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What skills and techniques are required to descending at high speeds while maintaining control of the bicycle? How does this change when the roads are wet or have gravel in them?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Whilst I come from a mountain bike background so my advice might be different from someone with a road background, I've found the following tips work well when I've been on a road bike in the mountains.

  • Keep your weight centered - don't be tempted to lean back. You want to keep a good amount of weight over the front wheel to help it grip.
  • Look through the corner, not at the corner, focusing on the exit.
  • On dry roads with a good surface you can probably lean the bike a lot further than you realise.
  • Brake before the corner, not in the corner. Braking in the corner will cause the bike to "stand up".
  • If you have to brake through the corner, only use the back brake.
  • If you can clearly see through the corner, use the full width of the road (but ONLY if you have good visibility of what is coming up the hill).

On wet roads, go slower :-) The same advice applies, but it's even more important to not use the front brake in the corner. And in gravel, take it slow - it's just not worth taking risks because you can lose the front wheel without any warning.

The best way to lean to descend mountain roads is to follow someone who knows the road and has carbon rims. You'll be able to hear them braking and you'll be surprised how much faster you can go!

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8  
I subscribe your answer. I come from MTB too and I think riding a road motorbike has given me a good training on how to descend fast and safely. One tip which doesn't fail, besides looking at curves exit, is that the bike will go where you are looking at. If there's a small stone on the road and you fix your sight there you'll hit it, just look and concentrate on which trace do you want the bike to follow. –  Narcís Calvet Dec 6 '10 at 19:52

Just some other tips to add on...

Have a buddy with you when attempting a significant descent in a remote area.

Stay cool and try to mentally anticipate what is going to happen before you start reacting. Pick your line and think about contingencies if a car or obstacle shows up. Look far ahead, not just at your buddies in front.

Don't get aggressive with speeding up unless you've been on the road before and knows what lies ahead. Gravel is awful on a descent and you'll almost certainly wipe out on it if you try to take a turn on it at high speed. This also applies to wet roads to a lesser extent (although paint stripes are like ice).

Beware of "tar-and-chip" sections that can appear with little warning even on roads that have no need of maintenance. Rural municipalities are infuriatingly unpredictable about this type of maintenance.

If you just want to slow down a little bit (eg to put a little more distance between you and the guy in front), try sitting up or standing instead of applying the brakes.

As others have said, it is good to alternate front and rear brakes. I've heard of outright blow outs in the case of tandems (that's the worse case scenario). However, you'll notice that the brakes fade in power as they get too hot and this happens on any kind of bike.

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Another tip or two from a road biking perspective.

When cornering, remember to drive down the outside leg and lean on the inside drop. If you need to throw a knee out, that's fine, but keep your outside elbow in close and your head and shoulders level. This will help ensure your tires stay in contact with the road.

Stay relaxed.

Like Chris said above, keep your eyes on the exit.

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The only thing I have to add to Chris's answer is that brakes can overheat rims on long descents. I'll either alternate brakes front-back where possible, or gently pulse them a little from time to time.

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Definitely right, I use the both brakes simultaneously but intermittently, I just let go the bike and brake a little hard before curves, just until I reach the speed I will use during the whole maneuver, once on the curve, I release the brakes again, (repeat as necessary). I can tell the difference because I have brown a few tube-valve junctions due to rim overheating. Applies to disc brakes also. I descend faster but with cooler discs than my friends. My pads last longer also. ;) –  Jahaziel Aug 29 '11 at 22:06

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