Nail those steep descents like the best downhillers in the business
Riding confidently on steep terrain can be one of the hardest things for riders to adapt to. Prolonged, steep sections are less and less common these days as trails become more environmentally friendly - but ride any black diamond trail and there’s a good chance there will be a point where controlling your downhill speed is critical. Head to the big mountain ranges around the world and you’ll find steep stuff all over.
Challenging race tracks will also commonly throw in a steep section just for the hell of it and control is the key to gaining confidence on the steeps. When wet rocks and roots are thrown into the mix, it gets a whole lot harder. But practising the following steps on the right terrain will help to get your head around what it takes to control a bike on a steep section of trail. Here’s how it’s done:
Find a section of trail with a steep bank or something similar. Make sure you have a good runout and minimal obstacles to get around. The aim is to learn how to ride down the steep section as slowly as possible – this helps you understand where to weight your bike for ultimate traction and how to control your brakes. Balance is also key and if you can balance going slowly, it will be a whole lot easier at speed.
As you approach any steep section, one of the best things is to do a quick brake check at the top, stand up tall on your bike and take a peak over the edge to see what lies ahead. Once you drop in, it’s generally too late to make any adjustments - so until you know the trail 100 per cent, take a good look to make sure the coast is clear. If it’s not, you should have just enough time to stop… hopefully!
As you drop in, the main aspect is to keep your weight back - and I mean WAY back. We’re talking your seat touching your chest and your butt on the rear tyre. It may seem ridiculous, but the aim is to get as much weight as possible on the rear tyre to get as much traction as you can. Locking up your rear brake is the last thing you want to do. Aim to keep rolling as slowly as possible.
Use your brakes to control your speed. It seems obvious, but braking control is absolutely critical here. If you begin to skid, you need to let the brakes off for a split second to get your rear wheel rolling again, get your weight back and gain control once again. You want to use your front brake as much as possible without throwing yourself over the bars.
Repeat the process and keep trying to go slower and slower. From there you can experiment with letting your brakes go on the steep section and trying to slow yourself down once again. Try locking up your rear brake on purpose as well and you’ll soon understand that rolling wheels grip much better than skidding wheels! Once you have your body position and brake control sorted, your confidence will follow. Remember that control equals confidence – especially on the steep stuff.