Descending Hills Safely

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Paddy Doran, cycling coach with Peak Endurance Coaching shares his tips for safe descending.


Cycling Sportives

Every weekend there are countless legions of riders have the opportunity to challenge themselves any one of thousands of exciting cycling sportive promoted throughout Europe and beyond. Sportives, Sportifs, Gran Fondos, call them what you will, they are a great way to enjoy cycling. What could be better than rolling along the roads at an elevated pace in the company of people who love cycling?

Descending hills safely

Many of these events are very hilly like the great Etape du TourMarmotte or our own great event, Wicklow 200 and in the great tradition of physics, what goes up must come down. Long descents routinely follow long climbs and, for many, one of the biggest challenges on any sportive is the task of safely descending the various hills offered by the organisers. High, indeed very high speeds can be achieved depending on the gradient and to descend safely requires a certain amount of skill and a responsible attitude.

Number 1 goal

While cycling in general is a safe sport, accidents do happen occasionally. So your first goal when setting out on a sportive should be to complete the sportive accident free. Remember its not a stage of the Tour De France so seconds don’t matter so much.

Responsible Attitude

A responsible attitude will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal. It’s very easy to get carried away by the exhilaration of the speed and corners but every entrant needs to pay due regard to the safety of themselves and their fellow bike riders throughout what is often a very demanding day for all concerned. To avoid placing yourself and your fellow cyclists in danger always ride at your own speed on the descents. That is, ensure that you are comfortable with the pace you’re setting on the descents and ensure that you have the space and time to react to any unforeseen circumstances on the road.

Smooth is fast

Approach the corners at a controlled speed in good control of the bike. This will deliver a quick descent with less stress and fatigue than if your on the limit on every corner.

Pro cyclists

Take the best of what the pros do in the Tour De France like good lines in and out of corners and smooth braking. Do not attempt stuff like sitting on the crossbar or resting forearms on the bars to get more speed. THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS

Open roads

Remember you are cycling on open roads and the usual rules of the roads apply. Always cycle on your own side of the road. However be careful of riding too close to the edge of the road. There is often a lot of loose soil, stones there where your wheels can lose grip.

Competency levels

Everyone has different levels of experience and skills. Always descend and corner within your own level of competency, particularly if you’re not a very experienced cyclist. And respect other people’s level of competency if you are very experienced and a good descender.

Principles of Descending Safely

Understanding how to prepare for and descend the hills can increase your safety and enjoyment of your day out. Here’s a short video lesson from an ex professional cyclist.

Bike well maintained

Have your bike in good condition. Ten Bike Check tips

Hold bars correctlybraking-blog-600x437

Always have both hands on the bars and fingers in close proximity to the brake levers, especially  when
descending. Note how one cyclist is on the drops and one on the brake hoods but they are both using their brakes. Also they have their thumbs and fingers form a circle that gives a secure grip.

How NOT to hold the BarsDon-how-not-to-hold-the-bars

Your hands will most likely lose control of the bars if you hit a pothole with this hand position.  These falls usually result in facial injuries so hold the bars like the two cyclists in the previous picture.

Look Anticipate

As you will be moving faster on descents you need to be seeing any corners or obstacles well in advance of reaching them. So always look well up the road so that you have ample time to slow down.

More speed= > increased braking distancedescent-3-on-the-flat

As speed increases on descents stopping distance also increases. So always leave bigger gaps between yourself and the rider/s in front of you on descents. This will allow time to slow down safely if you must.


Brake in plenty of time when approaching corners. Practice using both brakes together and do your braking before the corners while cycling in a straight line.

Comfort zone

Aim to descend and corner within your comfort zone. If you feel you are beginning to move too fast always stay calm and gradually slow down.

Eating drinking on the bike

If you wish to drink or eat do it on the flat roads or just before you reach the top of a hill.  Preferably when you’re at the back of a group. Enjoy the coffee and cakes when you arrive to the finish safely. Join your local cycling club where you can learn lots of cycling skills.

Links to more tips Top ten tips for sportives here  Tips for the start  here

Paddy Doran Coach Level 3 Cycling Coach and Tutor