Fear going down hill

by hammond83   June 20, 2012  


I had an accident a couple of years ago where I was going downhill in my drops and car pulled out in front of me and we crashed. I then lost all my confidence and took approx a year to get it back. Recently I have had trouble with speed wobble on my bike while going downhill and this has now has knocked my confidence so much that I brake too much going downhill scared I will fall off or have speed wobble.

I was wondering about changing my tyres from 23's to 25's as I have never had speed wobble on 25' and may feel more confident going downhill??


Find someone to give me some CBT???

Any help is appreciated, Thanks.

21 user comments

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I refuse to sprint after I pulled a pedal out last year, havent got out the saddle since. 6 facial stitches traumatised me. I know the feeling, although slightly different issue! Crying

samjackson54's picture

posted by samjackson54 [60 posts]
20th June 2012 - 22:11


maybe build up slowly, use a decent length hill you know and take baby steps.

speed wobble? do you have deep section rims? reason i ask is i get a slight speed wobble coasting down hill but as long as im pedalling it doesnt happen.

just take it easy and rebuild your confidence, easy to say of course but thats the only advice i can give and thats how i would approach it,

i got slammed on a notorius roundabout near me, broken arm etc. but i now still ride the same roundabout but with extra confidence and road prescence to ensure it doesnt happen again.


posted by russyparkin [578 posts]
20th June 2012 - 22:26


I hate sprinting as well, especially when loads of people come past you, wobbling all over the place Worried

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1734 posts]
20th June 2012 - 22:31


i dont ever sprint actually come to think about it. im more the diesel engine type. im in a none competitive club though so dont really ever feel the need,

posted by russyparkin [578 posts]
20th June 2012 - 22:36


I mean in races though.

I always try and go for a long one (500m is long in a Youth race) but can never do it.

The risk is just too high in sprinting for me, especially if you've got exams the next day (thankfully no longer, as of Yesterday), but anything broken would be a PITA!

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1734 posts]
20th June 2012 - 22:57


I slipped on some diesel and crashed just before I joined a club. I knew it had knocked my confidence, but I've spent time copying others (and reading tips from authorititive sources) when descending, cornering etc. it's coming on well, I had a moment when I thought I'd gone into a bend too quick, but composed my thoughts and remembered to look out towards the exit. The bike leaned over even further, I flew through and out and I felt great afterwards.

Forget speed, focus on technique and smoothness. Remember to relax, avoiding muscle tension or holding your breath during the hairy bits. Speed will be a byproduct of increased confidence, not the other way round.

I also increased my confidence by upgrading my tyres and brake blocks.

Good luck.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3705 posts]
20th June 2012 - 23:27


I totally sympathise with the op. Had a bad crash on a dwonhill last year and have only recently had the metalwork removed. Lost all confidence on downhills at speed and am overly dependent on the brakes. I'm hoping the confidence will come back bit by bit but I find I've been avoiding some routes with descents I'm not too happy to face.

posted by paulfg42 [394 posts]
20th June 2012 - 23:42


I think speed wobble is just a resonance effect, like for example the infamous wobble in the Millenium footbridge over the Thames due to many people being on it at the same time. Every person on a bike will have a speed were they are susceptible to this but you can do things to mitigate the effect. If you change your speed enough it will go away.
Alternatively if you change your position on the bike by getting onto the hoods instead of the drops, or staying on the drops but moving off the seat, then you change the effective resonance speed and the wobble goes.
Be reassured that fundamentally it may not be due to your bike set up, ie. tyre width (although this may move the resonance speed higher or lower...) and that with familiarity with the effect and maybe stronger arms, you can learn to handle it.

posted by Thom [1 posts]
20th June 2012 - 23:46


Front-end speed wobbles can be avoided, or at least mitigated, by reducing the weight on the front tyre. E.g. by pedalling a bit harder, as one commenter said. Or by loosening your grip around the bars so that the bar can jiggle a little in your hands. Your weight then automatically has to be supported more by your legs - meaning it shifts to your seat and pedals. If you have a loose grip on the vertical loops of the bars, you can still support a little bit of your weight on bottom edge of your hands on the drops, but not much. Keep your elbows bent and arms relaxed.

Also a good idea, when at speed, is to make as much of your weight "sprung" (i.e. supported by suspension mechanism). I.e. shift your weight off the saddle and onto your feet by lifting your bum a little. Your legs can work as a natural suspension, allowing your bike below to follow bumps better.

Descending down the Bealach nam Bò recently, a rider ahead of me got into a speed wobble. He then seemed to make the mistake of hitting the front brakes, which of course just made the wobble much worse as it put even more weight on the wobbling front! He nearly went off the road. And the hard braking nearly made a rider behind me crash into me!

If you've gotten into a speed wobble, it can be very hard to make yourself do the right thing and loosen grip and take weight off the front. Your instinct often will be grip the bars really hard with stiff arms, but it can be exactly the wrong thing to do.

posted by Paul J [806 posts]
21st June 2012 - 13:39


I sympathise with the OPs issues and think there is some good advice here as usual. For my own part, my confidence descending greatly improved once I learned to corner properly. It's a skill that you need to practice. Google counter-steering and learn to use your hands and feet properly. If you know all this apologies but it certainly helps carry speed safely through corners. I know your accident didn't involve cornering but the more control you have over the bike the more confident you'll feel.

Re: speed wobble. Grip the toptube with your knees.


posted by arrieredupeleton [586 posts]
21st June 2012 - 14:13


Speed wobble is terrifying. The whole bike feels like it's turned to rubber.

Happened to me on my first ride back after breaking a finger coming off my bike. It was strapped up and on a very fast descent on a bumpy surface it was very painful. I tensed up as I was scared of losing control and causing even more damage to my finger, which the doc had told me he could not save if I broke it again. I was at about 35mph and tried to scrub speed off with gentle braking. That's when all hell broke loose. I was slowing down but still riding a rubber bike. The guy behind me was screaming! I selected a grassy bank and was resigned to having a major off and losing my finger. Thankfully I managed to stop.

Same thing happened a few weeks later in very similar circumstances.

I became very scared of riding the bike, which is a beautiful custom built titanium Seven. Thought I was going to have to get rid so went to see Brian Rourke to have a steel frame built. I took my Seven with me so that Brian could see how it looked for fit. He re-positioned me, dropping both the bars and the seat down so that I was no longer sitting on top of the bike but was part of it.

Prior to the speed wobble incident I had been a confident descender, having ridden the bike down some long Alpine descents without a problem. I've now got most of my old confidence back. I've had the occasional twitch on the Seven. Never on the Rourke. But now I know what to do.

And you know what I found the solution to be after several years? Relax. As someone said earlier, loosen your grip. For me it's taking a deep breath and dropping my shoulders. Get on the drops and tuck in. Go with the bike. I was on the club run on Sunday and hit 45mph on a descent. Bike twitched a bit but I ignored it - just dropped my shoulders. It's a race bike so it's always going to be twitchy. It's just a matter of trusting it.

Hope that helps and you too get your confidence back. Just relax!

posted by tragicyclist [3 posts]
21st June 2012 - 21:58


For me, speed when descending is a by-product of being a lardarse. My winter (sorry, year-round) bike has a longer wheelbase and is mostly solid downhill, even when going down descents like Toys Hill or Ranmore Common, which are potted, narrow and strewn with debris these days.

Having decent brakes helps you scrub off speed before any corners - my 105's have been faultless but it can test your breakfast retention when the conditions are wet and you don't allow for fade or wetness between rim and blocks (ignoring the subsequent wetness between body and chamois)

You should never let yourself go faster than you feel confident at - there's no shame in slow descending!

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posted by andylul [418 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 11:49


Stiffness and nervousness feed into speed wobbles.

As stated above, try to relax. However it is pretty much impossible to relax if you get into a wobble as you think you are going to die!

If you rest your knee against the top tube it damps the system enouugh to stop the wobble. A loose grip on the bars will help ensure the wobble doesn't happen again.

Once you get your confidence back you will doubtless not wobble again. In the mean time the knee trick is a good one.

I seem to have my confidence a bit on twisty loose surfaces downhill after coming off three times last winter! The first two were on ice and I dismissed them as one of those things,the last one is less easily explained (I just wiped out on a corner at about 20mph and really hurt myself!). I drop my club mates on the hills, only to watch them shoot past me once the road points downhill.

I used to be a good descender so hopefully I will eventually get my mojo back. Braking heavily definitely isn't the way forward as a braking bike just goes straight on, so you can't make it round the corners!

posted by Chris James [296 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 15:47


You get a warning with speed wobble. It comes on quickly but not instantly. The moment you start to feel the twitch is the time to take a deep breath and relax. It very quickly goes off again.

The knee against the tope tube seems to work but if you've got a sloping top tube it may not be achievable - can't do it on mine.

posted by tragicyclist [3 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 17:53


my nanolight used to have a speed wobble .... checked
the tyre pressures and nipped the qr up a little
tighter - end of wobble !

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [920 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 19:41


My Boardman gets this when in the high 30's. I had a wobble last year, and it was awful. It lasted about 30 seconds, and I did everything wrong, stiffened up, braked, all of it. In the 30 seconds it lasted, I made my peace with God, and was resigned to die. I think I probably would have been dead before I hit the ground from fear, and my corpse would have embarrasingly pooed itself.

But anyway, it really knocked my confidence, but my balls have slowly been growing back. I'm gonna try to follow this advice when it happens again.
Thanks guys!

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

Cooks's picture

posted by Cooks [523 posts]
24th June 2012 - 13:07


Thom is right, 'speed wobble' is caused by the frame, wheels and fork resonating together at a certain frequency. I had this about 30 years ago on a 45mph descent and it was terrifying, cars coming up the other way, no control, crash. I was more or less OK, just cuts and ruined clothes, but very shaken.

I looked into it in detail, talking to engineers, including an aircraft engineer at Rolls Royce, and did an article for a cycling mag. as a result.

Wobble will happen at a particular frequency for a particular bike and rider, which means a certain speed in a certain position. It's to do with two structures resonating around a pivot, in this case frame and fork around the headset. Changing the frequency will stop it, which you can do by change of position, knee against top tube, relaxing etc. as has been suggested here. The aircraft engineer told me that helicopters are prone to it, as a result of the frequencies set up between rotors and helicopter body. The pilot knows it's happening when all his circular instruments suddenly go oval, the result of his eyeballs vibrating with the frequency. If you go faster you go through it, and it will happen again at exactly double the speed. I didn't try it at 90mph though, so can't confirm that.

As a psychologist, I would say that a the best, tried and tested way forward with your confidence would be, again as has been suggested here, slow and incremental. Do small hills first, stay highly aware of what you're doing, relax as much as possible, let the brakes off as much as you dare, until you begin to feel nervous. When/if you do feel nervous slow up, rest, try again.

It's a similar procedure you'd get with CBT, re-experiencing the event but without the trauma this time, repeatedly, until your brain loses the association of descending with trauma. Giving yourself a treat or reward after a good descent might help.

I have to say there is some excellent advice and experience on this site.

posted by bikeylikey [194 posts]
25th June 2012 - 7:13

1 Like

Thanks for the tips.

I had a rear wheel wobble. Is that the same effect as other people have described?

posted by paulfg42 [394 posts]
25th June 2012 - 19:24


great thread, riding a Brompton got me used to a twitchy front end. Recently I've been teaching myself to get into the drops more on down hills and it really works. Certainly stops that gripping the hoods and tensing up shoulders feeling. Loose upper body is the style to have. Watching video of pro riders helped me see that.

Cannondale CAAD10, Condor Terra-X and an orange Brompton.
Ride for East London Velo

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posted by zzgavin [208 posts]
25th June 2012 - 23:09


Thanks for all the help guys. I will give some suggestions a try.

posted by hammond83 [34 posts]
26th June 2012 - 19:04


[[[[[[ Hmmm...had seven quite tasty velo's since a teenager--Legnano,Mercian,Holdsworth,Paris,Raleigh GS, Condor,and Gillott. I've always enjoyed the reckless downhill rampage and never once had a speed-wobble, so I'm quite mystified. I imagine one remedy might be to take one contact point out of the equation, by jumping the front wheel off the ground for a moment---or would that make matters worse?


posted by PhilRuss [328 posts]
9th July 2012 - 2:38