Bike Shorts: How to Safely Descend Hills With Sharp Turns
Steep descents are one of the most thrilling parts of the ride for many cyclists. They’re the reward at the end of the climb, especially when you can stay off the brakes and enjoy the moment.
If you’re unfamiliar with the right cycling techniques for descending hills, though, it’s easy to panic and lose control. We wrote recently about how this works on long, straight hills. Now we’re going to look at how to safely descend hills with sharp turns.
Of course, one of the simplest ways to safely bike down a curved hill is to ride your brakes and turn slowly. But that’s no fun. The real trick is learning to safely take those turns with speed. As usual, Coach Darryl has a few pointers — and these are relevant whether you’re facing a hill with one big turn or a whole series of them.
Your Bike Angle
Safely descending hills with a sharp turn without losing speed is all about physics. Think about where your bike should be at three different points in the turn. This is for a right turn — everything would be reversed when turning left.
- Point 1: The start of the turn. At this point, you want your bike as far out in your bike lane as possible (or the lane of traffic going the same direction as you if you have a mirror).
- Point 2: The apex of the turn. Here, you want your bike as close to the inside of the lane as possible.
- Point 3: The farthest point of the turn, when you finish and straighten out. Here again, you want to be as far out in the lane as possible.
The goal is to reduce your turning angle by taking up as much of the road as you safely can. So, if you’re taking a right turn, you’d swing out to the left edge of the lane at point 1, all the way to the inside right edge at point 2, and then back out to the left at point 3. The wider you cut, the faster you can go.
Assuming the road isn’t wet, lean your bike and body into the turn. If it is wet, then only lean your body while keeping your bike as upright as possible.
Your Body Position
As you round the corner, there are three things you can do with your body to maximize speed and safety. As Coach Darryl notes, you’d only notice the first one when watching another rider.
- On a clock, your outside foot should be at six and your inside foot at 12 to prevent your inside pedal from scraping the ground. On a right turn, your left foot would be down and your right foot would be up.
- Throughout the entire turn, push down firmly on the outside pedal (the one at six, your left foot in a right turn). This lowers your center of gravity, keeps your bike in line and improves your traction.
- As you approach the apex (point 2), push down on the handlebar drop with your inside hand. Be sure your hands are in the drops! This will help to shorten your angle a bit, but you only need to do it as you take the apex, not at points 1 and 3. You should also be careful not to push as hard as you do with your outside foot, or you could throw off your balance.
Be sure you perfect pushing the pedal before you start pushing on the handlebar. The effect of the latter can be extreme, and if you aren’t ready for it, you may end up in a ditch.
One other important note about your body: As you take the turn, keep your eyes parallel to the road instead of tilting your head too far.
When to Brake
Safely descending hills with sharp turns not only takes body positioning but also proper use of your brake. It’s tempting to brake through the whole turn, but this tends to force the bike upright. Instead, brake only as you start and finish a turn, but not as you round the apex. This will allow you to set your pace without losing control.
Before you do this on a steep downhill turn, practice on simpler ones so you can get a feel for it. Once you're comfortable, those downhill turns will get a lot more exciting.
You can find more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.