Descending in a real world - advice please

Hello everyone. I started cycling about 2 years ago. From the very beginning main part of my training was just turbo trainer because I wanted to gain proper strength and fitness to join the cycling club. I am now riding in a cycling club and I can keep up with the pace with no problem. My real problem is descending. I am scared. All the guys are so much faster. I know it needs practice but I would like to ask for some advices.

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Practice going fast alone before going fast in a group when you have other riders’ actions to consider.

Practice going fast on a straight hill before a turny hill.

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If they ride a similar route each week I’d go practice (alone) on some of the descents on that route. Fairly easy way to help with the unfamiliarity of the descent.

Personally I’ve found looking far enough ahead to be very helpful; either on a straight descent or looking through a curve. If I’m not doing that than it feels like I’m going much faster than I actually am and that can amp up anxiety.

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When going fast downhill, it is very important to have ‘long eyes’.

In other words, if your focus is simply the 10-15 feet in front of you, the world will appear to be going very fast and its easy to be frightened. Things are moving through your field of vision faster than your brain (and reflexes) can process & adjust.

If your focus is 50+ feet in front, the world will appear be be moving much more slowly… at a speed your brain can process and understand. Whether you are in a race car or speeding bicycle, the same principle applies. Long eyes save lives.

Having said all that, don’t simply follow a wheel of an expert descender at the speed of an expert descender. It won’t end well. Practice. Practice. Practice.

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I’ve had good luck following the same mindset I have for CX/road cornering. Look far out towards where you want to go and your body will follow your eyes, scrub speed (if you need to) before the turn, and stay loose.

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Im definitely better up than down. I do slightly better descending though when I am in a high gear and not spinning out. Conversely though when I can see I can tuck and descend faster than a lot of people, I just don’t do bends well. I also think descending on the Gravel bike has helped when it comes to descending on the TT bike and road bike.

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Increasing speed happens with confidence. I have a mindset to go fast…so I jump on descents and warn those in my group I will be gone. I dont want to be behind anyone as I dont want to deal with what they may or may not do. I know my mindset is definitely to push the limit…Not everyone has the same mindset.

I appreciate some are just not comfortable with it. My own view of being in a group…is avoid everyone else. Go wide and pick your spot going down. Look out ahead to see where there can be an issue on the road/pothole etc…we dont want a need to need a sudden movement when we are going faster.

You have to adapt to getting used to going fast…find a nice straight steep hill and go down…get used to the speed and how your bike feels when peddling vs not pedaling. Start with a small hill and progress. The more you do it the more you can adapt to the increasing speed. If it feels too fast stop pedaling and sit up to catch more wind…it will slow you down. It takes time…not everyone feels comfortable

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Depending how steep your descents are, and the state of your roads - practice descending in the drops. In the UK we have fairly rough roads and on some steeper descents I need the security of having my hands braced firmly on the drops …. having to brake hard on a rough surface on the hoods can be sketchy.

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Unless you’re in a race you should take your time and just go slow. No need for uneccessary risk taking.

You’re pretty vulnerable with only tight clothing on with with some exposed skin and a pretty flimsy helmet to be ripping down the Division Street hill at 40mph.

If this is just a club ride they’ll wait for you. Plus, it only really matters how fast you go uphill.

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That seems fine if you never intend on racing. But if you do and leave learning to be comfortable going down a descent at speed (and now, in a group), that seems like it wouldn’t turn out all that well.

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You’re getting great tips here, especially “long eyes”, using drops for stability and braking, and practicing alone and slow first.

Whereas I think all the tips in the following video are great, I would call your attention to Tip #4 (7:10).

The way the guy in the black jersey takes the turn is what I see riders ALL THE TIME, even experienced riders. It’s actually the approach I was taught in a club safety clinic years ago. On a road with opposing traffic, it is wrong (less safe).

The way the pro in the white jersey takes the turn in Tip #4 is better. Remember, “slow is smooth. And smooth is fast”. Hitting the apex is not as important as the trajectory coming out of the turn. Wait until last moment to lean in, long eyes to where you WANT to go. Don’t do any of this when it’s wet (or you’ll get a nice fake tooth like me).

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Others have said a few of these things, but my top tips for descending are as follows:

  1. Look at where you want to go, not where you’re going. As others have noted, looking at the road 10 feet in front of you is scary. Keep your eyes as far up as possible.

  2. Make sure you’re in the drops. If you’re descending on the hoods, it raises your center of gravity. Also scary.

  3. Hold your bars like a paper towel roll. Light touch on the bars will guarantee your weight is further back and primarily through the bottom bracket. (Don’t sit on the saddle, elevate slightly above it … if you sit it raises your weight center from the BB).

Good luck🤘

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See it all around you, good lovin gone bad

……

Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.
If you cling to the tops, yeah, you’re gonna lose control.

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I had to read that 3 times before I could hear the 38 Special in my head :joy:

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Can someone explain the physics of why a lower center of gravity is good for cornering?

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In a nutshell, it reduces the likelihood of tipping over to the outside of the turn.

The lower the CG the closer the source of the inertia (you) is to where force is being transmitted to the road in order to turn (the tire patch). That distance functions as a lever; the shorter it is the less you need to lean over counteract centrifugal force which is trying to move you to the outside of the turn; either by sliding out (lowside crash) or a tipping over (highside crash).

You can feel the same thing while braking. The stopping force is being applied at the ground while most of the momentum is up with the rider. If your CG is too high and you brake really hard you can go over the bars.

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Thank you @Alaric83. I understand that at the same force the angular momentum (F x r) of centrifugal force (F_c) is lower when the lever (r) is shorter. But does that not also hold for the gravitational force (F_g) that counteracts this force/momentum and leads to the same optimal tilt angle?

I am sure I am missing something, but can’t figure out what. Not a physicist by trade.

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Technique wise, agree with the comments above - descend in the drops, put weight through the outside leg on bends and look ahead at where you want to go.

Bikes are very good at transmitting nervousness back at you, which then becomes a bit of a vicious circle. So a death grip on the bars will feel twitchy back at you. I’d find a local descent to you and just practice it until the sensations feel second nature. It’s far more reassuring to be going down a familiar road where you know where the potholes are, you know the turns, etc, etc. Builds up confidence and skills

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The forces that need to balance are F_c and the horizontal component of F_g (which is cosine (lean angle) * F_g). However, having a higher CG increases F_c because the radius of the turn is slightly shorter. Leaning the bike over more increases both F_gx and F_c. F_gx increases faster but there’s a limit to how much you can lean before you slide out. Lowering CG decreases how fast F_c increases (and doesn’t affect F_gx).

Everything else (velocity, maximum lean angle) being equal, a lower CG allows for a sharper turn (for the bike, the CG experiences the same turn in both cases, it’s just closer to the path of travel with a lower CG).

This is also where the advice to lean the bike not your body comes from which I hadn’t thought about in detail before.

Somewhat better (I think) explanation than my prior attempt.

Borrowed a fair amount from here.

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Descending is a combination of judgement, confidence and technique. Judgement and confidence just take time, so technique is really the only lever you can pull. And knowing you have improved your technique should build your confidence.

But working on several things at once can actually make it harder rather than easier to learn how to descend better. I’d recommend finding a hill with a number of corners in sequence, and then focus on one aspect of descending at a time to really learn that aspect, before progressing to the next step.

  1. “Long eyes” and looking through the corner at where you want to go, rather than immediately in front of you.
  2. Let it run without braking on the straights, brake BEFORE the corner and set your entry speed, and try to avoid braking DURING the corner. This should avoid your brakes overheating, and avoid the risk of losing traction on the front wheel by braking and cornering at the same time.
  3. Use the drops, this lowers your center of gravity, removes the possibility of your hands being “bounced out” of the bars, and also braces against your weight moving forward under braking. If you have been only using the hoods, it can feel a bit unnatural - perhaps try to get used to being in the drops on level ground first, where speeds are lower.
  4. Line choice. Start wide, then close on the apex, then letting it go wide again as you exit the corner. While you shouldn’t be crossing the center line on any open road where you may encounter opposing traffic, there is still pently of scope to improve your line while staying entirely within your own lane. A good line is smoother and safer than hugging the shoulder.
  5. A loose grip. It is easy to have a rigid “death grip”. Instead, you should have a loose grip (I like the analogy of the toilet roll above). I keep repeating the mantra “supple hands” while descending. The same also applies to the saddle - your butt should still be in contact with the saddle, but you should unweight it slightly. This and the grip allows your wrist and knees to asborb most of the vibration and bumps of descending at speed, and keeps the center of mass (your torso) isolated from the vibration. This is more comfortable, and safer.
  6. Weight transfer. When cornering, most of your weight should be on the outside pedal, and inside handlebar.

I have done them in this order, as the the top few are about safetly, while the bottom few are more about good technique. It can take several weeks of practice working on each aspect individually before you can really put it all together. Focus on making it smooth. Smooth is safe, smooth is fast.

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