Best tips/advice/drills to be a faster descender? (XC racing)

While I’ve had a pretty successful first half of my XC season, it’s become abundantly clear that the only reason why I’m having good results is due to the engine rather than the driver.

My descending ability is a major weakness and I plan to invest a good amount of time in the 2nd half of the season trying to raise my skills in this area.

Besides skills classes (which I plan on finding) are there any specific drills, videos, techniques that have made a noticeable difference in your descending speed?

Be “ready to die for it”, lol.

I struggled for a long time, way behind “average” and then tried more “positive” tires and found some confidence and speed I didn’t have before. Maybe consider compelling a fast local to show you their tricks, you can learn a lot from a good teacher who communicates well.


Dropper post. Big difference.

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TR Video:

Lee McCormick’s classes are excellent.

Also Ryan Leech’s online instruction is amazingly well done and effective.
One of the best parts of Spring is being able to do his progressions as a skills tune-up after a long winter inside.

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A dropper magically transformed my riding to the next level. So mutch easier to get low and back. Just don’t think back is good at all times. You want to still push in to the front wheel in a low position to prevent traction loss.

Also, session downhill sections. A XC rider can learn a lot from riding park on their XC bike. This leaves you fresh for every run, since you didn’t have to climb to earn it, and you can focus on fine tuning technique.

Lee has already been mentioned here, but go listen to the TR podcast where he’s a guest. It gives a lot more in depth insight than the YouTube video they did.

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Though I’ve always enjoyed downhills and seem to throw myself without fear into decents (two separated shoulders in past two years); I’ve tried the below technique to success. I’ve also added a dropper to my XC rig this year. Also, session any decent you don’t “clean” is big. Ride it until you get it right, then move on down the trail.


Living in Oklahoma, it’s pretty tough to get to one of Lee McCormick’s classes so I got his book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills. 100% recommend!


Also, riding with folks that are better descenders than you helps. Follow them watch lines , braking, feet etc. try and stay with them without over extending yourself. Gradually getting faster and smoother.


Why not try some shuttles at a bike park. Not sure where your from but here in the Uk there are a few year round bike parks and places which offer uplift days so you can concentrate on the downhill parts. Hire or borrow an enduro bike to start with will make life easier.

Going down was (is) my nemesis. Last year I hired a well known instructor in my area for a half day of private lessons. Could have waited until one one her clinics, but the season would have been more than 1/2 over. Best $$$ I spent. It was up to me to then practice what she taught me.

Tell us where you are located and we can help you find someone experienced at teaching this stuff. As a former teacher, there is one thing to be able to DO it – there is something else entirely to be able to TEACH it.


LA area. I think time with an instructor is going to be the best bet, as well as taking some time to go up to Skypark and session the trails there. My location and schedule aren’t really conducive to riding with other fast riders.

I’m already using a dropper, and I’m not slow per se, I’m just not fast.

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For XC descending, I find that pumping and weighting/unweighting the wheels at the appropriate points makes a big difference.

  • Pumping to get “free speed”
  • Weighting the wheels at turns, and where I need to brake.
  • Unweighting to make things a little lighter over rocks/roots
    Note: knowing when to weight/Unweight the front wheel is key, as front wheel is required for turning and breaking, but don’t want to overdo it and go endo.

The above requires a lot of body movement, and like others have said, a dropper post helps a ton.

I’ve found that my skills progressed really only when I rode tougher terrain. Riding the same flow trails week in week out only got me so far.

For steep enduro or downhill descending, I’m out of my depth and avoid stuff like that - both the rider and my 130mm trail bike are outmatched!


This is an awesome thread and one I hope will continue as I am working hard on this as well. I’ll be interested to see what you learn from your coach! As Tom Bell calls it in this video. Free Speed.

I took a lesson from one of Lee Likes Bikes coaches last summer. I sucked so bad, that he got really frustrated. It has taken me a full year of riding to finally start to really understand what he was trying to coach me on.

The main things he had me working on:

Pumping (row/anti row) through the pump track. This was really hard terminology for me to understand at the time and hard for me to perform physically as well.

Pointing my midsection (Hips through Chest) in the direction I want to go.

I have been working on the pointing as I session my next race (5 times now) and am finally starting to get it. In fact, I am starting to use this technique on all aspects of the course, not just cornering. Rather than turn the front wheel with my hands, I am concentrating on pointing my midsection and pushing my handlebar with my inside hand while I try to further my distance from the bike as I keep planted on my pedals and keep my center of gravity over the bottom bracket. As an inexperienced rider, I tend to want to keep my butt by the seat, but the more I detach and move around the bike the better. I was never a bmxer, so it’s not natural for me.

The stability I get when I do all of this right feels so amazing. I feel firmly planted into the trail even as my speed increases and my bike angle changes relative to the ground.

For skills videos, the older GMBN ones with Neil, Mark and Scottie are pretty decent. Not as good I’m sure as the likes of instruction from Lee M. But there’s a lot of them on a variety of topics.

Tom Bell mentioned looking ahead in the above video. “Looking at nothing but seeing everything” is another important skill, but I think only comes with a lot of practice.

#1 reason I’ve noticed I can’t descend to my full potential is scrubbing brakes too often. But honestly its is hard to give tips without an honest critique of your current abilities.

Riding tougher terrain is a very good way to stress you confidence and abilities.

@Jonathan on a podcast talked about “placing” his braking. I’ve used that concept to success in decents and coming into corners. It helps rather than lightly using the brakes all the time.


Yep - better to weight the wheels and brake hard for a short amount of time.

Another thing to avoid is “confidence braking” where you are slowing down slightly, but unnecessarily.


@stevemz I’m a roadie, so the video I’d suggest may not be helpful for XC. However, I have the engine of a Cat 4/5, but the descending skills of 1/2s and can hang with them on steep technical descents. Where I [mostly] acquired these skills was following the lines (over and over and over) of former Olympians and ex-pros. Up here in NorCal, many of these former world class riders that have been retired for 5-10+ years still love to ride on certain hard group rides. Perhaps you have similar rides you could join in SoCal?
btw: I can’t hang with them on the climbs, but these are no-drop, friendly rides that tolerate some amount of gap.

Here’s a link with a catalog of a bunch of videos on various skills.

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Came across this on YouTube and thought I’d share since we hear a lot about Lee McCormack’s teaching on the podcast and in the forum. The video is from the Syd & Macky account and Syd follows Lee on trails in Left Hand Canyon, CO, and we can see Lee demonstrate several of the skills he discusses. There’s a great example of scalloping around 9:13 in.