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What makes a bike a better descender?

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What makes a bike a better descender?

Old 02-24-15, 07:45 PM
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What makes a bike a better descender?

Now that we've delved into ascending, let's discuss descending.

I posit lack of shimmy, good tires and excellent brakes to start.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:03 PM
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Hubs.
Fork.

Weight of the rider.

Very hard to outrun a fat man on Phil Woods going downhill on a good steel bike.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:11 PM
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Originally Posted by RobbieTunes View Post
Hubs.
Fork.

Weight of the rider.

Very hard to outrun a fat man on Phil Woods going downhill on a good steel bike.
This (weight) is where I would have an advantage!
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Old 02-24-15, 08:17 PM
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Brass balls.

Big ones.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by iab View Post
Brass balls.

Big ones.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:33 PM
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Brakes play no role in descending fast, but still are nice to have.

I am a competent descender with some excellent handling bikes with high zoot wheels, but the fat guys still pass me.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:35 PM
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Originally Posted by iab View Post
Brass balls.

Big ones.
That, that right there^^^, that is my issue on fast descents.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:49 PM
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I think the key to descending is the line.

Car drivers, well actually car racers, think a lot about this. Motorcyclists too.

You want to late apex. That means brake before the turn, enter the turn at the outside of the road, turn in, clip the inside of the curve well after half way through, and hit the throttle aka pedal through the exit, exit the turn at the far outside edge of the road.

This not only allows you to turn as little as possible, it also has you doing your slowing and turning first, then accelerate into the straight. You want the highest possible speed as you enter the straight after the turn.

So the bike needs to
- Have good brakes. You want to brake as late as possible, so your brakes need to slow you very quickly.
- Have good tires. Obviously.
- Position you over the front of the bike. Usually we are 40/60 front/rear weight distribution. I feel more comfortable with more weight in front, more like 50/50. Presumably you are in the drops, in a tuck, which helps.
- Have secure pedals. You want to have your outside pedal down and be practically standing on it. This gives you a better chance of recovering from little slips, and your leg is suspension in case your bike hits a pavement ripple. If your shoe comes off that pedal, that's really bad.
- Be stiff. The exit from the turn should be a sprint. Sprints want stiff bikes. Be in your highest gear. This is the time for 53x11.
- Bars low. Helps you get your weight as low as possible. Again, be in the drops, with your torso low, for low center of gravity and also aero.
- I've sometimes wondered if a dropper post wouldn't be a good thing for descending.

Last edited by jyl; 02-24-15 at 09:38 PM.
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Old 02-24-15, 09:35 PM
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Besides some skill and lack of fear, or motivation like latching back on to the break after the climb...
A bike with 75mm of bottom bracket drop and decent trail. Think Pogliaghi or Cinelli from 1970 -71.
My Masi is not bad either, or an early early Colnago Super.
I can make others go, but it takes more work and feels a bit less secure.

Never ridden a later Richard Sachs, at one point he wrote he liked 8 cm of bottom bracket drop. Typically he also designs the front end very close to what the Italians did. I would expect his bikes to go downhill well too.
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Old 02-24-15, 09:45 PM
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Remember that Eisentraut I mentioned in the climbing thread? Well it was great on both sides of the hill. Had it up to 50mph (fastest I've ever gone) and it was steady as a rock. And this with a 38.5" wheelbase (on a 63cm frame!). What's critical, IMHO, is a framebuilder who knows his stuff. And for my money, Albert is at the top in that regard.

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Old 02-24-15, 09:46 PM
  #11  
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And the classic video. Fabian Cancellera descending to catch the peloton.

http://youtu.be/RxXqQqAc2pA
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Old 02-24-15, 09:46 PM
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https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RxXqQqAc2pA

Should be a video showing how to descend, guy on the moto following had to be hauling too.
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Old 02-24-15, 10:10 PM
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a late apex isnt always the best line and on a bike it rarely is. a late apex allows you to "extend" the straightaway after the turn. this is useful if you have acceleration on your side, or a turn sharp enough to to require heavy braking followed by hard acceleration. in cars this is more critical. some heavier cars cannot corner as well but have gob of power to accelerate, they need the late apex to maximize straight line acceleration. BUT some smaller lighter cars that handle the corner better and dont have the power will wnt to maximize speed by braking less and taking a traditional apex to brake less and maintain the speed they have depending on whats coming up after that turn, energy conservation is important. less braking.

this is where the idea of energy conservation applies to cycling, as you can imagine, massive acceleration power isnt usually on tap so less time under braking the better. traditional central apex will conserve the most speed as youd still need to brake before the turn but if you are at max grip youll carry it through a single radius turn at that constant rate better than you will slowing down more to make a tighter turn and trying to accelerate out.

best bet is normal apex unless a special circumstance. slow before the turn, wide start, hold one arc at max grip, clip the center apex and wide out. rinse and repeat
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Old 02-24-15, 10:13 PM
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Balls...

And kinetic energy.

Fat guy with big brass ones wins every time. My years of studying apexes, lines, and technique is all useless compared to a fat guy with nuts.

Last edited by EvilWeasel; 02-24-15 at 10:17 PM.
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Old 02-24-15, 10:48 PM
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Please refrain from using the term "fat", the proper term is "gravitationally enhanced".

The faded photos attached were taken back in the early 80's on a frame that I built for myself. The speedo reads 80 km/h (50 mph) with both hands behind the back for better aerodynamic penetration... The kamikaze headband certainly helped.

Yes, having no fear helps a lot. I certainly can't hit the speeds that I used to back then. I start thinking about past crashes and my family...
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Old 02-24-15, 11:05 PM
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Cool pics, CdM! The kamikaze headband was clearly essential to compensate for that baggy jacket.
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Old 02-24-15, 11:18 PM
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yes, gravity always wins!
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Old 02-25-15, 12:11 AM
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Originally Posted by gaucho777 View Post
Cool pics, CdM! The kamikaze headband was clearly essential to compensate for that baggy jacket.
That was a first generation gore-tex jacket and at the time was about as aerodynamic as you could find for a cycling outer shell. The "gloves" were actually tube socks. It was my boss who followed me down the mountain and took the pictures. Whereas before he had a slight inkling that I was a bit of an adrenaline junky, he now had proof.
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Old 02-25-15, 01:02 AM
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Yep, brass balls.

Which I'm quite happy to say I personally have in spades, as long as I'm on a long wheelbase bike with really solid tires. So basically any fairly heavy touring bike with 32mm tires or better and you can descend at 50+ and it won't seem like much.

Been there, done that, as often as possible
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Old 02-25-15, 03:43 AM
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I'm a better descender than some, only because my workout route has a corner that gives me at least one pucker moment a ride. Descending scares the crap out of me, but so do a lot of things that I still have to do every day, like climb on 2.5 and 3-story 9/12 pitch roofs (over that, nope), and crawl under homes that have no basements and make outstanding snake habitat.

When I start down a hill, and speeds without pedaling start to climb above 30mph, the conversation with myself begins:
"Relax your hands and arms, you can't squeeze through a corner."
"Head down, but looking ahead."
"Easy on the brakes, don't bleed off speed that you can't get back."
"Counter-steer, carefully."
"Inside pedal up." (If I'm on twisty's, I go neutral, 3 and 9)
"Elbows in, knees in." but I don't do that silly aero tuck.
"Deep breaths."
"Good line, keep it smooth."
"Trust your tires, they're better than you are."
"Focus. Watch the road."
"Do not touch the brakes while leaning over."
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Old 02-25-15, 03:43 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by thenomad View Post
a late apex isnt always the best line and on a bike it rarely is. a late apex allows you to "extend" the straightaway after the turn. this is useful if you have acceleration on your side, or a turn sharp enough to to require heavy braking followed by hard acceleration. in cars this is more critical. some heavier cars cannot corner as well but have gob of power to accelerate, they need the late apex to maximize straight line acceleration. BUT some smaller lighter cars that handle the corner better and dont have the power will wnt to maximize speed by braking less and taking a traditional apex to brake less and maintain the speed they have depending on whats coming up after that turn, energy conservation is important. less braking.

this is where the idea of energy conservation applies to cycling, as you can imagine, massive acceleration power isnt usually on tap so less time under braking the better. traditional central apex will conserve the most speed as youd still need to brake before the turn but if you are at max grip youll carry it through a single radius turn at that constant rate better than you will slowing down more to make a tighter turn and trying to accelerate out.

best bet is normal apex unless a special circumstance. slow before the turn, wide start, hold one arc at max grip, clip the center apex and wide out. rinse and repeat
Multiple reasons for a late apex, and they apply to bicycles.

First is what I'll call the mechanics of the turn. Braking hard, quickly, and before the turn, minimizes having to brake and turn at the same time; with just two dime size tire patches, our traction is too limited to comfortably do both. Then getting most of the turning done early, when the bike is moving at its slowest. Then accelerating past the apex and out of the turn. In a steep descent, you have acceleration at your fingertips just like a motorcyclist: just let go of the brakes and let gravity's throttle rip.

Second is safety. On bicycles, we are not on racetracks, we are on roads. Usually we can only see a short bit of road, sometimes we can't see it too well, there are surprises - bumps, damp patches, debris, utility covers. Sometimes the turn is tighter than it initially appeared, we don't have every inch memorized like we can a racetrack. With a late apex, you get most of the turning done early, then for most of the turn you are turning more gently and accelerating - so if a surprise shows up, you can get maneuvering room by simply not accelerating, i.e. touching the brake. With early apex, you leave more of the turning to be done later in the turn, if a surprise pops up, you are in a sticky spot. Mid apex is, well, in between the two.

Remember, we may be descending curves that we've never ridden before, or have ridden but not very often. When we enter that turn, we have only had a short glance at it, and usually we don't know exactly where the apex is. We have to find out as we go. Late apex's extra margin of safety is important.

If we are on a turn that we know very well, we are sure there won't be a damp or sandy patch, and the road is not steep, then mid apex makes sense. Carry as much speed as possible by keeping the turn as shallow as possible all the way through.

Last edited by jyl; 02-25-15 at 04:06 AM.
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Old 02-25-15, 05:06 AM
  #22  
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My first move is spin out that top gear quickly as possible and get settled into aero right away. It's my only hope catching the big guys. I may give the impression of a luge rider but it's how I roll. Legs are even up on pedals, knees in tight and elbows in. The rest is lady gravity and my aero bladed spokes singing to me. I hit 47.4 last year and want to hit 50mph this year.
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Old 02-25-15, 06:05 AM
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Originally Posted by jyl View Post
Second is safety. On bicycles, we are not on racetracks, we are on roads. Usually we can only see a short bit of road, sometimes we can't see it too well, there are surprises - bumps, damp patches, debris, utility covers.
What he said. The road is the limiting factor, not the bike, in most cases. If you can't see the bumps or the pine needles or the potholes or the entering traffic or the pedestrians or the dogs or the minds of the other cyclists, you can't avoid them easily.

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Old 02-25-15, 06:31 AM
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I agree, the heavier rider has an advantage. On group rides I'm routinely the first to get to the top of the hills, and the last to get to the bottom. Even on long straight descents, where I can see far down the road and I know what's ahead (so there's no "brass balls" effect), heavier riders coast past me while I'm spinning like crazy. What's up with that? Didn't Leonardo demonstrate that a 25 lb cannonball falls at the same speed as a 1 lb cannonball?
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Old 02-25-15, 06:40 AM
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Didn't Leonardo demonstrate that a 25 lb cannonball falls at the same speed as a 1 lb cannonball?
but did the 1 pounder climb faster?
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