Improving descending skills



danny shep

New Member
Jun 20, 2007
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I have recently joined my local cycling club on several of it's rides and have been pleased with certain aspects of my performance and less pleased with others. As a cyclist who is covering between 150- 200 miles a week spread out through the week i was interested to know how i would fare compared to riders in a more organised setting as before last month i had never ridden in formation at all and have enjoyed the cafe stops and workout i get during the ride.
Anyway to start with the good news. As im fairly light for my height i did better than i expected in climbing but found myself really lacking confidence and speed when descending. I would like to know if anyone has any advice on how to improve descending speed and confidence as i find that i tend to have to really push myself to catch up to the rest of the group after anything other than a short descent.
 

jrewil

New Member
Jul 21, 2004
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Thats what i think lets me down - when i was a young lad 7/8 yrs old i used to ride my first proper bike in the park.


On a downhill i lost control and went off badly and that has scarred my memory.

Since then i just dont like over doing it on the descent with that memory in the back of my mind. Again a lightweight rider - 5ft 9 62kg - going up there isnt much to carry and i generally do ok but on the down im bricking it!

There is a local course i do and average about 11mph with a few different ascents descents but sure that i wud be a little nippier if i didnt fear the descent!
 

dhk2

Well-Known Member
Aug 8, 2006
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danny shep said:
I have recently joined my local cycling club on several of it's rides and have been pleased with certain aspects of my performance and less pleased with others. As a cyclist who is covering between 150- 200 miles a week spread out through the week i was interested to know how i would fare compared to riders in a more organised setting as before last month i had never ridden in formation at all and have enjoyed the cafe stops and workout i get during the ride.
Anyway to start with the good news. As im fairly light for my height i did better than i expected in climbing but found myself really lacking confidence and speed when descending. I would like to know if anyone has any advice on how to improve descending speed and confidence as i find that i tend to have to really push myself to catch up to the rest of the group after anything other than a short descent.
Suggest you practice on your favorite (or not) local descent. Check all the turns for sand or gravel, bumps or other road issues. Learn to brake before the turns while the bike is straight up and check your speed before entering the turn. Stay low in the drops, look ahead in the turns to set up a nice steady line. Then relax your grip, lean in and let the bike take you through rather than trying to "steer" with the handlebars. You'll find that on clean fairly smooth roads, you'll have plenty of grip to lean the bike way over.

Start slowly and let the speeds build up gradually. When you start to enjoy feeling the g-forces as you carve a smooth line through the banked turns, you're there :)
 

daveryanwyoming

Well-Known Member
Oct 3, 2006
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danny shep said:
... I would like to know if anyone has any advice on how to improve descending speed and confidence....
  • Start by making sure your bike and especially your wheels and tires are in good shape. You've got to totally trust your equipment on fast descents so replace any worn out tires, true any wobbly wheels and make sure your brakes are centered, have appropriate(small) clearance and pads with plenty of life in them.
  • On straight descents just slide your weight a bit back in the saddle ride in the drops for more control or on top of the brake hoods for a little wind braking and speed control. Keep your elbows and shoulders loose and relaxed to avoid or minimize speed wobbles. If the road is rough try standing a bit out of the saddle with weight on your feet to absorb shock.
  • Place all your weight on the outside pedal with that pedal straight down for curves. Feel that foot carve through the turn like making a parallel turn on skis. Again ride the drops for more solid control or the hoods for a more relaxed position and more air braking for speed control.
  • Try to keep your upper body more upright or vertical while pushing the bike over into the curve. Again it's just like upper to lower body separation and angulation while downhill skiing.
  • Choose a line that starts wide and uses the whole lane cutting through the apex of the turn. Avoid cutting the apex of the turn too early, unless it's a very tight and long radius bend you should see your exit line before diving through the apex of the turn.
  • If it is a long radius or tight turn consider multiple attack points where you cut in several times connecting a few relatively straight lines to get through the corner.
  • Try to do all your braking on the straights before the turn and do your best to stay off the brakes during the turn itself. If you must brake during the turn make sure it's light braking with no sudden grabs on the brakes that's a sure way to slide out on a slick road.
  • For advanced descending try countersteering where you place extra pressure on the inside of your handlebars. Basically you have all your weight on the outside pedal(straight down) and you push down a bit harder on the inside handlebar. The front end of the bike drops a bit, your upper body stays relatively upright while your lower body angles into the turn and you ride a solid sharper line through the bend.

That's the tech stuff, but basically follow the advice given by others and descend a lot on roads that are both comfortable and challenging for you. Maintain your gear, especially your tires and trust them. You might blow out on a descent some day, but if you stay relaxed and bring the bike to a controlled stop it generally isn't a big deal. It's happened to me a couple of times over the years and even at 40 mph or more has never resulted in a crash(knock on wood). Another good trick is to follow someone you trust and do everything they do on a safe but challenging descent. If they can hold traction and avoid braking in the corners, so can you.

Good luck,
Dave
 

Alex Simmons

Active Member
Mar 12, 2006
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Couple more things: keep your head level through the turn and look ahead to where you want to go (how far depends on tightness of curve and speed but maybe 20-100 metres). If you look off to the side of the road - that's where you'll end up!