How to Gain Confidence Cycling Downhill
Careening downhill on a bicycle is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s both thrilling and terrifying.
Of course, as important as it is to have fun cycling, it’s also necessary to make it down whatever hill or mountain you’re on in one piece. And preferably, with style.
Learning how to cycle downhill is no easy feat and requires plenty of practice, but we’ve compiled a list of our top tips to help you safely and gracefully get down those hills.
1. Maintain a balanced and low position on your bike.
How you hold your body on your bike while you ride downhill is crucial. Avoid loading all your weight into the front or rear of your bike. Instead, stay balanced and low. Keep your elbows bent and tucked close to your body, and relax your grip on the handlebars.
Overall, try to maintain a relaxed posture instead of tensing your muscles. This position should set you up for success in most downward-hill-riding scenarios.
2. Fix your eyes ahead and watch for hazards.
When learning how to cycle downhill, one of the best things you can know is that the trajectory of your bike will follow your eyes. So if you’re busy looking around at all the blurry scenery while you whiz by, you’re setting yourself up for a bad situation.
Do your best to maintain a forward gaze and keep your focal point a little further in front of you than you usually would so you have plenty of time to safely move out of the way or slow down if you spot any hazards ahead. Potholes, debris, a road junction, or other cyclists are all great examples of common hazards to avoid.
3. Pedal strategically.
When riding a downhill descent without pedaling, it’s usually best to keep your pedals level with the ground and slightly drop your heels. This is also typically best if you’re not comfortable speeding down a descent on your bike yet.
Once you’re ready to descend a little faster, continue to pedal like normal into the descent until your pedaling isn’t accelerating your bike anymore. Some cyclists call this being “spun out.” Then, adjust your body position to increase your speed or maintain it. (More on that below.)
4. Avoid dragging your brakes on long descents.
First, before experimenting with how to cycle downhill, ensure your brakes are in good working condition. You should regularly do this before any bike ride, but it’s crucial to do so before trying to tackle a steep descent.
Although it’s a good idea to use your breaks while descending, do it strategically. Dragging your brakes, especially on long descents, is a bad idea. It can cause excessive rim wear, overheating, and even reduce the quality of your brake function.
Depending on the descent you’re biking, it’s important to use both your front and back brakes, but don’t drag them. Pulse instead! If you want to maintain your speed on a less-steep descent or you’re cycling into a corner, use your rear brake. Use your front brake more heavily to stop or slow down on steeper terrain.
Learning more about your bike’s parts and how they work may help you gain a better understanding of braking techniques.
5. Control your speed.
If learning how to cycle downhill makes you uncomfortable, take it at a more comfortable speed and gradually work your way up to faster descents. You can also use your upper body to help adjust your speed.
Surprisingly, sitting more upright on your bicycle can slow your pace considerably. So, if you get moving at an uncomfortably quick rate, add some more air resistance by sitting up a bit more.
Once you get more comfortable with downhill descents, you might want to go faster! In this case, tuck your elbows more aggressively and lower your body down toward your handlebars so your shoulders are lower than your backside. Getting comfortable in this position takes some practice, but the aerodynamics will help you go faster.
6. Follow a more experienced cyclist.
Another great way to learn how to cycle downhill is to follow someone who knows what they’re doing. Give them adequate space, but watch how they handle their bike and position their body when tackling a downhill portion of the ride.
Do your best to follow their lead by mimicking their movements. You can learn a lot by watching and imitating!
7. Consider the ground surface and weather.
If the road is wet, you’ll need to take extra precautions when cycling downhill. In this case, it’s a good idea to maintain a more upright cycling posture instead of staying low to your handlebars to help regulate your speed.
Also, be careful leaning into turns on wet roads. Leaning into a turn while cycling down a descent is generally a good way to tackle it, but it can be a little more dangerous when the road surface is wet.
Most often, traction isn’t an issue with road biking, but cycling through sand or gravel is a whole different story, especially when it’s wet or raining outside. Take it slow, avoid braking in rough areas, and avoid sticking a foot out to gain more stability. You’re more likely to crash doing this!