Jul 17 2012
Some cyclists like to go hell for leather downhill. Others would rather walk. Farwell falls in the latter category. He’s in his element when climbing, but he often finds himself wishing he could deploy a drag chute when the road leads downward. He’s not alone. No less a racer than Team Leopard Trek’s Andy Schleck—he finished on the second step of the podium in last year’s Tour, so you can safely conclude that he’s no wimp—has made it clear that he’s less than comfortable during high-speed descents. Of course, Farwell isn’t in Andy’s league. Far from it. For Farwell, a high-speed descent is anything over 30 mph. Tour racers, on the other hand, often exceed 50, and on narrow, rain-slick mountain roads with frequent hairpin bends, no less.
Anyway, as Farwell’s example proves, racers aren’t the only ones who get a little nervous at the top of big drops. It happens to us all, and it’s a matter of especial concern to any cyclist whose bike is heavily loaded, whether her load is camping gear or groceries. Which is why I touched on the topic earlier in the year, in a post titled Going Downhill and Liking It. I wasn’t foolish enough to think I’d written the last word on the subject, however, so I was delighted when I saw former UCI Hour Record holder Chris Boardman talking about the same thing during a Tour recap last week. His six fundamental rules for descending deserve repeating, too. So here goes:
- Do the hard braking before the bend, not in it.
- Don’t enter the apex of a bend before you can see the exit. [This is mostly of interest to racers, who often enjoy the luxury of riding on roads closed to motor traffic, and who can therefore choose a line that crosses the full width of the roadway. Few of us will be so lucky, however.]
- If it’s dry, favor the front brake. [Excellent advice, this—provided that you know exactly how much force it takes to lock up your front wheel at speed. Racers do. But more timid riders may not, and a skid on a locked front wheel is a good way to crash out. Even veteran racers go easy on the front brake on wet pavement.]
- Look past the rider immediately in front of you, as far down the road as you can see. [Always a good idea. Things come come at you fast on descents.]
- Look where you want to be, not at what worries you…. If the [ditch at the] edge of the road is your focus, it’s where you’ll probably end up. [How true! This is good advice for anyone, from Tour racer to grocery-getter.]
- No matter how scared you are, don’t close your eyes. [OK. A little light relief here. Still, Farwell says he's been tempted once or twice. It's not a great idea, though.]
You say you’re not a racer? Well, neither am I. But Chris Boardman’s six fundamental rules have broad applicability. And while it’s a safe bet that none of us will be challenging Bradley Wiggins for a place on the podium this year, we can all learn something from the guys who ride bikes for a living. After all, no one can climb higher and higher forever. Sooner or later, we all have to go down the other side of the mountain.
- “Going Downhill and Liking It: Surviving Descents in Style”
- “Jobst Brandt on Descending” An article on the late Sheldon Brown’s website.
- “Chris Boardman” His Wikipedia biography.
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