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Descent-Haters Guide to Descending

By Sarah Bonner

sarah-descending3As someone who struggled with descending for many years, I can relate to all of those who say: “I’m scared,” “I just don’t like to go fast,” “I can’t see what’s coming around the corner,” “I feel like I don’t have control” or “I’m not interested in learning.” I’ve said, and heard all of those and many more reasons but here is the truth: descending is hard. It’s hard because it’s a skill. It’s not something you’re born with or something reserved for the brave; descending is something you have to learn and practice before you master it.

1. Forget about speed and focus on skill: Most people are afraid of the speed and rightly so. If you can’t descend properly, descending at speed is terrifying! Take away the fear by removing speed and focusing on proper technique (steps 2-5) instead. Once you master the technique and build confidence, speed will increase naturally.

Caption: Before a corner, I still say out loud to myself "foot and look". I repeat it over and over until the descent is done so I remember proper technique before and during each corner.

Before a corner, I still say out loud to myself “foot and look”. I repeat it over and over until the descent is done so I remember proper technique before and during each corner.

2. Your Outside Foot: Your weight needs to be on your outside foot. Having your weight on your outside foot allows you to balance your weight with the direction of the corner and will make you feel more stable. It also ensures your inside foot is clear of the road. When you’re first learning, just focus on this first step until you can feel and understand its effect.

3. Look Where You Are Going: This was a light bulb moment for me when I was learning because I realized I was looking at the ground in front of me. You can see what’s coming around the corner or judge speed properly if you’re looking at the ground. Your bike will go where you’re looking. Keep your head up and look “through” the corner, as if you were driving a car.

4. Brake Before: It’s a hard habit to break (ha, ha) but you should be braking before the corner. Braking during a corner makes your bike want to go straight. Proper technique is to brake before the corner and then roll smoothly through it, letting the bike do the work. If you must brake mid-corner, lightly feather the brakes to scrub off speed. When you’re first learning, it’s better to brake too much before and go through too slowly rather than coming in too fast only to brake halfway through.sarah-descending-feather-brake

5. Drops: You’re more stable in the drops because your centre of gravity is lower. When you’re descending, especially for cornering, you’ll feel much more stable in the drops. Get into the drops before you corner/descend and place one or two fingers on each of the brake levers. If you don’t normally ride on the drops, get comfortable and practice braking in that position on the flats before you use it descending. It might seem scary at first but you’ll never go back!


Sarah Bonner the author of two e-articles, How To Use A Foam Roller: An Illustrated Guide for Cyclists and The Clean Girl’s Guide to Cycling: How to Clean Everything from Bar Tape to Sports Bras, has lived and cycled in Canada, Africa, and Europe. Currently, she splits her time between the Netherlands and South Africa where she trains and competes at an amateur level. With a Masters in English and a Diploma in Sports Management, Sarah combines her love of writing and passion for cycling to share honest advice and inspiring stories. Follow her at sarahkimbonner.wordpress.com


3 comments to Descent-Haters Guide to Descending

  • Kat

    Thank you so much for this article, I’ve always been embarrassed to be scared of next decents on a road bike. Glad there are others out there like me and there is a technique I can practice! :)

  • Holly Reid

    Thank you for this. I hate descending and am on my brakes all the way down. I’m in my drops and on my outside leg – it’s looking down that is my problem, I’m always sure there is some pothole waiting for me! I will give this a try.

  • Elayne

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I just figured I was a sissy and I would never get over not liking going faster. I am really going to study your recommendations as I would like to be a better rider. Actually, this whole website has fabulous tips! I will recommend this to all my rider friends.

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