If you’ve ever watched Cadel Evans descend at speed with a complete absence of fear and wondered why the hell he’s so good at it and you’re not, then keep reading.
To be honest, you’ll probably never descend at the same speed as Cadel but if you practice then you’ll at least be descending with confidence and still have some brake pads left at the bottom.
First things first, you need to find a hill to practice descending (the bonus here is that you’ll have to ascend the hill to practice descending so you’ll get the training benefit of hill repeats as well). Find somewhere without lots of traffic but with a decent length gentle descent and a few bends so you can get the hang of the whole descending thing. Once you’ve found your hill you’re ready to put a few basic rules into practice and become a gun descender.
Rule 1 – Posture & Balance
Always ensure you are well-balanced on your bike as you travel down the hill. Your weight should be evenly distributed as you descend. As you approach a bend you’ll need to shift your weight to your outside leg which should be at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock) from when you approach the bend until you exit the bend.
Rule 2 – Look ahead & choose your line
Look way ahead at where you’re going, not at the road below or directly in front of you. When approaching bends you need to look through the bend, imagining your line as you go. If you can’t see around a bend, back off the speed, take it slowly and carefully because you don’t know what’s coming up around the corner. You should aim for a wide line into the corner, cut through the apex of the corner and take a wide line out of the corner
Rule 3 – Be gentle on the brakes
Be gentle with your brakes. Maintaining a death grip on the brakes is sure to tense your whole body and decrease your responsiveness overall. Descend in the drops as it assists in maintaining balance and keeping your centre of gravity low. It also gives you a more powerful braking position should you need it. If you need to brake on the descent, use both brakes together and pump them (i.e. ease the brakes on and off) so you don’t build up too much heat on the braking surface (cook the brakes) or cause your hands to lock up and cease functioning.
Rule 4 – Stay in control
Finally, always stay in complete control of your speed; if it gets out of hand you’ll need to brake earlier and harder before a corner. If you don’t remain in control you risk overshooting the corner or sliding out.
Put it all together and:
- Check your posture and balance as you start your descent
- Look ahead
- Choose your line through the first bend
- Gently apply both of your brakes to reduce your speed as you approach the bend
- Shift your weight and push down on your outside pedal
- Exit the bend wide while you look ahead for the next one
There you have it, now all you have to do is practice.