9 Feb 2016
ROAD BIKE DESCENTS: HOW TO GO FAST AND STAY SAFE
Fast descents can be intimidating, particularly when you’re tired after a long climb. But while your body can have a bit of a rest, it’s vital your brain stays in gear. Follow our top tips and you’ll be both quicker and safer in no time.
FSA sponsored Astana rider Vincenzo Nibali shows the world’s best how to descend at Il Lombardia 2015
Smoothness is the key
Aim for smoothness rather than for speed, and speed will come anyway. ‘Slow in, fast out’ is both safer and often actually faster than ‘fast in, slow out’. Avoid sudden acceleration or braking.
Lean, don’t turn
Lean the bike to turn, rather than turning the bars. Weight the inside bar and your outside foot, while keeping your body slightly separated and relatively upright. Push the bike down – you’ll find it turns itself, and with a greater sense of stability. Keep your knees and elbows slightly bent and supple, to absorb bumps or sudden movements. It’s vital your body weight stays isolated from shocks that can start it moving in unwanted directions.
Stay on the drops
You’ll naturally want to move your weight backwards while descending, and staying low on the drops helps keep pressure on the front wheel – which you need for grip. It’s also more aero, and allows you to keep the brakes covered at all times.
Keep your head up and your eyes on the corner exit and you’ll find your balance improves and your speed doesn’t feel nearly so high. This helps you relax, which further boosts balance, feedback from the bike, and your sense of control. If you’re in a pack, watch the riders five or six positions ahead, rather than the one directly in front. And don’t sit right on the next wheel – give yourself room to see and react.
Unless you’re in a closed-road event, don’t use all the road. While you should open out corners to make the smoothest, gentlest arcs you can – start wide, carve to the inside once you spot the exit, the drift to the outside again – the extremes are hazardous. Gutters tend to be dirty and full of debris, while the center of the road is crowned, lumpy and rarely swept clean of dust, oil and diesel. Treat these areas with respect.
It’s worth saying it again: tense muscles make your bike harder to control, and fighting the bike only makes you more tense. It’s a vicious circle. If braking earlier allows you to stay relaxed and carve smoothly through the corner, do it. You’ll be faster in the long run.
Try practicing one hill over and over – it’s what mountain bikers call ‘sessioning’ a descent. You can boost your speed, lean angle and confidence incrementally, and learn masses about your bike through repetition.
Check out the pro riders
YouTube is a great source of footage, such as of FSA’s own Vincenzo Nibali of Astana. Study their body positions and lines, and copy them (though while going a bit slower). Also, stay on the correct side of the road! They get closed roads, we don’t…