Downhill Biking Techniques

Do you sweat and strain while biking to get to the tops of those challenging hills only to feel a little dread when it’s time to head back downhill?  A descent that might be fairly easy for a thin-tired bike can become a bit more challenging with a knobby-tired mountain bike.  Many people who have never tried it think that coming downhill must be the easiest part of mountain biking. And while it certainly doesn’t require the effort going uphill does, it’s far from just an easy ride.

For any kind of mountain biking, even on the least challenging trails, you’ll want to make sure at the very least you’re wearing a helmet, the bike you’re using is in good repair, and the bike fits you properly. Make sure you’re good at using the brakes—this sounds like common sense.  But be sure you know which hand controls which brake, so you have the most control possible.

Once you start the descent, concentrate on not using your brakes excessively.  That last thing you want to do is squeeze the brakes too hard when you’re heading down a hill. Chances are, if you bring yourself to a stop or a near stop while going downhill, you’ll fall because you and the bike lose stability as you stop moving. Do what’s called “feathering” the brakes: squeeze them lightly several times to slow yourself, rather than squeeze once too hard. If you’re new to going down steep slops, feather both brakes at the same time. With experience, you might find that just feathering the back brake is enough.

Though it seems to go against your instinct, don’t pedal. Instead, keep your pedals parallel to the ground. This offers the most stability for anyone biking downhill, even on flat surfaces. But it’s especially helpful when going down a trail.  You don’t want one pedal up and one pedal down if you should go over some debris or anything up high enough to catch that bottom pedal and possibly cause you to lose your balance and fall.

It also might help for you to lift up off the seat and stand on the pedals.  Don’t stand upright, but squat. This puts more weight on the pedals which can give you more traction and it’ll help you feel more stable and in control.

You’ll also want to adjust the way you’re sitting according to how steep the hill might be. You need to push back from the seat to keep more weight on the rear tire, to keep yourself and the bike from tipping forward. Stretch your arms and push back as far as you can for the steep hills, even so far that you can grip the seat between your thighs, if necessary. That lets you feel more stable while biking down a hill and less likely to pitch forward.

Finally, be sure to keep your knees and elbows loose. When you’re tense, the instinct is to stiffen up, but that’ll only make your downhill biking jarring and uncomfortable.