As a triathlete I look for time advantages where I can get them. More speed and time gained downhill on the bike means more energy saved for the run so is always of interest. Many coaches will spend focused on uphill training building the vital muscles but downhill is often ignored. Below are a series of tips for improving your downhill cycling technique.
Look down the road
Often when cycling your focus is near the proximity of your front tyre. When cycling downhill you need to be thinking ahead with the next 100-200 metres minimum. Spotting pot holes or drain covers all needs to happen much earlier when your speed shifts above 20mph. Try to consider the road surface further ahead and prepare your movement along the road in advance. Subtle movements are all that is needed as your speed increases.
Distribute your weight evenly on the bike
When it comes to descending you want to maintain your centre of gravity more evenly which in reality means keeping more weight over your back wheel. This does not mean you don’t retain weight over the front wheel or this will result in loss of traction should you need to turn. Holding a cycling position where you are using the drop handlebars will naturally bring you lower and evenly weight distributed. Traction over both wheels is key which is more important than aero profile which will happen as a secondary consequence.
Maintain your pedalling cadence
This may not come naturally if you are a nervous cyclist as your intuition will be to cruise downhill. The purpose of maintaining some pedal cadence isn’t primarily about speed but about stability. By keeping the gears in a high gearing and keeping an even pedalling pace you keep a more natural position on the bike than seeking a cruising superman aero one. The pedal cadence also means where the descent pitch evens out you carry through more of the pace of the hill onto the flat and ready to advance.
Lighten your weight on the saddle
By continuing to pedal and not being so heavily seated you place more weight at a lower centre of gravity on the bike. You don’t want the bulk of your weight placed on the saddle and handlebars where stability is compromised. This will help when you inevitably have to manage a corner as few downhills are bullet straight. By not being heavily anchored to your saddle you are more nimble for managing corners.
Relax you body and breathe steadily
Being rigid and tense will make your body stiffen and less able to adapt to the changing road surface that will be coming up on you quicker from the downhill. If you can maintain a relaxed upper body as you descend you can smooth your turning and braking as needed to adapt tot the road at speed. Your body acts as a form of suspension as the speed increases on your bike. The more you relax and have confidence the more you will enjoy the experience and in turn more likely descend with more speed.
Give yourself plenty of space
The same way that a car needs a longer “runway” on a motorway the same is true of a bike on a downhill run. No matter how good your new huge disc brakes are they are no match for a tractor across your path with no notice. It may be tempting to keep close to the rider or car in front of you for air resistance but you need to have enough room to brake and react to any incident ahead. At the sacrifice of a little bit of speed. Don’t just tuck in and hope that everything in front will stay in front.
Be ready to brake
Cover your brakes at all times able to press them where needed. On a TT bike you have to consider how well you know the road before going fully aero. If you move into the aero position be sure to know the road as you can no longer cover the brakes. Being ready to brake doesn’t mean rubbing your brake pads the entire downhill and suppressing speed by having a forefinger covering the brake lever so you are able to respond with pace.
Get your body position right
The more you can make your body aerodynamic the more you will slip through the wind with limited impedance. Being aero doesn’t just mean getting your chin on the handlebars. It is also the position of your knees and elbows. If these are sticking out they act as a wind brake in the same way your torso would do from not being tucked over the handlebars. Keep your body tight into the bike creating as small a footprint for the wind. In contrast if you find your speed climbing and you want to curb this create more wind resistance and use your body as a natural wind brake.
About the Author
I’m Billy and the founder of Trivelo Bikes Ltd. We are a UK based triathlon firm specialising in marketing and product testing exclusively in triathlon. We write regularly on our blog over at http://blog.trivelo.co.uk on all things triathlon if you have enjoyed this article and want to read more.