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Descending tips ?(19 posts)

Descending tips ?cyclejim
Aug 3, 2002 7:44 PM
Over the past two weekends I started riding hills on my road bike, which I've only had for about a month now =)

I've been riding off road for about 4 years but am very new to the road. (interesting side note- I havent touched my mtn bike since I got the road bike *heh*)

Anyhow, there is a really nice road nearby that has some great rolling hills and several 8-9% grades, and one monster climb (for me anyway) which amounts to about 6 straight mins of climbing a 9% grade. I know... I know, that is probably considered childs play by most of you but for me its quite challenging. Did that twice today, combined with another 1:45 of climbing and descending made for a great workout.

I'm a little freaked out about descending some of these hills, in particular the longest one I mentioned. I checked my monitor today and saw that I hit 40 mph going down it. I guess that isnt really all that fast but to me it felt pretty wild, especially towards the end where it is quite steep.

What are the things that you do while descending? I think I learned a few on my own: ride in the drops, stay off the brakes as much as possible, steer very very lightly, and if I must brake do so firmly and evenly rather than feathering the brakes which seems to make my bike shimmy a little too much for my sanity.
re: Descending tips ?DINOSAUR
Aug 3, 2002 9:44 PM
You've pretty much have a handle on it. Descending is a learned skill, requires a bit of finesse and a lot of daring. You shouldn't ride faster than you think is safe. I usually stay out of the drops, hands on hoods, light pressure on brakes. Down low in a aerodynamic position (you can gain speed this way). Watch the road ahead for hazards (#1 cause of cycling accidents). When you are going fast you don't want to make any fast movements, it's almost like slow motion, calculate your movements. Make sure that your tires are in good condition and properly inflated. Remember also that 40MPH is pretty darn fast on a bike. I crashed while descending, doing half that speed, a couple of years ago, due to a blown front tire and spent seven days in the hosptial.

And of course always wear a helmet, I started using a mirror about a month ago and I can eye what is coming up behind me and don't have cars blow by me unexpectedly. Descending is what makes climbing fun, as for every hill you climb there is a descent.

I learned a lot about cycling from watching tapes and see how the pros ride.

Oh yeah, don't watch the monitor, watch the road step until you start feeling more confident...the counter steering will come in later...if you want to move to the right squeeze your hand on that side of the bars....if you want to avoid an object don't look at it, look at where you want to go...I don't descend at a particular blazing speed, but I manage to unclip at the end of the ride so I can ride the next day....and again, don't go faster than you think is safe, and know your roads.....
re: Descending tips ?rwbadley
Aug 3, 2002 10:02 PM
First thing I would address, why does the bike shimmy? If you can not trust the machine, or are not sure how it will behave at any given moment, you need to find the problem and fix it!! Especially if you want to be descending at high speed on these grades.

You might try hugging the top tube with your knees to control the shimmy. Check the headset for proper adjustment. Tire pressures OK? that sort of thing.

As for descending technique, I find that the many years I spent on a motorcycle taught me a little trick called countersteering. This applies to high speed cycling also. In a nutshell it is "turn left to go right" Find out more, and play around with it.

Take it easy. High speed on a bicycle takes practice to achieve the comfort level and confidence you are looking for. On the motorcycle I ride in protective clothing. The relative nakedness that we ride on the bicycle means we become hamburger if something goes wrong.

Good luck,

Can't make any huge conclusions.Leisure
Aug 4, 2002 2:50 AM
I'm kind of surprised that you find descending on a roadbike scary when you've been mountainbiking for a good while. I think mountainbiking really gives you an edge descending on roadbikes, so I'm given to wonder if your setup and equipment are up to snuff.
Yeah, yeah, it's all about the rider not the bike and I shouldn't make it into an equipment competition. Sorry, I struggle with being an equipment snob. It's one of my issues. But I tend to think the strengths/weaknesses of the fork, frame, etc, can really get fleshed-out when you're at speed. What you feel through those things affects your confidence, especially when you're starting out. You probably already know what a revelation it is going from a flexy mountain fork like a RockShox Indy to something stiffer like a Z2 Bomber. All of a sudden you have this immense confidence and want to take everything three notches faster. I feel the same thing happens with road forks. Frames make a difference too, as you begin to feel how straight a given frame is constructed at speed, leaning to and fro. I already knew what a difference these things made on mountain frames, so when I made the jump for a road bike I prioritized on these things from the git-go (I'm in some ways new to road as well). I'm really happy with how my bike turned out; it feels absolutely casual up to any speed I've taken it thus far (54, for the time being). So when I read about another mountainbiker that feels nervous going 40 on a road bike, I admittedly have to wonder. Do your brake pads stifle modulation causing the shimmy? Are you a heavier rider and/or on a twiggy carbon fork? Does moving you CG backward or forward on the frame change how descending feels? Are you taking your weight off the seat? Stuff like that.
I didn't want to over-emphasize the equipment but here I've gone and perseverated on it. Oh well. Experienced riders I figure can ride through these sorts of things without worry, and eventually, you will too. Give yourself time to feel-out your body positioning first; maybe it's just being too far forward or letting yourself sit too much on rough pavement. If you aren't already, try leaning your butt just a bit behind the seat as opposed to sitting directly on it. When the hill tips you forward this can help keep your CG placed correctly between your wheels. Betcha that'll help. Have fun.
I think its more my inexperience than equipment....cyclejim
Aug 4, 2002 9:24 AM
I have a decent bike (Pinarello Suprise) and a not so light carbon fork by Pinarello (622 grams). I think when I said shimmy I used the wrong was more like a slight wavering, it wasnt as if my whole bike was vibrating or going crazy I just noticed a slight kinda movement and that felt a little wierd! It's possible my brakes were not completely adjusted correctly (they were not both properly centered distance wise from the rim on each side)
Are your wheels true?TomS
Aug 4, 2002 3:12 PM
If not, it might cause some movement like that at high speed when you're feathering the breaks... just a thought.

Also when I first started road biking (from mtn also) I felt a little unsteady while descending sometimes just because of the skinny tires and higher center of gravity. I was used to hopping over and dodging things, not keeping the bike steady. I think it was mostly mental since it seemed to "go away" as I got used to the bike.
Aug 4, 2002 3:53 PM
They are almost perfectly true. I should have also mentioned that while on the largest descent it was quite windy and near the end crosses over a bridge where it really picks up so that probably contributed to the feeling. I agree also that the skinnier tires and getting adjusted from the mtn bike is probably contributing as well. I actually never came close to descending anywhere near this long in all the time Ive been mtb biking, and certainly never at anything more than 25 mph off road, so its different!
re: Descending tips ?filtersweep
Aug 4, 2002 5:27 AM
Make sure you can feel your hands. I few weeks ago after a very long ride, I came to a huge bluff... my hands were completely numb at this point. It was a bit dicey flying down that hill when I couldn't feel the bars (I could SEE my hands holding the bars, but not feel them).
Descending tips ?CT1 Guy
Aug 4, 2002 11:53 AM
After my recent trip to the Pyrenees, I have noticed one thing about most of the North Amercan cyclists I saw there -they were easy to spot - expensive bikes and aloof attitude - they couldn't climb and were equally bad descenders.

Given some of the best mountain roads in the world and these guys rode down like pussies - what's the point of buying some top range bike if you may as well ride a Huffy or a Schwinn.

Descending a mountain is about weight distribution and getting the right line through the corners - you carve the corners, you don't turn round them. Know your braking abilities and how much you can loose before the bend - not half way round - particularly knowing that someone's on your outside and you're about to chop him off 'cos you're afraid of going too fast.

Jeez - learn to ride a bike before you spend mega bucks poncing about here!
Um.... well excuse me!cyclejim
Aug 4, 2002 2:22 PM
Hope I am not taking your post the wrong way, my apologies if I did.

Like I said, Ive been riding for several years and just recently got my first road bike. As I know I will own this bike for some time and can certainly appreciate a fine bike I decided to get something nice, not that I need to explain it to you, Mr High and Mightly.

I personally do not judge people based on what they ride or their abilities and respect their right to do whatever they like to do without having to prove themselves to some stud.
Um.... well excuse me!cyclejim
Aug 4, 2002 2:38 PM
Hope I am not taking your post the wrong way, my apologies if I did.

Like I said, Ive been riding for several years and just recently got my first road bike. As I know I will own this bike for some time and can certainly appreciate a fine bike I decided to get something nice, not that I need to explain it to you, Mr High and Mightly.

I personally do not judge people based on what they ride or their abilities and respect their right to do whatever they like to do without having to prove themselves to some stud.
Weight distribution is a big key...DINOSAUR
Aug 4, 2002 4:09 PM
I overlooked this. I have my bike set up so I'm dead in the middle of my saddle. I have my bars tilted so when I'm descending I can scoot back to the rear of my saddle, get down low and support my upper body by pushing forward with my hands on the brake hoods. Saddle height is important also as if your saddle is too high you won't be able to support yourself with your feet to smooth out the jolts on rough spots and your lower back will take a beating.

Unfortunately I have 3 different preferred set-ups for my bike: climbing, descending, and riding in the flats. The secret is to find the middle ground so you can distribute your weight by sliding back or forward on your saddle depending on what you are doing. Climbing hurts no matter what, but descending can beat the holy crap out of you on rough roads if your bike isn't set up right. Play with your position until you get it right, it took me about 1500 miles on my new bike until I found it.

Also if once you do enough descending everything will come to you without thinking, it's just a matter of time...

Front end shimmy? Check your headset adjustment Perhaps? A new bike I'd take it back to my LBS and have them go over it. A little problem becomes a big problem when you are riding naked at 40MPH.....
Headset......thanks I hadn't thought of thatcyclejim
Aug 4, 2002 4:16 PM
I tend to always adjust my headset on the loose side.... on the mtn bike it was never really an issue but I am wondering if at high speeds like this it could be exactly what I was feeling (in addition to the wind, etc) I'll look into that and see if I can tweak it a bit.
re: Descending tips ?jrm
Aug 4, 2002 2:27 PM
I to am a dirthead/roadie. i use the same technic on both for the most part. descend with your hands on the hoods with your arms level and chest down towards the TT. Hover over the seat with you belly on the saddle and the pedals level. Roate your hips in the direction that you want to redirect the bike.

PS: haul's fun
I've most recently learned that...Lone Gunman
Aug 4, 2002 4:41 PM
doing that counter hip rotation, of the 3 parts of turning(pressure on bars, hips, and pressure on the outside pedal) helps me keep the bike as upright as possible through a turn. Today going 47.5mph on my single speed and approaching a 80 degree turn, I carved it at 40mph
Descending Tipchar
Aug 4, 2002 7:34 PM
Descending, are these pretty much straightaways with turns or coming down with lots of bends and hairpins?

It sounds like you're doing it right, just stay loose and practice more, you will learn how (little) to brake on the turns. 40 mph is not really that fast, forget the tuck at these speeds, I find it better to keep pedaling, seems to make the bike stick to the road a little better. As you go faster, move out into the road to find the smoothest surface.

How fast do you want to go? Try following another more experienced rider that you trust.

Descending TipDINOSAUR
Aug 5, 2002 7:52 AM
Well, I'll have to disagree that 40MPH is "not really that fast". 40MPH is fast. 40MPH is fast even in a car. We had a experienced cyclist in our area in his 50's that raced and lost control while decescending on a moderate curve at 35MPH and was hit by a car traveling the opposite direction and the impact killed him instantly. The story is he swerved to miss a water bottle. I crashed at the bottom of a curve doing around 20MPH and hit the pavement at the correct angle causing me to fracture 4 ribs. What exactly happened I don't know as I was knocked unconscious and my helmet looked like it had survived the Battle Of The Bulge. Geometry of your bike plays a roll also. My Klein's rear wheel will skip off of the ground during tight curves if you don't slide back and put your weight on the rear wheel. My Master X-Light sticks like glue. The Klein is a better climbing bike, but the MXL handles better all-around. No matter what, experience is the best teacher,and once you screw up, you never took me a couple of years to get my confidence back when descending..better to work on technique first and the speed comes later (IMHO)...
earlier thread with good stuffDougSloan
Aug 5, 2002 7:57 AM
cryscityrider "Downhill Cornering: how much can you push it?" 9/19/01 3:52pm
and anotherDougSloan
Aug 5, 2002 7:58 AM
surf "SPEED, IS GOING OVER 40MPH FAST OR AM I A WUS" 4/4/02 6:58pm