How to cycle faster downhill is one aspect of cycling that you might not think about until you are cycling with a group, you are all the same standard of fitness, you are keeping up with them… Until you come to a descent.
Suddenly you are still cycling as fast as you can, but the group have gone!!!
You’ve been dropped!
How could this happen?
At this point it is no longer a fitness game but a skills game. Many of you will be beasting yourself with training DVDs like Sufferfest or by doing outdoor hill repeats. But if you also sharpen up your skills with some know-how and practice this will be a massive secret weapon you can carry with you for a very long time.
Learning how to cycle faster downhill can gain you many places in triathlon as it is a skill many will not practice (especially those who do the majority of their training on an indoor trainer)
When you cycle faster downhill, it is exhilarating and scary at the same time. Getting good at this is important so YOU are the one who can quickly drop the group.:)
How to Cycle Faster Downhill Tips
Focus on each one of these skills separately until you have mastered each one.
1. Anticipate a long way ahead
Anticipation is key when learning to cycle faster downhill. The faster you are going the further ahead you must look.
Anticipate the terrain and gradient beyond the corner. Anticipate oncoming traffic and remain aware of traffic behind you. When going fast the wind resistance will block out most of the noise so be aware and when it is safe to do so, sneak a look behind. Anticipate oil, water and gravel on the road and stay alert for it.
Anticipate the corner and control your speed BEFORE you get there.
2. Brake before you approach the corner
Braking when you are in the corner is the biggest rookie mistake out there. It is dangerous and will make you more likely to skid and crash. It is also the slowest way around the corner and will make you slow down too much then have to pedal like mad on the other side to regain your speed.
Never put yourself in a position to have to brake suddenly as at top speed as it can throw you over the handlebars if you get it wrong…(never hit the front brake by itself!!). Also if you are riding in a group, braking suddenly is against the cyclists “code” as it can quickly cause a crash with fellow cyclists piling up behind you.
Check out this great video of a scary descent in the Tour de France. (Descent starts from approx 55 seconds onwards). Watch their body position, their smooth lines and control.
3. Stay on your side of the road
Unless the road is closed for your event like in the Tour De France, do not take up the whole road when you corner. Stay in your lane and be aware of traffic both oncoming and following you from behind. At high speed there is too much going on to be faced with an oncoming car.
4. Focus on where you want to go
If there are any obstacles on the road, do not look at them. Shift your focus ONLY on where you want to go. It is incredible how if there is pothole on the road, if you look at it, you will invariably hit it!
The same if there is a fence with a sharp drop off that you really do not want to go over or a large rock on the road, do NOT look at it! Keep your eyes and your focus on the corner and the line you want to take to come out out of the corner.
This is very important. You MUST manage and maintain your focus. Your peripheral vision will take care of everything else. Click here for some awesome mental focus training. (Only takes 5 mins)
5. Pedal with high cadence
In order to cycle faster downhill, it is important to keep pedalling with a high cadence. Even though your heart is pounding out of your chest following the climb you just did, you do not want your heart rate to plummet. It will drop naturally as the effort level is much less but keep it up there in the racing zone.
Pedalling also helps you to stay warm. It is amazing how cold the descents can be. Many of you will have noticed Tour de France riders grabbing a warm jersey from their team members at the crest of a hill. In days gone by they stuffed newspapers down the front of their jersey to stay warm on the descents.
6. Get down low
Get down low on the drops. This helps reduce wind resistance enabling you to cycle faster downhill with very little effort. The lower center of gravity will also make you more stable.
7. Leg position
When you turn the corners, keep your outside leg down. This aids stability around the corner and stops any danger of clipping the inside pedal on the ground as you lean. When you are not in the corner and the bike is upright, maintain a 3 o’clock/9 o’clock position with soft knees so you are easily able to absorb shock and maintain a smooth ride.
8. Group riding: Follow the best
A great way to get good at cycling faster downhill is to ride with someone more experienced than you. Try to follow them and follow their line to understand the nuances of when to start the turn, of their speed going into the turn and their speed coming out of the turn.
Choosing the correct line is one of the most important things to learn so you can corner as fast as possible without braking…
9. Stay smooth
Whilst this might apply to your leg hair (!) in this case I am talking about trying to achieve a smooth controlled speed, gently leaning from side to side without much braking or change in velocity. It is one of the best feelings in the world… ( and even sweeter if your mates cannot stay with you). Avoid at all costs, the amateur style of pedalling furiously into the corner, having to brake suddenly, reducing speed to a crawl only to have to furiously pedal again to get the speed back up. This is the slowest and most dangerous way to descend.
Great descenders have a highly tuned “feel” of what to do. You will develop this with practice. Aim to be fluid and flowing. NO sharp braking or sharp turning or over corrections.
This awesome skill will improve quickly with practice. The more you do it, the better you will get. Find a hilly descent near you and go up and down 10 times. Time it. Focus on decreasing your time to descent each time.
Most of all stay safe. Do not risk crashing to beat your time. If you have ever had the unfortunate experience of crashing, you know it can shake you up for a while. This is not worth it. I have a chapter on improving your road bike skills in my book Triathlon: Winning at 70.3 if you wish to read more about mastering ascending and descending on the bike.
Cycle within your ability BUT the name of the game is to improve your ability asap!
I want to reinforce again how great a skill this is. Practice how to cycle faster downhill regularly. If you are in a triathlon race and it is hilly or there are a few corners, it only takes one or two corners for you to get way ahead. Once your competitors are dropped, it is very difficult to come back.
Develop your confidence
Comment below if you have any other tips that have helped you in your descents
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