Straighten Up and Fly Right – Tips on How to Improve Your Descending Skills

For many cyclists, the hardest part of their ride can be a long, leg burning ascent up a beautiful climb such as Lookout Mountain. However, the most challenging part is often the long, twisty descent that accompanies that climb. Becoming more confident in your descending skills can make the ride less hair-raising, more enjoyable and safer. Here are some tips on how to become a better cyclist when the road slopes downward:

Proper tire pressure

Just because your tires say they can be pumped up to 120psi doesn’t mean you should. Proper tire pressure should be based upon your body weight and the width of tire that you are using. The lighter you are, or the wider the tire, the lower pressure you can run. Properly inflated tires can give you more grip and make the ride more comfortable. HERE is a great article that will help you calculate the proper pressure for your weight and equipment. Also, make sure to pump up your tires often (at least a couple of times a week) as they will lose air over time.

Pay attention to the road

Always important, but even more so when your speed is high and the road is coming at you fast. Be alert for gravel, potholes, and rough road surfaces and adjust your speed accordingly.

Don’t ride your brakes

Brake pads create friction to slow you down. That friction results in heat which is transferred into the rim, tire and tube causing an increase in pressure. Too much pressure and your tube can burst. Not a fun experience when you’re flying downhill. If you are constantly having to use your brakes, make sure to feather them off and on. This will allow the passing air to help cool the rim and will also prevent brake fade.

Do all of your braking BEFORE you start the turn

Before you begin to turn, assess how tight the corner is and brake accordingly. Braking and turning each apply extra force to the tire. Doing both at the same time increases the likelihood of losing traction.

Position your body properly

Think long and low. Position your hands in the handlebar drops. Keep your weight back over the saddle, and your upper body close to the top tube. Position your outside leg down and put pressure into that pedal.

Look where you want to go and your bike will follow

Keep your head up and try to look as far ahead as possible. Think about the turn in three parts and shift your vision to each point as you progress through the corner. Entrance: the point where you will begin your turn. Apex: the middle of the corner where you will begin to stand the bike back up. Exit: the end of the turn.

As always, practice makes perfect but be aware of your limitations. In order to get better you must be willing to push your boundaries but not to the point where you are taking unneeded risks. Stay safe and keep the rubber side down!

Adam Fivehouse, USA Cycling LIII Certified Coach, provides testing and coaching through Optimize Endurance Services. Contact him at 720-270-6876 or by email at

Written by: Adam Fivehouse

Adam Fivehouse, USA Cycling LII Certified Coach, provides testing and coaching through Optimize Endurance Services. Contact him at 720-270-6876 or email Adam with training, coaching or testing questions. Or feel free to join us on one of our OES Training Rides. Ride details can be found on our Training Calendar.