Eyeing off that spectacular mountain climb you’ve wanted to conquer but more nervous about getting down than up?! We get it. Descending can be a nail biting experience and often, more difficult than grinding your way up the climb itself. Here are our top tips to ensure you’re always descending safely AND with a smile!
Position, position, position
Having a low centre of gravity when you descend increases your stability and gives you better traction (and therefore control) on the road surface. So, make sure you get low on the bike including hands in the drops rather than on the hoods. In the drops your hands have better access to the brake levers and are less likely to let go of the bike if you hit a bump. It is also good to sit slightly off the seat with your cranks in the 9 and 3 position (when going straight). This also allows your legs to act as natural suspension and absorb any bumps, gravel etc.
Relax and look where you are going
Sounds obvious but these both very important! Where you look is where you will go so keep your eyes well forward, scanning for upcoming bends or obstacles. This will allow you to prepare in advance for what's ahead. Try and stay as relaxed as possible with a slight bend in your elbows as this will make it easier to manoeuvre the bike and reduces fatigue, especially on long descents.
Choose your line and brake early
Descending requires a lot of cornering. When you see each bend in the distance, set your gaze after the bend where you need to end up. Then, brake to adjust your speed and bike line before you hit the bend. This will ensure your bike and body are in position when you hit the corner so you can follow your line safely out of the bend.
Don’t do a Mick Doohan! Lean your bike
It might look impressive to corner like a motoGP champ but the physics just don’t work for cyclists. Because you are heavier than your bike, you should aim to keep your weight evenly balanced over the bike wheels and lean the bike rather than yourself into the corner. When cornering always ensure your outside leg is straight with the crank in the 6 o’clock position (your inside crank will be in the 12 position). You might also find it helpful to drop your inside shoulder by bending at the elbow as you lean into the corner.
Dressing for descending
While all the focus this far has been on your descending technique, a critical part of a descent is carrying and wearing the right cycling clothing! You might work up a sweat getting up the climb but when you get to the top you might be surprised just how cool the conditions are. You're never going to enjoy a descent if your hands are so cold you can’t feel them or, your body is rigid like an iceblock!
Our gear recommendations for dressing for descents:
- Baselayers – we recommend wearing a baselayer under your jersey which will wick away sweat as you climb but also provide an extra layer of warmth to your body on the way back down.
- Arm and Leg Warmers – arm warmers and leg warmers are light and fit easily into a jersey pocket. Chances are you won’t want them climbing up the hill but as soon as you hit the top throw them on the capture that body heat before you head back down.
- Packable wind jacket – rather than pack a long sleeve jersey stash a lightweight wind jacket in your rear pocket and put it on for the descent. More often than not it’s the wind that will cause you to freeze when you’re descending. A packable wind jacket will block the wind, keeping you warm and protected from the elements. Our packable wind jacket is a great choice that is both lightweight and highly visible.
- Cycling Gloves – keeping your hands protected so you can work the brakes is absolutely critical when you descend. A good set of cycling gloves will provide an extra layer to warm and protect your hands plus padding on the palms provides extra support and reduce fatigue.
So now you've got no excuses - get out there and put these tips into action then start planning your next climbing adventure! If you need some inspiration, we were lucky enough to climb Mt Wellington in Hobart, Tasmania a little while back. Check it out here!