Fast and Safe Descending

Many feet of climbing has a payoff – descending! Yes, those hard-fought inches upward has the reward of a near supersonic descent on two wheels.

Ellery Brown of Lynchburg’s Dire Wolf Racing team shares tips to descend both fast and safe.

Tire Pressure – Consider a slightly lower tire pressure (the maximum tire pressure is imprinted on the sidewall of your tire). This will allow more of the tire’s contact patch to touch the pavement for added traction. And, given that you’re traveling mostly backroads, the lower tire pressure will help take out some of the sting of the rougher road surface. Just be sure not to under-inflate your tire which could cause a pinch flat.

A Safe Line – Avoid riding the edges of fast, twisty roads. That’s typically where sand, gravel and broken glass collect; not to mention bumps and cracks in the pavement. Instead, try to stay in the portions of the road that vehicle tires track because its generally free of debris. Approach corners by moving to the outside of the curve, cut in across the apex, and then exit wide on the other side. Always watch for oncoming vehicular traffic that may “cut” corners. Be sure to practice safe riding and obey all traffic laws.

Riding Position – Shift your bottom towards the back of the saddle to place your weight over the rear wheel for traction. Your hands should be positioned in the brake hoods or, preferably, in the drops (as long as you are comfortable) for stability, and with the brake levers within easy reach (I like to keep my fingers on the brake levers). Rotate your pedal position going into turns: the left pedal should be at 6 o’clock on right hand turns; conversely, the right pedal should be at 6 o’clock on left hand turns.

Control Your Speed – Use your rear brake as your primary method to regulate speed and feather with your front brake to slow even more. It’s best to alternate braking; if you brake constantly, you’ll heat up your rims and risk blowing out your tire. For safety and efficiency, brake before going into turns to control your speed and release your brakes as you enter the curve to accelerate when you exit. Note that the descent on Route 43 from the Blue Ridge Parkway is extremely fast and has both right and left hands turns that are tight and sometimes bumpy – please use extra caution navigating this section!

Relax & Focus – Descending can be both exhilarating and scary. Keep your body loose by taking deep breaths. Similarly, relax your neck, shoulders and arms. Your elbows should be bent so you can absorb any bumps in the road. Stay focused by keeping your head up to look ahead at the road or the cyclist in front of you to find your line and anticipate bumps and curves. Because you’ll be travelling fast, set your gaze farther than you typically do. Also, remember to periodically take quick looks over your shoulder (when it’s safe to do so) to be aware of the position of trailing cyclists and motorists.
Brown reminds us that Storming of Thunder Ridge is not a race. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen will not be there for interviews at the end of your adventure. So ride smart… Err on the side of caution. Give yourself and others plenty of room. And enjoy the ride!