North American cyclists coming to Europe for the first time are often surprised at the technical climbing and descending required on the routes we ride. You quickly understand why France, Italy and Spain produce such prolific descenders; growing up training and riding on this steep, weaving and technical terrain demands an entirely different set of skills than that of wide open spaces.
Guests on our cycling trips often comment on “hills” (usually mountains) and the difference from routes they commonly ride at home. When we prepare guests for big descents, here are the descending cycling tips we share:
Get Low – increase your stability on the bike by lowering your centre of gravity. This will also enhance your aerodynamic position, get those hands into the drops or down into time trial position. Bringing your body down low on the bike allows you to not only be more stable and aerodynamic, but it also allows you to use your legs for further balance and stability.
Add a layer – now is a great time to pull up those arm warmers you pushed down to your wrists during the climb, or grab that wind vest from your jersey pocket. The combination of added elevation, increased speed and wind on the way down can give you a serious chill. Keep your legs pedalling, even lightly, to keep your body warm on the way down.
Brake before the corner– the temptation is to white knuckle the breaks all the way down to the bottom. If possible, try lightly pumping the breaks instead of gripping them furiously, giving you more control over the bike. When approaching a corner, try to break lightly prior to the corner so you have the ability to gently lean into the corner, with the weight on the straight leg (outside leg) and the bent leg has minimal weight (leg closest to the corner).
Be safe– keep your ears headphone-free. Having music playing can distract you from the road ahead and the sounds associated with safety: car horns, other cyclists voices, sirens, train crossings, road blocks, obstacles. Give space to the cyclist in front of you, lest they jam on their breaks unannounced. Inclement weather like rain, snow, sleet, or hail can effect a downhill journey. Be aware of the weather conditions but try not to dwell on them. If the road is wet, plan on a little extra time to descent and be a little more slow than usual. If the road has two-way traffic, keep an occasional eye on the cars on the side of you. Bonus of riding in Europe? Cars are used to seeing cyclists everywhere and often provide a wide berth.
Focus forward– look where you want to go, not at the road directly in front of you. It may sound simple, but our gaze can easily stray to the gorgeous scenery, the obstacles on the road (ever run into a heard of cattle on a descent before?) or the people around us. Keeping your chin up and your gaze focused forward on where you want to go helps your mind stay honed in on the place you and your bike are going.
Above all else, it’s about enjoying the epic climb, soaking in the scenery and pushing yourself up Mt. Ventoux, Col d’ Galibier or Passo dell Stelvio. Your reward for the hard work is the descent, and we want you to enjoy the ride!