Descending: The Wisdom of Keith
I absolutely love descending. My approach to descending is possibly best described as kamikaze. I have no idea why, but going downhill fast on a road bike is something that causes me very little fear.
I recently attended a coaching session and the coach suggested that a little more fear (and incidentally, a little more control) would not be a bad thing.
So, back to the legend that is Bob and Keith on the Majorca camps. While Bob was a phenomenal climber, Keith was phenomenal going downhill. This was possibly helped by the long rest he enjoyed whilst climbing…in the support van.
My brother will testify that the only person he ever saw overtake Keith descending, was me (I took him by surprise and he soon caught me back up). This came about, in part because Keith always gave a talk on descending at the start of the camp, and his advice, like Bob’s, was excellent.
So, here is the advice which really helped me:
- Where to look. The most helpful gem, in the words of the man himself “Look at the place you want to get to. Don’t look at the road; you’ll hit it, don’t look at the view, you’ll join it”. Try it, it’s genius.
- Keep your outside leg down around the corners, keep your legs level on the straights. Stick your inside knee out if it’s a tight corner and you’re going really fast.
- Hold the drops and keep your fingertips on the brakes, you never know when you might need them.
- Brake gently, if you need to brake. Unless there really is an emergency, slamming on the brakes will only lock up your wheels and cause you to lose control. If you are cornering, you should be braking into the corner and then lay off the brakes around it.
Taking the correct line is still very much something I am working on and have not got the hang of. My descending skills stop well short of switchbacks. Fortunately there aren’t all that many switchbacks around Edinburgh.
At the recent coaching session, I did the same corner over and over and over again. It was the kind of corner that I sometimes really do feel fear on. One of those which gets just that bit tighter with no warning whatsoever.
The coach went over and over the correct line to take and by the last time I went down that hill, I felt great. Fast and in control. Unfortunately, I’m having some difficulty applying that advice to any other hills so I remain an expert on one hill only and am still sometimes fast and just a teeny bit out of control.
Watch this space, at least I know what I need to work on.
One last thing on descending. It doesn’t matter how much fun you are having or how in control you are…only muppets ride on the wrong side of the road.
Since I wrote this article, I have worked hard on my bike handling technique and have also trained as a coach and set up my own coaching business, Active Cycle Coaching. Bob’s advice is still the best I have ever had, and I pass it on to others in the sessions I run. Little tweeks to your technique really will make a big difference to your confidence, comfort and enjoyment on a bike. If you can find coaching sessions near you, I would highly recommend giving them a go – coaching is not just about racing.