Updated 18th March 2018
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
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.
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 good control of the bike. This will deliver a quick descent with less stress and fatigue than if your on the limit on every corner.
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
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.
Everyone has different levels of experience and skills. Always descend and corner within your own level of competency, particularly if you’re not a very experienced cyclist. And 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
See 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
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.
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
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. Practise using both brakes together and do most of your braking before the corners while cycling in a straight line.
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
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.
Paddy Doran Coach Level 3 Cycling Coach and Tutor