Downhill Mountain Biking can be one of the most exciting things to do or the most dangerous and scariest thing to do. I know this because I have experienced both emotions!
There are so many varying emotions and moments that come with downhill mountain biking; the rush of wind gushing through the helmet, the thrill of the speed at which you are going downhill, or the thought of you hitting a root in the ground or a drop and literally flying off the bike, or the thought of the bike snapping into two pieces after you have landed a successful jump.
Going downhill should never be a scarily moment for you; here are 8 ways on how to make cycling downhill fun and safe.
Get the right bike!
The worst mistake you can make as a potential downhill mountain rider is assuming that your bike can do everything. Downhill bikes are amazing pieces of engineering that come with special advanced suspensions and the toughness needed to ensure you have fun and at the same time, be safe as you shred through the downhill trails.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that downhill biking can be extremely intense and fast-paced and this definitely requires a bike that is built for durability and stability.
Before you even ask yourself “Do I really need a downhill bike?”, yes you do! Downhill bikes will allow you to push yourself to go harder and definitely faster. Because of the quality and the engineering used for downhill bikes, these bikes give you the confidence to shred through steep and rough terrain and take on big jumps and drops.
There are several options available for Downhill bikes and these range from $2,000 to 0ver $10,000 depending on what quality, riding style and add-on you prefer.
Trek Session 8 27.5 is a great choice for beginners who are still finding their way around. It comes with a burly aluminium frame, 200mm/210mm front and rear suspension, and SRAM GX DH group that are designed to withstand the roughest lines.
The Trek Session 8 is fast, built for toughness and agility on the track.
One of the most amazing features of this bike is the active braking pivot. The amazing engineers at Trek were able to tune how the suspensions of the bike react to acceleration and braking forces independently! If there is one thing that is more important than anything when it comes to downhill biking, is being confident and knowing that you will be able to have control of your bike when you need it!
Learn to use your body and your body weight
One of the easiest and fastest ways to get injured while riding downhill is not knowing how to balance your body and weight. You need to learn to move your body around a lot more than normal mountain bike riding. Going down steep slope means dropping your heels and your body to the back, and use your hips to steer. You need to be careful not to drop too much to the back as that would lead to the front wheel not get much ground traction leading to unwanted falls. Practice moving your body – and your hips, to adjust the bike to keep your line of attack.
If you are thinking, “Yeah, I am not fit enough for this!”
Don’t worry, here are simple 6 exercises using your body weight that you can do at home during this pandemic period.
- Glutes Bridge – this will work your glutes which are one the biggest muscles using in downhill riding
- Single-Leg good morning – very good for stretching the hamstrings.
- Push-Ups – these are good for your upper body work out and they simulate the push you get from the handlebars are you go do the slopes.
- Bird style superman! – think the superman stretch but with your arms to the side in bird’s flying position. This is good for keeping your lower and upper back balanced.
- Body squats – these are your typical squats but with your arms out in a handlebar holding position.
- Planking – there is no other home work out that will get your core in shape better than planking. There are claims of professional riders being able to hold the position for over 4 minutes. How long can you hold it for? Share with us on Instagram or Facebook.
Master the Jumps
If there is one skill you will be grateful that you have been working out, is taking a jump. Never be fooled that jumping is just for adrenaline junkies, it’s a fundamental skill that every downhill mountain biker must learn
I can’t even start to tell you how important jumping is when it comes to downhill riding. Rocks, roots, tree stumps and drops are what make downhill trails.
First a couple of obvious but very important checks;
- Ensure your saddle is dropped – you don’t want it to hit your crotch. Trust me, there is nothing more painful that a hit in your crotch.
- Take an easy ride through the trail to get an understanding of the distance, the height, the ground status of the jump areas.
- Visualize your jump and go nail it!
There are basically two ways to jump while riding downhill. You can either pop the jump or squash the jump.
Popping the jump involve you pre-loading your suspensions and popping over the jump. This style gives you more air time, which basically means a higher and longer jump, landing with pretty good momentum to give you great speed.
Squashing the jump is important in a situation where you do not have much overhead clearance. You hit the jump while keeping the bike low to avoid any obstacles. Both jumps are equally important for different situations.
There are several tutorial and videos on mastering how to jump on a mountain bike, here is a great article to get you started.
Learn to bunny hop
When I started to ride, I used to find these guys in the park practising their bunny hops and it straight out looked funny. I thought they were being fancy. Until one day when we hit the trail and I was dusted! While I took the drops in the normal riding style and getting all bumped up and down with the brakes doing little to nothing! The guys would do a semi-bunny hop on the drops, jumping meters down the drop and gaining way more speed than I was able to!
If you want to look and feel like a pro riding downhill, master your bunny hops and learn to use the pre-hop line, not the normal attack like I used to.
Here is a quick video to get you mastering the bunny hop
Get in fast, Get out Fast!
One of the most important skills you need to learn with downhill riding is braking at the right time. Always remember to break early and get off the breaks, then push through the fast corners. This is so you can get in and get out with as much speed as possible. I know it sounds scary but remember, downhill bikes have great geometry, tires with amazing grip and advanced suspension, so you can always trust the bike.
Learn to see the future
No, I am not talking about seeing through time, but looking far ahead of the trail as possible to ensure you plan your line of attack way before the wheel hits it. Always remember, you will not have much time to make a decision or change your line of attack. If you are unable to master this skill, downhill riding isn’t for you – unless of course, you enjoy getting a few broken bones and visiting the hospital.
Always and I mean always keep an eye out for anything that requires a change in your riding; from loose soils, rock gardens, tree stamps and drops.
Riding solo suck!
You will have better, faster and easier progression when you ride with friends. There is nothing better than learning by watching. When I started riding downhill, I used to follow a friend down the trails and I was able to see how he manoeuvred over some of the spots that were rather tricky for me. By following him and practising what he did, I was able to shred the trail like a pro in only a couple of weeks of riding.
Get a couple of friends, hype, mock and laugh at each other as you learn and get better.
Finally, loosen up champ!
You need to be as comfortable and as fluid as possible while riding downhill. Tensing up makes you and your bike rigid which makes it extremely hard to maintain control of the bike at high speed. If you fight the bike, it will fight you back!
You need to be one with the bike. One of the best skills of professional downhill riders is the ability to be in control of the bike like they are not even trying. Downhill riding should be fun and exciting, and not a race to the bottom of the earth or a fight to stay on a bike.
There you have it, everything you need to start enjoying downhill rides as they should be. While you ride do not get on the track looking shady and out of place, take a minute to read our article on What to wear when mountain biking.