Taking the time to learn the skills and techniques of how to descend on a bike is a great advantage if you are taking on a sportive in the Alps. Whilst most people worry about keeping up with mates on the climbs, just by focussing on acquiring descending skills in your training sessions you can claw back valuable time and confidence.

Prepare to Descend

You have just climbed a Col and pushed yourself harder than ever before. You are thrilled and savoring taking a picture of yourself below the Col sign. Chapeau!

Now is the time to prepare for your descent.

Layer up: Even if it’s hot having that thin layer will stop you getting cold as you descend so put your rain jacket or gilet on at the top

Sunnies on: Take your sunglasses off your helmet and put them on your face or you will get a lot of bugs in your eyes!

Buddy up: If you know that you descend more slowly or prefer to follow someone’s line then get yourself organised by starting off ahead of the group or asking someone to show you a good line through the corners

Assess the Conditions

Has it rained? If it has rained recently the white lines and road markings will be slippery and there may be fuel spills in on the road – adjust your speed and check your ego!

Are there trees? The light levels will be lower and the road more likely to be damp through wooded sections

Are the roads closed? If you are riding a sportive the roads might not be closed so be sure to hold your line on your side of the road

Tunnel ahead? Take your sun glasses off before you enter the tunnel or tilt them down and look above the rim, closing one eye also helps adjust your eyes to the darkness

Potholes? Gravel? Ask riders who know the route if there are dangers to consider, especially in Spring the Alpine roads are being repaired after the harsh winter and ski resort traffic

Other riders? If you are riding in a sportive you may have other riders around you – hold your line through the turn!

Think Bigger Picture

Checking your ego at the Col sign might actually result in a better overall race time. By setting conservative expectations before you descend you will be more relaxed, more fluid and actually faster than if you worry about making up time on your climbing goat riding buddy.

Some potential descending goals to consider are;

  1. Enjoy it
  2. Relax and recover
  3. Stay safe
  4. Thrill seeking!
  5. Gain time on stronger climbers

How to Descend on a Bike

Descending Technique

Relaxed bent arms: Soak up the bumps with your arms and safe energy by relaxing your upper body

Hands on the drops: The widest and most stable position for your hands is on the drops with your fingers over the brakes

Vanishing Point: What is the furthest away point of the road you can see? If it’s far way then the corner is open, if it is very close the corner is tighter and you need to break earlier

Brake before the corner: Reduce your speed before the corner so that you can roll through the corner and keep your speed

Use both brakes: You have two brakes for a reason

Outside leg down: Press down with your outside leg and it will glue your body to the road

Inside leg up: Keep that inside leg up and the pedal won’t clip the road

Lean the bike not the body: Move your mody weight to the outside and lean the bike into the corner

Outside – Apex – Outside: Make the corner longer, wider and easier and maintain your momentum by taking the racing line

Practice Makes Perfect

I bet a lot of your sessions focus on climbing right? You use descents to recover and think “that climb was hard”! By focussing on developing your descending skills you will enjoy training sessions more and be a better all round bike rider. Practice really does make perfect.

How to Descend on a Bike

Brevet guest Kyle McCall descending the Col du Pillon in Switzerland

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Credits: Thanks to CycleFilm for their excellent video explaining how to descend on a bike and for our guest Kyle McCall for making it look easy!

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