Downhill riding is, first and foremost, an adrenaline high. It’s a discipline in its own right, great fun and is a major ingredient in mountain biking.
Outsiders of the sport often consider it to be the easier discipline of mountain biking (because gravity can do most the work), this is far from accurate.
Proper downhill riding demands serious skill. Don’t be fooled by the pros, who make downhill riding look easy. They’ve spent years tweaking and perfecting their downhill technique. Below we share some top tips to help boost your own performance at speed.
Always look forwards
When you leave the starting line, you’ve automatically resigned yourself to unpredictable terrains and tricky obstacles. There’s no room for distractions. If you’re not always focused, always tuned in to your surroundings, you’re signing yourself up for mishaps and injury.
Where you’re looking significantly affects where you go. A turn in your head could change the direction of your bike. So always look to where you want to be heading – towards the end of a turn, your way around roots, the end of the descent.
Keep yourself two steps — or sled lengths — ahead of the bike. Look out for loose loam around tight burms, rock gardens or drops, and anything else that will disrupt your riding. And then adjust your speed, your body position and the direction of your bike in line with this.
But remember to remain relaxed. Tensing up will make you and your bike rigid, impacting your ability to maintain control at speed.
When you do brake, try and keep it to when you’re travelling in a straight line. And don’t forget to adjust your body position accordingly to maintain that straight line between your core and your bottom bracket.
We’ve grabbed this braking routine from BikeRadar, aimed at helping you ‘test your braking prowess and improve control’:
- First, find a gradual slope with a decent amount of run-off space
- Mark a start line and a braking line about 5-10m after this
- Start at the start line and coast. As your front wheel gets to the braking line, try using your front brake only to stop as quickly as possible – but don’t lock the wheel up!
- Repeat this, but use your rear brake only.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get a feel for which brake is most effective and how you should apply each one without locking the wheels or skidding.
Dare to take on the drop-offs
There’s no escaping them on downhill sprint – drop-offs are something you have to learn to conquer if you want to make any progress with your downhill riding.
They can be daunting, especially for beginners. But don’t worry. Although it may look like you’re going to plummet through to the core of the earth, you’re not.
And with the right technique, you will be flying down the trail faster than ever before…
The key is keeping your bike parallel to the ground you’re going to land on.
A difficult feat when gravity is dragging your bike forwards. But a must – if you don’t pull the front end up, the bike will tuck underneath you and mess with your balance during the landing.
As the front wheel takes off from the drop, engage your core, straighten your arms and push down and forwards through the pedals. This will keep everything level from when the back wheel lifts off, through to landing.
To guarantee you absorb the impact without causing any injury, be sure to make those tweaks…
And as you approach the ground pull the bike back beneath you so you’re positioned above the bike ready to land. When you hit the trail again, absorb the shock with your legs and forearms and return to your attack position, ready for the next trail assault
As you advance, learn how to place the back wheel on the ground. I know, this probably sends shivers down your spine just thinking about it. But really, it’s just bunnyhop – a really over the top bunnyhop.
Now it’s your turn
We’ve done all the hard work, now it’s your turn…
Jump in the saddle and take to the descents! With practice and these top tips, you’ll be on your way to riding success sooner than you think.
And remember, yes it’s important to know and understand your limits. But be confident in your ability and don’t make it easy on yourself. The best progression will come when you push yourself – it doesn’t have to be big challenges, but start somewhere.