Hey all. It's my first time on the forum so be kind!

I have an embarrassing problem. No, not that one - that's cleared up now. The problem is that I'm terrible on downhill stretches. If I'm out with a group, there's a good chance that they're going to be at the bottom of the hill well before I am, because I'm teetering down with my grip firmly on the brakes. It never used to be a problem when I was a kid, bombing down the steepest of slopes. Now I'm creeping up for 40 it's become a real issue.

A particularly white knuckle descent down Sundridge Hill in Kent the other day made me think it's something that I really need to improve on. I think part of the problem is that I don't have enough faith in modern day brakes to bring me to a stop if I started losing control or if something ran out in front of me - but I'm also conscious that I need to improve my technique and confidence. What advice would you all offer to someone with such an affliction?

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Sorry I'm not a racer, but I'd say it's a speed that you're comfortable with and able to react to whatever situation you may encounter in the descent. Chris Boardman made a good comment on the ITV4 TdF coverage in that one thing he missed about being a pro was closed roads for a descent; not a luxury the rest of us enjoy! I've had plenty of 'reality check' moments (cars, gravel etc) from times where I've been tempted to throw caution to the wind and there are more than enough sad stories of people who have killed themselves on descents.

Shades

posted by Shades [211 posts]
29th July 2014 - 14:48

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I am a fast descender, I don't know, how / why, but a few ride mates who are tentative descenders have tried following me and came off.

I don't think I'm taking risks, but I do know if I start thinking about it, I'm all over the place, missing lines and braking points.

I wouldn't bother trying to descend out with your comfort zone, I'm not sure it can be taught, especially later in life, safer and more honourable to train to beat your mates to the top! ( which I can't often do!)

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [597 posts]
29th July 2014 - 16:30

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Fast uphill, slow downhill. Sorted.
In all seriousness, you are probably doing this for enjoyment so why terrify yourself ? Descending at speed is dangerous and there is always the risk of gravel and potholes. Build your speed over time on roads you know. Don't swek to find your limits as you might just go beyond them and have a nasty "off".
There are some good youtube videos on technique if you wish but gradually build your confidence. If you are hanging on for dear life you are probably tense and more at risk of a snafu....
Good luck !

posted by arfa [513 posts]
29th July 2014 - 16:33

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This might not make you feel more confident, but you are actually much more likely to crash while braking than when letting the bike have its head.

Your bike tyres only have so much grip and braking and cornering both use some of it up.

Also, while braking then bike tends to straighten up, whereas you need to be able to lean over to steer around corners.

I think it is useful to practice on roads that you use regularly, where you get to know the corners and which ones you can get away with not braking on. Look at the exit of the corner, rather than the apex. Extending your outside leg and putting slight pressure on the outside pedal also helps. resting your knee against the top tube will prevent any tank slappers. In fact, doing anything to distract you form thinking about how fast you are going is pretty useful!

If you are just scared of speed then sitting up to catch some of the air will slow the bike a little without having to use the brakes.

Modern dual pivots are pretty good. You can stop fairly quickly, in fact the main challenge is to limit the amount of braking as you don't want to slam on the brakes and lock the wheels.

Sometimes, if you have a quick dose of the fear I find it useful to deliberately decide to stop braking, and try to relax. Even for a second or so it could dramatically improve the bike handling.

Finally, riding cyclo-cross or just off road can help.

All the best.

posted by Chris James [196 posts]
29th July 2014 - 16:38

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Thanks guys - all useful comments. I'm guessing the demographic on here is a bit closer to my age than a lot of other forums? What I've mostly read on other sources is essentially "get on the drops and stop being a pussy" Rolling Eyes

I'm sure it's all a matter of confidence. I'm not trying to break any records when I'm out on weekend runs - but I would like to be able to get down to the bottom without thrashing the brakes too much. Ultimately it means more to me to get up the hill faster and without stopping than it does bombing it down the other side.

posted by bamilton wackad... [49 posts]
29th July 2014 - 16:39

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I know the feeling well.

If it's something you really want to work on and you have the means to make a visit to South East London (this might work, if you're down in Kent somewhere), have a think about booking something with Cadence Performance in Crystal Palace. They occasionally do group descending/ascending classes or you could even (if you have the extra cash) book a one-on-one for a couple of hours (or however long you want) with a pro. Cannot recommend them enough. They helped me get my confidence back after a crash last year.

posted by spin sugar [37 posts]
29th July 2014 - 17:46

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Not a bad idea - I might check that out. I'm in Catford, so close to Crystal Palace and Kent also. I did the Falling Leaves route back to front last weekend and planning a route around Downe and Lullingstone this weekend, so plenty hills to get practice on I reckon. If it persists, I'd definitely consider tuition.

posted by bamilton wackad... [49 posts]
29th July 2014 - 17:53

1 Like

I have the same issue as yourself, I'm only 23 but I'm very slow on the descents rarely going above 30 on a road I'm new to, 40mph on even the roads I ride every week.

I think its purely a confidence thing, generally the people I ride with are much faster downhill than me but slower uphill so it tends to work out quite well!

Like others have said its just not worth taking risks on roads with cars and side streets for a quicker strava time, why bother? Enjoy your riding and don't worry too much.

posted by Rtjohnson [4 posts]
29th July 2014 - 18:00

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You highlighted that you do not have confidence in your brakes... that to me is an obvious starting points.

Anyone that asks me will get the same response, confidence in your equipment equals confidence and braking is the key factor in being able to comfortably push on a descent.

Maybe spend some time going down straight descents and practicing stopping until you are comfortable with the limits of the brakes.

At the same time you may want to look at your brake performance and ensure that it is tip top... good brake pads, clean and new cables etc.

Once you are comfy under brakes, the trick is to brake early for a corner so that you reach the speed you know you can get around without a panic. From that base point you can start to add speed on to corners and at the same time, or separately, start to brake later.

At my youthful stupidest, I was turning into corners on my front wheel only as I'd leave braking late and hit them hard... I did however have a intimate knowledge of the bikes capabilities and the roads in question.

I'm also creeping towards 40 and I went back and rode my old training roads recently... it was terrifying to think that at one point I knew I used to be in a full aero tuck where these days I was actively braking...

in summary, we all get slower with age!

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [305 posts]
29th July 2014 - 18:04

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Sounds to me like you don't have a single thing to worry about. Self preservation is far more important than going like a bat out of hell and crashing at the first turn!

Jimmy Ray Will made a very good point 'confidence'. Having confidence in your brakes and bike is big part here. The other area where you need confidence is in your own capabilities. There's only one thing stopping you from hill bombing at 100kph; your own brain.

When descending full speed, there's a few things I'd always analyse. How well do you know the road? Are there any hidden hazards? What's the surface like. Where are the corners? Can you see through them or are they blind?
Try and find a well sighted road with no junctions and go for it! build up your speed and stay within your comfort zone. Spread your weight evenly between pedals and seat (if it's bumpy put more weight on your feet and un-weight your bum, use your legs as shock absorbers), keep your weight off the bars, don't hold them too tightly. Finally relax!

When approaching a corner, brake before you turn, don't turn in on the brakes, brake smoothly. Try to look ahead of where you're riding and look through the turns and try to look where you want to be once you're through the turn.

One final point, try following your friends through. Follow their lines and work out their braking points.

posted by Leeroy_Silk [56 posts]
29th July 2014 - 23:29

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If you want to actually deal with the issue and improve your descending the first thing is to get on the drops. This will actually give you more breaking control. It sounds counter intuitive because you're making yourself more aero, but the increased braking power from grabbing them in that position gives more control.

The second is that you just need to try to hang off the brakes for as long as possible. If you have a friend who is normally a faster descender follow them and once they have a descending velocity try to match it. If they stay upright so will you. The problem comes when you feel the fear you'll be tempted to scrub off speed.

The only times you should be braking though is when you are entering a bend. Take the speed off till you can see the exit and then release. If the road is straight don't touch the brakes. The obvious deviation from that is if you can see road hazards. Also, you should be braking in straight lines, so if you are braking while going around a bend then a) you potentially put yourself at risk of an accident b) you didn't take off enough speed when entering the corner.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1169 posts]
30th July 2014 - 7:59

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Jimmy's point about confidence in your kit is key. I used to get the wobbles at about 38-40mph on my old bike, this was possibly from my own slightly nervous disposition for descending. When I upgraded I deliberately went for something that was known to be stable on descents (Trek Madone). A few weeks later the club run took an unusual turn and hit a descent I'd never seen. It was straight, but quite steep, and the surface wasn't great. I started to brake, but the handling was going funny because of the gradient and surface, so I reminded myself of the bikes capacity for speed, came off the brakes, the bike stabilised, I relaxed, got in the drops and remembered to breathe(!) - and came out the other side at 50mph.

Why not upgrade your brakes?

Just make sure you can distinguish between learning the skill to descent safely/reasonably quickly, and not being stupid enough to outrun your ability, and you'll be fine!

The pro coaching session sounds awesome though, I could make use of that! Pity I'm up in Manchester.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3314 posts]
30th July 2014 - 8:23

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I am a crap descender, I am getting better but still crap.

Only advice, first if you have any queries about a component you will worry about it and begin to focus on what may go wrong.

Second practice, it takes time but just get used to riding downhill, never push too far, crashing is not good if you have confidence issues to begin with.

Try and think what concerns you? I find roads with junctions more of an issue than open roads, it is the what is round the corner issue.

Other things, your build, I am guessing light riders can get blown around more passing farm gates ( I am guessing because I am not a heavy rider and never have been), I have only been blown off once on the mtb. ( I am quite tall and light)

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1178 posts]
30th July 2014 - 13:09

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Colin Peyresourde covers the technical aspects above well enough
There are other things like how you shift your weight around that really help

I am not a super fast descender but a key realisation is that it is often safer not to brake

In the dry, modern tyres have incredible traction. You can lean right over and be just fine. Don't try this on gravel / dirty wet roads though!

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [291 posts]
30th July 2014 - 13:24

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Here's a page that has a very detailed discussion of descending technique, which I've found very helpful. I particularly like the emphasis on observation and thinking all the time - it's much more than just a physical skill:
http://www.flammerouge.je/factsheets/descend.htm

It sounds like you may be nervous about speed as much as cornering. If you can find suitable roads or paths near you, you may be able to get practice at both of these aspects separately. For example, here in Edinburgh, the road going round Arthur's Seat towards Holyrood Palace is a long gentle descent without any sharp bends that's often almost traffic-free. It's not at all steep, but long enough that you can build up a pretty high speed. It then flattens out for quite a bit before a little roundabout, so it's ideal for practising braking from speed. Conversely, across the city, one of the cycling/walking paths ends with a little access path that's a few tight switchbacks down to road level. (It's fun to imagine for 30 seconds that you're going down Alpe d'Huez or similar. Wink ) OK, it's much narrower than a road and you have to go very slowly, but that's sort-of the point; you can focus on cornering techniques without worrying about getting run over or tumbling down a mountainside if you get it wrong. If you can find similar stretches near to you, you may be able to practise in a safer environment to build a bit more confidence before putting it all together on your usual descents.

posted by CapriciousZephyr [29 posts]
30th July 2014 - 15:31

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The important thing is to go at the speed you are confident and happy with, and let the others race themselves to A&E if they wish.

That said if you want to improve your descending, then keep practicing them , and let your confidence build naturally - try to find some straight descents, and get used to handling the bike at higher speeds.

one of the key skill for descending for me is remembering to look further down the road, and see obsticals when they are further away.

posted by Must be Mad [90 posts]
30th July 2014 - 17:25

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I changed the stock wheels (alexrims) on my bike to shimano r501's (not the best wheels by a long way!) and the braking effect increased dramatically with the same brakes and blocks. Obviously just a much better braking surface. This of course gives you confidence to lay off the brakes until you need them and you know how quickly you can slow down.

posted by Hensteeth [41 posts]
30th July 2014 - 21:37

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Thanks guys - all useful comments. On the few hills on the way to and from work I've been practicing getting on the drops and using the brakes as little as possible. It sounds daft, but I've always been more comfortable descending with my hands on the top of the bars so I rarely get on the drops. I felt a lot more in control of the bike and the brakes as a result. With a bit of time I'm sure I'll build up the confidence. I'm still not out to break any records though!

Hensteeth wrote:
I changed the stock wheels (alexrims) on my bike to shimano r501's (not the best wheels by a long way!) and the braking effect increased dramatically with the same brakes and blocks. Obviously just a much better braking surface. This of course gives you confidence to lay off the brakes until you need them and you know how quickly you can slow down.

I've got Alexrims on my Genesis, which is the bike I've had the problem with. I'm planning on changing the blocks before looking at the wheels though. I've had Swissstop and Koolstop recommended to me. I'll let you know how I get on.

posted by bamilton wackad... [49 posts]
30th July 2014 - 21:47

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I'm not a great descender either. Around this time of year I finally overcome the fear brought on by the terrible winter roads though, and descend with joy. Hope that lasts until my alpine visit in a month.

My advice - relax. It's really hard, but you have to hold the drops lightly. Any tighter and your bike reacts like a twitching beast.

posted by bashthebox [647 posts]
30th July 2014 - 22:17

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I've always been quite happy to let someone else find a pothole before me.

posted by bikebot [637 posts]
30th July 2014 - 22:44

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Must be Mad wrote:
The important thing is to go at the speed you are confident and happy with, and let the others race themselves to A&E if they wish.

That said if you want to improve your descending, then keep practicing them , and let your confidence build naturally - try to find some straight descents, and get used to handling the bike at higher speeds.

one of the key skill for descending for me is remembering to look further down the road, and see obsticals when they are further away.

That's excellent advice. It sounds like the OP may be fairly new to being back on a bike. Skills, experience and therefore confidence increase *hugely* the more hours you spend on a bike. It will just build naturally.

Caution always trumps recklessness anyway. Do not be tempted to take risks that you are not comfortable with. Basic physics ... the faster you go the less time you will have to react when something unexpected happens and the greater the impact forces will be. Speed really does kill.

One of my main concerns when descending is cars emerging from side roads (or turning right, across my path, into one). It seems to me that many motorists simply have no concept of a cyclist approaching at 40mph+ and assume it is safe for them to proceed.

The other issue that can catch you out is a car turning left on to your road, say 200-300 yards in front of you. You maintain your speed in the assumption that it will accelerate away ... when suddenly the brake lights come on ... and it indicates right (late if at all) ... because it is turning into another side road. I hate staggered junctions at the bottom of a hill!

posted by Joeinpoole [274 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:12

3 Likes

I love going fast and I'm fast downhill but ride, in my mind 200m up the road so I'm scanning for trouble in advance of my arrival.

If it's a new route we are riding I often view it on google streetview so I know what to expect and practice my handling skills on downhills that I know on a regular basis and never take them for granted.

I have faith in my own abilities but lack faith in the ability of car drivers when they decide to overtake and then bang the anchors on to turn left right in front of me.

Pain is just the French word for bread.

S13SFC's picture

posted by S13SFC [97 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:27

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Joeinpoole wrote:

That's excellent advice. It sounds like the OP may be fairly new to being back on a bike. Skills, experience and therefore confidence increase *hugely* the more hours you spend on a bike. It will just build naturally.

This is true to an extent - I'm quite new to road cycling. I've got cycling in city traffic nailed, which was my main aim. Now I just need to get used to the 20-25%s on long rides. I'm cycling over The Lecht in the Cairngorms in a couple of weeks so I'll probably have some nice crosswinds to throw into the equation there too. The joys. Thankfully, at least there I can see traffic about a mile ahead.

posted by bamilton wackad... [49 posts]
31st July 2014 - 7:07

1 Like

Chris James wrote:
Look at the exit of the corner, rather than the apex.

+1 on that. It's a confidence thing that just lets you realise that you've already scrubbed enough speed off to be able to safely get around the rest of the corner.

I also found it works on velodrome banking by letting you realise the track ahead is the same height as you, and you won't be getting be funnelled down to the bottom.

neildmoss's picture

posted by neildmoss [199 posts]
31st July 2014 - 8:20

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First off you have to enjoy it or else why bother. The exhilarating feeling of the wind in your hair, getting into an aerodynamic position, regulating speed by gently squeezing the brakes and keeping it all together to see how fast you can go.
Going fast in or on anything is about getting it right and testing the limit of your self/machine/environment. Inevitably when the limit is reached one either needs to slow down or risk crashing.

No one in their right mind would advocate belting down a stretch of road at full tilt that you've never been down before. There could be nasty surprises - gravely corners, wet patches, unexpected bends, Random Badgers crossing but when you get to know a stretch you will learn when you can put the power down and when to back off. Build up to it and then it will be much more enjoyable.

Sadly I don't think one can expect to regularly a bike without the occasional crash. I used to ride a lot more off road and one of the best bits of advice I've ever read (in MBUK in about 1990 probably) is that when you feel that you are going to crash RELAX your booty. This might sound stupid but it has really worked for me. You are much more likely to break something if you are all tense at that moment when you've passed the wobbly-tummy-feeling point of no return.

Respect other road users, check your bike's mechanics, wear a helmet and have a laugh. The only way to sensibly test the limits is to keep practising. But if you don't enjoy it sack it off, there's loads of stuff to do in the world so why do something you don't like.

Hope that helps Smile

posted by unclebadger [17 posts]
31st July 2014 - 8:48

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If you want to get up hills quicker or easier, practice is required.

It's the same with decending, practice, practice, practice.

It is important though to recognise the limitations of both your bike and yourself. Its no good trying to throw your machine down hills or round corners that it will not be able to cope with. Even the best rider in the world would struggle.

Identifying and training up your own limitations is key. I have seen a few moments on roads where cyclists talent curve ended and they have carried on in blind faith. It always ends in disaster.

I am pretty confident descending but was still nervous before visiting Majorca in the spring. So i made sure in the month before hand i found descents with tight curves or switchbacks for training on (difficult in Hampshire and Berkshire).

I would echo all of the comments above.
You have to be in the right place mentally. Tune in to the environment, look far ahead, think quickly and stick to a line once decided on.
Physically, be relaxed, try to breathe easy and get in the drops.

posted by Martyn_K [46 posts]
31st July 2014 - 13:30

1 Like