Descending on a road bike can be something of a dark art. The speeds you see riders reaching on TV are frankly mind boggling and it can be hard to see how you’ll ever replicate their amazing feats. Fortunately we think there are a few things that all great descenders do, whether they’re Grand Tour-winning athletes like Vicenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador or talented amateur riders.
Here’s a set of quick tips we think will come in handy next time you’re tearing down the side of a hill and looking to eke out those extra few bits of speed.
Look through the turns
Anyone can go downhill fast in a straight line, but it’s in the corners where you’re really going to make the biggest gains. It can be tempting when you’re taking corners at speed to look down and/or around the front of the bike, keeping an eye out for hazards, but the surest way to fly through the bend on the best possible trajectory is to look further ahead. Sight yourself on the exit of the turn and your body will naturally shape towards that goal.
A smooth technique is essential when attacking turns on a descent. Once you’ve picked your line, try to follow it smoothly, not making little adjustments as you go to the exact angle of the handlebars. These tiny tweaks are magnified at speed and can create unsettling wobbles, especially if you’re braking at the same time.
Spread your weight
You’ve probably seen the professionals contort themselves into all manner of strange, supposedly aerodynamic shapes in an effort to squeeze a bit more speed out of a downward gradient. We say that for amateur riders this isn’t essential and shouldn’t really be tried, as there’s a safety risk involved. Instead, keep your body positioned in the middle of the bike by straightening your legs just a little bit, so you’re close to, but not quite sitting on, the saddle. This’ll give you predictable movement when you hit corners.
Get back up to speed, fast
There’s a lot of fun to be had just coasting your way downhill, but if you really want to push yourself or grab some time on your rivals then you’re gonna have to work for it. When you come out of a tight turn that requires slowing right down – especially the type you’ll encounter on alpine climbs – you need to deploy some big watts to get back up to speed. Make sure you’re somewhere near the top end of your gearing so you’ve got some power to call on as soon as you need it. A fast descent should be almost like an interval session, with lots of short intensive efforts.
Invest in a fast descender’s bike!
Of course if you really want to thrash it on the downhills you’ll need a bike that’ll respond beautifully in the bends, with excellent braking power and a brilliant aerodynamic profile.
Theis a great example of such a bike. The disc brakes offer you precision control when you need to drop some speed and fantastic responsiveness. CyclingTips went as far as to praise the Domane’s “ultra-stable handling”.
Theis a women’s road bike that’ll deliver a smooth ride and nimble, agile handling as you tackle technical descents at speed. The FACT carbon monocoque frame is designed with a forgiving, comfortable geometry, so you can get low over the bike and power through the bends.