Updated 27th April 2019

getting the gears right for cycling

Descending mountains at speed on a bike is possibly one of the most exhilarating experiences.

Descending mountains is also one of the more dangerous aspects of cycling so knowledge of how to descend safely is essential.


Every weekend there are exciting cycling sportive all over Ireland the British isles and Europe.

They are a great way to enjoy cycling. What could be better than rolling along the roads at a nice pace in the company of people who love cycling?

Descending hills fast and safely

Some of these events are very hilly like the great Etape du Tour, Marmotte Wicklow 200. One of the biggest challenges on the sportive are descending the various hills safely and quickly.

Depending on the gradient of the descent, high speeds or even very high speeds can be achieved. To descend fast and safely requires a certain amount of skill and a responsible attitude.

Number 1 goal

While cycling in general is a safe sport, accidents do happen occasionally. So your first goal when setting out on a sportive should be to complete the sportive accident free.

Remember its not a stage of the Tour De France so seconds don’t matter so much.

Responsible Attitude

A responsible attitude will help in achieving your goal.It’s very easy to get carried away by the exhilaration of the speed and corners.

To avoid this always ride at your own speed on the descents.

Smooth is fast

Approach the corners at a controlled speed in full control of the bike. This will deliver a quick descent with less stress and fatigue than if your on the limit on every corner.

Pro cyclists

Take the best of what the pros do in the Tour De France like good lines in and out of corners and smooth braking.

Do not attempt stuff like sitting on the crossbar or resting forearms on the bars to get more speed. THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS

Open roads

Remember you are cycling on open roads and the usual rules of the roads apply. Always cycle on your own side of the road.

However be careful of riding too close to the edge of the road. There is often a lot of loose soil, stones there where your wheels can lose grip.

Competency levels

Everyone has different levels of experience and skills. Always descend and corner within your own level of competency.

This is especially important if you’re not a very experienced cyclist.

Respect other people’s level of competency if you are very experienced and a good descender.

Principles of Descending Safely

Understanding how to prepare for and descend the hills can increase your safety and enjoyment of your day out.

Here’s a short video lesson from an ex professional cyclist.

Bike well maintained

Have your bike in good condition. Ten Bike Check tips

Hold bars correctly

Experienced cyclists

Approaching the corner

See the photos as to how to hold the bars.

Always have both hands on the bars and fingers in close proximity to the brake levers, especially  when descending.

Note how one cyclist is on the drops and one on the brake hoods but they are both using their brakes. Also they have their thumbs and fingers form a circle that gives a secure grip.

How NOT to hold the Bars

if you hit a pothole while holding the bars like this you will fall

Your hands will most likely lose control of the bars if you hit a pothole with this hand position.

These falls usually result in facial injuries so hold the bars like the two cyclists in the previous picture.


Look Anticipate

As you will be moving faster on descents you need to be seeing any corners or obstacle well in advance of reaching them.

so always look well up the road so that you have ample time to slow down.

More speed= > increased braking distance

On descents as the speed increases there needs to be bigger gaps

As speed increases on descents stopping distance also increases. So always  leave bigger gaps between yourself and the rider/s in front of you on descents.

This will allow time to slow down safely if you must.


Brake in plenty of time when approaching corners. Practice using both brakes together and do most of your braking before the corners while cycling in a straight line.

Comfort zone

Aim to descend and corner within your comfort zone. If you feel you are beginning to move too fast always stay calm and gradually slow down.

Eating drinking on the bike

Good appetite from cycling

If you wish to drink or eat do it on the flat roads or just before you reach the top of a hill.  Preferably when your at the back of a group.

Enjoy the coffee and cakes when you arrive to the finish safely.

Join your local cycling club where you can learn lots of cycling skills.

Links to more tips Seven top tips for sportives here  Tips for the start  here

Paddy Doran Coach Level 3 Cycling Coach and Tutor

www.peakendurancecoaching.ie  See testimonials here    Contact us  here

If you’ve found this article helpful then get your copy of our Introduction To Cycling Booklet, full of helpful information and advice. It has everything you need whether you’re just getting started and need to set your bike up perfectly or want to improve your training with the included training programmes.

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