Berkshire Tri Squad Head coach Luke McCarthy gives his top tips on how to improve your downhill technique
Many people dedicate a lot of their time to trying to get stronger on the bike, putting in hours of high intensity training as well as trying to buy speed through having the latest and lightest kit. There are lots of relatively easy gains to be made through improving technique and riding downhill fast is certainly among them.
Below are my top tips to improve your descending confidence and ability. I’ve also included an exercise to develop your sighting.
1) Look ahead
It’s really important to look further ahead when descending at speed. This allows you more time to prepare yourself for corners as well as to steer around any holes or obstacles in the road. Ultimately, looking further ahead really helps you feel more confident which will translate into being able to let the bike run at speed and not feel the need to brake as much.
2) Remember your cornering technique
If you are looking ahead, you will easily be able to see what the road is going to do in front of you, and therefore position your bike accordingly. Focus on where you want to be on the road for corners and pick an appropriate line.
In particular, think about not having to be stuck tight to the left of the road and use the whole lane (stay aware of other road users!) in order to get the best line through corners.
3) Sit back and relax
Shift your weight slightly back on the saddle as this will help balance the bike and keep weight on the back wheel. It helps traction as well as avoiding overloading the front tyre with too much stress, which can often happen while braking.
This makes braking much safer and more efficient if you do need to.
4) Cover the brakes
Find a position on the bike where you can cover the brakes (have your fingers ready to brake). Most people find being on the hoods best, although sometimes being on the drops allows greater leverage for more power. Be sure to experiment with what works for you.
This is about giving you the confidence to let the bike run, knowing that you can apply the brakes if needed.
5) Sort your sighting
Not looking far enough ahead is often the root cause of people’s problems with descending. This is a technique that can easily be practised without having to ride down (and therefore up) a lot of hills. Buy a set of cheap plastic cones and find a traffic free place to practise. Car parks on industrial estates are usually empty at weekends and are a good option.
Next lay out a course with a series of flowing corners. Get a training partner to stand half way through the corner. As you are approaching the corner, they should hold up their hand displaying a number with their fingers. Your job is to shout out how many fingers they are holding up.
As you get more confident, get the person to stand further and further ahead or introduce more complex shapes into the course to add a challenge.
Head for the hills
It takes a lot less effort to gain a few seconds down a long descent than it does to do the same on a flat, straight road. Think about how you can put some descending practise into your training whether as part of a standard ride or doing some targeted training on a suitable hill, ideally with some corners to practise looking ahead.
For more tips, check out our Training Section.