6 top tips for descending on a road bike

Need some extra confidence on descents? Here are Manon and Hank's tips for improving your descending skills

Clock18:00, Wednesday 20th December 2023

We think descending on a road bike is loads of fun, but for some, it might seem more nerve-wracking than joyous. If that sounds like you, here are a few tips from Manon Lloyd and James 'Hank' Lowsley-Williams for building confidence and speed going downhill.

Get comfortable at terminal velocity

Get comfortable at terminal velocity

When you start a descent, the initial acceleration can be pretty frightening. Your speed will build and build, and you might worry that you’ll keep accelerating all the way down. In reality, within a few seconds, you’ll hit terminal velocity, and your speed will level out. Once it does, things feel so much more controlled and predictable. It’ll take a bit of bravery to reach it, but try riding at that terminal velocity speed on a broad, open descent. Embrace the acceleration and get comfortable descending without being overly aggressive on the brakes.

Use your brakes correctly

Use your brakes correctly

Understanding how to use your brakes effectively is fundamental to descending fast, and descending safely. Apply both front and rear together, gently pulling the levers. Practice modulating your brakes in different scenarios. You want your braking to be smooth and controlled, not aggressive and erratic.

Be sure to brake before you get to corners, so you enter the bend at the right speed. In the bend, you can come off the brakes and let the bike accelerate out of the corner.

Ride within your skill level

Ride within your skill level

It takes a lot of practice to become an expert descender. Don't be tempted to descend faster than your skill level allows, especially if you’re riding with a group of experienced cyclists. You might feel that you need to keep up on the descents, but it only takes a few seconds to catch up at the bottom. Let faster riders go so you can pick your own line and your own pace.

Expect the unexpected

Expect the unexpected

There are factors beyond your control when descending on the open roads. There could be unexpected obstacles like animals, debris, potholes or other road users awaiting around the next bend, so stay focused on the road, keep your eyes on where you’re going, and stay responsive.

Draft safely by giving riders space

Draft safely by giving riders space

When riding on the flat, riding right behind other riders can save a lot of energy. On descents, drafting is still really useful, but you need to give more space. Leave at least a few bike lengths between you and other riders. It’ll give you time to react if they stop, and it’ll give you a much clearer view of the road ahead. Best of all, because drafting is more effective at higher speeds, you’ll still get that aerodynamic benefit, even if you’re a few metres away from the rider in front of you.

Relax your body

Relax your body

Try not to tense up when descending. The more tense you are, the more tiring and uncomfortable descending will be. Relax and enjoy the descent. Take deep breaths, loosen your grip on the bars, and let your body move on the bike. As you get more confident on the descents, relaxing your body will get easier and easier.

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