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  1. #1
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    Descending tips, please

    So it turns out that I'm pretty scared of descents. The first time I tried one a couple months ago, I crashed and sprained my thumb so bad that I can no longer snap my fingers on that hand. I can do very short ones now, but I generally try to slow down a lot while doing it because I'm afraid of building up too much speed.
    With that background in mind, a few days ago I went down a different trail for the first time, and came across a descent that curves around a cliff... which, if I take it wrong, could either send me tumbling down the cliffside or launch me into the lake below. I might have tried it that day, except the trail is also littered with small rocks (mostly embedded, but some are loose, grapefruit-to-football size). Other than the rock thing, it's fairly wide (maybe around 6-8 feet wide), and almost looks doable, but I'm wondering if anyone has any advice for navigating a descending rocky section. I'd be doing this on a full suspension bike, and I use flat, not clipless pedals. Here's what I've culled so far from asking others and Internet browsing:

    Lean the bike, not my body, into the turn.
    Get behind the saddle for descents; keep my center of gravity over cranks, feet level.
    Lightly modulate the rear brake only if I need to slow down.
    Don't stare at the ground immediately in front of the wheel; look a little further down the trail where I want to go.
    Don't panic.

    I guess what I'm mostly concerned about is getting thrown off course by hitting a rock the wrong way, but as I understand it, the rocks won't matter too much as long as I keep the front wheel pointed in the general right direction and avoid looking down directly at them. Any other words of advice? Also, sorry if I'm repeating a topic that gets brought up too much... I just really, really want to conquer this fear.

  2. #2
    Custom User never's Avatar
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    The best advice is RELAX - stay loose and look ahead. And try to pump before and unweight over rougher sections. A rock can kick you off course a bit but with some speed, the bike will usually correct and keep on going (assuming you're looking ahead and don't try to correct).

    Brake on smoother, straighter sections. Avoid braking on rough stuff and in turns.

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    Custom User never's Avatar
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    And though it's counterintuitive, if you go faster over rough stuff, it's usually smoother than slow/braking through it. You have to let the bike dance underneath you. It'll take some practice so do it multiple times and you'll get faster and faster.

  4. #4
    Waiting to commute... Amoxicillin's Avatar
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    The "soft" factor is also important. Positive visualisation helps. And practice of course ...
    Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world. Imagine, they can even have cupholders...

  5. #5
    Te mortuo heres tibi sim? scrublover's Avatar
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    What never said: relax.

    Particularly hard to do after you've had a bad fall, or something scary happen.

    Ride with better/faster riders. This has been the single biggest thing to help my riding over the years.

    Armor and big tires - great confidence booster. Sucky to pedal up and fast with, but if it helps you push things a bit, go for it. Sometimes then, once you hit something up geared with that stuff, you figure out it isn't that bad, and do just fine later without.

    What's your bike setup? Sometimes some very small tweaks to setup can make a big difference.

    The recent trend of getting the front end of the bike/controls lower to get a bit more weight on the front tire has helped me tremendously. You aren't altering the head angle, just your position on the bike and how you are controlling your weight distribution.
    I believe the clouds in my coffee more than the weatherman on t.v.

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    I'm also in the "not too keen on crashing on descends" category. That whilst road-riding... (Yeah okay, stop laughing!) Started this mtb thing recently (in Dec) and was, needless to say, scared out of my wits the first couple of times - loose stuff moving under the tyres, sheeeet - madness! And just got more and more used to it, relaxed and went with the flow. First open gravel roads, loose gravel and rocks and rutting after our rain season, now venturing into single-track - where low and behold I'm crashing more than staying on - but at least it's not doing 50kph+!

    Mentally - relax! And yes, you go where you look, so stare at the rock and you're staring at the crash zone. For me the biggest "technical" thing was to steer with your hips - just throw the bike into the turn as part of you. (Don't over-think the process.) And to trust the bike - it handles much more than you can imagine.

    Was on a road bike for the first time in a while this weekend and we rode two mountain passes. I was usually first up, last down. Suddenly I was quickest down...

    So in short - my message is to just go out there and do it, your confidence will grow and you'll do it quicker and more relaxed. Tackle obstacles progressively and build up your confidence. Right or wrong - that's the way I'm approaching the ST challenge now.

  7. #7
    I have senior moments... bikinfool's Avatar
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    Most of the basics have been covered; lots of good suggestions so far. Lowering your center of gravity on a descent is good, so lower your seat. If you don't have a quick release seat post binder that can be a pain to deal with, though easily purchased. To me the ideal is an adjustable seat post like a Gravity Dropper that you can use to lower and raise your seat with a handlebar control while riding. Another thing, even if you ride a full suspension, don't forget to use your arms and legs to help out and to move your body to flow with the terrain somewhat. Don't forget your front brake is your more powerful one, just use it wisely. You don't have to go as fast as possible all the time, either.
    suum quique
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  8. #8
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    Thanks everyone

    I know I can do it, I just need to try it once. I think I may take scrublover's advice about wearing some extra padding. I might look funny, but there's no one around to impress anyway
    As far as my current setup- I have a Talas fork that I usually keep at the 120 mm setting, and because I'm pretty short, my bars are a couple inches higher than my saddle, and I'm riding a really small frame. My shock and fork are set for my weight, though I usually have the rebound set to bounce back pretty quick after small bumps. I think I may dampen it a bit more before I go back to try this.
    I think when I crashed the last time I sort of let the bike determine my direction too much- like I sat back, let gravity take over, then panicked and lost control completely (which should have occurred to me as being stupid advice, but oh well).
    I don't have a day off again til Thursday to go try it out again. I'll let you know how it goes.

  9. #9
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    The suggestions to stay loose and relax are very good. Like you said, don't let the bike steer you, but remember that rocks are going to make it hop around a little bit. Another very important aspect is choosing your line. As you gain experience, you will learn how to see the [edit] best [/edit] route and react more quickly to take it.

    Nothing wrong with wearing pads. Downhill racers wear them all the time. Better to look funny for a little while than for a long time (or forever) when you've messed up your face/arms/legs.
    Last edited by urbanknight; 01-11-10 at 11:46 AM.
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  10. #10
    In search of moar cowbell dminor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
    Another very important aspect is choosing your line. As you gain experience, you will learn how to see the smoothest route and react more quickly to take it.
    I was going to stay out of this thread and let the advice of veteran 'descenders' like never and scrub carry it. But then there is other 'advice' like this that really should be commented on.

    The "smoothest route" is often not the "best" route in a loose, rocky descent. More often, the direct line is the best, even if that is over some obstacles. You will have more control focusing ahead (as never says) and pointing the bike straight through a section. Let the suspension (remember UK, she has full suspension) do its work. Make your route a series of point-to-point moves from one apex to the next.

  11. #11
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to go around every little stone, but you're probably right that I go around more than someone with a full suspension rig.

    Come to think of it, does full suspension reduce the risk of pinch flats and damaged rims if you do hit a larger object, or is it mainly a traction benefit?
    Last edited by urbanknight; 01-11-10 at 11:49 AM.
    "Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want... Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about." (Richard Dreyfus as Glenn Holland)

  12. #12
    Senior Member victim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
    Thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to go around every little stone, but you're probably right that I go around more than someone with a full suspension rig.

    Come to think of it, does full suspension reduce the risk of pinch flats and damaged rims if you do hit a larger object, or is it mainly a traction benefit?
    Man, you have to try a nice full suspension to believe the difference.

  13. #13
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by victim View Post
    Man, you have to try a nice full suspension to believe the difference.
    I used to have a pretty decent full suspension - raced downhill for a little while in my teens to mix up my velodrome and road regiment, and later replaced my cross country hardtail with the downhill frame. It probably doesn't even come close to today's tehnology, but i did enjoy both the comfort and the traction. I still prefer hardtails, mainly because they carry 2 full size bottles. I hate to carry the Camelback if I can avoid it.
    "Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want... Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about." (Richard Dreyfus as Glenn Holland)

  14. #14
    Senior Member mystolenbikes's Avatar
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    Where in California do you live? if you are in LA area you can do this.(link below) my friend took his fiance to that class and she liked it a lot, they do teach the basic descending and going over obstacles techniques and some other stuff, and the best part is it's free.

    http://www.corbamtb.com/cgi-bin/cale...nt&event_id=50

  15. #15
    Te mortuo heres tibi sim? scrublover's Avatar
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    Another things: drop your fork and shock psi by, say, 5psi. Ride, and see what happens.

    Don't be afraind to play with that more. Bring a shock pump on some rides, and go a bit lower. Then play with your other fork adjustments to get the feel you like. Suggested settings are just that - suggestions.

    Try playing with your tire pressure as well. Over-pressurized forks/shocks/tires will just bounce you around, more than conforming to the trail and maintaining traction.

    It seems counter-intuitive, but swap some spacers around on the fork/stem setup, and drop your bars a bit. Give it a shot - something you can easily do with a couple minutes trail-side, mid-ride, to adjust and try things out.
    I believe the clouds in my coffee more than the weatherman on t.v.

  16. #16
    Te mortuo heres tibi sim? scrublover's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
    Thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to go around every little stone, but you're probably right that I go around more than someone with a full suspension rig.

    Come to think of it, does full suspension reduce the risk of pinch flats and damaged rims if you do hit a larger object, or is it mainly a traction benefit?
    Traction, sucking up hits.

    IMO, maybe it can help with pinch flats, but look at it this way - as you ride bikes with more travel/slacker angles, you're likely to be doing and riding stuff that will make you more prone to pinching anyhow, so it sort of evens out. This the DH tire weight penalty.
    I believe the clouds in my coffee more than the weatherman on t.v.

  17. #17
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    If your skeeert your going to fall then sell the bike or get over it, ride hard, brake hard late, use the front brake for most of the braking and learn to ride the brakes. So what if you fall over or wreck in the woods, your not on a street bike going 100mph down pavement.
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  18. #18
    Single-serving poster electrik's Avatar
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    Shopgirl, read this: Master mountain biking skills.

    It is more concise, structured and distilled than what the forums can say... it has neat pictures too! (a new revision is coming out soon also ... but you want help now!)

  19. #19
    Gravity Is Yer Friend dirtbikedude's Avatar
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    Your first obstacle is overcoming your fear of the "WHAT IF..." or "WHAT MIGHT ...". Once you get past that then learning the rest will be much easier. When you throw that leg over the saddle and start to pedal you need to forget about the possible injuries that MAY happen. It is hard to do as self preservation is very strong part of the psyche.

    You can read all this advice that you have been given here over and over, front to back but the best thing to do is ride with someone who has the knowledge and is willing and with patience enough to just hang out and teach/show/explain the what, why's and hows of descending.

    Not seeing you ride there could be many things you are doing wrong or you are doing them correctly but having a poorly set up bike and not having quite the skill to overcome the flaws in that set up.

    I see you set your rebound super high, not a good thing if you descend rocky terrain. It will pitch you up and over very quickly and if the rebound on the fork is set fast as well then your front tire will not track properly, grip properly(which will affect your stopping ability as well) and make the ride much more harsh then it needs be.

    edit: Almost forgot, get some armor. I know many xc/trail riders who wear knee/shin combos and light FF helmets. If it inspires confidence and makes you feel safe then go for it.

    Alrighty, back to my hole in the world
    Last edited by dirtbikedude; 01-13-10 at 07:12 AM.

  20. #20
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    Brake before you get to the rocky section. Try not to use your front brake in the big stuff, you want to keep your front wheel rolling, + 1 on the body armor.

  21. #21
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    So I went back today, fully intending to try it, but when I got to that point on the trail I went with my better judgement and skipped over it again. I had some extra padding on, but between the rocks and the mud from recent rains, my lack of experience (not to mention lack of health insurance), and having no one there to get help if I got hurt, I decided it'd just be stupid to try it today. I'm not afraid of falling and getting hurt so much as I'm afraid of being harassed by creditors for months over hospital bills I can't pay for.
    However, I did find a couple other less steep, less intimidating descents to practice on instead I also dampened my fork/shock rebound quite a lot from where I had it, and I lowered the pressure in my shock and tires. Made a big difference in my confidence to have my tires stay on the ground, and I'm getting better at using my brakes. I did fall once, but that was the mud's fault. Thanks for the advice, everyone.

  22. #22
    Senior Member mystolenbikes's Avatar
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    Check out the link on post #14.

  23. #23
    Custom User never's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shopgirl View Post
    However, I did find a couple other less steep, less intimidating descents to practice on instead I also dampened my fork/shock rebound quite a lot from where I had it, and I lowered the pressure in my shock and tires. Made a big difference in my confidence to have my tires stay on the ground, and I'm getting better at using my brakes. I did fall once, but that was the mud's fault. Thanks for the advice, everyone.
    Good job...build up your confidence and keep progressing.

  24. #24
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    Thanks for the link. I might take a class around here eventually, but I'm in NorCal so no LA area classes for me.

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