Downhill Riding – What You Need to Know

Of all the things you can do with a mountain bike, nothing is more exciting or intense than the downhill ride. This is the stuff you've been training for, this is the reason you bought that excellent bike. But before you tackle your first serious downhill ride, it's important to be prepared. Here's what you need to know and do before taking on that mountain.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

A downhill ride is an intense affair, so you need to be prepared physically and mentally. You should have practice riding the bike; don't take a brand new bike on rough terrain. And you need a certain amount of leg and arm strength, just to keep the bike on track.

Also, be sure to double-check your bike. It is advised to always perform a routine check before hitting the mountain. Check out our guide on mountain bike maintenance and care for everything you need to know.

Also, don't forget the crucial helmet, and we recommend a good pair of gloves and riding shorts or pants as well.

Keep your Balance

When you begin the ride, you'll want your body weight pulled as far back on the seat (or saddle) as is comfortable, to compensate for the downhill angle. However, if you feel like you're losing control or the front wheel is unsure, you should lean forward a bit until you regain full motion.

If the trail is rocky or rutted, it's important to keep both your arms and legs bent a little, as this helps absorb the shock. A good suspension helps, but you want your body agile and nimble. Relax your muscles and don't keep a death-grip on the handlebars: if your body is too stiff, you'll have trouble controlling the descent.

See the Trail and Know Where You're Going

Some trails are pretty tight, and some are wide enough for several bikes at once. You should always keep an eye on the coming trail, and know where you plan to go. You don't want to hit a rough bump or patch without knowing it's coming; that could be dangerous.

We recommend that you maintain a line of sight of at least 15 feet in front of you. That way, you can ensure that your front wheel is aligned with the path and heading exactly where you need to go. Also, it's safest to always head for the smoothest, simplest path. You don't have to be a hero, especially your first time on a run. It's more important to have control of the bike than to be a dare-devil.

Keep Your Wits About You

Inevitably, you're going to hit some unsure patches. It's important to not lose your cool in a rough situation. With the wind in your face and your adrenaline pumping, you have to work hard to stay on track. Slow down if you have to, and always be aware of the trail around you. Watch especially for rocks, trees, and other hazards.

Maintain Your Speed

Slow and steady wins the race. It's a corny truism, sure, but there's also some logic to it. It doesn't mean you have to slow to a crawl, but letting your speed get out of hand is the single fastest way to lose control and take a nasty spill. Always be ready to hit the brakes, and most importantly, always hit the rear brake first. A knee-jerk squeeze of the front brake can cause the bike to flip over forward, spelling serious danger.

It's also wise to watch ahead for other bikers. It's much safer to slow down and let the rider ahead keep moving than try to pass him. He may not see you coming and you could crash into him, or send him off-trail.

Now Go Ride!

Once you've got a feel for what's coming, the only thing left to do is go out there and have some fun!