Bike Shorts: The 2 Secrets of Tackling Downhill Turns Like a Pro
When you pedal a ride with some big climbs, there’s nothing you want more than the relief of a nice, long downhill stretch. Throw some turns in there for good measure and a little extra thrill.
But what about when you can’t seem to take those downhill curves with quite the same speed and finesse as some of your cycling counterparts? Every time you cruise downhill with them, they take off on those curves, while you lag behind. What’s the big difference?
In some cases, it could be as simple as your weight. If those other riders are a lot heavier, the simple laws of gravity may have you at a disadvantage. But there may be more to it than that. As longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie notes, those other riders may know the two secrets of speedy downhill cornering.
The Danger of Sharp Downhill Turns
It may be obvious, but lest we appear to be urging you to charge into turns with no holds barred, it’s worth reiterating that downhill turns can be quite dangerous on the bike.
“The cyclist can get lulled into a sense of false security by many miles of climbing straight roads followed by many miles of descending straight roads,” says Coach Darryl.
If you’re just going through the motions, the consequences can be disastrous, especially on wet roads. Darryl once saw a rider helicoptered off the scene after losing control on a sharp, steep downhill turn.
Basic Rules of Thumb for Downhill Turns
So, what’s the secret to tackling those turns safely and with speed? Before we get to the tricks you can’t see the pros doing, it’s important to make sure you have the fundamentals down. To that end, and as we’ve covered in more detail elsewhere, give your attention to these best practices for downhill turns:
Before the turn:
- Get your pedal positioning right. The outside foot should be down at the lowest point, while the inside foot should be at the top. This keeps you from scraping the ground as you turn.
- Slide back in the saddle and lower your body. This will help you lean forward, lowering your center of gravity and increasing your stability on the bike. Just don’t slide so far back as to make pedaling impossible if needed.
- Place the hands in the drops. You shouldn’t have to move your hands at all — just your fingers — to apply the brakes.
- Keep your head up. Your eyes should be on the road ahead so you have plenty of time to react as needed.
- Brake if needed. Any braking to reduce speed should happen before the turn. Never brake during the turn, as you risk sliding out of control.
During the turn:
- Watch other riders and cars. See how they are negotiating the turn so you can react accordingly.
- Cut the turn properly. Start the turn at the far outside of the lane, cut inside at the apex, and then glide to the outside as you exit.
- Know when to lean in. Lean both bike and body into the turn when traction is good. But when roads are wet or traction is otherwise poor, lean the body but not the bike.
2 Tricks the Pros Are Doing on Turns (That You Can’t See)
All of the above tricks are essential, and you’ll notice any experienced cyclist doing them on downhill turns. But there are two more things they’re probably doing that you can’t see. And these two tweaks are taking their turns to the next level.
As you’re tackling the turn, do the following simultaneously: Push hard on the outside pedal for cornering stability and push down on the handlebars with your inside hand. So, if you’re turning right, you’d push down with your left foot and your right hand at the same time.
This combo of pressure will stabilize the bike and help you glide through the turn smoothly. Note, though, that you shouldn’t do the second move (your hand) until you’ve mastered the first (your foot). Otherwise, as Darryl puts it, “You could end up on the ground due to your overenthusiastic pushing with your hand."
So, next time you’re heading downhill, try the first move and work your way up to adding the second. You may be surprised to find you’re soon right there with your fellow riders on those downhill turns.