HOW TO DESCEND FAST & SAFE ON A ROAD BIKE

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Here’s my lengthy take on how to descend. Nothing controversial, but do please add your own, or rubbish any you disagree with.

Il Falco descending in the Giro D'Italia. One of the all time great plummeters.

Here's my lengthy take on how to descend. Nothing controversial, but do please add your own, or rubbish any you disagree with.

I thought I'd start this as I am missing riding (injured) and I LOVE descending, as many of us do. But there are also people I've met who absolutely hate it, which is a great shame.

1. If you can corner well, you can descend well. And vice versa.

2. Descending is about being relaxed and confident. These things are fed by increased aptitude, so ask seasoned riders and aim to learn from each corner and each ride.

3. Speed is not inherently unsafe. But over-confidence and panic are. Know your limits and work up to them.

4. One day you will crash or get it wrong. It has happened to everyone. Don't fear it. Crashing is rubbish, but as long as you slide, it's just going to be really painful and bad for your wallet…As long as you don't crash into any brick walls or cars…Or cyclists.

5. Expect the unexpected. I've calmed down a lot, once I realised that a car pulling out unexpectedly will be fatal on some of the 40-50mph+ descents. It might only be a 1/100 chance. But if you ride that descent 100 times in 3 years….
So always keep something back. Leading to:

6. Descending is not a race unless you're in a race. If you are not comfortable following faster riders. Don't. Road racers take risks, but not silly risks. Except if you're coming in to win Giro di Lombardia….(WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THAT BONTEMPI ORGAN??!)

7. Your bike needs to be in great condition, so it is safe, and so you have confidence that your equipment won't fail.

8. Brake blocks are the cheapest, best value upgrade you can get. I use Kool-stop Salmon/Black mixed condition blocks. They are awesome.

9. Tyre pressures are key. On dry days, go to the max pressure. On wet days, reduce to maybe 90psi. If riding at altitude, also reduce the pressure a bit, otherwise tyre may blow, mainly due to the heat of constant braking expanding tyre. You don't have to worry about this in UK!

10. Spread out. Don't follow someone's wheel like you would on the flat. Find your own line of sight and always have an exit route if they go down.

11. Stop over-thinking it. When you catch a ball you don't think "must catch it, what if it hits me in face?" That way you'll have a bloody lip. Stop thinking "mustn't crash, painful" just think "brake here, shift weight, call car".

12. Call the obstacles. If there's a car coming up, just shout CAR! If you can't take a hand off bars, just shout HOLE! Or GRAVEL! Etc. It may not be heard fully, but rider behind should hear it and PASS IT ON! Also, if you pass another rider, say "ON THE RIGHT" (or left, depending on where you live). Don't pass on the inside unless you have to, and always shout. They'll hear you about 10 metres behind if you shout.

13. Get your centre of gravity down. Especially for corners. So get low. Not so low you're not in full control or can't see, but get on the drops. Now you're aero too!

14. Use the drops. Lower centre of gravity, but also more power on brakes and the arms are bent so you can absorb shocks.
I've seen a number of riders who ride on the hoods, because they can't reach the levers in drops. Usually because their fingers are too short for reach and often that is because the levers are set high on the bars and the bars are upturned. The bars should be slightly upturned (look at flat end of bar against ground) and the end of the lever should nearly touch a ruler, if you extend it from that flat forward. If you have short fingers like me, think about Campag or SRAM levers, though Shimano new style levers are much better now.

15. Look ahead of you. Look at what is coming up. Look about 20-30m ahead, but also scan farther for cars, tractors, etc. Don't look down in front of your wheel.

16. Look to where you want to go. Ignore the edges of roads when cornering, look to the apex, or as near as you can ride.

17. Cars come at you round corners. Don't cross the line unless you can see all the way round the corner.

18. With a slippery surface (wet, diesel, gravel, sand) aim the bike straight and if you have to brake, go easy and come right off the front brake. Try to keep the bike going in a straight line if you can.

19. When braking, graduate your squeeze to hard once you have bite (we're talking under a second though). Don't grab or jam your brakes. Press your rear marginally before the front, but squeeze power into the front brake (in the dry). The front is often left, and it stops you well.

20. Don't panic if you slide the back wheel. Back wheels are recoverable, but not front. There is no tip, you'll just have the coordination to settle it, or you won't. Practice on an MTB is very handy.

21. The most important thing about all these braking tips is to brake FOR the corner, not in it. Later braking comes from judgement and experience, but in the early days, get your speed right down and then let go in the corner. This is the real key to enjoying corners. You can accelerate through a corner and it's great fun. It's also far more controlled. Braking reduces control, so avoid it in corners.

22. Shift your bum back and lightly touching saddle on fast descents, place your feet at 3 & 9 o'clock. This is aero and balanced. It also means you have natural suspension to take bumps and potholes.

23. Shift your weight for corners. You can move your bum and torso if getting more experienced, but if new to it, just start with feet.
Plant your foot down on the OUTSIDE of each corner. The inside knee gets stuck out. Think about what motorcycle racers do (though you don't have enough speed to get your knee down!!). The foot pushed down on outside actually pushed the tyre into the tarmac and gives you greater grip. Try it!

24. Steer with your hips. Don't make big movements with your arms to change direction, shift your weight slightly. Try wiggling your pelvis slowly and see what is does! Honest.

25. I'm not going to suggest extreme positions to get faster on descents because if you're reading a lot of this, then you're not ready!
But fast descending means you need to pedal where others wouldn't, often with a very fast cadence if under-geared, jump out of corners and accelerate, and mainly, to brake late for corners.

26. If you're going to crash, crash into hedges, fields or just slide. If you have the presence of mind (which you should if concentrating and relaxed) then keep away from trees and big metal vehicles. And other cyclists!

27. lastly, use the road if it's safe to do so. To take a corner at speed, go wide and cut into the apex. Out-In. But don't do this if you're in a group, as this is erratic cycling, and don't do it if the corner is blind. Brake more and stay tight to your side.

Here is how one of the great modern masters does it. Not recommended for clubruns! But look at that the way he stays low and shifts his weight smoothly. He's also doing that in high mountains, which are where descending is at it's natural best. God I miss that! Must get me to the Alps…

Ride hard. Ride safe.

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