Question: Am I really the only rider out here with enough self-preservation instinct to be afraid of going fast downhill? I’m a (shudder) descentophobic! Can you help? — Alice C.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Don’t feel bad, Alice. Lots of cyclists feel apprehensive on fast descents. It’s not paranoia because bad things really can happen if you fall off while going fast.
Some riders are naturally more aggressive than others and have a very good kinesthetic sense, so they descend fast and look forward to it. Others have a highly developed sense of self-preservation, so they go more cautiously.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with either approach. But if you want to descend faster without sacrificing safety, here are some tips:
- Be sure your equipment is in top shape. If you’re worrying about whether your wheels are reliable or your brakes are effective, you won’t descend with confidence. Be sure your bike is safe at any speed. Never run a worn or damaged front tire because if it blows out on a descent it may be impossible to control the bike.
- Learn proper descending technique. Consult good riders, a local coach or consider going to a cycling camp where downhill skills are emphasized. The best ones I know teach countersteering, which works great for fast downhill turns.
- Follow better descenders. A huge part of descending well is picking the right line through turns. When you follow a good descender, you can trace his or herpath and get to the bottom with greater speed and safety. Stay several bike lengths back and put your wheels right where theirs have been.
- Ride off-road. Curvy singletrack with downhills will teach you a lot that carries over to the road. Speeds are slower so there’s usually less penalty for a crash — assuming you land on grass not rocks!
- Ride at the top limit of your comfort zone. That’s how your skills are continuously improve