I’m a huge fan of continuous improvement and lifelong learning and these principles apply to developing bike skills for both women and men. One skill which many female cyclists struggle with is descending. I think it’s because we are fairly risk averse and when we feel like our bikes are going too fast the temptation is to grab the brakes. I know I’ve still got a long way to go with my own descending skills so I’ve done a bit of research and borrowed from experts to bring these descending tips together.
To start, familiarise yourself with the condition of the road surface by riding up the hill. Look for loose gravel on the shoulders, potholes or cracks on the road surface. Look also at the radius of the turns – do they follow a continuous arc, or do they become sharper during the middle of the turn? Are there sections that suddenly become steeper?
Ride in the drops
With your hands on the lower part of the handlebar, your centre of gravity is closer to the ground. Also, your weight will be more evenly distributed between the front and rear wheels, which helps maintain traction, especially during braking and turning.
Look for danger signs so you have time to react. In turns, keep your eyes on the exit, which will help you carve a smooth, steady line all the way through. The old adage that you’ll end up where you look is so true when descending on a bike. Don’t look at the road just in front of your wheel, look ahead and you’ll end up in the right place.
Start at the top of your body and let go of tension. Keep breathing, open your mouth to unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, bend your elbows, release your death grip on the bar, uncurl your toes and let your feet lie flat on the bottoms of your shoes.
Use subtlety to slow
Always anticipate what you’ll need to do next. This will help you avoid sudden braking. For controlled slowing, gently squeeze both levers equally with two to three second pulses. Constantly riding the brakes on big descents can make rims overheat and possibly cause a blowout. This is particularly true with carbon rims which overheat more quickly.
The biggest mistake people make descending is to wait until they’re in the middle of a turn to brake. Instead, scrub speed before the turn. If you have to brake in the turn, you didn’t slow enough to begin with. Then, push your outside pedal down with pressure on that foot. To initiate the turn, lean the bike, not your body into the turn. The faster and sharper the turn, the more you’ll lean the bike. To exit the turn, gently straighten the bike.
Practice, practice, practice
Like all bike skills you need to practice it over and over again to learn it properly. Choose a small descent to begin, and repeat it over and over until you feel comfortable.