Question: I just finished the hardest ride I have ever done — the 1,200-km Boston-Montreal-Boston. I made it through the 30,000 feet of climbing, but the steep, curvy descents really scared me. I literally crept down hills, squeezing the brakes for dear life until my hands ached. Do you have any advice for overcoming this fear and letting myself go a bit more? — Elizabeth W.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Apprehension on fast, twisty downhills can be caused by many things.
Have you fallen in the past? Does speed scare you? Are you leery of corners on flat roads, too? Are you more nervous when the pavement is rough or wet? Does your bike feel unstable? Do you live in a flat area where you never ride down fast hills?
All of these things can make you want to lock your brakes with a death grip when gravity takes over. There’s no magic in the solution. Feeling confident on descents is mainly a matter of practice.
For example, at some camps riders are taught a countersteering technique that can be learned in a parking lot with paper cups to turn around. This method works particularly well on curvy descents.
Psychologically, the most important thing is to never corner at speeds that make you uncomfortable. Doing so means that you’ll be afraid on all the corners and then, when you know a steep and curving descent is coming, you’ll get nervous even before the downhill begins.
Keep a hefty margin of safety by braking to a confident speed before curves. This won’t cost you significant time in long-distance events. Then let your speed build on straighter, open sections where bike handling isn’t put to the test.
You’ll have a lot more fun and find that your skill level increases much faster than when flying around corners on the ragged edge of control or squeezing the brakes from top to bottom.