Top 10 Descending Tips – Cycling Technique
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Top 10 Descending Tips – Cycling Technique


Descending is great, so here are our tips
on going faster, safer, and have having more fun. Look where you want to go. When descending, you need to look at the road
ahead and soak up all the information you can that will help to tell you how fast you
can go. But ultimately, it’s important to look at the line you want to take, not at
the things you want to avoid. You’ll find that you naturally ride where you look, so
take your eyes off that pothole. Brake before corners, not through them. As well as scanning for possible hazards,
looking at the road ahead maximises your reaction time, which is particularly crucial for cornering.
The fastest way through a corner is to stay off your brakes, as this gives you loads more
grip. That does mean though that you’ll have to do all your braking before you get there, judging your speed so that you turn without having to brake again. When you’re
really pushing it, this makes a big big difference. If you do brake through corners though, and
most of the time you can, do it smoothly. Don’t grab the brakes, you’ll easily lose
traction. Hold your bars on the drops to increase control
and lower your centre of gravity. Descending on the drops will give you all sorts of benefits.
Firstly, you’ll generally be more aerodynamic when on the drops, so you can go faster with
less effort. Secondly, you’ll have more control, as you’re much less likely to slip
off the bars if you hit a stone or hole, and thirdly, it’ll lower your centre of gravity,
so you can carry more speed through the corners. Use all the road available to you, but no
more. It’s a difficult one this one, given that
we almost all ride on open roads all of the time. Of course, you need to be aware of traffic
risks, but trying to smooth out corners makes a big difference to the speed you can carry.
Don’t follow a corner just because the kerb takes you there. Why not use more of the road
if you can and take a smoother line, clipping the apexes? Remember though, be sensible. Look for all hazards. Riding fast needn’t be risky, you just need
to be aware of the things around you, and that means paying particular attention to the road.
Be aware not just of corners but of other obstacles like potholes, gravel, rocks, oil
on the road, anything that you really don’t want to come into contact with at higher speeds. Move your body to optimise your weight distribution. Don’t be afraid to throw your weight around.
When cornering for example, place your weight through your outside foot, with the pedal
in the six o’clock position, and also through your inside hand to help force your tyres
into the road. Get this right and it feels like you are slingshotting around corners.
When braking, get your weight back to counter the force of deceleration. Moving your weight
for different situations is key to confidence and speed. Think about your tyre pressure, particularly
on wet roads. Let’s face it, along with brakes, your tyres
are the most important piece of equipment on your bike when descending – they’re what
provide you with grip through the corners, and so it’s important that they’re in
good condition whatever tyre you’re using. Secondly, think about the pressure you’ve
got in them – lowering it for wet days, to say 80 or 90psi, depending on your weight,
will provide you with a bit more grip. The type of tyre can also make a difference, some
simply outperform others on wet roads. Continental are a particular favourite amongst pro riders,
even if they can’t publicly admit it. Give riders around you enough space to do
unexpected things, particularly in sportives and gran fondos. You can control everything
that you do, but what you can’t control is what other riders or road users are doing.
On open roads, you need to be prepared for anything, and that means giving other cyclists
plenty of space, and making sure that you’ve got enough braking room for almost any eventuality. Don’t pedal through sharp corners in case
you strike your pedal on the road. This can be a really hard thing to judge,
but pedalling around sharp corners, or starting to pedal too early on the exit can lead to
your pedal making contact with the tarmac. This can be disastrous, as inevitably it’ll
cause your rear wheel to skip in the air, at which point you’ll be lucky not to make
contact with the tarmac yourself. It’s something which even the pros get wrong on occasion,
as this slow-mo of Alberto Contador in 2013 shows perfectly. Follow experienced descenders to learn. Sometimes you just need to be taken a little
bit out of your comfort zone to move your speed on a bit. You might think you’re on
the limit, but sometimes you can be shown first-hand just how much faster you can go.
Following another rider is a great way to learn, particularly taking their lines through
corners and judging braking. Be careful who you choose to follow though. Good descenders
are fast, but not all fast descenders are good. Lucky number 11: Have confidence in your equipment Start thinking about your front quick release
when descending and I can almost guarantee you’ll reach for the brakes. You need to
trust the integrity of your bike when you’re going quickly, and that could be fixed by something
as simple as having a routine pre-ride check to make sure you’re happy with your bike.

73 Comments

  • Nick Murray

    Crazily satisfying when you see that the video has only been online for 17 mins, a weird sense on newness. Obviously not as good as watching you nutters fly down hills though, that is what we cyclist live for!

  • GeekIntel

    I would love to do all my descents without pulling the brakes but all of them are on mildly busy roads with side streets so If I fly down a hill and some idiot is pulling out without looking I need to be able to stop in time. Still some great tips here, super jellous of the places you get to bike at that hill looks amazing

  • Dutch Bicycle Cam

    @Global Cycling Network  stopping with braking in a corner is difficult, but I already learned that pedalling in a corner is a lot dangerous 🙂

  • Sake van der Leeuw

    About the use the whole road thing, one little tip. I am a cyclist myself and I get the need to be like the pro's and use all of the road to go fast, I do it too. But, I am also a motorcycle rider. I've been on such roads as in the video and a lot of cyclists don't go to the side of the road if something faster then them wants to pass them. 
    Please, if you hear something behind you, don't be a knobhead, go to the side to let them pass. Safer for the both of us.

  • osfan25

    My biggest fear when descending fast is getting a flat and losing control because of it. Can't imagine going 40+mph and getting a flat at that speed.

  • Brainless

    I really do like your tips! Thanks you very much. Just one Request: Is it possible that if you have values like 70 PSi to put also bar as small note next to it? Something like "80 PSi (5.5 Bar)". We here in Germany are not used to PSi and I for myself always have to calculate what it is 🙂 I would appreciate it.

    PS: yes… I am lazy… 😉

  • Sandy T

    I have found that one of the most useful techniques, especially during descending, is to counter-steer through the corners, which also fully involves body position.  To my knowledge, this technique was first articulated by Davis Phinney decades ago in his book (co-author Connie Carpenter) "Training for Cycling." 

    Keep up the great work, GCN!

  • SoSickWidit

    I have never seen open roads like this… Where in Southern California can I descend without risking inevitable death by vehicular manslaughter?

  • Miles Baker Clarke

    Good video chaps, i do kind of feel though, that we could use some videos catered to UK roads. with potholes galore, overhanging trees etc. Not to mentions sometimes really steep drops. Also maybe a video about improving braking performance (if there hasnt been one)

  • lonewolf

    Hello
    I've noticed you guys, alongside many pros, have the flight deck quite low compared to the seat height.
    There's quite a wide gap between the levels of the saddle and the stem,
    So is there a particular reason for that?
    Thanks.

  • Rod Clark

    20 years ago Davis Phinney published an article on descending and unfortunately I think that much of that knowledge has been lost over time. It is of note though, that Taylor is one of the top descenders in the peloton. So maybe his dad knew something? Davis's tip, as yours, outside leg in the 6 o'clock down position. Put loads of weight on it to lower your center of gravity. But how he differs is to point out that the inside leg should come IN not OUT. Road bikes aren't motorcycles. You're not trying to drag knee. Rather your inside knee should touch the top tube and rather than throwing your weight around from side to side, you keep your weight over the top of the bike (and consequently over the contact patch) similar to riding an dirt motorcycle at slow speeds. This also speeds left to right transitions.

  • PkedFuryBitch

    The last tip got me thinking… I know it's very unlikely but what would you do if both brakes failed to work while descending at 30-50 mph?

  • David Bate

    Unless in an emergency never brake mid corner !! Apart from lessening grip the centrifugal forces mean braking, especially the front brake, makes the bike want to sit up and go straight – never a good thing mid corner.  This is a well known fact amongst motorcyclists but also applies to the pedal powered version (although to a lesser extent due to speed and mass).  if you really need to brake then gentle use of the rear brake is best.  Sean Yates was a top descender  and always attributed it to a mis-spent youth aboard a Honda RC30 (when not cycling !!)

  • Barney Laurance

    "You'll generally be more aerodynamic when on the drops". Are you sure that's right? I thought it was more aerodynamic to be on the hoods, with forearms horizontal. I read a recent article on road.cc called "Want to ride faster? Hunker down on the hoods, say researchers"

  • David Culshaw

    are you using shallow drop bars ? , your fingers are right over the levers ( I'm getting some on Saturday because I cant reach my levers on the drops at the moment )

  • AussieKopite

    I agree with learning off more experienced descenders but I'm not sure if I agree about following another person's line especially if there is a major weight difference. I would suggest that a 60kg rider would take a different line in isolation (not in a group where everyone is riding the brakes) to a 90 or 100kg rider. Given there is more weight distributed higher depending on the height of the rider a heavier rider could find themselves running out of road. Has anyone got more information about lines into corners with weight taken into account?

  • PeowPeowPeowLasers

    A couple of important things you missed.  One is road signage – pay attention to signs that warn road users of hidden junctions, for instance.  Another is what to do if you lose control of the bike.  Pushing one knee against the top tube is a very good way of stabilising a shaking frame.

  • massivecompacthalo

    Love the show! This video's scenery is similar to where I cycle. I guess you are always looking for new ideas for the show. Especially if you get a free holiday included! How about a series of videos showing unknown areas for holidays or weekend trips? I can get you started! Head to north Catalonia, but not Girona. About 40 mins inland from there is the stunningly beautiful region of Osona, with the small city of Vic at it's center. Come here and I'll guide you around the 26 or so categorised climbs including some out of the way Cat 1's and HC's on virtually perfect tarmac and traffic free roads!

  • Senapspiser

    So why can't I use the ditch? I'm in there all the time! I have lots of square wheels (or "squeels") , but that's just cool.

  • William Robison

    Having been a snow skier, one thing I noticed when I get cornering right is how it feels like a carved turn on skies.

  • Juan0003

    "Continental are a particular favorite amongst pro riders…" Ermm… Care to expand? I'm currently looking for some good wet condition tyres. 

  • Bernard Ibrahim

    hi guys! so I did my first decent since I lived in a pretty flat area. My question is how reliable is the brakes during these situation? I mean, since during the decent I really felt that it was necessary during the time to limit my speed cause it was relatively busy road so Id like to keep it save, cause really its just a trip home and i'm not pursuing any time records. However constantly I fear that my brakes will fail considering the heat build up and, cable clamps slipping and stuff, you know since there is so much forces involved, tire pressure, road chatter, braking heat, weight shift to the front wheels and all. I constantly worry that the rim will warp or the spoke might break. later on, I do feel the brake "pulses" a bit during a slower decent. any insight? anyone? 

  • timtimzi ni

    I recently bought 81mm Reynolds for my TT bike. Descending mountains is by far on of the scariest things on the crosswind beasts. I feel the need to brake very often. Keep in mind these carbon brakes have super low resistance. Any tips guys?

  • Aditya Damle

    @Global Cycling Network i ride a mountain bike on the open road. do the tips you give for your road bikes also  apply to  mountain bikes or should i follow some different tips?

  • Wilderness Music

    Descending faster will always be dangerous, I don't know about the mountains you ride, but there are always dangers in the mountains I ride. Rock slides, squirrels, deer, raccoons, rabbits, motorized traffic in the wrong lane, gravel kicked up in corners by autos, glass and debris, even trees down. All these things can and are in the road at some time. If your speed and sight line through corners do not allow for these eventually you will crash. I don't think crashing is an option, and don't ride with the risk. If you race, you will need to risk it, but for the rest of us, staying safe means a life time of riding, not a life time of hurt.

  • MM Of the Perth Mikes

    My trick for safe cornering is to say my daughter's name, out loud, just before I commence cornering. Keeps me sane, and safe.

  • 고유진

    i really don't wanna let my expensive carbon fibere wheels unnecessarily worn out by the consistence and repetitious braking on such descent, so I will switch to a disc brake model sooner than later.

  • Best of AfD - #Lügenpresse

    number eleven is soo true. When I'm at 40 km/h with my 300€ road bike, I almost can feel the wheel fall off. Luckily I am getting a new one soon. 😀

  • Jim Mitchell

    How about a dropper post on a road bike? I know it isn't normal (yet), but why wouldn't it help descending long, twisty mountain roads? Wouldn't it make for a faster, more confident descent? There's already a wireless electronic dropper out there… Sounds like it would go with etap perfectly!

  • johnnnewmex

    The suggestion at 2:24 about the inside hand pressure makes sense and is the 'natural' thing you'd do when cornering and is a bit like counter-steering. However, sometimes I wonder if also makes sense to put pressure on the outside hand to essentially push the front wheel down and help prevent losing traction. So say I'm turning left, I lean and turn left but also apply some downward pressure with my right hand to keep the wheel from slipping out to the right. I especially think about this on my mountain bike as when you go through a corner and if your front wheel slips in some loose terrain, if you're pushing with your inside hand then you're just helping the tire slide out underneath you. So to me is is a slight forward push on the inside hand to countersteer while applying a downward push on the outside hand for traction.

  • Roger Manning

    Hi Guys – great tips – thanks! … I've read that using brakes during fast cornering creates a tendency for the bike to straighten-up, counter to leaning into the corner and counter to turning (it's a physics thing again!) the harder you brake the bike will want to move upright and go straight on, hence the need to brake just before the corner while the bike is upright rather than through it. It's a motor racing thing too – slow in quick out – gives you options for small direction corrections if necessary and puts you in a great position to accelerate out of the corner … feels really good too!

  • treguard1982

    Tbh I would rather go up hills than descents – have never been a fan unless I know the road properly and it isn't busy

  • Rowalters

    #torqueback when I corner I often end up on the wrong side of the roads and have nearly been run over once or twice. How can I increase my lean and confidence on sharp corners?

  • Manana No Mas!

    I've become A GCN addict. Live some of the scenery in this informative post. I was hoping for more pointers in cyclocross in this one.

  • D0PEB0YMARK

    I noticed theyre still pedaling while descending, i cant really do that on the hills in my town, its steep and tight corners. If i let go of the brakes for a second, i go too fast, so i have to press on it the whole time, but im still too fast. I have xt on rear and shimano non series on front. Should i upgrade? Or just walk down on that hill?

  • Josh Crozier

    Question: I'm interested in keeping moderate speed in an upcoming big descent. Apart from good braking technique, can I slow myself down much by adding drag? Say throwing on a mostly unzipped cycling jacket? From the hoods perhaps it'd be a parachute of sorts? Not really sure, just looking to feel comfortable and stay under control. Descent is 1100m over 13k.

  • Bence Pintér

    Ima be ridin a 100€ vintage road bike that almost fell apart under me but who gives a fuu cuz Ima need to be ded somtime so I go fast and pedal at full gear on hard downhill like its no buisness

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