Descending hills safely requires special consideration
of bike-handling techniques:
Check Your Brakes
Before every ride, especially hilly rides, check your brakes. Your life may
depend on them. Make certain that any quick-release device on your brakes is
properly engaged for riding. Make sure the brake pads touch the rims only.
Brake pads rubbing on tires can cause a blowout. Be certain you have a minimum
one-inch clearance between the brake levers and handlebars when the levers
are fully depressed.
Control Your Speed
This requires continuous attention and concentration. Pay attention to the
roadway rather than the scenery. Just around the next corner there may be
potholes, gravel, rock outcroppings jutting into the road-way, sharp curves,
water on the roadway, pedestrians, other bicyclists, or cars. Maintaining a
modest speed will enable you to avoid these hazards.
Remember to remain on the same relative portion of the lane when riding a
curvy descent. Be very cautious of the centrifugal forces on tight curves.
Long descents require frequent braking. Apply uniform pressure to the front
and rear brakes. Apply the brakes evenly and firmly. Slow your speed, and
release the brakes. Do not ride the brakes! Constant application of the brakes
will overheat the rims and may cause a tire blowout.
Brake before you get to a curve
Slow down so you don't have to brake during a curve. Braking during a curve
may cause skidding and loss of control of the bike. Ride with your body in an
upright position in the saddle. This will create additional air drag (resistance)
and will help to slow your speed. Keep both hands on the handlebars.
If your bike begins to shimmy during the descent, stay calm. The geometry
of some bike frames and forks, wheels out of true, or loose components may
cause your bike to shimmy at high speeds. If this occurs, continue to apply
your brakes intermittently until you have slowed down. You might also press
one leg against your top tube to steady the bike. The shimmy should subside
at a much lower speed. Come to a complete stop and check your bike for
mechanical worthiness. If you continue, ride slowly.
Wet roads require heightened attention to the above techniques. You must
control your speed even more. Slow down! Roads are slippery when wet and
your brakes are much less effective. You may need to keep constant light
pressure on the brakes to sweep the water off the rims so you'll have some
braking power. Don't start on a hilly ride if it's raining. If you do get
caught in the rain, always use extreme caution.
Before You Ride
Before you go on a ride in an unfamiliar area or with a new group of riders,
ask the ride leader if the ride includes any long descents. If it does and
you are not confident in your ability to handle the descents, choose another
ride. Safety is an important part of all rides. Stay in control and have fun!
Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American
Bicyclists, Jan/Feb 1996. Effective CyclingTM.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit
their web site, www.bikeleague.org,
or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.