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How to Get Better at Descending in Cycling

Descending can be one of the most exhilarating aspects of cycling, but it also requires skill and confidence to do it safely and efficiently. Whether you are a seasoned cyclist looking to refine your technique or a beginner eager to master the art of the descent, understanding and implementing key strategies can significantly enhance your performance. In this guide, we’ll cover essential tips to help you improve your descending skills, from managing tire pressure to mastering body positioning and braking techniques. By following these tips, you’ll be able to descend with greater speed, control, and enjoyment.

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Check Your Tire Pressure

Your tires are crucial for grip, steering, and providing the only significant suspension on a road bike. Proper tire pressure affects your control, speed, and comfort. If your tires have too low of pressure, they will compress too much, making the bike harder to control, increasing rolling resistance, and increasing the risk of pinch flats. If the pressure is too high, the tire will not deform, decreasing comfort and reducing grip the ride due to insufficient rubber contact with the road. Here’s how to ensure your tires are at the optimal pressure for descending:

Inflation Tips

For hard cornering and rough pavement, inflate your tires more. Descend quickly with equal pressures in both tires, or use a softer front tire for comfort if you prefer a more relaxed descent.

For Wet Conditions

Lower your pressure in rainy conditions for better traction. For road and mountain bikes, it is recommended to reduce your tire pressure by roughly 10%, so if you usually run 100 psi in your road by, reduce it to 90-95 psi.

Temperature and Tire Pressure

It is important to understand how temperature affects your ride. An increase in temperature will increase the air pressure within a tire. Inflating a tire in the morning when it is cooler and then riding it in mid day will change the pressure within the tire. Hot tarmac and braking on a rim brake bike will further increase the temperature. This will affect the ride quality.

Stay Safe

Make sure that your tire and rim are compatible. Pay attention to ETRTO standards when selecting a tire and rim, making sure that they are compatible and that the pressure you have inflated the tire to is safe. Clincher setups with inner tubes, clincher tubeless, and hookless all have different recommended ranges for tire pressure. Never exceed the maximum tire pressure labeled on the side of your tire. If you are unsure about a specific rim and tire combination, you should contact the wheel or tire brand.

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Scan the Road for Hazards

When descending at high speeds, it’s important to look further down the road than usual. Sudden swerving or braking to avoid hazards can be dangerous and disrupt.

Be aware of unexpected obstacles like animals, debris, potholes, or other road users. Keep your focus on the road and your surroundings.

Watch out the road conditions. If it’s been hot before rain, oils on the pavement can surface and make the road slick. Avoid freshly laid tarmac in wet conditions as it can be especially slippery.

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Master Smooth Braking

Gripping the Drops

For road and gravel bikes with drop handlebars, positioning your hands on the drops provides a secure grip, better access to brake levers and keeps your index fingers over the brake levers, ready to react instantly to any hazards. This hand positioning also gives you more control and can put you into a more aerodynamic position, allowing you to ride faster with confidence.

Brake Early

Reduce your speed before entering a turn and release the brake when turning. Entering too fast can be dangerous, especially in wet conditions. Further braking when in the process of turning should be done with caution at high speeds as it could result in a loss of stability.

Focus on Front

Front brakes are much more powerful than rear brakes. You should brake with more energy on the front brake. Too much pressure on the rear brake can lead to fishtailing, especially in wet conditions and could result in a loss of control.

Smooth Braking

Apply both front and rear brakes gently. Practice your braking to be smooth and controlled, not aggressive. Excessive braking could result in a loss of control or a fall forwards.

Brake Sparingly

On long descents, avoid holding the brakes continuously to prevent overheating. Rather, you should pump the brakes in order to allow the rims or rotors to cool.

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Move Your Body

Getting Aero: Leverage your body position to manage speed and stability. Lower your upper body to become more aerodynamic. Bend your elbows to absorb road shocks. Remain seated on the saddle and keep your hands on the handlebars with the brake levers can easily be reached. Some aerodynamic positions, for example riding on the top tube, can be dangerous and can reduce stability and control.

Lean with the Bike: At speeds over 10mph(16kph), lean with your bike into the turns rather than turning the handlebars. Keep your body aligned with the bike, and move your outer pedal to the 6 o’clock position facing downwards, pushing your weight onto it. This provides maximum clearance and control.

Inside Foot Up: As you lean into corners, the inside pedal can get dangerously close to the pavement, potentially causing a crash. To avoid this, always prepare for turns by raising the inside foot to the top of the pedal stroke, putting your outside foot down. This increases cornering traction and control. Swing your upper body with the help of your inside arm slightly away from the direction of the turn to prevent taking the curve too sharply.

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Stay Loose

You can’t perform well on a bike if you’re rigid. Your weight should be in your feet, with your hands feeling weightless. Stay loose and enjoy the descent by taking deep breaths, loosening your grip on the bars, and letting your body move with the bike. The more you relax, the easier and more enjoyable descending will become.

A Note About Safety

Descending can be fun and exhilarating. It is important, however, to know your limits. Descending fast is not a competition. Unsafe descending can result in serious injury or death. It is recommended to slowly increase your speed overtime only when you are comfortable.

Equipment

In order to improve aerodynamics, comfort, braking performance, safety, and responsiveness all while reducing crosswind stability, one’s equipment should not be overlooked.

Clothes

When descending, tight fitting clothing is important to improve aerodynamics. Cycling kits can accomplish this. It is important to choose a pair of cycling gloves to improve grip on the handlebars and as a safety factor in case of an accident.

Frames

A good frame can provide not only improved aerodynamics, but also greater stiffness to allow for a smoother and more responsive ride to make for a more confident descent.

Groupsets

Groupsets are also an important part of having a bike that is a pleasure to descend on. Powerful brakes with good modulation can improve confidence. It is important to check your brakes before every descent.

Wheels

Wheels significantly impact a bike’s descending ability through factors like stiffness, aerodynamics, tire choice, and braking surfaces. Lighter wheels enhance handling and responsiveness. Stiffer wheels provide better control at high speeds. Aerodynamic wheels help maintain higher speeds with less effort by reducing drag. Wider rims allow for wider tires that can be run at lower pressures, improving grip and comfort. The braking surface quality, whether for rim or disc brakes, affects stopping power, especially in wet conditions.

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Performance Wheels

Elitewheels aero Drive and Marvel disc brake wheelsets are lightweight, aerodynamic, and stiff, allowing them to be excellent wheels for confident descending. These wheels also come in rim brake versions, with laser etched braking surfaces, making them much better in wet conditions. The rim brake surfaces also feature 270 degree celsius resin, allowing them to hold up well on long descents in all weather conditions. The Drive wheels are UCI approved.

Our Drive wheels are ridden by our six sponsored UCI Continental pro teams by some of the best descenders in the world. The wheels are aero optimized for 25-28mm tires, come with a 3-year warranty, free shipping and crash replacement.

Happy riding!

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