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5 Descending Mistakes That Could Cost You Dearly

By We Love Cycling

Speeding down a steep descent is the best part of riding a bike. It’s the reward you get for the hard climb – a few minutes of ultimate bliss. However, going down at speeds more appropriate for a meteorite is unsurprisingly dangerous. Descending at high speed, regardless of whether you’re a roadie or an MTB rider, requires a technique. Each mistake can end badly, so before you start speeding down, you must know how to tackle the route ahead.

Naturally, the technique depends on the type of bike, surface, and weather conditions. Still, there are a few mistakes that could cost you dearly, regardless of whether you’re a roadie, gravel or MTB rider.

1. Not wearing glasses

Wearing glasses is not just a fashion choice. It’s a safety measure you need to take, no matter the terrain. Whether they will be sunglasses, protective clear glasses or a face mask, you need to have some protection on your eyes. This is essential on offroad rides as pebbles, dust, and all sorts of dirt may, and most probably will, blind you on your way down. And as you can imagine, not seeing the trace in front of you is a recipe for only one thing. Roadies may think they can go without such protection but keep in mind there are always some bugs along the way that are determined to make your eyes their tombs.

Imagine riding at 60kph and having a bug crash into your eye. This can instantly blind you for good. So, make sure to put on some eye protection on your descent, and you can always take it off for the selfie before or after the down section if you don’t like how you look.

2. Looking behind

When you are descending at high speed, no matter if you are on the road or on a mountain trail, looking in front of you is crucial. It’s like Orpheus trying to lead Eurydice out of Tartarus. Unlike him, don’t be tempted to look behind, no matter what you hear. If there’s a crash behind you or you are not sure if your friends are behind, stop or at least decrease your speed significantly before you look back. Make sure you’re always looking at where you’re going. At 60 kph, you are covering more than 16 meters each second.

MTB Ride
Behind every skill in your life, there is a lot of practice. You learned to walk, run and ride a bike by practising, and while descending comes somewhat naturally, you still need a lot of practice to make it fluent and danger free. © Profimedia

A human reaction typically takes around 1.5 seconds, which means you should act about 25 m before any danger on the road. On average, your braking distance will be around 18 meters, which means that, in total, you will have to look at least 43 meters ahead to react to the changing road situation. A look of 1 second behind you will leave you immensely vulnerable to serious collisions, which may not just end your cycling season but end up a lot worse. So, even if you’re not sure your friend is behind you, it’s better to wait for a hairpin to check or if you want to see it immediately, just slow down and then look back.

3. Taking your corner with the wrong pedal down

This is something that, surprisingly, many people do. Usually, when you’re descending, you want to keep your pedals at 3 and 9 o’clock. However, when you are going into a sharp turn, you need to reposition your feet at 6 and 12 o’clock. Why? So you can lean more into the corner, giving you better speed and better grip on the surface. Naturally, your inner pedal should be lifted high (at 12 o’clock) while the other one should be down at six, giving an extra push down to your bike.

Shockingly, many people, especially newbies, place the inner pedal down, which may lead to hitting the ground, losing control, and crashing. Moreover, this redistributes the centre of weight entirely differently, making you highly unstable in the corner.

So, just be mindful of where your legs are during the descent and make sure to control their position accordingly. And one more thing – don’t start pedalling too early before you exit the corner. This will increase the chance of hitting the surface with your pedal and losing control of the bike.

4. Take your hands off the handlebar

Speaking of control, you do know where the bike control comes from. That’s right, the handlebars. While on a flat area, a climb or a soft descent, it’s perfectly fine to drop the “wheel” for a few moments, while on a steep descent, especially on a mountain trail, getting your hands off the handlebar is equal to suicide. If you are going to take off your jacket, grab a bite, drink some water or clean your action camera, make it before the steep part of the descent. Otherwise, even the smallest bump will take you off balance and throw you off the trail. Dropping the handlebar, even with one hand, is extremely risky.

So, keep your hands on the bar, and you can tend to your other needs whenever you are back on the flat or on a climb.

5. Changing your line mid-corner

Choosing your line when making a fast descent is essential for your flow. Something more, it’s necessary for your safety. Make sure to select a line and stick to it throughout the corner. Of course, choosing the right and the fastest lines takes some experience and knowing the route. But even if you don’t choose the best line, changing it will only hinder your safety. This means you will have to break or swirl in the corner, which is dangerous, to say the least. A sharp swirl will wipe you off the trail or road. The grip on the surface will be compromised, making the corner that much more slippery. Thus, if you are on an open road, don’t take lines that cut a blind corner. You don’t want to have to avoid incoming traffic, as you will most probably end somewhere in the gutter or worse.

Start slow and be safe

The most important thing is to start slow when you don’t have experience. You don’t need to fly down at 90 kph on your very first descent, though I know it’s tempting. First, you must have outstanding control of your bike before hitting your top speed. It’s much better to take it slow and build habits in avoiding the mentioned mistakes, guaranteeing that you will be able to ride again. A serious crash will not only bruise your ego but also break your body. It will cause a deep psychological trauma that will keep you slow and unsure during all subsequent descents. So, until you’re ready, keep it slow, keep it safe, and enjoy the ride.