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Descending Well Equals Free Speed

February 25th, 2013

I know many people who work very hard (incur significant metabolic costs/expend a lot of energy) to make gains on uphill portions of a race course, only to squander their gains due to poor descending skills. Let me paint a picture: Frank and Joe start a hill together. Frank digs deep (kills himself) to reach the top thirty seconds before Joe. Joe flies by Frank halfway down the hill and puts an additional thirty seconds on Frank before the bottom of the hill - all while never even pedaling. Sound familiar?

It typically takes very little effort (low metabolic cost) to go downhill (duh).  Therefore, improvements in your descending skills will yield free speed (or very inexpensive speed). Here are a couple of tips to help you negotiate switchback descents and a video that shows me and serial Camper, Steve “Crash” Lyons descending from our France Cycling Camp Chalet via the Reculas Road. What a great way to start each day!

Learn to use the front brake (almost exclusively) on steep descents.

Brake before you enter the turn.

Most switchback turns are banked (cambered) in your favor. Use the banking to keep you on the inside of the road. Approach the corner wide, and try to hit the apex of the corner down low, on the inside. For countries where you ride on the right side of the road, this means that right-hand corners are safer, since left-hand corners require you to be in the oncoming lane if you want to hit the apex of the corner down low. When taking a left-hand switch back, I usually aim to hit the apex near the center-line of the road, or (when NO cars are present) just inside of the center-line. The video will show you what I’m talking about with regard to using the banking of the road.

When cornering on a bicycle you must actually turn the wheel slightly left to go right (counter-steering). To help initiate a counter-steer, I think about weighting or pushing forward with my inside hand. As you practice consciously thinking about counter-steering, you can move from simply pushing forward with your inside hand, to pushing forward with your inside hand AND pulling backward with your outside hand.

Enjoy the video and practice your descending so you can gain some “free speed!”

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