Cycling - Knowledge

Mountain Biking Skills - Gear up for Descending Hills

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Riding bicycle downhill needs practice, courage, and an excellent control over your bike. Because you are spiraling down towards gravity, your speed is going to be high, and you will need to take more efforts. When biking uphill, you need to exert by pedaling. When biking downhill, you need to control your bike with your entire body. That’s what makes it slightly more difficult. Mountain biking skills are usually mastered after a few bruises and bumps; but if you follow the instructions, and execute it carefully, then you can skip the injury part altogether.

High speed is one of the biggest ‘fear factors’ in new cyclists, which often causes them to brake too hard or go too slow. This fear can be eliminated only by facing it.

Mountain Biking Skills – How to Overcome the Fear

Here are some tips on facing the fear of downhill biking, braking safely, and mastering the technique of mountain biking skills.

1. Make sure your Bike is Safe for Downhill Mountain Biking

This is one of the most important aspects of downhill mountain biking as once you are on the descend and if anything goes wrong then things can go awry! So check these components of your cycle before you hit the hills.

  1. The wheels should be wobble free and installed properly and securely tightened.
  2. The tyres have the right amount of air pressure. (Check before every ride)
  3. Make sure that the handlebars, stem and seat are secure and tight
  4. The brakes should be easy to operate and should not be loose at all.
  5. The headset/steering bearing should turn freely.
mountan bike
Make sure that your bike is safe and good to go!

To know more about bicycle maintenance read: Bicycle Maintenance and Oiling – Learn the Basics

2. Relax for Control and Comfort

Relaxing your mind and body is the first and most important thing to remember while mountain biking. If you freak out on a descent, it will affect your riding. Mental discomfort descends to the physical, and you will have lesser control on your bike in such cases.

If you feel a descent-related anxiety setting in, then stop and do some relaxation exercises. Hum your favorite songs. Look at the scenery. Think of what makes you happy. Try and distract yourself with positive thoughts and once you feel better, get back on the bike.

3. Sit Right – Lean your Bicycle, not your Body

There is a correct way to sit and an incorrect way to sit when mountain biking downhill. If you sit wrong, you may lose your balance or the control of your bike, both of which are undesirable.

downhill biking
Sitting the right way is the key while on a downhill descent! Source

When bracing for a descent, the first thing to do is move back. Shift as far back on the saddle as is possible without losing control of the bike. If you move too far back, the bike will wobble. Next, get low. The human body is made to adjust itself for absorbing shocks, so don’t depend solely on your bike’s suspensions. Bend a little if that gives you better control. Keep your elbows bent at slightly more than 90° and your legs relaxed. Don’t grip the handlebars too tight. And remember, always adjust only as much as is possible without losing control of the bicycle.

4. Watch those Corners

This is one of the mountain biking skills that comes with practice, intuition, and being prepared. When you are approaching a corner, there are two very important considerations to be made – braking and turning.

Always brake slightly before the turn. Hitting the brakes in the middle of a turn is a mistake that leads to losing balance, skidding, and slipping. Start cutting speed before making the turn. You’ll understand when and how much you need to pull the brake with a little experience.

Next, adjust yourself and your bike when on the curve. Distribute your weight on the inside hand and outside foot, and sit upright. A sharper bend needs more tilting. Push the outside pedal down so that the inside pedal comes up. If you’re turning left, then lean the bike to the left. The right pedal should be down. If you think you are tilting too much, you can move your body slightly in the opposite direction for balance. To exit the curve, gently push the bike with your inner hand and outer foot to straighten it back up.

Livingit Tip: Remember – never turn the bike on a curve with the handlebars.

ride a bike downhill curve
Perfect technique for taking a curve. Source

5. Observe the Road

No, we don’t mean to say that you should look at the curving, steep slope that you have to bike downhill. We mean you should keep an eye out on the road ahead for things like stones, gravel, wet or oily patches, potholes, grass patches, bushes, and anything else that you may need to dodge.

If you can see the exit, then it will give you an idea of how far and steep you need to go. Don’t keep looking at the road, which is what people tend to do when they don’t want to freak by looking at the slope. A prominent rule for mountain biking is to always look up!

mountain biking slope
Steep slope biking. Source

6. Braking Safely

The above-mentioned tip is a case in point here and adds up to your mountain biking skills. When you are attentive of the road, you can anticipate your next move early on. This means avoiding the bad patches and abrupt braking. When attempting to slow while mountain biking downhill, start by slowly pressing the brakes. Let the bike slow slowly. Hitting the brakes at top speed can throw you over the handlebars. Or skid. Always brake gradually, and bit by bit. Give the bike some time to slow.

Also, when riding with a group, keep a safe distance from the rider in front of you. You should be far enough to divert or brake suddenly if the rider encounters a problem, falls, or stops suddenly. You should also have complete visibility of the road ahead to make your own anticipations. Don’t assume that you can just follow the person in front or that they know the route well.

7. Start Off Slow

Riding your bicycle downhill is nothing short of a thrill if done right. However, many novice adrenaline junkies make the mistake of going after this thrill right away. Speeding on a descent without proper practice can lead to a bad fall. The same follows while learning how to drive a car or ride a bike, only in this case the ‘vehicle’ is much smaller, lighter, does not weigh enough to self-balance, and leaves you a lot more exposed.

downhill biking start slow
Start off slow. Source

A fall resulting from high momentum can cause grievous injuries on a bike. So start off slow, master the body language, understand what works for you, how you need to sit for complete control on the bike, etc and all this add up to your mountain biking skills. Once you are comfortable and confident enough to handle the slopes, only then you should go for speed.

8. Watch Out For Others

While riding bicycle, especially on blind turns and slopes, you must always keep a speed that allows you to pull the brake instantly (if someone gets into your path). Watch out for pedestrians at crossings and other vehicles at intersections. The standard road safety rules apply to bicycle riders too.

mountain bicycling
Watch out for others. Source

Always ring your bell at blind spots, slow down, and use reflectors for night riding. The situation is relatively safer in moderate and high traffic conditions as speed is automatically controlled and we are prone to be more attentive. It is only when there is hardly anyone around that we are tempted to speed, and also when most accidents occur.

9. Get the Drops while Descending

If your bicycle’s handlebars have drops then switch to them when cycling downhill. Doing so will shift your weight evenly to the front and back of the bike because you will automatically drop lower. This will help you to maintain control over your bike.

If your bike doesn’t have drop handles, then follow the sitting instructions mentioned above. And remember to hold the handles firmly, but not too tight. You should be able to adjust your fingers on immediate notice easily.

10. Don’t Give Up

You may fall in the beginning, and yes, it is traumatic. Shaking off the memory of a bad fall is tough, but can be done. And it will do wonders for your confidence too. Once you smooth sail through that slope like you own it, there won’t be a feeling to top that. So keep going, keep trying, and don’t stop.

to brake safely while travelling downhill
Don’t give up after a fall. Source

As you can see, cycling downhill needs some serious mountain biking skills. Riding bicycle is an amazing feeling, and once you get a taste of that thrill of owning the road, nothing can stop you. Just remember to brake safely while traveling downhill, be aware, and keep calm.

Read: Adventure Cycling: An Amazing Combination of Thrill and Fitness

If you have had a memorable downhill biking experience, then feel free to share in the comments section below. It will help reassure your fellow bikers that they are not alone and will add to their mountain biking skills!

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