Terrified of descending? Me too

Top of Invermay Road, in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria. Strava says it averages 18.3% for 56m of this climb. I did not go down.

Ok, I’ve actually gotten a lot better at descending. I’m at the stage where I’m 2 years into cycling and my Strava medals are now more usually for descending times than they are for anything else.

But I was working from a pretty low base. I’m talking gripping-the-brakes-90%-down-any-descent sorta stuff. I’m talking descending at 19.5km/hr. Yeah.

I’m not sure where my mortal terror of descending came from – whether it had something to do with early rides up to the Dandenong Ranges in the snow without proper wet weather gear way before I was confident on my bike, or maybe that 17km descent down Mount Donna Buang, hands shaking, in the pouring rain after my friend M had got a flat halfway up – but it has been REALLY hard to shift.

My partner kept giving me really good advice, and some of it worked. For a bit. I think the truth is, it all helps. But it won’t change overnight. It’s the progressive working through all the inhibiting factors over TIME, that will eventually make you a better descender.

The advice I got, in no particular order was:

  1. Get into your drops. Ok, full disclosure: I still can’t do this. I am not sure why, but I just feel totally not confident in my drops. I still feel like my bike will careen out of control, and I’ll fall off. It’s illogical, because EVERYTHING you read/watch/are told by PEOPLE WHO KNOW STUFF is that getting in your drops lowers your centre of gravity giving you more control over the bike, and protects you against bumps dislodging your grip over the hoods of your handlebars, throwing you off. One day, I will be able to descend in my drops. One day.
  2. Lift your bum off the seat, and grip the front of your bike seat between your thighs. This will again: lower your centre of gravity, and make you feel in more control of the bike.
  3. Look ahead of you, to your next corner, not directly in front of your bike. This helps you plan for what’s ahead, and you can cut off the apex of corners to smooth out the descent.
  4. Anchor your foot down as you go around a corner, putting weight into the outside leg and the inside hand (on your handebar). This will anchor the bike, and you’ll have much more control (and you’ll avoid smashing your pedal into the road on your inside leg).
  5. Watch YouTube vids for tips. There’re heaps of good ones. This one and this one are pretty good for general tips on descending. There are also some really amazing ones of incredible descending, which are just a joy to watch. This one of Chris Froome’s attack on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde on stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France is mind-boggling. And this one of some dude overtaking cars going down a mountain in Europe (somewhere!) is one of my faves. The best ever though, is this gorgeous one of Fabian Cancellara descending to Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 In G Minor.

The other tricks I’ve tried, are:

  1. Listening to Mozart (Symphony No. 25 of course) really loudly as I go downhill. Sometimes humming it, also loudly helps. It sorta distracts you from your own fear.
  2. Repeats of descents. I did four repeats of Mount Donna Buang when I trained to do the Peaks Challenge in 2019, and my third descent was the best. You definitely get better if you do it again and again. But: it does take a while to get up there.
  3. Positive thinking, and repeating mantras. Just keep saying as you go down: “I can do this. I am strong. This is fun. Hahaha it really is!” That sorta stuff. Try to smush those negative thoughts OUT of your head.

It is definitely something that is hard to get better at quickly, particularly if the fear has set in, and your negative thoughts spiral and create and reinforce their own truth. But hopefully some of these ideas can help you, as they have for me.

If you have any other ideas, thoughts, comments about what has worked for you or other people, please share! Soon we’ll be zipping down mountains breaking the sound barrier together.

Or at least racking up more Strava medals, saving our brake pads, and avoiding braking-related RSI.

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