How to descend rocky “roads” without cooking my legs?

I am looking for advice on how to descend rocky “roads” without cooking my legs to the point where I’ll start cramping afterward. Examples from this year would be the Detweiler descent (from Rothrock Grit) or the downhill portion of Longwell Draft (from unPAved).

I am fine on the uphill portions before, but my legs are screaming when I get to the bottom …

On these sections, I ride in the drops, cranks horizontally, legs bent, butt hovering a little above the saddle. I think it is this extended period of holding myself up with bent legs and absorbing the bumps that does me in.

How do others deal with this?

This is on my gravel bike in case it matters.

Not familiar with those descents (I’m UK based) but I’m assuming that they are forestry access roads or similar, i.e. gravel.

Generally just alter your position from time to time in the same way that on climbs you’ll stand occasionally to give muscle groups a rest. After that it’s just practice and doing such descents on a regular basis to get used to them.

This sounds a lot like me a few years ago. On moderate length MTB descents where I’m standing over the dropper my quads would be burning. I would just be begging for a mellow section where I could stand straight up for a few seconds for some relief. Then I started taking weight training seriously. I do a lot of functional stuff, kettlebell swings, etc. I also own a riprow, which is a complete luxury item. But it all worked. I can descend all day (including long sessions at the bike park) and my legs feel great. What’s your strength regime like?

Regarding the Riprow, you indicate its a luxury. Does that mean it really works? Or just takes up space? Or something else? It seems like a good idea for those who don’t like traditional weights, but I’ve never tried one.

I do squats 2 or 3 time a week most of the year, deadlifts 1 maybe once a week. Sometimes some kettlebells or dumbbells or bands, but I am not usually consistent with functional training …

How long (time) are those descents, and how rocky?

Do you really need to ride with legs bent the whole time? One technique is to ride with legs straight most of the time, and drop into a legs bent stance when the surface conditions warrant it.

I find that if the surface conditions on a gravel bike are bad enough to warrant riding with bent legs, my upper body gets tired long before my legs.


A couple of equipment options to consider…either a suspension seatpost or a dropper post.

I have been running a suspension seatpost on my CX and gravel bikes for 25 years…and it definitely helps. I can stay seated longer because I don’t have to use my legs to absorb the terrain.

A dropper post would let you lower your center of gravity, making you more stable.

Sounds like strength work may not be the issue here.

I said it’s a luxury item because of the price. I think I bought it for $1100, which is pretty steep. However, I stand by it. It’s a good tool, I enjoy using it, and I believe it’s effective. It’s CX race season for me now so I’m only using it once a week or so. Your comment about using it instead of traditional weights is spot on. I bought it in winter 2019 because I was doing an ironman that April and I wanted to keep some MTB specific motions in my routine (I knew I wouldn’t be riding the MTB because of the IM). It’s also a great warmup tool; I love doing five minutes before heading out for a run.

Yeah, this for sure. A comfortable body is a fast body. When the new AXS XPLR dropper came out I laughed. Suspension when you lower it 1mm? Who rides a dropper like that? But the more I think about it I think it could actually be effective (assuming the suspension part actually works, I’ve read no reviews about that).

This! Useful technique for all kinds of non technical terrain with variable traction.

Sometimes I will get overly tense on challenging descents and put a lot of pressure on forearms and quads. Would a more fluid stance on the bike be helpful?