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  1. #1
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    Now that I can get up hills...how do I get down?

    Having retired at the tender age of 55 on 22 December I have begun riding my Medone in earnest. I did a Century over the Christmas week and have logged an additional 700 miles since 1 January in and around Orange County California. I have even begun hill climbing on the roads in from eastern Orange County to Corona and Temecula. I have no idea how many verticle feet but one mile long climb has a warning "8% grade" so I guess that one is about 800 feet. My hill ride has 2 of these and and a few other shorter steeper sections. I have gotten so that I can motor up in my 39x27 at about 6 mph. I probably need a compact to get my cadence higher but I dont blow up and my knees are just fine. The problem is coming down !!!. In a flash I am going 35 mph and if I dont do some serious braking I am above 40. The cross streets are lightly travelled but I doubt if I could stop should someone pull out in front of me. Not only that but the pervasive cross winds have me doubting my stability. I had her up to 45 last year on a descent during the Tour de Cure but now I am scared to go that fast. I might add that I had a recent near miss on my ultra safe Multi use trail when in the one short right turn sweeping descent I was horrified to find a motorized wheel chair coming up the hill in my lane just as I reached max speed. I had to swerve left during a right turn and only avoided being floatsam in the Santa Ana river by virtue of my "lightning fast" reflexes and the responsiveness of the Medone. I briefly considered plowing directly into a guard rail to avoid death but the fear of pain somehow kept me on the road. I ask this august and experienced forum to answer the following questions:
    1. How fast is "too fast" in your opinion
    2. How do you slow your descents ( sitting straight up ? tapping the brakes? a steady squeeze, dragging your feet and screaming uncontrollably? )
    3. How do cross winds efect you? My wheels have "flat" spokes, does that make descending more difficult ?
    4. What do you do to survive should something unexpected happen ? I have only crashed once at 17 mph but since the golf ball knocked me out momentarily I really didnt have anything to do except wake up with a broke clavicle.
    5. How come 35 on the hill feels about 10 times faster than 30 on the flat?..Yes I can get it up there with a nice santa Ana wind pushing me through the canyon...

    Sorry about the long winded post...

  2. #2
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    I retired "at the tender age of 55" myself, about a year and a half ago. Where did you work?

  3. #3
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Chuck5.2_in_CA]
    1. How fast is "too fast" in your opinion
    2. How do you slow your descents ( sitting straight up ? tapping the brakes? a steady squeeze, dragging your feet and screaming uncontrollably? )
    3. How do cross winds efect you? My wheels have "flat" spokes, does that make descending more difficult ?
    4. What do you do to survive should something unexpected happen ? I have only crashed once at 17 mph but since the golf ball knocked me out momentarily I really didnt have anything to do except wake up with a broke clavicle.
    5. How come 35 on the hill feels about 10 times faster than 30 on the flat?..Yes I can get it up there with a nice santa Ana wind pushing me through the canyon...

    ANSWERS:

  4. #4
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck5.2_in_CA
    1. How fast is "too fast" in your opinion
    2. How do you slow your descents ( sitting straight up ? tapping the brakes? a steady squeeze, dragging your feet and screaming uncontrollably? )
    3. How do cross winds efect you? My wheels have "flat" spokes, does that make descending more difficult ?
    4. What do you do to survive should something unexpected happen ? I have only crashed once at 17 mph but since the golf ball knocked me out momentarily I really didnt have anything to do except wake up with a broke clavicle.
    5. How come 35 on the hill feels about 10 times faster than 30 on the flat?..Yes I can get it up there with a nice santa Ana wind pushing me through the canyon...
    ANSWERS:
    Allow me to try again.
    1. "Too fast" is when you feel you are not in control of your steed.
    2. Modulate the brakes. Sitting up can also help due to air resistance. It can also make you feel more stable with a nice wide grip on the bars.
    3. I've heard it said that flat spokes can create problems in cross winds. I really doubt that. Consider other factors that can contribute to surface area, and the fact that your Bontrager wheels only have 18 and 20 spokes (I think that's a close number). Tight fitting clothes would probably be more helpful. Of course cross winds can be a real b**ch, but a good grip on the bars, a reasonable speed, and alertness are your keys to a safe ride in these (and all) conditions.
    4. The simple fact is that if you are a moving object, injury can occur. I won't repeat the often stated comments about bath tub slip deaths, but s**t does happen! Attentiveness and common sense are probably the best suggestions I can give you here.
    5. I can't relate to this comment exactly, except that down hill runs are also often also curvy, and since you aren't peddling so hard, you may feel like you aren't "asking" for the speed, it's controlling you, and you're not controlling it. Additionally, on the flat, if you let up, the bike lets up fast. Not so on the down hill run. My thoughts.........

    OHB

  5. #5
    Dave TRUMPHENT's Avatar
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    I remember reading how WW2 fighter pilots had to weave back and forth to allow the slower bombers to stay within sight. But, seriously you have to know the stretch of road and go as fast as conditions allow according to your own determination. I wish I had a hill to climb or roll down.

  6. #6
    lunatic fringe Dogbait's Avatar
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    Here are two essays from a couple of riders with a lot more experience than I have.

    DESCENDING I

    DESCENDING II


    Dogbait

  7. #7
    Senior Member Deanster04's Avatar
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    Practice, practice, practice,... You will drive your self nuts if you try and intellectualize bike riding, speed, and descents. Start on hills with no cross streets and begin to increase the grade and speed. Cornering is where you might have some initial problems. Find some place with a left followed by a right hand corner and again practice, practice, practice. Just train your self to watch for sand, gravel, and/or water in the turns and learn how to slow and avoid problems without over reacting. Over confidence and freezing up in a turn are usually a formula for disaster. Also, watch the wear pattern on your tires. When you start to get a large flat spot on the tires its time to get new tires. That has a pronounced effect on handling at high speeds on a winding road.
    I have been riding for 50 years this year (63) and I descend hitting top speeds of over 50 when the road conditions are ideal. I do try and stay in a comfort zone but, again I don't really think when I steer a bike it just happens.
    When you get good come to Colorado and ride the Mt Evans road. 28 miles of nonstop down hill.

  8. #8
    Cycling Anarchist Trsnrtr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deanster04
    Practice, practice, practice,... You will drive your self nuts if you try and intellectualize bike riding, speed, and descents.
    This is so true. The same applys to cornering or other aspects of bike handling. There is no substitute for becoming comfortable with your bike and you can do that by riding until bike and man become a unit.

    My wife and I have ridden a tandem since 1983 and have logged untold thousands of miles. New tandem couples frequently ask us how we can climb standing up or corner so fast. They seem to want a formula, but the answer I always give is "practice, practice, practice..."
    Dennis T

  9. #9
    Let's do a Century jppe's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Chuck5.2_in_CA]1. How fast is "too fast" in your opinion
    2. How do you slow your descents ( sitting straight up ? tapping the brakes? a steady squeeze, dragging your feet and screaming uncontrollably? )
    3. How do cross winds efect you? My wheels have "flat" spokes, does that make descending more difficult ?
    4. What do you do to survive should something unexpected happen ? I have only crashed once at 17 mph but since the golf ball knocked me out momentarily I really didnt have anything to do except wake up with a broke clavicle.
    5. How come 35 on the hill feels about 10 times faster than 30 on the flat?..QUOTE]


    1. Too fast is very simply when you are uncomfortable to where you do not feel like you can control the bike. "Too fast" can also be when you're about to enter a sharp curve. Be MOST careful on descents where there are curves. Heed the signs for vehicles that say safe speed is 20 mph in a curve. They apply to bikes as well!!!! (Voice of experience from going too fast and almost going over a guard rail and down the mountain side)
    2. Sitting up and oscillating the brakes-try rear brakes only at first. Use both brakes if needed.
    3. I have the same set-up as you-Madone with aero-bladed spokes. You will feel it "push" a little with cross-winds but I've never had issues with it moving me over to where I didn't maintain control. I think experience with it will increase your confidence and shouldn't be an issue unless the winds are so strong you shouldn't be out there anyway......I agree it does "keep you from falling asleep at the wheel!"
    4. The best advice someone gave me was to "look to where you want the bike to go". This is especially helpful in curves on descents. I've had to force myself to do that a couple times on descents where I was going "uncomfortably fast" and it works like a charm. You can lean the bike more than you think you can. Also it helps if there are others out in front that can show you the line and also the pace. However if you are on a new road and by yourself it's usually best to err on the side of caution!! If it comes down to it, always remember tuck and roll. Always tuck your chin next to your chest, make a tight ball and hope for the best.........
    5.Momentum plain and simple......

    Other tips:

    Press your inner thighs against the top tube to better stabilize the bike.
    Stay purposely relaxed in a good aero position-you and your bike are one.
    Check your brakes before going on the ride to make sure they are properly positioned against the rim and the cables are properly adjusted. Don't take this for granted!!! (note to self-get new pads)
    Know the descent before taking any risks with it.
    Know the lines (generally from outside the curve to inside).
    If it's wet or there is debris on the road.......well.........good luck!!
    Make sure your tires are not an issue.

    I hit my fastest top speed last year....was descending a mountain and even passed a group of motorcycles. I was well over 50 mph and just kept thinking "I sure hope this is a really, really good front tire.............." At the base of the descent was a curve where I had to use "look where you want the bike to go" as outlined above. I think I got all the downhill out of that one!!!

  10. #10
    Hypoxic Member head_wind's Avatar
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    I never saw those references above but http://draco.acs.uci.edu/rbfaq/FAQ/9.15.html
    includes countersteering. The article doesn't scream at you 'BIG DEAL HERE' but it should. In a book which is a compendium of some old bicycle rag articles I found a chapter by Davis (?) Phinney about descending which was really about countersteering. Sorry that I can't remember more to help you find the book.

    I get uptight at >35 MPH no matter what. I go faster, but, but, but,,,

  11. #11
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Descending is a skill that you either have or you aquire. Either that or you haven't had any high speed accidents yet- so you don't realise how downhill and speed can hurt.

    It is true that certain bikes give you more confidence than others and this is in the build of the bike. A longer wheelbase will feel more stable, Slack head angles will make the bike more steady, and there is the funny thing about the trail of the fork that affects all sorts of things. I have never bothered about any of this as a bike either suits you, or it doesn't. The more standard type of bike will be built with handling as part of their build. Fortunately most of us want/get/ aspire to a better bike than the standard, but this is where some problems come in

    I am not saying that ALL the high end bikes have faults, or that some of us cannot cope with the bikes that are purpose built. Thing is some of these high end bikes do require a rider with the capabilities to ride them to get the best out of them. That longer wheelbase-slack head angle and the flex within the frame (Or lack of it) that the standard bikes have does not help in the Handling of the bike. Steepening the head angles will give you a more responsive bike, but does get to the stage where it can be classed as twitchy. The ultra lightweight frame for hill climbing can flex at speed, not a nice thing to have at 45mph with a corner coming up. And there are the time trial bikes that are fine in a straight line, but do not like low speed corners.

    As I have said- I do not want to run down the high end bikes, or the capabilities of the riders that have them, but Remember that old adage of "You get what you pay for"? In this case- it is "If you buy a bike for a particular use- then expect a disadvantage to be evident somewhere else". Why else do you think the TDF riders have such a variety of bikes for the various different stages? Just imagine riding a hill climber or time trial bike over the Belgian cobbles. Or for that matter the tough "Ordinary bike" in the mountains.

    It sounds as if your hill climbing skills are progressing with the Medone. I dare say that the flat riding has improved aswell and probably the all round riding skills. Just because you don't feel right on fast descents does not mean that you or the bike are lacking. Take advantage of where you are good. and take take care on the tricky bits. A gentle progression of speed on each downhill will improve confidence- or find your, or the bikes, limits.

    Now if I could transfer my Downhill speed and skill into uphill riding??......
    Last edited by stapfam; 02-18-06 at 09:56 AM.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  12. #12
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    Raytheon but under the Hughes Aircraft retirement plan...one of the sweetest ever invented...Thank You Uncle Howard wherever you are !

  13. #13
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    By the way Thanks for all the well thought out responses. I especially enjoyed the two articles. As an inexperienced rider who probably bought more bike than he can ever use I think I am just looking for shortcuts. With the time early retirement has bought me I will follow Deanster's advice..practice, practice, practice and keep pumping those rear brakes!

  14. #14
    Let's do a Century jppe's Avatar
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    BTW, I've found the Madone to be a terrific climbing and descending bike. They stiffened up the frame a little which I've found helpful climbing and what little sprinting I ever attempt to do. I hope you continue to enjoy yours as much as I am enjoying mine.

  15. #15
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck5.2_in_CA
    By the way Thanks for all the well thought out responses. I especially enjoyed the two articles. As an inexperienced rider who probably bought more bike than he can ever use I think I am just looking for shortcuts. With the time early retirement has bought me I will follow Deanster's advice..practice, practice, practice and keep pumping those rear brakes!
    You may think that you have bought a better bike than you can handle, but wait for another 6 months and The new- better bike will be on the cards. All you have to do is ride- ride and then ride again. Its the only way to become a better rider and when you become one of those- you WILL need a better bike.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  16. #16
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    If you want to be fast, ride until you feel a little uneasy then speed up a little.

    If you want to be safe, ride until you feel a little uneasy then slow down a little.

    Since this is the over 50 forum, I think it's only fair to add that older bones break more easily and heal more slowly.

  17. #17
    sch
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    I have slowed up a good bit on hills after flatting and falling at 38mph on one ride and going down a hill to a covered bridge in foggy weather and discovering the bridge was at right angles to the road only about 75yds before the bridge on another ride. Both events traumatized enough to make me think hard. One concern I always have is gravel and sand near the edge of the road, that is one quick way to disaster, the other you have already discovered, unexpected objects in the road. Intersections can be clear 99 times out of 100 and then you run into an 18 whler where you least expect it. Experiment with braking from different speeds to get a feel for how long it takes to stop. My own experience is that braking gets really marginal above 35mph, ie it takes an enormous distance to stop the bike. Stuff like a car passing another car on a wide sweeping curve, trailers etc. etc., suggest caution is a virtue.
    Steve

  18. #18
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    Thanks sch. Having been hit by a golf ball riding on the other side of the street on a bike path I know about the 999,999 to 1 shot. Thats why I am worried about the 99 to 1 ! Seems like a forgone conclusion. I think I will keep it below 35 no matter how experienced I get.

  19. #19
    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    Well, at least you don't have to worry too much about ice. I opted to walk to work rather than try going down my big hill today.

    My advice, pay attention to the flat spots and use them to brush off speed by braking gently when going through them.

    Shift backwards as far as you can to keep your center of gravity between your wheels.

    When braking hard, start gently, don't squeeze harder till you feel resistance. The feedback will tell you a lot.

    Give yourself stopping distance, don't wait till the last moment.

    When it's safe, go for it and enjoy.

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