7 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Descents

by Marc Lindsay
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7 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Descents

A long, steep descent down a mountain is one of the scariest and most dangerous tasks you’ll have to deal with on the bike. With a little practice and a few pointers, you can improve your technique and learn how to embrace high speeds.

Use these tips to descend faster and safer the next time you confront the other side of an epic climb.

1. GET LOW

Make it a habit to always ride in the drops and lower your shoulders and head toward the handlebars on descents.

At high speeds, lowering your center of gravity increases your traction and improves your stability and control. This makes it easier to steer and less likely for accidents to occur, especially in sharp corners.  

2. USE BOTH BRAKES

Controlling your speed will keep you from taking a spill. As you gain comfort with your descending technique, you’ll find that you will use your brakes less and less.

When you need to slow down for a corner or a hazard, it’s best to brake as early as you can and use both brakes equally. Braking early will give you additional reaction time and make it easier to negotiate tight turns.

Using both brakes equally will spread your braking pressure over a greater surface area and eliminate the need for a hard break — which in some situations can cause your rear wheel to fishtail. Applying light pressure on the front and back brakes will also keep the rim from overheating on a long descent, which can lead to a sudden puncture.

3. KEEP YOUR EYES UP THE ROAD

The faster you’re traveling, the less time you’ll have to react. Because of this, you’ll need to get into the habit of looking further up the road than you would normally. This gives you additional reaction time, which helps you safely maneuver to avoid potholes, gravel and other unwanted surprises.

For an upcoming turn, keep your eyes on the exit instead of the apex. This will help you maintain a smooth, straight line and make it easier to anticipate what’s next up the road.

4. PEDAL

While it’ll be tough to resist the urge to slow down as much as possible on a long descent, it’s a better practice to keep pedaling as much as possible — even at high speeds. Using a high cadence will keep you light on the bike, make balancing easier and keep your heart rate from dropping.

If it’s cold, this will also help to keep your muscles warm and ready to tackle the next big effort once you’ve reached the bottom.

5. RELY ON TECHNIQUE IN THE CORNERS

Because cornering requires you to decrease your speed and utilize the side of the tire where there’s less contact with the road, you’ll need to have good technique to keep the bike from sliding out from under you.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when cornering:

  • Take the straightest line possible. Approach the turn wide, aim for the apex and exit wide.
  • To maintain control, lean the bike — not your body — into the turn. This will help to keep your body weight over the tires and improve your contact patch with the road.
  • During the turn, keep your outside leg straight. Press the majority of your body weight into the outside pedal, which will help counteract the bike leaning in the opposite direction and make balancing easier.
  • Don’t brake during the turn. Instead, control your speed by slowing before the turn. Pedal as you exit.

6. RELAX

Tension in your shoulders, arms and hands can be detrimental to your safety as you head down the mountain. Part of being a good descender is having confidence in your ability to control your bike and get down the mountain safely. If you’re constantly worried about crashing, a crash is more likely to happen.

To become a better descender, ease your grip of the handlebars. Relax the muscles in your face and shoulders and remember to breathe. Take long, slow breaths, concentrating on drawing out your exhales. Bend your elbows, relax your feet and focus on being light.

7. PRACTICE THE SAME DESCENT

One great way to gain confidence is to repeat the same hill multiple times. This will help you become familiar with the road, see where the dangers are and determine how you should approach each of the turns.

As you become more comfortable with the line you need to take, you’ll learn how to lay off the brakes and slowly increase your speed as you gain confidence in your ability to descend safely. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

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