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How to Ride Downhill

It’s rocky, rutted and radically steep. It looks like a killer slope. Yet if you can manage to hike down that slope, you can certainly ride down it. Descending hills is one of the most fun things you can do while on a mountain bike. If you’re on a bicycle, that can be an experience that will make your adrenal glands stand up and say, “Hello!” In fact, many people pedal for hours just for the killer descent. The descent is frequently the most fun and exciting part of mountain biking. Of course, there is a difference between doing it safely and wiping out. It isn’t fun falling and then having to spend several days limping and licking your wounds. Here are some is some sage advice and techniques to help you get down the hill not only intact, but also with style and grace.

Before You Start:

  • Be sure to check that your brakes work!
  • Shift into the big chain ring to help stop the chain slapping around and perhaps falling off.
  • And, of course, always wear a helmet.

On The Descent:
Weight Back, Move Forward. As you move down the slope, keep your rear end as far back on the saddle as seems wise without losing control of the bike. If the front end seems wobbly, or skips from side to side, you are probably playing it too safe leaning too far back. This is unsually more apparent on bikes with front suspensions. They require a little more give and take. Pay attention to how it feels and adjust as needed.

Stay Low. Hold your body as close to the bike as possible. Hanging limbs create ungainly movements. Suspension systems may take the jolt out of many rough descents, but your legs and arms are the most effective shock absorbers you have. Keep your elbows bent at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees and avoid gripping the handlebars too tightly. Relaxing your muscles is the key to maneuverability. How can you tell if you’re gripping the handle too tightly Drum the handlebar with your fingers. If you find it difficult, you’re holding on too tightly. Even if you have suspension, you want your legs relaxed and ready to take bumps. On a hardtail bike this is even more important. To soak up the bumps, get your weight back, grip the seat with your thighs and keep your knees bent and relaxed.

Maintain A Stable Footing. Your feet should be at 3 and 9 o’clock. This is called the platform and is the best position for your feet unless you’re negotiating tight corners. From this position you are centered on your bike and well balanced. Reacting from this position is a simple process of shifting your weight forward, back, or side to side.

Be Fluid. Your balancing act isn’t the only thing you can do to keep your bike moving down those steep slopes smoothly. The route you choose and your brake control contribute to a fluid descent as well.

Pick a Line. A big beginner’s mistake is looking at spots you want to avoid rather than focusing on where you want to go. Pick a path and stick to it. Fix your eyes on your chosen path. Scan ahead for future hazards. Make sure your head is roughly parallel to your top tube, and look ahead. Remember that foresight is the precursor to all maneuvering. Knowing hazards ahead of time can help you adjust your balance. What hazards should you look for That depends on your skill level. A log that will stop one cyclist may be a fun bunnyhop for another. Generally, look for loose rocks, deep sand, water, wet roots, logs and other cyclists, hikers, and, yes, fauna the occasional bear, deer, rodent or snake. Here’s a proven method for scanning ahead: As you descend, look ahead 15 or 20 feet. Then, move your eyes back towards your tire. Do this up-and-back action and your eyes will take in lots of information.

Control Your Speed. You want to blaze down the trail, feel the wind on your face, get that adrenaline rush. Sure. That’s part of what cycling is all about. But chances are you are not alone on the trail or road. You could run over an unsuspecting hiker or another bicyclist and that would bring your speed reign to an abrupt halt. This doesn’t mean you can’t go fast it just means you need to learn to control your speed.


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