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Old 11-18-08, 11:13 PM   #1
stedanrac
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Getting a hang of the uphills.... Now I've got to deal with the downhills...

So I'm looking for some advice for downhills...

This weekend I hauled my bones up to Grizzly Peak and across to Skyline... then back and down Claremont. And therein lies the question.

What's the strategy for riding a big downhill. Frankly, I was fairly freaked out and hanging on for dear life. I pumped my brakes most of the way down... but even with some heavy braking I was still rolling at 25-30 mph. I would probably not have been able to stop if I needed. I'm not small (250lbs) and I'm using Avid Shorty4 brakes with KoolStop pads.

Are you in control on big downhills or do you just roll with it and hope for the best? Do I need better brakes?

Thanks as always to the Nor Cal riders

Steve
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Old 11-19-08, 03:03 AM   #2
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Hmm... I'm not quite as heavy as you, so what I say might not be applicable. It's a matter of building confidence. My first time down claremont I was freaked the hell out. The road quality was bumpy, the roads were narrow, and traffic was very heavy. My previous heavy downhills were mostly in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, where the roads were wide, were excellent quality, and had nearly no traffic. I was pumping my brakes most of the way down my first time as well.

Now that I'm mostly a regular up in these hills, I only brake a bit just prior to corners. Given how my bike feels, I could probably blast down most of the way full speed as well, but I have yet to work up the courage. My brakes stop me plenty fast, and with a fair bit of control, I'm sure my brakes could easily stop me on the hill, although again, I'm not as heavy (170ish maybe?).

Here's something that's a lot more insane than going down on bike: http://vimeo.com/1654340
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Old 11-19-08, 12:20 PM   #3
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Just let it roll and brake before the turns. Try to be in your drops, you'll be more stable there. Keep your weight back by hovering your bum above and to the rear of your saddle.
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Old 11-19-08, 12:37 PM   #4
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Learn to look far ahead of you, road conditions etc. and get good at judging the sharpness of the curves, nothing much worse than going too fast into a sharp curve, under correcting and hitting gravel or wet on the shoulder.
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Old 11-19-08, 01:14 PM   #5
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Good posture on the bike helps a lot to control it at high speeds. Use the drops, especially when braking and cornering. Bend your elbows (a lot). Push your rear end toward the back of the saddle. Keep your feet even on the fast straights, but push down on your outside foot when cornering.
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Old 11-19-08, 01:53 PM   #6
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All the above advice is good, but can be hard to do when you're going twice as fast as you think you should be for the next corner!

I found that a little personalized coaching went a long way when it comes to descending skills. One of the regular posters here is a coach (she posts under "Velogirls") and just had a descending/climbing clinic - I'm sure they'll do another one soon. Check out the Norcal calendar.

JB
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Old 11-19-08, 03:03 PM   #7
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You are right (and prudent) to be scared. I ride Claremont all the time and I still find it worthy of caution. Yesterday morning, a rider who was with my small group crashed hard on the first sharp left-hand turn (which is on a steep downhill) and got pretty torn up and just barely missed the huge log on the side of the road. He is a racer and experienced rider, so it can definitely happen to anyone.

As you practice and gain experience, I would keep your speed in check the whole way, rather than relying on massive braking efforts right before corners, in which case you might not be able to scrub off enough speed in time. Definitely try to do most or all of your braking in a straight line, rather than in corners.

Others feel more comfortable descending in their drops, but I personally feel MUCH better descending on my hoods, with two fingers covering each brake lever at all times. Perhaps it's from my mountain biking days.

Good luck!
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Old 11-19-08, 05:22 PM   #8
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Others feel more comfortable descending in their drops, but I personally feel MUCH better descending on my hoods, with two fingers covering each brake lever at all times. Perhaps it's from my mountain biking days.

Good luck!
I understand the purpose of the drops in descending is not aero or anything like that, but to more evenly distribute one's weight over the wheels. That allows you to carve corners more and distributes the breaking more evenly.

I'm certainly no expert though!
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Old 11-19-08, 05:50 PM   #9
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By the way, in answer to you brakes question, Kool Stops are good pads. I'm not familiar with the calipers, but I use Kool Stops also, and I weigh over 210 and have not had any problem with brakes. I've done a bunch of climbing this year to get ready for the Death Ride (and what goes up must come down!), and am still using the pads I put on in February. As you learn the techniques and get more confident, you won't be hammering on the brakes anywhere near as much. When necessary, I've found that I can lock up both wheels with two fingers on each lever - as long as I remember to keep my weight back.

One trick that can be very helpful is to slow down as much (or even a bit more) as you need to BEFORE you start leaning the bike over - you want to more or less be done braking by the time you start turning. The bike is much easier to control in a turn if you're not cranking on the brakes - feathering is ok, but I try to minimize even that. Oh, and be smooooth - smoothly squeeze the levers, smoothly ease off the levers, smoothly move your weight around on the bike, smoothly lean the bike over....I've found the bike reacts much better and more predictably when I'm being smooth.

JB

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Old 11-19-08, 06:06 PM   #10
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Being in the drops gives you a lower center of gravity.
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Old 11-19-08, 06:21 PM   #11
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Being in the drops gives you a lower center of gravity.
And a better angle for grabbing the brakes
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Old 11-19-08, 07:15 PM   #12
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Being in the drops gives you a lower center of gravity.
...or makes the distance to the ground shorter in case you crash and fall...???
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Old 11-19-08, 08:05 PM   #13
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I find that I usually want to shift my weight back when descending, rather than keep it centered. This allows you to go over potholes or other obstructions more easily and reduces the risk of going over your bars. I also like holding the hoods because it allows me more freedom to shift my body weight as needed. I also have better leverage and control with my arms in that position. But maybe I'm a freak.
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Old 11-19-08, 08:37 PM   #14
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Good advice here. I've descended Claremont alot as well, it's very easy to get into the 40mph+ range without even trying. The worst part for me the first time down was the last bend when I almost ended up in the ditch!

For me the key is alway to try to take just the right amount of speed off before you have to turn - and then take the corner without braking while leaning into the corner. Braking through a curve can really throw your balance off and will make your bike want to become more upright. Your tires probably have more traction than you're comfortable with as well.

As others have noted, I like to corner in the drops - I find I can shift my centre of gravity a little more easily and feel that I have better control over the brakes. Two things that I learned that seem really important - the first is to have ensure that the outside pedal is at 6 o'clock and you're putting more weight through that side, while gently pushing the inside of your bars - this really helps stability and cornering traction and lets you take a tighter line. The second is to get your backside off the saddle a little, so that you can absorb bumps, and push your centre of gravity back.

Well, that's what works for me -- I'm no expert though, so I'm still working on what I'm apparently preaching.
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Old 11-19-08, 09:53 PM   #15
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Just a quick tip. Move your body more than your bike. What will result is you won't so much "steer" your bike as you will guide it. When you're leaning, practice keeping more weight on your outside pedal. You want to push down on the tires so they stay on the road. In doing that, you'll feel like you're "pushing" your bike through the turns. More speed through the turn, more pressure on that outside pedal. Plus, you hit a little bump through the turn, the outside weight helps keep your tires on the road. Davis Phinney did a great write up on how to corner downhill. If I find the link, I'll post it up here. It's one of those things where you almost can't explain what it feels like but, when you're on the bike and you find the right position, you get it. For now, ease through the turns and then gradually increase your speed, trying small changes and paying attention to how they affect your handling and feel on the bike. If you're riding a few times a week or less, let those guys who do ride day in and day out just go on down the road ahead of you until you start to get the feel of how to best handle the bike for your style of riding.
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Old 11-20-08, 09:34 AM   #16
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Just a quick tip. Move your body more than your bike.
What kind of body movement do you mean? The best descenders always lean their bike more than their body.
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Old 11-20-08, 04:23 PM   #17
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The single biggest thing you can do to improve confidence is to look way down the road and all the way through the corners. I am a pretty good descender thanks to track time on the motorcycle, and learning to do the above is the single most important piece of advice. Looking through the corner will tell you if the corner is decreasing radius, opening up or immediately followed by a tighter corner without a good brake zone between. A nice trick on the road is to look at the white "fog line" or the shoulder and the center line. If you look through the corner and they look like they are are getting closer together than it is a decreasing radius turn. If they are diverging than the corner is opening up and you can let is go a bit (or a lot).

I also use less than all the lane - I try to keep my line to half of the available lane to give me some room in case a) a car is over the double yellow coming up (happens all the time on Grizzly Peak) or b) there is crap in the road near the apex. Even using lees than the whole road I regularly hit the high 40's on these local descents (and over 60 on South Park Drive).

Otherwise relax (really) and keep you butt off the seat a little and weight back when you are braking. I prefer to descend in the drops for a few reasons. I like the reach and pull angle on the brakes. I feel like I can shift more weight on and off the front tire. And I find that if I hit something on the road I am quicker to grab back on, reducing the time you have a nasty wheel shimmy..

Oh, and get all your braking done before you lean into the corner. I trail brake everything, but that is a much more advanced technique. and never, ever, no matter what grab a bunch of brake in the turn. Just lean in and commit. Chances are you'll be fine, especially at the relatively low speed you are going (I know it feels fast, but the bike can handle much faster if you let it). And if you do crash a low-side is infinitely preferable to a high side anyway.

Last edited by 8Lives; 11-20-08 at 05:01 PM.
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Old 11-20-08, 04:46 PM   #18
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I love this thread.

So much sound advice I'm looking forward to my next descent.
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Old 11-20-08, 05:58 PM   #19
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Old 11-20-08, 09:20 PM   #20
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The bike will follow where you're looking !
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Old 11-20-08, 10:00 PM   #21
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Looks like you got lots of great advice here. I'll summarize and add my own thoughts.

1. Look through the corners at where you want to go.

2. Stay in the drops.

3. Brake before you start leaning in the corners.

4. Lift your weight off the saddle a bit and keep it back.

5. Use countersteering when you are cornering - to turn left, push slightly forward on the left side; to turn right, push slightly forward on the right side

6. Use your abs to keep your weight from being all on your arms; try to keep your arms and upper body relaxed.

7. Your braking should be mostly front brake as that is the wheel with the most weight on it. Too much rear brake and you will just skid. Most descents I only use front brake.

8. Go at your own pace and build confidence. Please don't give into the testosterone-induced need to bomb down hills at unsafe speeds. I have been on too many rides with people crashing for no other reason than going too fast for the conditions.

9. A descending clinic certainly won't hurt and could potentially really help.
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Old 11-20-08, 10:29 PM   #22
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I have been on too many rides with people crashing for no other reason than going too fast for the conditions.
+1. And, I hate to admit it, but this described what I did earlier in the year. It was my lapse of sheer stupidity.
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Old 11-20-08, 11:38 PM   #23
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One more thing. Your brake setup will give you the most modulation if the pads make rim contact when the levers are fairly close to the bar.
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Old 11-21-08, 01:50 AM   #24
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One more thing. Your brake setup will give you the most modulation if the pads make rim contact when the levers are fairly close to the bar.
Can you explain this one for me? I always tried to adjust it so the pads made contact with the levers far from the bars to get braking action with minimum lever travel (and to avoid running out of brake lever travel). I'm not claiming my method is superior, it's just what i reasoned intuitively but could well be wrong.
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Old 11-21-08, 06:20 AM   #25
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Your hands have more power and muscle control as they close... more power means easier and better modulation of braking pressure. You don't want the levers touching the bar at max braking pressure but they should be about 2/5 to half-way through their travel before the pads touch the rim.
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