspect, I think Brennus has it right. Improper technique is likely at play, and may have been made worse with this bike when compared to others.

As I mention in my geo discussion above, and a general rule in handling, the rider action & placement are key in control. Apply the wrong moves at the wrong time, and you go down. What I read above says you made a mistake by looking back mid-corner and likely altered your weight distribution, steering angle, ride line or some combo of those.

Proper focus looking through the corner, and weight in the right places (centered to more forward on these modern bikes) is a greater requirement vs the bikes of old (IMO anyway). They are less forgiving in corners and require proper technique, especially in the trickier conditions (loose specifically).

With respect to tires, and based upon my old MTB / BMX experience, I have a more aggressive tire set to install on just the front wheel of my Warbird. The bike came with matched tires front and rear. The goal in adding a more aggressive front tire is a common one as covered in the sports above, and I am hoping to regain some control and confidence from the traction differential. I want the greater grip at the front to create a more even control at the traction limit, as compared to the “front dies first” aspect that seems baked in to this geometry with equal tires on both ends.

For reference, my WB came with this tire on both ends:

And I am swapping to this tire on the front:

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Long story short, here are the key points that I think matter here:

  1. Rider Technique
  2. Tire Selection [including appropriate pressure for rider weight & surface conditions]
  3. Bike Geometry

Each must be “right” for the conditions or bad stuff happens.


As usual @mcneese.chad - you nailed it. Even got my bike size right. :smile: And excellent thoughts from everyone. I much appreciate it.

I had been looking at the geo, but couldn’t parse out the implications as you did. The other bikes def have more front wheel under me, the canyon has pretty bad toe overlap with 35s. But I was able to confidently descend and never a pucker moment. On the Breed, way more front center and can def feel the underweighting of the front end often. When I got the Breed, I was reacting to the toe overlap and saw the F-C as a good thing.

And yes, my crash was def my fault and as you said, just pointed out the need to be active as the margin for error is less forgiving. Beyond the crash, it was the many surprise moments I was more worried about.

I def have been thinking about a new front tire with a more pronounced shoulder profile - not sure I will ever get comfortable leaning my bike that far over. ha.

And working on even more outside/front weighting!

Lots to think about everyone. Thank you!

  • Dude… this X 1000.

  • I consider myself to be a rider adept at handling. No stranger to fast and difficult conditions, but this WB has been a real challenge and not one I have loved every step of the way. The slightest mistake in an even mildly tricky corner can lead to disaster.

  • I’ve NEVER experienced such a dark side on any bike I’ve ridden… NONE. It demands attention and respect and may well show the line I am not willing to cross in terms of geometry. I am at the final straw with this pending tire swap. If this fails, the bike is headed out of my stable.

  • I haven’t even mentioned the numerous stem length & height changes I have tried in order to experiment with the handling. 3 different lengths in every combo of positive/negative angle, along with full top/bottom spacer swaps… and I am still struggling with this bike. Just a bit crazy to me. :stuck_out_tongue:

I hear ya. It really saps the joy out of riding. I have generally been happy with my handling progress and confidence and I really like so much about the bike. It gives me ‘that’ feeling. Except in this one, albeit, important area. Like you said, even just a mild corner, it wants to wash out. No fun. Reminds me of why I gave up snowboarding. :slight_smile:

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In addition to all the points above, I suspect the tire was a major culprit. I went down last year riding those tires…front wheel washed out and I was down before I knew it. Snapped my left Ultegra STI at the mount as a result

If you are riding is hard pack, loose conditions (i.e. “kitty litter”) they are not the tires to use.

I’ve mentioned this before, and this is very condition dependent, but I have been using a different cornering technique to great success. It was something taught to me 30+ years ago at a training camp put on by the Wolverine Cycling team out of Michigan.

They advocated keeping the bike upright, shifting your weight inside of the bike and turning the wheel vs. a traditional “lean the bike” cornering technique. While I think this is horrible advice for road riding (especially in a pack since it puts you on a different line than everyone else), it has great application in areas where traction is sketchy (rain, loose gravel, etc). You keep your weight above your wheels and more tire in contact with the ground. Shift your weight inwards, turn the wheel and turn your hips into the direction of the turn. Between that and getting a bike with a lower BB this year, I have been nailing my turns on our fall group gravel rides.

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I corner like that when its very slippy in cross. Plus use as large a turning circle as possible to avoid leaning the bike. At slow speed, doing a sharp turn with your bars, while keeing the bike upright, also works (basically stop and turn on the spot). It all depends on a couple of things though, speed, support in the corner, traction (which is a mixture of tyre choice and pressure, and surface conditions), and probably rider weight distribution (which also has to do with geometry).


Yup…great examples of where that technique works well.

This is in direct contradiction to earlier, illustrated advice, and I disagree. If you lean inside the bike, and it starts to slide (which it does on dirt, all the time, if only to “settle”), the bike will slide without you.

If you stay above the bike, and it slides, you will stay above it. Simple!

@llmonty, Sorry to hear about the warbird woes. It’s a shame when a bike doesn’t feel just right. The smaller tyre contact patch on gravel, lack of side lugs, and lack of suspension all add up to exacerbate. If you can’t “tip it in” like you need to without a steep and slow re-learning to shift the weight forward, perhaps follow your impulse about this bikes suitability for you.

I’ve ridden the Terreno Dry’s and Zero’s for over a year in the 700x38’s. I’m around 80 Kilo’s rider weight and under 30psi seems to be my sweet spot. It’s a noticeable grip difference with slightly more psi on that tire, so perhaps play with your range a little more? Especially on 50’s. I really like that tire. #notanexpert

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This. 30psi in 650Bx50 seems a little high


No, because the difference is in how the front slides. If the bike is leaned over and the front wheel slides, you are going down. If you shift your weight inside the bike and you turn the wheel in loose conditions, you have more traction and the bike won’t slide out from underneath you.

ETA - I didn’t mention anything about the Warbird. I ride an Aspero and love it