Do you find yourself clinging onto the brakes for dear life on a steep descent? Does the notion of hair pin bends at speed make you sick to the stomach? Are you finding the memory of a nasty fall hard to shake? Then fear not, you are definitely not alone.
Descending by bike for many is a scary prospect, and not just for novice riders. Take Emma Pooley for example, arguably one of the strongest climbers in the world, but in her own words says she is famous for ‘descending like a sack of potatoes’. In her early days, Pooley had to be lifted onto her bike by her mechanic after crashing on a descent during the Costa Etrusca because she was shaking with fear.
In a recent interview with Rouleur, Pooley remembers that very incident:
“My coach, Tim [Williams], found some footage: I look like a frightened rabbit in headlights on the descent of the Tourmalet. That side is steep and exposed and I had a bit of vertigo, it’s painful to watch! Nicole Cooke came past me, and my three minute lead at the top of the climb was gone in five kilometres of descending. It was embarrassing, and the commentators were asking: ‘What is wrong with her?’”
However, Pooley has proved that all weakness can be overcome with a little hard work and determination. Here are out top tips with a little help from the woman herself – Emma Pooley – on how to improve and overcome your fear of descending:
Emma Pooley has given us the following advice to help improve technique while descending: “Lean the bike to corner, don’t try to turn the handlebars. You should lean the bike by putting your weight distribution onto your inside hand and outside foot, and keep your body upright. The bike turns on it’s own like that!”
2. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again
Descending the same hill over and over will do wonders for your confidence as it will give you the chance to practice your skills on familiar territory. Each time you can lay off your brakes and lean your bike over a little more.
3. Don’t go for speed right away
Focus on trying to get a nice smooth line through each corner. Initially don’t go for speed. Go into the corner at a controlled speed, making sure you brake before you hit the corner. Choose your line, release the brakes and ride smoothly through the corner. Once you have mastered this you can address your speed.
4. Ride in the drops
When descending you want to shift your centre of gravity over your back wheel. Riding in the drops will automatically bring you closer to the ground shifting the distribution of your weight more evenly over the front and back wheels which in turn helps to maintain traction.
5. Look up
Do not be tempted to look at the ground beneath you as your descend. Instead keep your head up so you can anticipate what is coming next. When cornering focus your attention on the end of the corner, this will automatically shift your body enabling you to take the corner a lot smoother.
6. Watch the pros
A lot can be learned from watching pro cycling racing on TV. Take note of the body position and technique of your favourite pro and try to replicate it (without all of the speed!) next time you are out.
Tensing up on the bike will achieve nothing. In fact it will be detrimental to your progress. Have confidence in your tyres and brakes and let go of the what ifs. The more relaxed you are the more you’ll enjoy your ride, and remember that’s what it is all about!
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