I’d been thinking about this, figured I’d put it “to paper” so to speak:
#1) Stop using the brakes when going downhill
It’s very common for people to be scared when descending, but it’s the same as when running downhill – you’re loosing free speed. It’s also likely to be safer, as you won’t risk locking the front wheel. Part of feeling more confident at higher speeds comes from the next tip…
FYI: This also saves you money and time. Money because you’re not wearing down brake pads, or rims for rim brakes. If your rim is concave – look and see if you can feel the surface is curved – you need to replace the rim at your earliest convenience. Time is saved because less brake wear means less time adjusting brakes.
#2) Descend out of the saddle
Develop “The Tuck”:
You want the pedals level, at a 3 and 9 o’clock position. This puts your feet on even footing, as this serves as your platform or base. Ideally, your dominate/stronger foot/leg is in front – this is so your “best foot is forward” when it comes time to start pedaling again. Now lift your butt out of the saddle/seat, with a bend in the knees. Strive to pinch the saddle between your inner thighs. Effectively, you’re suspending your butt out of the saddle with your legs.
Speaking from a road bike handlebar setup, your hands can be either on the hoods (the brake/shifters) or in the drops (anywhere on the bar, under the brake/shifter). Aerodynamically speaking, drops is preferred. Think “Drops is for descending”…
The last part is lowering your head, as close to the handlebars as possible but not looking down. The goal is to be as aerodynamic as possible.
From my experience, some people just coast better than others. I’ve passed people in a full-on tuck, while I’m upright on the hoods. I don’t want to think it’s a weight thing… If riding in a group, once you get more confident about descending – try drafting people on the descent to see if you can gain speed such that you overtake the person in front of you. But be careful, and don’t get too close.
#3) Pedal on the Downhill
Depending on the speed of your descent, it can be done. It’s required/requested in faster group rides, for the safety of the group so there’s no “yo-yoing” or surging/slowing radically and frequently. And by pedaling, I don’t mean moving your legs – you want to be in a gear that allows you to just feel the feedback from the interaction with the road. This technique is not to be used all the time, but eventually you get a feel for it so you can use it to your advantage.
#4) Corner better with better weight distribution
Cornering or off-camber (meaning, not flat from a left to right perspective) sections, the tip is the same: The pedal on the outside of the corner should be down at the lowest point of the rotation, and the pedal on the inside of the corner should be at the highest point. Now apply weight to the outside pedal as you make the corner to allow yourself to lean further – angling the side of the bike lower. It’s about weight distribution to keep the center of gravity where it needs to be as you bank the bike.
#5) Use Momentum for Climbing
To most, this would be counter-intuitive but for smaller hills – sprint into them. Take advantage where you can to gain speed before encountering the hill so you hopefully have less work to do to get over the hill. If you time it right, and have the leg strength – you might be able to get over a hill.
- Don’t bother taking things for tire patching if you’re doing Sprint/Olympic/Standard distances – from a competitive perspective, if you have a flat you’re out. It’s less weight on the bike and complexity for your transition if gear is stored in a jersey/etc. Lastly, in my experience – all you need is decent inflation of your tires (80-100 psi for 700c). After a season, the only tubes I lost were to overheating in transition after I left for the run.
- I recommend speedplay [clipless] pedals for a number of reasons:
- Double sided entry – most other road pedals only provide one
- The retention is on the shoe rather than the pedal, and it’s recessed so you’re not damaging the cleat by running in shoes. The “cleat” on the shoe is also flat, so you’re less likely to injure your foot/ankle going out and in transition
- I like disc brakes. I’m not a purist – I like brakes that work, and more importantly work in wet weather that sometimes happens unexpectedly.
- I’m not sold on aero, at least not when an aero bike weighs sometimes 5+ lbs more than what I ride. That’s a substantial amount to have to push up a hill, where aero won’t help you. I can understand for iron and half-iron, but not Sprint/Olympic/Standard distances…
- I don’t like the no drafting rules, at least that’s what exist at my local level of triathlon competition. It’s OK for swimming and running, but not cycling… WTF? I think it has more to do with people paying lots for a bike but have no bike skills so the likelihood of an expensive accident gets more plausible. But it also means that triathletes dismiss cycling in group rides for sake of “they can’t draft in competition”. Yes, drafting saves energy but you still have to be able to stay in that draft or close the gap to get there. There’s lots to be gained from cycling in groups, same as running.